Let’s start with what it is not: our definition of Roman military equipment is not just ‘Roman military personal equipment’ as some websites prefer. The problem with that definition is that it excludes all those things that were not ‘personal’. This might include items held by the centuria, such as sharpened stakes (like those from Oberaden) or small artillery pieces. Larger ballistae belonged on the strength of legionary cohortes. We believe that a serviceable definition of Roman military equipment is essential in order for clarity in discussions of the subject.
Details of inscriptions ‘century of Camil(lus)’ from sharpened wooden stakes found at Oberaden (Image: Albrecht 1938)
However, it may not be the case that a hard-and-fast definition of ‘Roman military equipment’ is even possible. Perhaps we need something more fluid. Cart fittings belonging to wagons in military service might be considered military equipment. What of identical fittings on civilian wagons undertaking contracts for the army? What of civilian wagons that have nothing to do with such contracts? Similarly, archaeologists find brooches (aka fibulae) in both civilian and military contexts. Some may have been more popular with the army, but does that make them military equipment?
Here is what we said in the Preface to B&C2, when we sought to delineate our field of coverage:
there is little advantage in defining a rigid specification for what is, and is not, ‘military equipment’. Some readers may find our criteria to be arbitrary, but, for the purposes of the present volume, military equipment excludes the dona militaria, siege engines, draught harness and wagon fittings. Tools and clothing are only briefly discussed, whilst items of personal adornment, such as brooches, are generally omitted, except where they may act as representational evidence. On the other hand, we have sought to include standards and musical instruments for the first time, since further reflection has persuaded us that their role was fundamental to the operation of the Roman army.B&C2 vii
Keeping the discussion open as to what is and is not Roman military equipment is therefore vital to what we do. Our body of evidence – archaeological, iconographic, and sub-literary – grows and changes all the time and we view it as important to reflect that evolution in our data set.