Fatalis (Len Morgan). 2003
At any one time the Roman army, consisting of Legionaries and auxiliaries, must have fielded between 250,000 and 300,000 men. Today the archaeological finds of arms, armour, weapons and materials consist of less than a fraction of 1%, yet we get theories and ideas projected from this tiny amount of evidence. As Dr. Graham Webster used to say, you put up a theory and wait for another archaeologist or academic to react. If they don't dispute it your theory stands. What we have is little detail and great scope for interpretation.
Graham Sumner's new Osprey book 'Roman Military Clothing (1)' attempts to tackle the problem of tunic colours, but also includes a number of references to cloaks. Rather than stating that this colour is right and that colour is wrong we should identify the evidence as showing that more than one colour was used. The evidence researched by Sumner might be called the Joseph syndrome, 'Coats of many colours.'
When we refer to colours, I question if what the ancients state as a certain colour relates to what we accept as that colour today. Sumner's research, like that of Nick Fuentes, covers far to broad a band of time during which we have considerable evidence of change. If we study the British army from the 16th Century to today we would be equally confused by the changes.
Sumner suggests that the colour blue is associated with the navy based on two pieces of evidence, a vexillum and a cloak. He also refers to Vegetius (Epit IV 37) that the 4th. Century British sailors died their tunics and sails to match the colour of the sea. Does this mean light or dark blue or light or dark green? The Mediterranean and the Atlantic are not the same colour.
He uses the Biblical reference Matthew 27:28 to suggest that Christ was possibly dressed as a mock centurion in a red cloak. A number of different Bible versions of this verse state that "they put on Him a scarlet robe". A good dictionary will give more than one definition of scarlet, the oldest of which is a type of light cloth that can be of any colour, not necessarily red. It comes from saqalat, a Persian word.
Luke 23:11 states that they used a gorgeous robe. Mark 15:17 and John 19:2 say the robe was purple. All four use the word robe, not cloak and three of the Gospels mock Christ by saying "Hail King of the Jews". A robe is the form of clothing more suitable for a King. This reference has no relevance to military dress.
A point that no one seems to pick up on is one used by Peter Connolly, years ago in his Roman Army book. If it was meant to clarify the layout of the legion for readers, why not for the legion itself. All the shields carry the same legionary markings, but each cohort is colour coded. Having stood on a field with about two thousand re-enactors or army personnel I have to question logically, if everybody was dressed in the same colour how would a general standing on a hill or to the rear distinguish through haze, dust or rain, who was what or where in a battle? The standards would not be all that clear, but a block of colour would. 500 men in the same colour would identify for the general and a mounted messenger which cohort to move. Add to this different neck scarves for each century within that block and you have total control. Ten different colours would logically solve a lot of problems and we clearly have the evidence for many colours.
I believe the evidence for white tunics indicates that they may have been used for religious or parade order. Samples of white on grave stones seem to prove this as a parade colour. Grave stones, as Russell Robinson stated, if made by the military, should be more accurate primary evidence than the secondary evidence of artists on wall paintings or mosaics. We do need to interpret what we are looking at. What we see on these monuments is clearly parade order. Death is the last great parade and one appears in ones best.
The Roman legions were a professional army armed and equipped by the state. Therefore the suggestions that individual men could not afford two different tunics are unlikely. If Greek city states of an earlier period could issue a coloured cloak to each soldier then the Roman soldier would surely be issued with more than one tunic. During a time of war an undyed or natural wool tunic might have been used as a replacement, but a peace time army, I believe, would not accept this. Yann Le Bohec quotes centurions applying to wear white for parade order and this being granted by Septimius Severus (193 - 211 AD).If this is correct it would be unlikely that officers would apply to wear the same colour that the other ranks wore all the time and if legionaries were wearing white all the time they would hardly be likely to use the same colour for parade order. What colour did they wear prior to this request?
I do not believe that anything conclusive has been proven. There is however ample proof for many colours to be present. If we accept Arrian (129 - 130 AD) with his description of auxiliaries wearing many different coloured tunics for sports parade wear then my theory of different colours in the legion and a second tunic for parade must hold water. What self respecting citizen soldier would be withheld the right that a Peregrine had?
There is no evidence that we are wrong to wear blue and the wearing of white would surely be incorrect for field order.
Len Morgan, January 2003