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Roman craft activities

Have fun with these Roman craft activities inspired by the Roman invasion of South West Britannia.

Use your ingenuity to recreate Roman technologies available in AD53. How do you make a shield for a Roman Legionary soldier or a Roman Onager (war machine)?

Making Roman Shields

This is our fun version of the famous shield used by the Roman Army.

Large, rectangular and curved, it could be used by individual soldiers or in formation. The Testudo (meaning a tortoise) is a famous close formation that created a shieldwall. Soldiers positioned at the front and back rows, as well as at the sides, held shields in front of them, and soldiers in the middle held the shields over their heads. This made the soldiers into a single and well-defended unit, who could move forward under siege.

You will need

  • 2 large pieces of card
  • Long strip of card
  • PVA glue
  • Masking tape or decorative sticky tape
  • Coloured paper or plain paper and colouring pencils
  • Staples
  • Safe Scissors
  • A tape measure and ruler

Measure and cut out your shield

To measure your shield: measure from just above the shoulder to just below the knee and this will give you the height. The width, allowing for curve, is two thirds of the height.

The shield should be shaped like a ‘playing card’. For strength, glue two pieces of pre-cut cardboard together using PVA glue.

Tape around the sides of your shield to neaten up the edges.

Make a design for your own Roman Legion

Design a bold military motif to identify the Roman Legion you belong to.

Roman Shields had a “boss” (a metal dome on a flat plate – sometimes circular, square or rectangular) at the centre of the shield to give it extra strength, so remember to incorporate this into your design. These bosses were often plain, but sometimes they were very decorative, so you could make a detailed design for yours.

Draw an outline of your design onto coloured paper and then cut out the shape.

Paint a background colour onto your shield and wait for it to dry thoroughly.

Glue your pre-cut design onto the shield.

Attach the boss. Strips of card could be used and covered in PVA glue for strength if you want the boss to stand proud of the shield

Glue and tape, or staple, a strip of card for a handle across the reverse of the boss. This should be horizontal and long enough for you to be able to use your shield in battle.

How to make a Roman Onager

An Onager (which means a “wild ass” because it really kicked!) was one type of war machine used by the Roman Army in Britannia. At the end of the arm was a basket which was loaded with heavy stones or rocks. The arm was winched downwards and when released the stones were hurled towards the fort or settlement under siege.

This is our version of this famous war machine.

You will need

  • Piece of corrugated plastic 13 x 8cm
  • 1 whole wine cork
  • 1 cork cut into 4 pieces
  • 2 wooden skewers cut to 10cm long
  • 2 lengths of string cut to 15cm long
  • 1 plastic tea spoon
  • Pencil and ruler

Instructions

The plastic is a base for your onager. Find the centre and draw a line across the width. Decide which end will be the front (F) or back (B) and mark in pencil.

Place the long side of the big cork widthways, just in front of the centre line. Pierce 4 holes around the cork. Thread strings through the holes, and tie into 2 tight knots over the cork to secure it firmly to the base.

To attach the arm (plastic spoon!) Mark a line through the long side of the cork – position this line so that the spoon will lean backwards at about a 60 degree angle. Cut the line and insert the end of the spoon securely.

Make an axle and wheels for your war machine by inserting the skewers at either end of the onager, and attaching a small cork at each end.

Besieging your enemy

Make sure you and your friends stand behind the onager, and not in the firing line.

Consider what type of ammunition you use, and the space in which you operate your onager. For indoors in confined spaces or with very young people around, roll up pieces of paper or card for ammunition. If you are outside in a big open space you can use small balls of plasticine, but keep everyone away from the firing line.

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