The barbarian fashion of northern Europe not only introduced the legions to the long sleeved dalmatica, but also to the bracae – the long trousers. Celtic and Germanic tribesmen had worn bracae for centuries, and traditionally the Romans had scorned their use as effete and uncultured. The adoption of barbarian-style clothing in the late 2nd century changed all that. Throughout the empire in the 3rd century long trousers were routinely worn with long-sleeved tunics. These bracae were quite tight-fitting and made of wool and it is quite probable that they were all made with integral feet that served as a sock.
One 4th century wall-painting shows a pair of bracae with belt loops and belt being carried by a slave (see below); did all trousers have belt loops? We do not know.
Barbarian bracae were kept up by rolling over the hem at the waist and stitching it to create a tunnel through which a cord-tie could be fed. Bracae may have been made by tailoring woollen cloth or by sprang-work, a method of knotting fabric which has some similarities to knitting. Sprang trousers can certainly be made close-fitting yet still allow legs to bend, but cloth bracae must be made in a looser fit if the feet are to get through.
The Terentius fresco shows a group of soldiers at a religious ceremony, and their trousers seem to be blue-grey.
For centuries leg-wrappings (fascia) had been worn by Romans who needed some form of leg protection, either from the cold weather or from nettles, brambles and the muck of the fields. Often these wraps were simply rectangles of woollen cloth wrapped around the lower leg and fixed with ties. Farmers, the infirm, travellers and huntsmen are habitually depicted wearing this type of clothing in wall paintings. The emperors began to wear them too. Augustus, often ill and always feeling the cold, wore fascia, and two centuries later emperor Alexander Severus wore them as a fashionable item. In the 3rd century the Roman soldier may have worn these rectangles of cloth to protect his expensive bracae from vegetation and mud.
Above Woollen leggings with feet 'sewn in' found at Thorsberg in Germany. These became the fashion for soldiers (and other men of the empire) in the 3rd and 4th centuries. [photo Wiki Commons]
Below 4th century fresco shows a servant carrying his masters bracae, note the integral feet and the belt and belt loops! (Illustration P. Elliott)
Left Two soldiers, Demetrius and Salvianus, spend their free time wrestling. Both men wear woollen leg-wraps or fascia.