According to ancient sources, the Roman army had a selection process when recruiting new soldiers for the legions. It consisted of a physical, an intellectual and a final legal exam, since the young people who took this probatio or test had to prove that they were Roman citizens. In it, certain criteria of age, height and constitution were observed:
- Age: Recruits with ages ranging mainly from 17 to 23 were chosen.
- Years’ service: For serving in the army, depending on the type of military unit, attempts were made to recruit young men as troop soldiers.
- Height: Imperial era legionary soldiers had to be of a certain height. According to the writer Vegetius, the criteria for the first cohorts –considered elite- were established as 1.71-1.77 m. A law from the year 367 AD states that, due to the need to enrol more soldiers, the recommended size be lowered from 1.70 m to 1.64 m.
- Constitution and weight: There was a predilection for robust and strong recruits with wide chests and legs and arms capable of withstanding hard work and long marches.
- Physical appearance: Given the remarkable fatigues to which the soldiers were subjected, it is to be expected that the appearance of these men reflected a certain deterioration in contrast to that shown, for example, by the officers. Despite their generally healthy state, injuries, marks, scars and tooth loss, for example, would be consequences of the profession of a soldier. As for facial style, this was characterised by short hair and a shaved face or very short beard.
Roman military equipment criteria
The State guaranteed the basic supply of equipment for soldiers, whose cost was deducted from their pay. Although attempts were made for these items to be of quality and similar to each other, it should be noted that there was no strict uniform in the Roman army like that of contemporary military forces.
Although the army was concerned with maintaining high quality standards and directly made much of the equipment, this would vary markedly from one region to another and was subject to local fashions and uses. It should also be borne in mind that the Roman army always had a notable predisposition to adopt equipment from its enemies in order to have superior combat capacity and better adaptation to the local environment. On the other hand, soldiers could acquire new items on their own or adapt and improve pre-existing ones (as they were considered a status symbol), as long as this did not affect the efficiency of the combat unit.
The legionary or heavy infantry soldier
The main archaeologists studying the Bande military compound point out that this fortification would have served as the base for a cohort of legio VII Gemina (specifically the third).
They had a service dress, called a procintus, which was characterised by the presence of the following:
- Short tunic (tunica): Adjusted by means of a belt that used to hang above the knees.
- Shorts (bracae): Underneath the tunic the use of long woollen shorts, like pants, was frequent.
- Neck scarf (focale): A cloth was knotted around the neck to protect against the cold, or to prevent the armour from rubbing.
- Belt (balteus): In addition to its obvious usefulness, the belt was one of the most representative symbols of soldier status.
- Cloak: A cloak was worn over the tunic, of which there were two basic models in the military world; Sagum and Paenula.
- Fibulas (fibulae) and buckles (fibellae): The use of cloaks required the presence of some types of brooch to keep the piece of clothing fixed to the shoulders.
- Underwear (subligar/subligaculum). Regardless of the use or not of underpants, soldiers wore underwear under their tunic.
- Military boots (caligae): Spiked leather boots with the appearance of sandals. Their open design allowed perspiration of the feet, but they could be an inconvenience in humid climates, so they could be worn with the use of woollen socks or stockings (udones).
Colours and fashion in Roman times
A good number of natural dyes were known In the Roman world. They were fundamentally of vegetable origin and, although the use of red – like purple – was frequently associated with the most privileged social classes, it is also true that several documents show the soldiers’ taste for that colour. Meanwhile, the navy preferred blue or green tones. In ceremonial acts, white garments could be a privilege for the first centurions and officers.
Thus, it is plausible to believe that the basic clothing worn by troop soldiers was not dyed in many cases nor had colours that were common among the plebs as they were the most accessible. Brownish tones or broken whites were frequent in cloaks, tunics and breeches made of wool, although yellow was avoided by the soldiers; however, this does not mean that the use of dyed fabrics was not widespread in the army.