Dress and Armour

As we gather together the relics brought to light from the abandoned wells and rubbish-pits at Newstead, the figure of the Roman soldier inevitably rises before us. It is a figure rendered familiar by the great monuments which commemorate Imperial triumphs, and by the portrait-reliefs which once stood above the graves of centurions, cavalry soldiers, or standard-bearers recalling to the passers-by the likeness of the dead. It is to such memorials, and to the scanty finds of weapons and armour which have been preserved to our time, that we owe most of the knowledge we possess regarding the arms and equipment of the army of the Empire. The columns and the triumphal arches furnish us with a series of pictures of the soldier in action. The victories of Trajan over the Dacians are sculptured on the column which he had set up in Rome in A.D. 104. The triumphs of Marcus Aurelius over the Marcomanni are unfolded in the reliefs decorating the huge pillar that gives its name to the Piazza Colonna. We follow each stage in the campaigns, the army making roads, building bridges, constructing forts, attacking and attacked. Many details are given which help us to realise vividly the scenes commemorated. No doubt in such sculptures, executed, as they were, in Rome, the artists drew their inspiration to some extent from older Hellenic models, and there thus enters into the treatment a somewhat conventional element. The grave stones of the legionaries or auxiliaries, on the other hand, are probably more exact in details. The personages they represented were familiar both to the hands that carved the monuments, and to the eyes that looked upon them; and the minutiae of dress and arms would naturally be more accurately produced. As works of art these sculptures are often rude, while many of them are sorely defaced and in worn condition. Still, their value as guides can hardly be overestimated.