Why Did One of the Greatest Armies Wear Skirts?

The Romans were one of the greatest military forces in human history. Their armies conquered much of their known world, yet, as my daughter pointed out to me as I was researching them, they wear skirts.

Well, not exactly skirts. *smiles* I would never call them a skirt in the same way I’d never call a kilt a skirt. I am far too afraid of the very large and well-armed men wearing them.

romans-60601_640
You can see where my daughter is coming from on the skirt.

Not the most accurate image, I know, but I take what Pixabay has.

The point is, most of us are familiar with what Roman armor looked like. If not, check out some historically accurate re-enactment sites or even military toy collector sites.

We notice the metal chest piece, helmet, and even shin-guards. So, why no metal cuisses (thigh armor)? Why the “skirt”.

As with most things in Rome, there were some very good reasons for it.

Why Roman Soldiers Wore “Skirts”

  • Marching – They were easy to march in. They were light-weight and didn’t impede a soldier’s legs. This was a far-flung empire, and they needed to move troops around quickly and efficiently.

 

  • Reasonable Protection for the Price – The “skirts” are actually cingulum. They are made of strips of leather, often set with metal discs. They provide mobile, flexible armor that offered reasonable protection and wasn’t terribly expensive to produce. The Romans had a large army. Some estimate over 20,000 infantrymen at the height of the empire. Equipping them with the best money could buy wasn’t always an option, but the Romans still wanted to win wars.

 

  • Didn’t Overheat – The more armor you put on a soldier, the more you had to contend with them over-heating.

 

  • Pants Were for Barbarians – Romans wore togas and tunics. Barbarians wore pants. Given our modern stance, it may seem strange, but there was no real point to pants in the warmer Mediterean climate. Pants were also more difficult and more expensive to make, so why bother adopting the “inferior” wear of a “barbaric” culture?

 

I found this interesting, and I may or may not adopt some of this to the Tamryn army. Tunics and trousers are the more popular form of dress in the world, with surcoats for the wealthy.  Wizards tend to wear robes.

And the Knights of Valor? They’re still in shining armor.

 

 

 

 

More than Medieval Europe and Vikings

There is more to history than Medieval Europe and Vikings.

Bizarre, I know, but true.

I study history to get ideas for how to create a world that has at least a streak of realism. I mean, there will be dragons, but there’s still a civilization that supports them.

knight
Yes, there will still be knights.

While lots of stories use a bland version of Medieval Europe as their basis, my studies have taken me elsewhere. Sure, I am influenced by Regency and Victorian England. I read historical romance. This is almost a given.

While English history has influenced me, one of my favorite areas of study to create civilizations is ancient Rome.  And no, I’m not talking about the Rome Hollywood feeds us. I’ve decided almost nothing that we see on a screen, small or large, is real. It’s better to accept that. Really.

Here are three interesting things about Rome:

 

They Were Wealthy Enough to Avoid Expensive Sporting Events

Gladiators really existed. Sure, Hollywood told you that, but they didn’t really fight to the death. These were highly skilled combatants who were valued for their ability to entertain, and paid very well to do it. Much like our modern day sports stars. There were the occasional fights to the death, but these were usually prisoners sentenced to die.

Colosseum

What Hollywood didn’t tell you was that Romans really, really liked chariot races. Kinda like the ancient version of NASCAR. The Colosseum that hosted gladiators could hold 50,000 people. Yeah, 50,000. The Circus Maximus where the chariot races were held? That contained space for 250,000. One of the greatest chariot racers in all of Rome was Gaius Appuleius Diocles, and he amassed a fortune worth $15 billion.

 

Massive, Long-Lived Empire

Rome was a true empire. It spanned from Spain and Portugal, across northern Africa, and up to modern day Scotland. It also included parts of Germany, southern Europe, over to the boarders of Iran and Iraq. There is some evidence it expanded farther, and included the parts of the Arabian peninsula and delved further into Asia.

A large, expansive empire that managed to last almost a thousand years. The Republic lasted just over 500 years when the Senate granted Octavian the title Augustus. This began the Imperial age, which depending on who you ask, lasted approximately another 500 years.

 

Technological Marvels

Rome was a massive empire that reached technological pinnacles we can’t yet replicate. There are concrete dams in Spain still standing two-thousand years after they were built. They can’t get the concrete on the freeway I drive to work on to last more than twenty-years.

The vast distances required a way to communicate to keep the empire together. The Romans became famous for their roads. Wherever Rome went, the road system followed. These roads were paved, lightly arched so water drained off of them, and were flanked by footpaths, horse trails, and drainage ditches. The roads were built along accurately surveyed courses, and some were cut through hills, or constructed over rivers and ravines on bridgework. Sections over marshy ground would be supported on rafted or piled foundations.

As you can tell, they didn’t mess around.

romanroad
Not messing around is why some Roman roads are still is use some 2,000 years later.

The Romans took their roads seriously. Very seriously. They were very well built, and many were still used as main thoroughfares until they were paved over for modern cars. These roads had to be spectacular. It’s how the Romans transported troops. Supplies. And supported a state-funded courier system, allowing messages to make it across great distances.

 

As history so often does, it reminds us that people have been smart for a really long time. And it reminds us again that the feudal system is not all of European history.

 

How about you? Ever discover some interesting bit of history that changed your perception of the past? Or perhaps showed you how “creative” Hollywood can be with history? Maybe something interesting that you think I especially cool?

Three Things About Medieval Europe

The world I write in has a whisper of a basis in Medieval Europe, depending on the kingdom in question. I have a history minor and a love of documentaries, so I already knew much of what we know about the period is pretty bunk.

Still, it was intriguing to do a bit more research on certain areas. Seriously. People didn’t suddenly learn to like being clean in the Regency Era. Which leads me to:

1. People Bathed

Yes, they did. Usually, several times a month. No, this isn’t the daily showers we expect in America, but they did bathe far more often than we’re led to believe. Some even believe we bathe too often now, stripping the body of protective oils, which causes the body to produce an excessive amount of oil.

It was also very common practice in Medieval Europe to wash your hands before every meal.

Communal bathing was still a thing for a big chunk of medieval life, at least in places that still had functioning Roman baths. See, Roman was a vast empire, rich, and stable. Maintaining a communal bathhouse wasn’t cheap, and in the feudal system that arose after the fall of Rome, this wasn’t always at the top of the list. Still, where they were maintained, the Roman tradition of communal baths continued for a long time. Right up until the black plague.

england-170402_640
Roman bath in England. Yeah, not easy to maintain without an empire behind you.

We also know that the wealthy and middle-classes had bathing tubs that were lined in some sort of fabric. It was so commonplace no one thought to write down what it was, but modern day scholars suspect it was either linen or possible canvas as wet canvas is actually quite good at holding water.

 

2. People Lived Longer than You Think

We’ve all heard that people in Medieval Europe only lived to 35. Well, that’s true. Sort of. The average age was 35.

What a lot of people forget is that averages can be skewed. And what skewed this average is infant mortality. There were no vaccines in Medieval Europe. Even now, when the flu or whatever virus du jour is infecting everyone, the old and the young are most vulnerable.

bellcurve
From Wikipedia Commons

What this means is that if you were able to survive to age 21, you were looking at, on average, another 50 years of life expectancy. trick was surviving to 21.

 

3. People Knew Things About Medicine

 Archaeologists recently dug up a medieval site that included medicinal waste products. What they found surprised many. For example, they had potent painkillers and general anesthetics, such as hemlock, henbane, and opium poppy.

They had tormentil, a herb that kills parasites and alleviate diarrhea and internal bleeding.

aroma-906137_640

Quicklime has been found being used as a disinfectant, which it totally is.

While medicine was not making the strides in Medieval Europe it had under the Romans, let’s get back to the fact that there wasn’t a Roman empire anymore than provided stability and wealth.

There are a lot of things about history that are shrouded in myth and misinformation. Not entirely sure why that is. Perhaps we want to feel better about ourselves now.  Perhaps we don’t realize how many advantages we have living in larger countries with stable boarders.

Have you ever come across any historical inaccuracies? What were they? Why do you think they were portrayed that way?