Roman Belt Pouch

Last Ragnarok I was annoyed by my lack of an appropriate Late Roman belt pouch. So one of my projects for this year became fixing that problem.

But first, I had to figure out what would count as appropriate. None of my artistic sources depict belt pouches, and yet, they seem like imminently sensible things for Romans to have–especially Roman soldiers and bureaucratic officials.

So! I turned once again to the Romans of the SCA facebook page. There are some very helpful people there.

Link: https://www.facebook.com/groups/romansofthesca/permalink/835662513281277/

They pointed me a post on a different page by an Italian craftsperson: Giacchero Roberto. They had recreated a (very conjectural) pouch based on an archaeological article (Kontny and Rudnicki 2016 Finds of Purse Fastenings from the Iron Age ‘Central Place’ at Gaski-Wierzbiczany in Kuyavia (Central Poland.)). The same person who pointed me at Giacchero Roberto’s page also helpfully provided the bibliographic information for the article, so I tracked it down and read it for myself.

The article explains that they found groups of metal objects in graves, in the vicinity of what they knew to be belt fastening–in other words, they had belt buckles and belt-ends, and then some strange metal bits in between that they weren’t sure about. The leather parts of the pouch are based entirely on figuring out what kind of object would use these pieces of metal in tandem. Here are some pieces that the Italian craftsperson made based on finds described in the article.

There are six pieces. Two of them are thin, upright pieces of metal, with a flat portion at the bottom and a thin hooked portion at the top.  Two are (in this case anyway) rectangular pieces with a single rivet in the middle of each. The last two metal pieces are like belt-ends.

The article proposed that they would fit together like this on an actual pouch:

(In this diagram, the rectangles are replaced with triangles that achieve the same goal.)

The archaeologists thought that the pieces would all fit together if we imagined a pouch that slid onto the belt and was closed with straps–the straps would be attached to the body of the pouch and they would be weighted on the ends with the belt-end pieces. Somewhere along the length of each one there would be another piece–affixed with a single rivet–that would catch on the hooked parts which would then be attached to the flap of the pouch. With the straps draped over the hooks and held in place by weight, the pouch would remain closed.

Our Italian friend cast the metal fittings themselves and then created a version of this imagined pouch, which I liked better than the archaeologists’ diagram:

I liked the X crossing on the front, the fact that the straps actually are attached to the back of the pouch’s body, and I liked the casing that allows you slide the pouch onto a belt. I copied this basic form for my own version.

I, however, don’t know how to cast metal fittings. I thought about what else might have the shape I wanted–especially the hooked shape of the two pieces that would attach the flap. A tooth or the tip of an antler were the only things I thought of. I’m a merchant, so I might be able to afford metal fittings, but in the archaeological record, metal fasteners are strongly associated with military sites and military burials. The belt pouch (like my red belt, actually) is probably a military design. Perhaps a merchant *would* own one–but finished with a cheaper material like horn or antler.

At first, that didn’t seem very helpful–I didn’t want to spend money on materials that I didn’t really know how to work with. But then I realized (doh!) that my uncles and cousins are hunters and have racks and racks of deer antlers just lying around their garages.

(Hence the box of antlers that I was very excited about a while back.)

So I made a pouch out of spare garment leather and attached some antler tips to it. Then I held it up and watched the weight of the antlers fold the pouch flap in two. Here’s that pouch, half-finished as I realized I needed sturdier leather for this project.

Luckily, I had leather left over from my turnshoes project! I used up every last bit of it to make this pouch, but it was well worth it. In the picture below, you can also see the final versions of the other fittings. I sawed and sanded cross sections of antler into roughly the shapes I wanted. Deer antler is true bone and proved more difficult to work with than I expected!

The straps and the back casing came from the original, softer pouch, so they are made of garment leather. I have noticed that the weight of the antler strap ends and the stress of being worn has started to stretch the thin leather a bit. If I circle back around to this project later, I’ll probably invest in a thicker grade of leather to replace these parts.

I always have notes to myself about how my projects could be better, but this is one that I’m very happy with overall. I wore it at both Contention of Leeds Circle and Siege of the Azure Castle and it worked great! The elaborate closure system does a great job of keeping  valuables secure! It’s just the right size to hold the essentials–a cell phone and credit cards. 😛

About the author: Iason the Greek