One of the interesting things about our hobby,
but one which can also be the most frustrating, is the way our
knowledge of the Roman army and its equipment is continually being
expanded by new discoveries. Sometimes this allows us to introduce
new items which allow for a more interesting interpretation or
sometimes a more practical approach to things. However, all too
often it tells us that we have we have fallen behind the current
state of the evidence and need to make improvements to kit in
the light of an enhanced level of knowledge. Regrettably this
can end up costing us money we would sometimes rather not spend
and this is a common problem experienced by most re-enactment
groups of most periods.
In the light of this, it is an unfortunate
fact that many of our sword scabbards now fall into this category
and need to be upgraded or replaced in the light of what we now
know about the evidence they are based on. This includes my own
|The scabbards I am talking
about here are the ones which feature locket plates decorated with
two large embossed 'X' shapes. These are based on Micheal Simkins
interpretation of pictures of a fragmentary locket plate from Long
Windsor (figure 1), now in the
Ashmolean Museum. In the mid 1970s, when Simkins proposed the pattern
of locket plate commonly seen in the RMRS, far fewer Pompeii type
scabbard parts were known than are know to us today. At the time
the only known Pompeii type locket plates he knew of were the four
from Pompeii itself and one other from Leiden in Holland. The Long
Windsor find consisted of a Pompeii type sword and its fragmentary
scabbard. Although the remains of the locket plate measured less
than half the length of the Pompeii and Leiden examples, Simkins
made the quite reasonable assumption that the Long Windsor plate
would originally have been of the same dimensions as the other know
Pompeii type locket plates, with two decorative fields. His interpretation
of the piece was that it had originally had an 'X' shape embossed
into it (which had later corroded away) and given that the assumed
lower area of the plate was not present, he repeated the pattern
on the lower field of his reconstruction which he found on the surviving
portion. At the time his interpretation was sensible and reasonable
and seemed a good interpretation of the evidence. It became known
as the 'Simplified Simkins Pattern' locket.
So far so good then, until new evidence turned up to call Simkins'
interpretation of the Long Windsor plate into question. In 1996,
Martin White, of the Ermine Street Guard, published an article which
convincingly showed, based on a closely comparable locket plate
from Valkenburg in Holland (figure
2), that the Simkins' interpretation of the Long Windsor
plate had been wrong and that the plate had not been embossed but
had instead had the 'X' shape inscribed into it, along with a number
of small punched circular shapes. Another comparable locket plate
had been discovered some time before at Vindonissa in Switzerland
(figure 3) but was not widely known
at the time.
Figure 1: The Long Windsor locket plate
|Since then five more examples
have come to light and they now comprise a distinctive group of
a completely different type of locket plate to what had been known
before. These other examples are a plate still incorporated in a
scabbard from Porto Novo (figure
4), an unprovenanced plate currently in a museum in Budapest
an unprovenanced find from somewhere in the Balkans, now in a private
collection (figure 6), a plate from
Lobith in Holland featuring an inscribed warrior in a chariot (figure
7) and a plate still incorporated in the remains of a scabbard
from Rajkova-Mogila, currently in the National Museum in
Sofia (figure 8). This last example
appears to be embossed and features a motif of the wolf and twins.
Figure 5: The Budapest locket plate.
As will be seen from the pictures, these locket
plates are all much shorter that the other type of Pompeii scabbard
locket and all feature short legs which extend down to the point
where the scabbard would be crossed by the upper cross hanger
holding the upper suspension rings (as can still be seen on the
Porto Novo and Rajkova-Mogila examples), inscribed
horizontal lines at top and bottom and often feature gamma shaped
cutouts, further decorative cutouts, radiating inscribed lines,
small punched circles, figural designs and scalloped lower edges.
All of these plates appear to have featured a retaining band near
the top which passed around the rear of the scabbard.
It is worth pointing out at this point that
these lockets may come from a transitional type of scabbard. Although
the Long Windsor plate was associated with a Pompeii type chape,
the Porto Novo scabbard was closer to the dimensions of a Mainz
type scabbard but also featured the palmette decoration
associated with Pompeii type sheaths.
Figures 9 and 10 show reconstructions of the updated interpretation
of the Long Windsor plate and the Vindonissa plate.
Figure 1 N. Griffiths
Figures 2-8 C. Miks
Figures 9-10 Ermine Street Guard
Martin White, 'Pompeii Scabbards' - Exercitus
Christian Miks, Studien Zur Roemischen Schwertbewaffnung In Der
A good point that has often been made is
that at any one time the Roman army must have had around a quarter
of a million sets of equipment in service and with what we have
to study comprising less than one percent of this, it is often
unwise to get too prescriptive about how something was or was
not done. Therefore a certain amount of assumption will always
have to be used in addition to the strict evidence which has survived,
as long as it starts from the evidence and works outwards from
This is generally a safe 'fall back' position.
However, in this case we have an instance of the evidence having
increased, which in turn has shown that the old interpretation
of one part of it had been seriously and verifiably flawed.
Therefore, regrettable as it may be, the time has
now come when we need to start phasing the Simkins pattern locket
out of the group. This should start with no further examples being
introduced, and then continue as individual members either replace
their scabbards with more accurate ones or have their scabbards
upgraded to fit better with the current state of the evidence,
hopefully with minimal cost being involved, until we reach a point
in perhaps two or three years' time when the old Simplified Simkins
pattern lockets are nothing more than a fond memory to be found
in old photos of the group. As long as all of the Simkins plates
are replaced with reproductions of designs known to be correct,
no similar upgrading of scabbards should be needed again for a
very long time (and hopefully never). For those who wished to
upgrade, rather than replace, their scabbards, replacement locket
plates could easily be produced and fitted.
Figure 9: The Long Windsor reconstruction.
Figure 10: The Vindonissa reconstruction.