RomanArmyTalk

Full Version: Why banded armor (lorica segmentata)? Why not breastplates?
You're currently viewing a stripped down version of our content. View the full version with proper formatting.
Pages: 1 2 3
I got the idea while watching History Channel's "Bodicca"- some reenactor Roman legionnaires were wearing a odd-looking breastplate with hinged shoulder guards. I thought- thats a good idea! Simpler design, equally good protection, why didn't the Romans do that? Why, indeed, go with the complexities of a lorica segmentata? All- those hinged parts, difficult to stow and maintain. Why?? Any idea what the urgent need behind that peculiar armor was?

Only thing I could think of is that the armor was designed for packed formations where the danger was from slashing blows above. Lorica Segmentata protected the shoulders well- allowing the legionnaire to use quick jabs with unprotected arms and shoving shield boss to fight. But I still don't see why the need for segmented body armour- for hurling pilum? Or is it a question of simple manufacture?
Iron age smelters had difficulty producing blooms that were large enough to fashion a one-piece breastplate. It was done on occasion. One example is the Vergina iron cuirass allegedly attributed to Philip II.
I saw that too. They looked similar to Conquistador breastplates to me :roll:

To your question, I would think the answer is : money.

Quote:Iron age smelters had difficulty producing blooms that were large enough to fashion a one-piece breastplate.

How about a two piece cuirass ? One for the back and another for the front and tying them together ?
Quote:I saw that too. They looked similar to Conquistador breastplates to me :roll:

To your question, I would think the answer is : money.

Dan:2jo6rbsm Wrote:Iron age smelters had difficulty producing blooms that were large enough to fashion a one-piece breastplate.

How about a two piece cuirass ? One for the back and another for the front and tying them together ?
I'm not sure I understand. Most cuirasses consisted of a breastplate for the front and a back plate that were tied or strapped together. The size of the bloom required to make a breastplate wouldn't be much different to the two blooms needed for a cuirass.
Ok, it wouldn't solve the problem. Well, I thought that Philip II cuirass was truely one-piece - which is very unusual as you said.
Could it also be that it's easier to custom fit to an individual? If the plates were precut (large size) and formed by a large fabrica, then shipped to the location, the leathers could be custom cut to make the seg fit the individual after the appropriate plates were shortened. All you have to do then is rivet it all together at the fort's fabrica. A very efficient means of tailoring, especially for batches of recruits - the segs wouldn't all turn up at once for a whole legion.
Lendon in Soldiers and Ghosts suggests that during the Principate legionaries became increasingly specialized in engineering and siegework, where protection from above was especially important, while auxilliaries took on more of the fighting. This is assuming, of course, that lorica segmentata was a purely (or at least mostly) legionary armor.
Quote:Lendon in Soldiers and Ghosts suggests that during the Principate legionaries became increasingly specialized in engineering and siegework, where protection from above was especially important, while auxilliaries took on more of the fighting. This is assuming, of course, that lorica segmentata was a purely (or at least mostly) legionary armor.
That's backed up, as he says, quite logically by Trajan's Column - the proportions of auxilia versus legionaries depicted in combat and siege/engineering work. I suspect a good proportion of combatants on the Adamklissi Monument are also auxiliaries.
I would suggest that ease of repair played a role. I'm told that a damaged one piece cuirass is significantly harder and more expensive to repair than a damaged Lorica Segmentata, which is in turn harder to maintain and repair than mail. Given that armour was intented to see lengthy service, I would argue that ease of repair was of some concern.
If true, this would go some way towards explaining why Breast Plates were reserved for Officers and perhaps even why Auxillaries were generally restricted to Lorica Hamata. It's all speculative, though.

Matthew James Stanham
Quote:perhaps even why Auxillaries were generally restricted to Lorica Hamata
In what sense? If you mean hamata was even easier to repair, that makes sense.
Indeed, exactly that.
So far as producing a complete body cuirass is concerned, the sheet of iron required would simply have been beyond the capabilities of most Roman smithies to work. There is also another factor - the sheer weight of the thing if it were made of iron! The Romans were certainly adept at working relatively small billets of iron (see David Sim's book, "Iron for the Eagles") However, I have never come across a really large piece of worked iron; the biggest I can remember is a large box hinge that was about 9" long and around 4" wide that came from Richborough.

The earlier Etruscan bronze body curiass is well known, but there is no extant example of a Roman bronze body curiass dating to the 1st and 2nd centuries AD. Yet there are numerous statues showing senior Roman commanders wearing the muscle cuirass. Did they ever exist, or are they merely artistic inventions? Until one actually turns up, we will never know.

Lorica segmentata body armour seems to have been a wholy Roman invention. David Sim has calculated that a full 'shirt' of mail would have talken one man between 12 and 15 months to make, whereas a suit of lor seg could probably be fashioned in around 3 to 4 weeks (given the availability of the raw materials). This represents an enormous saving in effort and time. You could turn out a dozen segmentata sets in the time it would make to produce one mail shirt.

As someone mentioned above, the main protection is located in the shoulder area, where there are three of four overlapping plates. Given that the soldier would have a socking great shield in front of him, and his head was protected by a good iron helmet, only the shoulders would need extra protection. One other factor, of course, is the fact that the armour was easy to fit to the soldier. By simply taking out a girdle plate, differences in height can be acommodated while changing the position of the girdle hooks will allow for different girth sizes. Most of the hoards of fragments of this armour that we find have clearly been gathered for reuse. This may imply that the armour was high-maintenance but it can also suggest that it was relatively easy to maintain by detaching bits that had become damaged.

Despite what Mike Bishop has written on the subject, I am inclined to believe that the armour was not confined to the legionary soldiers, as Valerie Maxwell suggested. It may well not have been widely distributed but where there was a need. We know that the Roman army was not that hidebound. 'Artillery' is generally supposed not to have been used by the auxiliary regiments during the first two centuries AD, but there are least four known locations where it is quite clear that it was being used by auxiliaries, within this period. All of them have one shared characteristic - they were all isolated postings which would have been difficult to reinforce in an emergency. In other words, the auxiliaries were being given a "force multiplier".

It's something of a circular argument. A given site (e.g. Hod Hill) is supposed to have been garrisoned by the legionary troops because fragments of lorica segmentata were found there. Which argument is then used in turn to 'prove' that only legionary troops used the armour!
Quote:So far as producing a complete body cuirass is concerned, the sheet of iron required would simply have been beyond the capabilities of most Roman smithies to work.

Not sure I agree with that. Smaller billets of iron can be forge-welded together and hammered out thin. You can't do that with bronze--you have to have a flawless cast blank and hammer it out without cracking it--yet we know the ancients did that all the time.

Quote:There is also another factor - the sheer weight of the thing if it were made of iron!

Why would a solid iron cuirass be heavier than a segmented one? The solid one would actually be lighter since the overlaps wouldn't be there. The thickness is what will determine the weight, and that varies for any type of armor or implement.

Quote:The earlier Etruscan bronze body curiass is well known, but there is no extant example of a Roman bronze body curiass dating to the 1st and 2nd centuries AD. Yet there are numerous statues showing senior Roman commanders wearing the muscle cuirass. Did they ever exist, or are they merely artistic inventions?

There are a couple HUGE long discussions about this!

Quote:As someone mentioned above, the main protection is located in the shoulder area, where there are three of four overlapping plates.

I keep hearing this sort of thing, and am puzzled every time. The shoulder plates overlap no more than the girdle plates. There CAN be a difference in the thickness, with shoulder sections tending to be a tad thicker than the girdle sections. But that's typical of armor all over the planet in many eras, and doesn't imply any sort of specialized tactics or use.

I think the big advantage of the segmented lorica over a solid cuirass is it's flexibility. A good muscled cuirass does not restrict movement very much, but it needs to be a little better tailored to the body, and it cannot extend down beyond the ribs. The lorica segmentata, on the other hand, has more of a fudge factor for fitting, and can extend down to the hips while not restricting movement in the least.

While making a lorica would certainly have been easier from a technical viewpoint than a muscled cuirass, I'm not sure ease of manufacture was a major factor. It if were, those rotten hinges would have gone away in a generation rather than getting larger and fancier over time! I'm not sure ease of repair was big on their minds, either--and a lot of that can be pretty subjective. A completed lorica segmentata doesn't really allow for a lot of adjustment, only an inch or two of circumerence, but my guess is that they were produced in 4 or 5 basic sizes.

But on the fundamental question of "Why?", all I can say is, We don't know! I tend not to ask Why, since it only keeps me awake at night. It can also lead to all sorts of wild (and dangerous!) speculation. The lorica segmentata is good armor, and demonstrably better in some ways than other types, though yes, they could certainly have done parts of it differently. But they didn't!

Oh, and since no one else seems to have said it, Beware of strange things you see on TV. Don't let them cloud your mind or detract from the facts.

Valete,

Matthew
I saw a show where they compared the two to stabbing and iron tipped arrows. The lorica segmentata actually held together better then the breast plate, it stopped the arrow, distributing the force evenly around, where arrows penetrated the solid breast plate.
Quote:Iron age smelters had difficulty producing blooms that were large enough to fashion a one-piece breastplate.

That is my understanding as well. Bigger bloomeries came after the Romans.

Also, medieval and Roman metallurgy were quite far apart. Gladii, for example, were made from wrought iron with a thin steel edge whereas medieval swords were made of a composite mix of steel and iron.

Better steelmaking was a prerequisite for iron plate armour of manageable weight. Bronze plate armour, as used by the Greeks, was extremely heavy and Roman success lay partly in ditching this for increased mobility.
Pages: 1 2 3