Blades explains how he made the draco.
got a call from Ros Ereira at Time Team asking if
I could make them a head for a draco, my first
question was 'What is a draco?' She put me onto a
website for a German museum where there was a
good example and a scale plan and even though it
was much larger than I was used to I said I would
have a go at it.
first thing I did was to make a rough cardboard
one to see how big a bit of metal I would need,
and I hammered out a trial piece of copper to see
where it would stretch and how far I could shape
it, especially around the nostrils and eyebrows,
which were the widest areas.
draco would originally have been made out of
sheet bronze, probably in a workshop in Rome, and
issued to the cavalry to take with them. Studying
the photos of the one in the museum it became
obvious that the bulk of the work was in the top
half: the bottom was a fairly straightforward
tray with a raised edge for the teeth and shallow
their day, producing pieces of bronze sheet large
enough and thin enough to form into the correct
shape would probably have been the hardest part
of the job. I found it difficult to find a
suitable piece of bronze, so I eventually elected
to make it in copper. To do the job in two days
meant that I needed a metal I could rely upon to
be straightforward to work.
first trial piece had come out with the nose much
too short I had underestimated how much I
would need to curve around for the nose, and it
did not have enough metal for the eyes. Apart
from that, the tool I made to do scales
from a piece of water pipe! was a great
success, and I could see that if finished it
would look a lot like the original.
with two roughly rectangular pieces of copper,
three or four hammers, a few punches, a sandbag
and a couple of blocks of wood carved to a
suitable shape, it was a relatively simple
operation if a bit slow.
the early stages it looks like a rather battered
old car bumper, but as soon as the form takes
shape you can see where more work has to be done.
As you stretch and bend the metal it 'work
hardens' and has to be softened. This is called
annealing and is done by heating the metal until
it glows and then quenching in a weak acid. This
has to be done many times during the process
otherwise the metal would crack.
the main shape has been formed and looks about
right, finer details can be put in. The ridge
around the nose, the nostrils, eye sockets, brow
ridge and raised ridge around the teeth are not
cut until the end to allow for any adjustment.
Next, the scales are stamped in and their shape
improved, while the eyeholes and the hole for the
pole are cut in with a chisel.
similar but much easier job was done on the lower
half at the same time, to keep the line of the
mouth the same. It was most important all the way
along to make sure that the mouth would be wide
open at the end. The final shaping was to put a
raised rim around the back end to carry the tail.
draco was now ready to be coloured and after a
good scrub with a brass brush the bottom half was
fluxed and heated so that molten tin could be
spread on with an old rag. This had to be natural
fabric only, as polycotton melts not a
problem the Romans would have had!
the top half would been firegilded, which
involves mixing pure gold with mercury, rubbing
on as a paste and evaporating off the mercury.
This is not at all good for you! So I used a
modified 'pen-plating' system where you 'paint'
on the gold in a conducting solution wired up to
an electroplater. This took about 3.5 hours and
at first did not seem to be working at all well.
After a pause and a clean with a brass brush,
however, it improved considerably, and at the end
it really gleamed.
draco was then put together with rivets, which
were plated over, washed and had its tail put on.
judgement of the original, having made a replica,
is that the Romans would not have spent a great
deal more time on it than I had maybe
another couple of days to do proper repousse work
to get better detail on the scales, eyes,
eyebrows and so on. This was a government-issue
job, made down to a price and finished with a
flashy plate. Gold paint was the 'go-faster
stripes' of the Roman empire!
website of the Dutch late-Roman re-enactment
society, Fectio, contains further information on
the draco, including other reconstructions:
4 is not responsible for the content of
here for the website of the
original 2005 Time Team episode.
Making the Time Team Draco is
Copyright © 2005, Tim Blades. All rights
reserved. Used with permission.
Comments to: Tim Blades