Ultra Minimalists, Part 2

For the Ultra Minimalists, Part 1, click here.

Some Historic Minimalists – tried and true formulas for survival

legionarypackRoman Legionary – Let’s go back to the beginning of the modern military.  As militaries go, Rome had a pretty successful run.  After their first couple centuries being beaten up by the Celts they certainly learned a thing or two about fielding an army. More importantly, when wars were no longer fought to defend one’s home things had to change.  Expansionist politics meant a paid, professional military (i.e., a mercenary army like we have today).

Without delving into a long history of the Roman military, here’s the pertinent synopsis for our purposes.  In order to make the army fully mobile (not tied to a wagon or mule train and to rid itself of non-combatant lackeys), it was determined that the individual soldier should be responsible for more than just showing up, sword and shield in hand (for some historical references, see: Scipio Aemilianus Africanus and later, Marius’ reformations).  In order to get rid of as much support staff as possible, and remove the competition in out-gearing each other, each soldier was  issued (this was a new idea) a set of gear, including a full sarcina (marching pack) which included the essentials of daily living.  The fact that they wrote about this and portrayed it in art gives us a pretty good idea of what equipment was used in the field.

Archaeological/historical side note: this, in-turn, led to the first systematic recycling program we know of; collecting the old stuff and remaking, re-tooling, and re-issuing gear.  Metal is especially recyclable.
Roman Loculus. Personal kit bag or haversack for a deployed soldier ca. 300 B.C. – 300 A.D. and beyond. A shoulder bag or haversack like this was the common unit for an individual traveler through the Middle Ages and into the modern Colonial Period. Essentially what we call a messenger bag today.

The sarcina (marching pack) of a Legionary soldier is about as pared down as one can get yet still travel in comfort:

  • Clothes –
    • Tunic: normally made of wool.  The style changed over time, but essentially a longish, heavy shirt of wool.
    • Subucula: A simple thin wool t-shirt underneath the tunic.
    • Subligaria: underpants.
    • Focale: neck scarf, just like a cowboy or a boy scout neckerchief.
    • Balteus: sword belt.  It’s implied that other belts with hooks were employed in large numbers to secure gear, just like today.
    • Cloak: two types of cloaks were used, the sagum (regular) and the paenula (hooded, cold weather type).  Closed with a fibulae (cloak pin or broach).
  • A haversack-style satchel (loculus), see above
  • Cloak bag (a stuff sack for the spare cloak/bedding)
  • Net bag, for miscellaneous stuff, food
  • Brass cooking pot
  • Mess eating tin (patera)
  • Waterskin
  • Shovel
  • Basket – used for foraging, moving dirt for ramparts, and probably many other things.
  • Pole – (furca) with a cross staff to carry everything hobo-style.  This could be used for a tent pole, stretcher half, or combined to construct larger structures.

I created the above list from several sources and it covers a period of about 5 1/2 centuries but the essentials don’t really change.  This list of course, doesn’t include arms and armor or specialized things like saws, mattocks, hatchets, axes, etc. that were also carried.  Various contemporaries state that soldiers carried between 3 and 14 days of food when on the march in a haversack.

Overall, this isn’t a bad list of essentials and looks a bit like my packing list for a camping trip.  For a modern traveler, or someone looking to completely pare down their life, this might be a good starting point.

Curiously, there is no mention of a fire kit and they are rare archaeological finds in general.  When I was in graduate school, I recall this being noted and it has been surmised that either (a) fire was everywhere in a settled continent and easy to come by if necessary, (b) coals were carried in the luggage and simply re-lit as needed, or (c) fire making was so common that it is not even worth mentioning in ancient texts or depictions.


Next time: Wandering monks of Asia…systematic, codified minimalism we can all learn from.  On to Part 3.

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