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Staff by Day, Roman Soldier by Night

News Story

While most of us are battling traffic and a seemingly endless pile of paper work, Office of Student Success employee Brandon McCluskey dons some ancient looking duds and heads out to the battlefield.

“I was always fascinated with the Romans and ancient Egyptians, ever since I was a little kid,” says Brandon McCluskey, a student success adviser for the Office of Student Success. “I’ve always wanted to know what it was like to be one of them.”

Later on, McCluskey got the opportunity to live out his childhood dream. While minoring in Greek and Roman Civilization as an undergrad at SUNY Albany, he had taken to watching History Channel programs that featured historical re-enactors.

“I kept seeing programs with re-enactors in them and I thought: ‘I want to do that.’ I remember in middle school when the Civil War re-enactors would come to class and really bring history alive,” McCluskey says. “I wanted to do that for Rome.” McCluskey went online and eventually got in touch with Mike Heenan, a retired Army staff sergeant and leader of a re-enactment group in Wells, ME. The rest, as they say, is history.

“I was hooked,” he says. Since then, McCluskey has assumed the wolf’s pelt and chainmail clad role of signifer—or standard bearer—for the Roman military. His group, which is associated with the Living History Society, is named Legion III Cyrenaica, which is based on the Roman legion that was stationed in Alexandria, Egypt, around 35 BCE. Through re-enactment, he says, he’s gained a better understanding of the past and met some great and knowledgeable people.

“We like to say that it [historical re-enactment] is experimental archeology,” McCluskey goes on to say, “Although the academic community frowns on this term, I’ve certainly learned a lot about what it must’ve been like to be a Roman soldier—it wasn’t easy and they must’ve been really tough!” Since beginning on his re-enactment journey, McCluskey says he’s had amazing adventures with his group—learning to make his own equipment from scratch and even getting the opportunity to fire a full-size ballista (a.k.a. ancient missile launcher) which, at even just a quarter of its full power, could launch concrete balls about a hundred yards.

But McCluskey’s forays into re-enactment aren’t just limited to traipsing across fields in homemade helmets—it’s taken him to a variety of places, including to the silver screen. His group was invited to portray Caesar’s crossing of the Rhine for the History Channel movie Rome: Engineering an Empire. Their scenes were shot at Franklin D. Roosevelt estate in Hyde Park, NY. He’s even been a part of a full immersion event in Lafe, AK, to commemorate the 2,000th anniversary of the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest, where German barbarians led by Arminius wiped out three Roman legions. At the event in Arkansas, a local farmer constructed a full-size fortress used by the Roman and barbarian groups during the re-enactment.

Away from battle, McCluskey shares his passion for ancient Rome by giving lectures and demonstrating his replica equipment. Teaching, he says, has also given him the skills he needs to address a crowd, something that definitely comes in handy while working at Pace. “A work-life balance is very important to me and I am involved in many hobbies, not just this one,” he says. “I need play time if you want to get work out of me.”

Do you have a secret after-work identity? A hobby or talent you’d like to share? We’d love to hear about it! Share your story with us by e-mailing