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How to (re)create a roman legion, a lesson with Mattew Amt
by Luca Bonacina, July 2003

Legio XX is the name of the roman reenacters group started by Matthew Amt (41) about 12 years ago. It is based in Laurel close to the USA capitol Washington D.C. and counts up to 25 members, with some civilians included.
Even if not really known by the general public, Matthew became, during these years, a true celebrity, in the roman reenactor world due to his Handbook For Legionaries, an how-to on line guide (
http://www.larp.com/legioxx) that drives the beginner to understand how to make by himself any kind of roman equipment. In 2003 his web site was awarded by the Roman Hideout with the Gold Award.

Matthew is a very rare kind of person. He has big energies and a great roman passion, but the thing that everybody loves in him is generousity. Matthew never saves suggestions to people that ask him help, he always answer by email to everyone that ask him any sort of question on the roman reenactment stuff.
To meet him was a great experience, his explosive personality and his great sense of humor make very pleasant to spend time with him.

We have met him in Laurel where he lives with his wife Jane and his 10 years old daughter Olivia, during a Fabrica day.


Matthew Amt shows his
Lorica Segmentata

When this passion born?
Heck, no idea, must have been way back in high school.

When you attempted for the first time to re-build something roman?
12th grade (1980) in an Ancient History class. I made some aluminum armor, wooden gladius, etc. as my class project. Must have been 17.

What is your roman reenactment favourite activity?
Talking to the public and showing them our stuff is great, but probably the best is when your public are children. I also like to make things, not just Roman stuff, though.

Matt has shown us his secret "arsenal", that contains not only roman, but any kind of costumes and suites starting from ancient Greece, to the American Revolutionary and Civil Wars to a complete Orc suite from the movie "The Lord of the Rings".


The "Arsenal"

Matt, how many dollars do you spend each year just for personal achievents (books, reconstructions, etc.)?
Maybe $50 on books, $100 or so on leather, some fabric, some brass. Almost nothing on equipment, since I make so much of my own stuff and don't really need any new Roman gear.

What are the things that make your group different from the others?
Me of course! Actually, I'm not sure I know enough about other groups to give a good answer. There are a number that got their inspiration from us.


The all-periods Matt's swords collection

What would you like to do that you had not yet time to do or you think it is impossible to realize without huge money? In few words: what is your secret roman dream?
Oh, a huge Roman history park with a reconstructed fort and amphitheater would be nice. Someplace close to home, so I wouldn't have to drive far, and I could store the tent and some other stuff there and not have to haul it around!

Let's talk about the very famous "larp" Legio XX website. Almost every group is usually jealous of his work. Nobody wants to share knowledge, contacts, experiences, for many reasons, first of all because for many is becoming business. Your way to share everything made you very famous and loved by all roman reenacters. Your web site is assumed as a sort of bible. Are you satisfied of this or you would like to do something more or different?
I've just tried to make it the resource that I wish I had when I got started. This entire hobby is about education, and the thought of withholding information is completely alien to me. Why learn anything that you are not willing to share? And I "want" to tell everyone how I made all my stuff, so that I won't have to make it for them! Being the "guru on the mountaintop" can be a little tiring sometimes, but I'll try to keep answering questions as long as people keep asking. It does feel really good to be making a difference. By the way, "Larp.com" is not my server, I simply accepted their offer of free web space. I have two other historical sites there, and a fantasy one as well.


Matthew's lab

"This entire hobby is about education, and the thought of withholding information is completely alien to me. Why learn anything that you are not willing to share?"

What do you think about all the controversies between european roman groups?
I don't know much else about the group politics in Europe, but I expect it's the same kind of friction that happens among Medieval or Civil War groups in the US. It's sad, but that's what happens when you get a lot of passionate people together.

It is true that in US there is much more brotherhood between groups?
Might be mostly because there are so few of us so far, and spread so far apart. But different groups are starting to rub shoulders more, now, and there are some personalities clashing. Hey, we're Americans, we can bicker self-destructively better than anyone else in the world!

Here it comes the question that must be done to all roman reenacters. Following all the recent controversies: you chose the white color for your tunics, why?
Hey, we've been leading the tunic war since it started! We chose white at first because of the evidence in Nick Fuentes article. In spite of what others says about it, it was the first actual evidence concerning tunic color that we had seen. And we knew all along that Fuentes wasn't a perfect source, but it was all we had. Some of the sources he mentioned (Judgement of Solomon fresco and Palestrina mosaic, for example) are still fundamental pieces in the debate.
By the way, our official position is that we wear white, but we really don't know if tunics were uniform at all. Better evidence may make us change.


Matthew with the official
Roman Hideout cap

More details on this topic are available on the Tunic Color page of the Legio XX website (http://www.larp.com/legioxx/tcolor.html)

Do you fight too?
Not yet. If someone else in the group wants to make wicker practice shields and wooden swords, or foam rubber swords for really whacking each other, great, but I don't have time for more projects right now!

Legio XX has very active members, that are usually easy to find on the famous web forum: Roman Army Talk (RAT). One of them is Richard Campbell who shares with Matt his authentic passion and it's big generosity. Richard is an old friend of the Roman Hideout since when it started, he maintains his two huge maps to locate roman groups linked on our home page.

When did you meet Matt?
Quite by accident a friend from New Orleans who admitted he was a Roman reenactor told me about Matt. I attended a workshop, met Matt and some of the others and have participated ever since.


Richard Campbell

"I  have - continues Richard - always loved the Roman and Greek myths, and when I took Latin in High School, I had one of the best teachers in the US who later went on to start the National Latin Exam, Jane Hall. 
In high school a friend and I used Trajan's column to make a vinyl lorica. I wish I still had that!"
Richard admits that his secret "roman dream" is to walk down a recreated Roman street, with shops and a forum.
Compared to Matthew, Richard spends much more money each year: about 1500 US dollars for books and various equipment, also some civilians.

What is your opinion about the european controversies?
Matt is fond of saying that to start and maintain a Roman group you need one person's strong ego, and egos are usually not good at compromise. That and it seems some European groups can get funds from local governments, something we never do, so competition for that must factor in. I don't think anyone in the US makes money from these events; it is a hobby for enthusiasts and volunteers. The only thing keeping more of us in the US from participating in each others events is the distances involved. 

 

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