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Jared M. Olson




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PostPosted: Wed 31 Jan, 2007 1:58 pm    Post subject: Roman Armor (or the lack thereof...)         Reply with quote

There has been one question on my mind since I started looking into the armor used by the Romans. They were wise to adopt mail, scale and plate for their upper bodies. They used large shields. They had greeves for their shins, guards for their wrists, gloves for their hands and helms for their heads...

I could be totally crazy, but why didn't they think of wearing more than a tunic to cover their thighs? It seems like slashing their bare thigh to cut their femoral artery would bleed them to death in a matter of mintues. I realize that their scutums would have covered much of their legs, but still...once the shield was dropped or broken, they are toally unprotected. At least they could have at least adopted some form of pant to keep their legs warm...

I apologize if I am missing something obvious here, but I just need to get this question answered. Worried
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James Barker




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PostPosted: Wed 31 Jan, 2007 2:28 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I don't think Roman's had any arm armor; you may be mistaking jewelry for armor.

Other armors besides a helmet and body armor are truly rare in the field, likely because it had to be paid for.


Some reasons that are true for any time but are just a guess. Later medieval troops mostly only had head and body protection for many of these reasons

1) Weight vs. protection. Today's soldiers have tried out limb defense in Iraq and rejected it due to weight and heat issues.

2) Cost, if you are not required to have it and it is not issued it may not be worth it.

3) Roman armor is mostly one size fits all with a little room for adjustment; later leg defense is made for the wearer.

4) The head and body need the most protection, they contain organs.

James Barker
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Richard Fay




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PostPosted: Wed 31 Jan, 2007 2:32 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Hello all!

How often would the Roman scutum be dropped or broken during a battle? During the heyday of the legions, the Roman soldier was a highly disciplined warrior. I think they would have hung on to their scutums under most circumstances. Didn't they typically open the attack with a barrage of pilums, then close shoulder-to-shoulder, with the scutums protecting their fronts, and cut and thrusted with their gladii?

Wasn't their armour as good or better than that used by most of their enemies? Perhaps they didn't feel the need for additional leg protection. Also, being an infantry force, perhaps it was a compromise between protection and mobility, a common compromise when armour is concerned. How widespread were greaves among the legionaries? Were they standard issue, or were they worn mostly by the centurions and other officers? I seem to think they weren't necessarily "standard issue", but I could be wrong.

I believe that the late Roman cavalrymen did indeed sometimes adobt thigh protection, in the form of laminated strips of iron. I think there were examples of this found in Scotland. However, I don't know how widespread this was.

I know this doesn't necessarily answer you question, but I think these questions are all related to your initial inquiry.

Stay safe!

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James Barker




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PostPosted: Wed 31 Jan, 2007 2:41 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Richard Fay wrote:
I believe that the late Roman cavalrymen did indeed sometimes adobt thigh protection, in the form of laminated strips of iron. I think there were examples of this found in Scotland. However, I don't know


Yes I think so ther maybe an example as early as the 2nd Century AD and I think it is a few more later but they are still rare.

The guys over at the Roman Army Talk Forum would know more than I would.

James Barker
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Jared M. Olson




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PostPosted: Wed 31 Jan, 2007 3:19 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

James Barker wrote:

The guys over at the Roman Army Talk Forum would know more than I would.



Do you have the web address for that forum? I've never been there.
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Martin Wallgren




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PostPosted: Wed 31 Jan, 2007 3:42 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Jared M. Olson wrote:
James Barker wrote:

The guys over at the Roman Army Talk Forum would know more than I would.



Do you have the web address for that forum? I've never been there.


www.romanarmy.com/rat

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John Cooksey




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PostPosted: Wed 31 Jan, 2007 4:38 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

James Barker wrote:
I don't think Roman's had any arm armor; you may be mistaking jewelry for armor.

Other armors besides a helmet and body armor are truly rare in the field, likely because it had to be paid for.


Some reasons that are true for any time but are just a guess. Later medieval troops mostly only had head and body protection for many of these reasons

1) Weight vs. protection. Today's soldiers have tried out limb defense in Iraq and rejected it due to weight and heat issues.

2) Cost, if you are not required to have it and it is not issued it may not be worth it.

3) Roman armor is mostly one size fits all with a little room for adjustment; later leg defense is made for the wearer.

4) The head and body need the most protection, they contain organs.


There are some depictions, and scattered archaeological remnants, of banded arm and thigh defenses. (i.e. manica)

I didn't surrender, but they took my horse and made him surrender.
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Randall Moffett




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PostPosted: Thu 01 Feb, 2007 12:03 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

They just found a interesting collection up in carlisle that Oxford is related to the excavation. So far I have not seen the final publication of the site record yet but is supposedly has some gauntlets and scale aventails, along with some standard and other non-standard items. I emailed one group involved a while ago but it has been some time since they wrote me to give me an update.

The other bits of armour might be rare but roman armour in general falls into this catagory no?

I think Richard gave a good point. Apart from the top rank men who had the funds to be totally kitted out. Also on foot all the extra weight mighnt not be so good as romans marched everywhere.

RPM


Last edited by Randall Moffett on Thu 01 Feb, 2007 6:08 am; edited 1 time in total
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Elling Polden




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PostPosted: Thu 01 Feb, 2007 4:40 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

As far as I've gathered, the armour of the roman legion was supplied by the state, rather than the individual. It was also transported by carriage, and issued when battle was forthcoming.
Often there would not be enough armour to go around, and only some of the ranks would be equiped with it.
Late imperial legions had significantly less armour than the early imperial, late republican ones.
The romans also adopted heavy cavalry from the parthians and armenians. These where fully armoured in scale, with laminated steel arm and leg guards.

As for the lack of leg armour, it could be a simple case of cost efficiency. While definitely usefull, one would rather have two legionaries with mail "t-shirts" , rather than one with a hauberk.

"this [fight] looks curious, almost like a game. See, they are looking around them before they fall, to find a dry spot to fall on, or they are falling on their shields. Can you see blood on their cloths and weapons? No. This must be trickery."
-Reidar Sendeman, from King Sverre's Saga, 1201
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Lafayette C Curtis




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PostPosted: Thu 01 Feb, 2007 6:12 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Well, there's also the factor that they would be fighting in formations or at least in small units, not individually. A Roman who got his scutum hacked out beyond repair could probably just drop back to the rear while his comrades on either side covered the gap left by his retreat.
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Martin Wallgren




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PostPosted: Thu 01 Feb, 2007 6:55 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

http://www.romanarmy.com/rat/viewtopic.php?t=13993&highlight=

A tread bordering on the subject here!

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Matthew Amt




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PostPosted: Thu 01 Feb, 2007 1:34 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Avete!

I'll try to clear up a few things, here! First of all, "Roman" is a very broad term, covering about a thousand years of history and several very different military systems. So it helps to close down to a more specific era, such as Etruscan period, Republic, early Empire, etc.

In the Monarchy and Republic (up to c. 100 BC, that is), all land-owning Roman citizens were liable for military duty, and had to supply their own equipment. Just what they were required to have depended strictly on their wealth assessment (i.e., their class, First through Fifth). The poorest were velites, with a round shield and javelins, and possibly helmet and sword. Most legionaries were equipped as hastati or principes, with shield (the tall oval Republican scutum), helmet, round or square pectoral (small breastplate about 9" across), a greave on the left leg, and sword and javelins. Men worth over 10,000 drachmas were required to have a shirt of mail and 2 greaves, though before the introduction of mail (c. 300 BC) they were using muscled cuirasses and possibly scale armor. Legions had large baggage trains, apparently since many men stowed their armor on carts or pack animals, or had slaves tote it, only wearing it when necessary. But each man definitely had his own stuff!

Around 100 BC, Gaius Marius started recruiting landless citizens, and equipping them at his own expense. It is often assumed that most had mail after that, but there really isn't a lot of solid evidence about that. Greaves were apparently ditched, since the men now had to march in armor, with their packs, cutting down dramatically on the baggage train. By Caesar's time, c. 50 BC, it is generally thought that mail was universal, but again there seems to be evidence that many legionaries did not have body armor. Even some Augustan reliefs show legionaries in battle apparently unarmored. This was not necessarily seen as a big problem, since in most other cultures the standard equipment was spear and shield. Any legionary with a helmet and sword was already better equipped than that! That big scutum was excellent defense.

Right into the early Empire, soldiers were technically responsible for providing their own equipment, though most of it was "issued" upon recruitment and deductions were made from the mens' pay to cover it. Scutum, helmet, and body armor were typical gear in the first and second centuries AD. Greaves were used by cavalry and by centurions and higher officers---they could ride horses! In the second century, we see the return of greaves for at least some legionaries, as well as crossed bracing on the helmet and a segmented guard on the right arm, called a manica. These are believed to be a response to the Dacian falx, but they are also found in other parts of the Empire where the falx did not exist. Probably the greaves and manicae were not used by all legionaries, but we simply don't know for certain. I haven't heard of any use of gloves or gauntlets, aside from a hand plate on the end of the manica. Legionaries were still required to march in full armor, with shields slung on the back and helmets slung on the chest, with pack pole over the shoulder. Surviving paperwork makes it clear that attention was paid to the kit each man had, so there was no mad scramble at battle time! I've never seen any indication of an inadequate supply of amor or weaponry, at least in normal circumstances. Any fort would have had an arsenal of spares.

It was not until the third century AD that equipment was made in centralized factories and actually issued by the state. This is not my area of expertise, but it is becoming clear that the Late Imperial army was quite well equipped and properly trained, contrary to older theories. This was in many ways the height of the Empire, not its fall. It is still quite likely that not every man had body armor, but I think that applies to earlier centuries as well.

As far as protection for the thighs goes, the mailshirt of the Republic and early Empire extended to at least mid-thigh, and the early styles of greaves covered the knee. The gap between wasn't very much, and that's the area best covered by the shield in any case. The lorica segmentata actually exposes much more of the body. But in both cases, the arms were not covered at all. To the Romans, that simply wasn't a concern! ANY body armor was better than the vast majority of the barbarians they were fighting, so they considered themselves to be well off. Leg armor was simply too much weight on the march--and a soldier KNEW he'd be marching up to 20 miles a day, whereas battles were far from frequent.

The kinds of "wrist guards" or bracers seen in movies simply did not exist. There seems to be a law in Hollywood that the male wrist must not be shown! So they have to make something up. There are some very uncommon bronze forearm guards in the early Republic and in the Greek Archaic era, and sometimes back in the Bronze Age, but they are actual pieces of armor, not just black studded leather fashion statements...

The Roman shield was a very durable item, made of layers of wood strips glued together and covered with fabric, leather, and/or rawhide. Since most opposing weapons were spears and javelins, it would be very difficult to damage a shield to the point where it wouldn't protect any more. There simply wasn't a lot of beating deliberately on shields with axes or clubs, attempting to wreck them--the idea was to go *around* the shield and armor to get at the man!

Dropping the shield accidentally could certainly be a problem, but Romans looked out for each other and had teamwork drilled into their heads constantly. Dropping one's shield deliberately is technically known as "losing"!

The Carlisle excavations happened a good 5 years ago or more, and we are still waiting oh-so-patiently for full publication! Finds included up to 3 apparently complete segmented manicae, with at least some leather lining or straps surviving, and several pieces of scale armor (one of which has been interpreted as an aventail but could easily be something else).

Gotta go, but I think that covers most of the high points! Valete,

Matthew
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Steven H




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PostPosted: Thu 01 Feb, 2007 1:58 pm    Post subject: Re: Roman Armor (or the lack thereof...)         Reply with quote

Jared M. Olson wrote:

I could be totally crazy, but why didn't they think of wearing more than a tunic to cover their thighs? It seems like slashing their bare thigh to cut their femoral artery would bleed them to death in a matter of mintues. I realize that their scutums would have covered much of their legs, but still...once the shield was dropped or broken, they are toally unprotected. At least they could have at least adopted some form of pant to keep their legs warm...


Slashing open the femoral artery is rather difficult even without a shield. The femoral artery lies on the inside of the leg - a hard spot to hit on a defending opponent - and also very deep, and surrounded by dense muscles. Not an easy target by any stretch.

The other points made, like protection versus encumbrance, are very good.

Oh, and pants were something only barbarians wore!
Seriously, the most distinctive piece of dress worn by the Romans enemies was, in many times and places, pants. So a legionaire has two options: 1) dress like a barbarian or 2) or wear short dress even in winter so as to prove your manliness. Guess which was more common :-9

Kunstbruder - Boston area Historical Combat Study
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Richard Fay




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PostPosted: Thu 01 Feb, 2007 2:20 pm    Post subject: Re: Roman Armor (or the lack thereof...)         Reply with quote

Steven H wrote:

Oh, and pants were something only barbarians wore!
Seriously, the most distinctive piece of dress worn by the Romans enemies was, in many times and places, pants. So a legionaire has two options: 1) dress like a barbarian or 2) or wear short dress even in winter so as to prove your manliness. Guess which was more common :-9


Didn't the Roman legionaries adopt short pants later on? Of course, these aren't the full breeches of the barbarians, rather pants like shorts that didn't go much past the knees. I believe there are depictions of just such garments on Trajan's column, as well as a first or second century AD relief on a sarcophagus showing Roman soldiers with barbarian captives (the Roman's wear pants that end just below the knee, while the barbarians wear full-length breeches), and a third century bas relief showing Romans fighting and subduing barbarians.

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Martin Wallgren




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PostPosted: Thu 01 Feb, 2007 3:02 pm    Post subject: Re: Roman Armor (or the lack thereof...)         Reply with quote

Richard Fay wrote:
Steven H wrote:

Oh, and pants were something only barbarians wore!
Seriously, the most distinctive piece of dress worn by the Romans enemies was, in many times and places, pants. So a legionaire has two options: 1) dress like a barbarian or 2) or wear short dress even in winter so as to prove your manliness. Guess which was more common :-9


Didn't the Roman legionaries adopt short pants later on? Of course, these aren't the full breeches of the barbarians, rather pants like shorts that didn't go much past the knees. I believe there are depictions of just such garments on Trajan's column, as well as a first or second century AD relief on a sarcophagus showing Roman soldiers with barbarian captives (the Roman's wear pants that end just below the knee, while the barbarians wear full-length breeches), and a third century bas relief showing Romans fighting and subduing barbarians.


Then again half of the soldiers on Trajans column is thought to be Auxiliae and not always roman. And the TC is not known to be the best source for details because it compares badly to archological evidence, or at least so I´ve been told.

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Randall Moffett




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PostPosted: Thu 01 Feb, 2007 11:56 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Matt,

If you hear something first and let me know regarding the dig I will make sure to let you know if I hear something first. It sounds like they have a farily significant number of pieces of armour there from what information has been trickled to me by a few people. They told me about a year ago it would be out soon but does not seem to have happened.

RPM
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Matthew Amt




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PostPosted: Fri 02 Feb, 2007 7:26 am    Post subject: Re: Roman Armor (or the lack thereof...)         Reply with quote

Steven H wrote:
Oh, and pants were something only barbarians wore!
Seriously, the most distinctive piece of dress worn by the Romans enemies was, in many times and places, pants. So a legionaire has two options: 1) dress like a barbarian or 2) or wear short dress even in winter so as to prove your manliness. Guess which was more common :-9


By the mid-first century AD, almost half of the LEGIONARIES were recruited from the provinces, primarily Gaul. Citizenship was spreading, and any citizen was eligible to join the legions, so a man did NOT have to be of Italian descent to enlist. This meant that many legionaries were born and raised in "barbarian" areas, and had never been to Italy. Most likely they didn't give a darn about high fashion in Rome! As an illustration, during the Civil Wars of 68-69, the residents of Rome were horrified by the appearance of Vitellius' legionaries who were romping through the city, as they were dressed so barbarically. We're not even talking about the auxiliaries, here! So as I see it, the options are: 1) dress sensibly, or 2) dress like a snooty Italian Caesar-Wanna-Be and freeze off something important! Care to theorize which might have been more common?

Randall, I will certainly be making some noise when the Carlisle stuff gets published!

Valete,

Matthew
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Steven H




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PostPosted: Fri 02 Feb, 2007 2:57 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Oh, well, I was less certain about the pants thing anyways.
Kunstbruder - Boston area Historical Combat Study
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