Tents: details

After a brief survey on the types of tents and them sizing, follows an article that describes in detail the materials and the seams for their tailoring. The original and full versions are available at the following links: Early Period Tents, LEATHER and LEATHERWORKING TIPS.

 The materials^

The fabric. From the archaeological remains (great leather pieces), from the testimony of Plinius (he said how many calfskins served for manufacturing a curtain), and from the Latin term ("sub pellibus durare", to live under tent, literally under to skins), historians have deduced that the Roman tents were made of leather pieces, calf or goat, sewn together up to give them characteristic form.

Today however the provisioning of this material, the cost and its deterioration, dissuade the use of it and many groups have chosen other types of compatible fabric with the Roman period. The linen tightly woven or the wool are all right, but they have to be water resistant.

In the hardwares stores you can find some types of rainproofing (spray or varnish), or you could used non philological material as the cloth of the modern awnings.

scheme of the leather tents
(Lord Orvin fecit)


Official's tent

General's tent


The pegs. Two types or tent pegs (on the right) are known, these having been excavated at the Numantia, Spain siege site (both now in the Romish Germanishches Zentralmuseum, Mainz, West Germany). They were both made of iron. The contubernium and officer's tents used 14 pegs, while the general's tent used 20 pegs. It would appear that the largest of the tent pegs (the first) would not be larger than 30,5 cm and the smallest 20 cm. Such pegs, if you do not have access to a forge, or local smithy to make some, could be reasonably made of wood (oak or walnut being best for durability and both are period materials).


The poles. Tent poles were more than likely made of wood. Again, period wood, which is durable as well, is oak or walnut. For ease of transportation, it would not be unreasonable to make the poles sectional, much like the poles of present day Army pup tents (the Romans were known to have made equipment so that it could be divided among the solders of a legion, for carrying in the individual's kit). A modern day step to prevent rot would be to treat your poles and pegs with shellac or polyurethane, but for a more period flavor, use bee's wax.

The rope. The only period rope material I know of is hemp.



Roman tents were sewn with several distinctive seams which are designed to be waterproof, and which may be useful on other items as well.

1. and 2. show the two steps in sewing the reinforced or welt seam. First the two pieces are laid grain sides together and a narrow strip called a welt is laid along the edge, projecting beyond it. All three layers are sewn together with a 2-needle stitch. Then the outer layer is turned up and the free edge of the welt is sewn to its flesh side with tunnel stitches, meaning that the needle goes into the flesh side and back out again without ever coming through the outer grain side. Either a whip stitch or a running stitch may be used to secure the welt. When properly done there are no holes through the leather, and water runs off without getting into the seam.

On the right is a photo of the inside of a welt seam, with a whip stitch at the edge of the welt.

3. A wide reinforced seam, similar to the welt seam but the welt is wider and tunnel-stitched down along both edges.

4. A bound seam, used at the corners of tents.

 Running Stitch^: the simplest in-and-out stitch, giving the appearance of a dashed line (- - - -). Start by making a knot at the free end of the thread, and when you reach the end of the seam or the end of the thread, knot or tie it off.

Two-needle Stitch: use a length of thread with a needle at each end. Put one needle through the first hole and center the thread, then pass both needles through each hole from opposite sides. This makes sort of a double running stitch (------). At the end of the thread or the end of the seam, simply backstitch about 3 stitches to secure it. The same sort of effect can be achieved by doing a regular one-needle running stitch, but reverse course at the end of the seam and continue back to the beginning.

 Leather Care^ Leather that gets dirty can be cleaned with water and a scrub brush, then allowed to dry in the air (not too close to a heat source). Once it is completely dry, it may need another coat of neatsfoot oil to restore its suppleness. There are numerous products that are sold for cleaning and treating leather, but most are unnecessary and some are even harmful.

 Finished work^

(photos courtesy of www.caerleon.net)

Outer side

Inner side



  • (13/08/2005) First Version