MARCHING PACK                                       12/2/06

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       The marching pack is described by Plutarch and Josephus, and is shown on Trajan's Column, but few remains have been found.  Details of these items are therefore undertain and you may deviate from the following specifics as you need or desire.   An excellent article on marching gear and tools is "The Mule of a Soldier" by Nick Fuentes , in JRMES vol. 2, 1991.

       The pack items are carried on the furca, a T-shaped pole about 4 feet tall with a crossbar c. 20" long.  Construction details are unclear, but the crossbar is best secured 3" to 4" from the top of the pole with a bolt or big nail, cleverly filed or hammered to keep it from looking too modern.  Wrap the joint with a leather or rawhide thong to steady it.  A dolabra or other digging tool was probably lashed to the furca on the march, and maybe one or two pila as well.  Palisade stakes do not seem to have been a normal part of a man's load, but one or two of them could also be tied on.

       From the crossbar hangs a bundle which is presumably the cloak.  It can simply be rolled up and tied, wrapped in a piece of leather or cloth, or held in a bag which is secured to the crossbar.  Some of the bundles shown on the Column are tied at one end, some at both.

       The rectangular satchel measures approximately 12"x18" and is made from 1 to 3 ounce leather (goatskin, etc.).   On the Column it is shown as flat, with no side gores.  The best working reconstruction is reinforced with leather strips and has a pointed flap like an envelope.  The reinforcements cross on the back (like a vertical line through an X), but on the front they hold a ring which serves as the flap closure.  If a plain ring is used the flap can simply be tied to it with a thong; however, bronze rings with raised studs have been found which may have been pack closures, the stud being a button.  The side reinforcements (or the crossed strips, as in Simkins' reconstruction) hold a ring at each upper corner to which the strap is anchored.  At the middle of the top edge is a carrying handle which can be reinforced with a cord inside it.  The strap and handle allow the satchel to be hung from the T-pole in a number of ways, or slung from the shoulder when "marching light".    The fragmentary satchel found at Bar Hill apparently had no flap, and may have been a mule's feed bag, but it is a handy reference for some construction techniques.

       Fuentes suggests that the dolabra or entrenching too could be substituted for the T-pole, with the kit items hung from the tool's head, but there is no visual or literary evidence for this.

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       The most mysterious object seen on Trajan's Column looks like a net bag, which is not mentioned in literature.  While it could simply be an open net bag (for food items?), it could also be a reinforcement either for a linen sack (for grain or flour?), or for a leather water flask.  The latter interpretation is popular since it is not known how else the Roman soldier might have carried his water.  The net may be of linen, wool, or similar cord, but its exact form and function depends on your personal interpretation of the evidence.  At right, the netbag is holding a gourd as a water flask.  The gourd was carefully dried and cleaned out, then lined with wax and a wooden stopper added.
       At left, a flat leather bag c. 13-1/2" by 25-1/2", with the cloak inside it.  Leather loops are strongly stitched to the top edge for tying to the crossbar.  The middle of the leather thong for closing the bag is stitched to it to keep if from getting lost.  The bag can also be made as a cylinder, with a round bottom.

       On this furca, holes have been drilled through the ends of the crossbar for the thongs holding the bag to pass through.  This keeps them from slipping off the ends of the bar.  Notches or grooves are another option.

       SATCHEL CONSTRUCTION.  The body can be made of one piece of 1-3 ounce leather, or from several pieces.  Reinforcing strips are also 1-3 oz., 1/2" to 1" wide.  Stitching can be a running stitch or 2-needle method.  After the body is assembled and crossed reinforcing sewn on,  sew on a reinforcing strip around the sides and bottom edge.  At each top corner it is doubled back through a plain metal ring (1-1/4" to 2" diameter) and stitched down.  The handle is sewn to the middle third of the top edge--reinforcing patches inside the satchel are recommended.  The edges of the flap can have a turned or bound hem.  Optionally, the crossed strips can hold the corner rings and the perimeter strip omitted, as in the reconstruction by Simkins.

       Click on the photo below for a larger version.  Goatskin satchel reconstruction by Matthew Amt.  The flap is unbuttoned.

       Studded rings can be bought from Raymond's Quiet Press, #RB-17, http://www.quietpress.com/Roman_Brooches_and_Belt_Fi.html.  They are based on archeological finds, but we can't really prove they are from satchels--they may have been from Gallic-style belts.   A simple alternative is a plain ring, with a thong or lace on the point of the flap to tie to it.  Large bronze washers work perfectly, or cut slices off a length of brass tube, c. 1-1/2" to 2" in diameter.  The same plain rings can be used for the corners to hold the strap.  You can also buy brass rings from leather suppliers, or make your own by winding rod around a dowel and soldering the joint.

       The exact weigh of the marching pack is difficult to determine.  The cloak is assumed to serve as the bedroll, with no other blanket or groundcloth.  Each man was supposed to carry three days' worth of rations, around six or eight pounds of food, plus his patera and situla, and presumably a canteen or water flask of some sort.  Additional items might include a forage basket and an unknown amount of cleaning supplies and personal items.   Since the weight of the armor and weapons was around 35 to 40 pounds, it is unlikely that the marching pack was more than about 30 to 35 more pounds.

       An original leather bag has been found on a shipwreck at Comacchio, Italy.  It is likely not an army marching satchel, but could be used as one, or features of its construction incorporated into one.  It has been reconstructed by Martin Moser:



       The ancient writer Hyginus tells us that a space of five feet is allowed in front of a tent for weaponry.  This implies that the men's gear was not in the tent with them (and we already know that eight men fill a tent rather well), so one would hope there was some means for protecting the armor and weapons from the elements overnight.  My theory (completely unsupported by hard evidence) is that the lorica was put into the leather bag which held the cloak on the furca, since the cloak was being used as bedding.  The bag could then be put in the forage basket and the shield (in its own leather cover) placed over the top.  Given the greasy lanolin which permeated the cloak and its bag, and a good coating of oil or grease for the armor itself, rust shouldn't make too much headway overnight.
       At right the lorica, a Corbridge type B, is shown with its four sections broken down and nested together, going into the cloak bag.  At far right it is bagged for the night (shown next to the rolled paenula).  The bag is a little over 13 by 25 inches, and the lorica was a close fit.
       The helmet and sword are another problem.  My helmet, an Imperial-Gallic type H, was not about to fit in the bag with the lorica, so it would have to be wrapped separately in something else (though there is some suggestion that helmets and possibly armor had weather covers of some sort).  For legionaries from earlier periods, this is less of a problem, since a Coolus or Montefortino helmet and mailshirt would fit in my bag with no trouble.

       Mind you, this is entirely hypothetical, particularly since the existence of the cloak bag cannot be proven.  But it's something to consider if you are camping out and don't want orange armor!

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