For the Romans, it is the size of the loom that will determine the size of the garment. Moreover, and contrary to other people’s customs, the Romans didn’t like wasting, so they prefer looms just the right length, instead of looming large tissues they will have to cut out (A.T. Croom).
The weaving is generally therefore made at the correct length and tissue need only to be sewn on the sides, leaving a hole for the head and arms. Later, under the empire, short sleeves will be woven with the rest of the tunic in a single holding, which will provide a cross-shaped fabric; in this case the seam will begin directly under the sleeves.
Wool is undoubtedly the dominant tissue of Roman’s time. The traditional Roman woman is very often represented extending wool on a spindle, and it was a tradition in good families and aristocrats alike, that the main House lady is involved in wool working.
The quality of the wool varied according to the social rank and the seasons. Wools were all woven, but could have different frames, thinnest at the thicker. Martial for example describes a certain type of Padua tunic, manufactured with a triple weave that only a saw could cut. But without going so far, thick tunics woven in the style of the English tweed existed for the fresh seasons.
In contrast very fine wool existed and would give tissues of great finesse, which in addition to their lightness, would permit these superb folds so popular with the Romans as testified by their lapidary. These tissues were certainly widely used in Rome, both by women than by men. Wool was sometimes so fine that it became transparent, but the many smooth folds that it made provide one incomparable touch. This wool is also surprisingly well adapted to suit summer heat and could serve as a parade or dinner tunics as described by some ancient authors. Here, it should be noted that it was common in Italy to superpose several tunics on top of each other to prevent from cold. The wool is an insulation that protects both from cold and heat alike, unlike modern popular beliefs that do design it only against cold.
There is no consistency among soldier’s tunics, and everyone is free to wear as he likes as there is no notion of a modern uniform. Some customary limitations existed nevertheless, for example black is a color of mourning and bad omens, dark colors in general are the lot of slaves, and a free man of some condition will be most probably unwilling to wear it.
The purple bands are reserved to the aristocracy and the larger ones to members of the Senate (Augusticlave), and embroidery of laurels or other fins are allowed only for the general who has triumphed after a vote of the Senate (toga palmata).
Other colors are assigned to other tissues, for example a few mural paintings of hunters depict them dressed in green. There are representations (described in another chapter) of peanulas camel or light brown color. Red but also green capes edged with a yellow border on the Republican fresco of the Hunter.
Linen is also commonly used by the Romans. Flax is plant and is cultivated for 3 uses: fibers, livestock food and its oil. Having a great finesse and purity, it is however more expensive than wool because his transformation is more laborious. It is commonly used to manufacture tunics for hot seasons, but also the tunica intima or subuclas, a sort of undertunic worn under the traditional wool tunic.
Finally, there are many other fibers such as hemp or even to the poorest more coarse fibers produced from the bark of trees that will be able to dress the servants of some poorer soldiers. Finally the rich Romans have also used cotton and silk, both imported from India and China. These tissues were so rare and expensive, that only the very wealthiest aristocrat families could afford them.
I will give a final detail point on weaving, without going too deep in the subject because it is not our primary topic here, but it still has its place. In some cases the Romans used looms with weights hanging at the bottom of the vertical threads (warp thread). At the end of the weaving these threads were sometimes left as is, forming natural decorative fringes.
Legionaries’ tunic color is still today an endless debate. What is accepted usually today it is three colors that are proven in some way: the red, white and blue.
Blue was assigned to marine troops (from Vegetius), but there is also a gravestone particularly well preserved in Creta depicting a sailor named Sabinianus wearing red.
Red is attested in some texts, but in painting also. Red is the color of the God of war Mars, and everyone agrees that it was a relatively cheap and easy color to reproduce comparing to others. One of the ways to get that color is through madder (Rubia tinctorum), a plant that grows naturally and abundantly in the wild. Depending on the dye used, and the mordent used to fix the color on the fabric, red could be more or less dark and sometimes a bit brown when an iron mordent produced rust.
White was very much in use by the Romans. These white tunics are sometimes decorated with 2 vertical color stripes which begin from the sides of the neck and stop at the bottom of the garment. These typically Roman colored bands are woven into the frame and are called clavis. Many Etruscans fresco showing clavis, we may reasonably think that this practice could come from these people.