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How to Dress Like a Roman

So, you are having a Roman day at school, or maybe you are going to a party, maybe you have children and need to prepare them for an amazing time travelling adventure. Whatever the reason there are a lot of different types of jobs/roles in Roman society. Below are some videos where you can meet different types of Romans and find out what they wore.

When preparing a costume, we at classroom adventures believe that making a costume is a valuable part of the experience for the children and it can really offer a great bonding opportunity for the parents as well. It is important to not take things too seriously. This is supposed to be fun, so let's get creative and see what you can find at home!

Wealthy Roman Citizens

Cornelius and his wife Flavia

Cornelius is a very wealthy citizen of Rome he owns a domus (town house) and a villa (country estate). He also owns many slaves, farmland and has some business interests back in Rome. He is wearing a tunica and over the top he is wearing a toga, a long length of fabric that is wrapped around the body.

His wife Flavia is wearing similar clothes, but the tunica is longer (down to the ankles), she also is wearing an over tunica called a stola. Over the top of that she is wearing a palla, which is the female equivalent to the toga which is smaller and can be used to cover the hair whilst out in public like a shawl.

Make your own:

A tunica (or tunic) is effectively a sack with a hole for the head at the top, holes for the arms at the side and is bunched up around the waist with a belt. A tunic can be easily made by sewing two sheets together (if you have the skills and equipment). Alternatively, your mother might have a tunic style dress that could pass (plain colours are best) or maybe even a pillowcase. For the belt a thick piece of cord is fine. String will do, but if it is too thin then it can get uncomfortable as the day goes on.

A child's toga can be made by folding a single bed sheet (ideally not fitted) in half. For a palla, one of those long thin strips of fabric used to decorate a table or bed can work quite well. Togas are not fixed in place but a safety pin over the shoulder is not a bad idea to stop it from unravelling. Bear in mind that throughout the toga/palla may need to be removed for certain activities (or basic human functions).

Although no trousers were worn in Rome 2,000 years ago, children may feel more comfortable with trousers, shorts or leggings on under their costume, especially if going out for the occasion.

The Military

Fatalis the Legionary

Fatalis is a legionary (soldier or infantryman) in one of the legions (armies) of Rome. He will serve for a period of twenty five years (as long as he survives that long) in his legion. Over that time his fellow soldiers will become like a family to him and they will share some very tough times together.

In this video Fatalis shows you some of the armour and weapons that he would be using as a soldier.

He is wearing a helmet (called a galea) with cheek guards and a fin at the back. On his body he is wear metal body armour called lorica segmentata (the lorica bit means armour, and segmentata is where we get the word segmented from) that protects his chest, back and shoulders. He is also carrying a large curved rectangular shield (called a scutum) which helps cover most of his body.

The two weapons the Fatalis is showing you are his pilum (a type of javelin or throwing spear) and his gladius (a short sword which is where the gladiators get their name). The pilum has a long thin metal tip to help pierce through the enemies shields and his gladius is short so that he can fight in a tight formation with his fellow soldiers.

Make your own:

Save cardboard boxes from online orders and deliveries as these are fantastic for making armour and weapons out of. Split pins are great for holding the parts together and the cardboard can be either painted or covered in aluminium foil. Try making little cardboard washers to help the armour last throughout the day.

For the helmet cut two strips of cardboard, one to make a circle to go around the crown of the head and the other to go over the top of the head joining to the front and back of the crown ring. Now cover with aluminium foil. If you are feeling adventurous then have a go at making some cheek guards. Cut out some upside down shark fin shapes and pierce two holes on the top flat edge and two holes to the temple area of the crown ring and tie together with string. Put a hole at the bottom, near the point, so that the cheek guards can be tied together.

For the body armour, cut two rectangles of cardboard to cover the chest and back (don't make them too wide otherwise the child will struggle to move their arms forward), two strips to hang from the shoulders and four strips to go around the sides of the child to fix the front to the back at the top and bottom. Spilt pins work very well for this. If you have enough cardboard and fancy a challenge then instead of strips for the shoulders cut small rectangles to make shoulder guards.

A shield can be made out of a simple rectangle of cardboard with a small strip of cardboard fixed to the back for a handle. Use a yogurt pot, an plastic Christmas pudding bowl or half a sponge ball to be the boss (the bit that protects your hand) and don't forget to come up with some fabulous designs for the front of the shield.

For weapons a broom handle can make a great makeshift spear/pilum and a cardboard cut out is super easy for a gladius.

Legionaries would have worn a tunica just like Cornelius above so follow the advice above.


Ferox the Retiarius

Ferox is a gladiator, which means that he is a slave and owned by a lanista (someone who owns gladiators). He could have been captured in a military conquest of another country or he may have sold himself to the lanista to pay off debts. Unlike other slaves Ferox can earn money as a slave and can even earn his freedom (if he fights well).

There were many different categories of gladiator and Ferox is a retiarius, which means "net man". Other categories of gladiator, like the murmillo or secutor, have big shields and helmets to protect them. Not Ferox though, as a retiarius he only has a padded "manaca" to protect his arm and a bronze "galerius" to protect his shoulder and face. His weapons are the net (of course) and the trident. He also has a backup weapon, a dagger.

Make you own:

Gladiators would perform wearing only a subligaria (their underwear), which is fine if people are actually paying to watch you potentially kill or be killed. However, it is likely that you will only be pretending, also in most societies it is considered improper to walk around in your underwear. Therefore, we recommend wearing a tuncia like above (don't worry you can still wear your subligaria underneath, if fact we recommend that you do wear underwear). Try making a helmet, shield and sword (as above) if you want to be a more armoured gladiator like a murmillo.

Nets can be quite tricky to make, instead take a circular piece of fabric (ideally 3 - 4 feet in diameter) and roll the edge of the circle around four to six sponge tennis balls (or something light and soft) and tie some string around the balls to hold them in place. These are now your net weights.

For a trident take a broom handle, as above for a spear, and cut a "W" shape out of cardboard. This can then be stuck onto the end of the broom handle and decorated with foil or paint.

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