Research And Reconstruction

Roman Tunics

This article is designed to offer guidance in 4th century tunic construction.

Without going into detail, surviving tunics from Egypt, so-called Coptic tunics, generally have:

Wide bodies, to the elbows.
Military tunics may have had tight sleeves.
They are woven on a wide loom, giving selvage edges (the tightly woven edge of the fabric) on the bottom and cuffs of the tunic.
The neckline can be woven into the material.
Coloured threads are woven as the weft (threads from side to side) into the warp (threads up and down) of the material. These produce patterns, the clavi, roundels etc.
Greater decoration could mean higher status. Patterns were at first geometric, later moving to faces and pictures. Patterns were cut out of old tunics and re-used in new ones.
The clavi are placed across the shoulders, ending in points. Roundels, and later in the 5th century squares, are placed low down on the front and back of the tunic, and sometimes on the shoulders. Bands of colour are found close to the cuff, but do not form the cuff.
The material used is linen, wool, or linen/wool and cotton/wool mixes.
The basic tunic is off-white. Some may be red. Decoration is red, blue etc. with detail sometimes applied by tapestry.

Producing convincing tunics is one of the most challenging aspects of recreating the late Roman soldier. To help Comitatus continue to set the standard:

Use off white/cream wool or linen, with visible threads.
Make the tunic wide in the body, not tailored in any way, with tight sleeves.
Fold your material over the shoulders and arms to ensure there are no shoulder seams and that the sleeves are integral with the body.
Sleeves are not generally sewn on Coptic tunics.
To make the sleeves long enough sew an extra bit of material on as a cuff. This seam could be disguised by a decorated band being sewn over it.
Use the selvage edge as a hem on the cuffs or bottom edge of the tunic.
If you are portraying a low status individual or are a new recruit trying to get kit together, stick to plain undecorated tunics.

Decoration can be applied by:

Sewing on tablet or inkle weave. Try and make the basic weave the same colour as the tunic. Some Asian clothes shops can also supply patterned weave.
Apply solid blocks of colour, as we did to our first ever tunics. Then use fabric paint to produce accurate patterns, which look good at a distance.
Make roundels, or perhaps squares, using embroidery or tapestry. Clavi can be produced by decorating plain wool with a running stitch, then repeating the running stitch to fill the gaps.
Use accurate decoration, made by weaving colour thread into the warp. Members have already constructed weaving frames and done this. Or you could use suitable patterns from Egyptian linen tablecloths made in the same way.