Robert Wear is taking University of Tennessee students back to the past with his Roman re-enactment group, First Cohort.
A sophomore in journalism and electronic media, Wear said he has been re-enacting Roman battles since high school and hopes to have success on campus.
“There is no greater feeling than peering through your helmet at a barbarian group,” he said. “You forget what time period you are in.”
The idea of re-enacting Roman battles started when Wear was building catapults that eventually grew to 18 feet in width. Wear and his high school friends decided to videotape themselves dressed up as Romans and barbarians. The rest, as they say, is history.
“It’s definitely more interesting than just reading about the history, if you’re hammering out a shield,” Wear said. “We thought it would be funny to make armor.”
In fact, the armor Wear uses is mostly handmade; the chain mail alone took four months for him to reproduce. The rest of the armor is the result of weekend projects, and Wear said the hardest part is finding the right materials to make the armor accurate, such as brass rivets for leather straps. He learned how to do it from his grandfather, who is a woodworker and craftsmaker.
“My family loves it; they’re into history,” Wear said. “Our whole goal is to show what the Romans looked like and how they lived. We do it for parades and history events.”
Romans mixed cultures, he said, and it shows in the armor they wore. For example, the swords came from Spain, the chain mail from France and the shields from the Semites.
Wear said three of the main battles they re-enact are one of Attila the Hun, who many say died of a “nose-bleed” at a wedding (he drank a lot and the most possible cause is he had liver damage), and two of Caius Marius, a general who made the Roman army organized and “great.”
“Our military still uses some of his ideas,” Wear said. “Many reasons why they were so good are that they were volunteers, like ours, and wanted to be there.”
William Dean, junior in computer engineering, said the group allows him to improve his swordsman skills.
“It’s another way for me to do swordsmanship,” Dean said. “The sword is an elegant weapon.”
His roommate thinks he’s crazy, but Dean said it’s another activity that coincides with his swordsman classes.
“We’re thinking about two meetings a month, where we will pick an item of clothing and show [students] how to make it,” Wear said. “If girls want to join, they can do Roman style of dresses. We don’t just do military stuff.”
Hoping to become an official student organization at UT, Wear said they expect to find out Feb. 8 if the university accepts their group; so far they are the only re-enactment group on campus, he said.
“I think it’s cool. I have a bud who does the SCA [The Society for Creative Anachronism] stuff,” Stephen Bradshaw, an undeclared sophomore, said.
Wear said the SCA is more of a private fighting group who has ‘kingdoms’ spread out across the United States. In fact, according to their Web site,, the SCA is an international organization dedicated to researching and re-creating the arts and skills of pre-17th century Europe. Their “Known World” consists of 19 kingdoms, with more than 30,000 members residing around the world. Members, dressed in clothing of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, attend events which may feature tournaments, art exhibits, classes, workshops, dancing, feasts and more. Their “royalty” hold courts at which they recognize and honor members for their contributions to the group.
The Roman re-enactment group received a huge turnout for their last meeting and is looking for an even better turnout for their next meeting this Friday at 5 p.m. in the UC 237. Wear said they are looking for the group to participate in this year’s Rossini Festival in downtown Knoxville. Their Web sites can be found at and