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Leather Armor? (NO HOLDS BARRED!!)
#1
Ok, this has been hashed out again and again, like the perenial debates about tunic color, but it seems like it's time for a new throw down, so ....why not? :twisted:

This started over on this thread:

http://www.romanarmy.com/rat/viewtopic. ... 7283#57283

Since I am the self appointed leader of the "leather brigade" (an unpopular position I know) I thought I should weigh in.

My basic position:

There is no doubt that the Romans used leather armor.

I doubt that it was ever typical or normative, since we have so few finds in archaeology or art, but there is no doubt it was used and I think that a re-enactor is justified in using it within the bounds of the evidence.

I have lots of reasons to believe this, but I think I'll hold my cards until I see what others have to say.

Let me answer Matt's last observations though.

Quote:
tlclark:3ec233dw Wrote:Well hardened leather was a very serviceable form of armor in the middle ages, so we shouldn't disparage leather armor too much. Also, this might be the first layer of a multi-layer protection with mail or plate underneath.

I don't mean to disparage leather as an armor- the absolute least that can be said of it is that it's definitely better than no armor at all, right? The issue I have is not with functionality- whether there COULD have been leather armor- but existence- if there actually WAS leather armor in use during the Imperial period. That statue certainly shows a garment that appears much like musculata armor, but I don't see it lending any concrete credence to the idea of leather armor in service.

Actually I disagree. While I agree that for the most part, these were "uniforms" or "parade" armor never meant to see combat, I think you could make a serviceable leather musculata, and my best bet is that the republican and early imperial period musculatae were in fact, hardened leather.

Quote:Certainly we know leather was widely used for garments, so we can say that it's definitely possible what the Emporer has beside him could be a martial garment- made to look like armor without having the weight, etc., but given the huge dispartiy in protective value, I really can't see anyone who could have proper metal armor using leather.

Well I think that leather armor has several advantages, weight, flexibility, and decoration since it could be elaborately molded, as in this 17th C. Dutch example.

http://astro.temple.edu/~tlclark/lorica ... athera.jpg

Aesthetics is often sacrificed by a lot of re-enactors as being impractical concerns for working armor, yet most of the shields we have recovered are elaborately decorated. I think leather's capacity to be molded and used as decoration was probably seen as a positive feature, perhaps outweighing other more practical features, (especially is you had a bodyguard of Praetorians watching your rear.:wink: )

Plus, with a very good subarmalis, and maybe a layer of maille, I don't know that leather wouldn't function as well as anything else in the field.

Quote: As a substitute worn by non-combatants- 'part of the uniform' as you put it Travis, sounds plausible, but then again I'd classify that as a garment and not actual armor. I suppose one could argue that they would be made to offer at least some protection- but since that wouldn't be their primary function, I'd still go for the garment classification myself.

I think this is a matter of semantics. "Armor" is more than just functional working military protection - IMO. It carries a lot of social and visual importance as well (of course, I'm an art historian and visual anthropologist so you'd expect me to think that.) So I would classify it as armor, but I would prefer the term "ceremonial" or "parade" armor, which indicates that it was not meant for actual fighting. However, it looks like armor, it's worn like armor, in all other attributes it functions as armor, its meant to convey the presence of armor, so it's armor. A uniform doesn't do that.

Other than that I have no real objections to this being a non-functional piece of armor.

Travis
Theodoros of Smyrna (Byzantine name)
aka Travis Lee Clark (21st C. American name)

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#2
I have a question.
Experimentation (Jason Hoffman the pioneer here!) seems to prove that 15 layers of linen protect well enough.
How many layers of skin or leather protect effectively?
Any tests any one?
Kind regards
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#3
Well, I dont see why several layers of hardened leather wouldnt give some protection. But for the record, four layers of unhardened leather dont work very well, I have a scar to prove it.
~~Gavin Nugent~~

Who told you to die! Keep fighting!

If anyone knows of anything in Long Island, New York please tell me.
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#4
A shot in the dark: any depictions of 'leather armour' are probably leather subarmalis worn without metal armour!

Makes sense to me.

No evidence to back that up though. Cry
~ Paul Elliott

The Last Legionary
This book details the lives of Late Roman legionaries garrisoned in Britain in 400AD. It covers everything from battle to rations, camp duties to clothing.
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#5
Williams' tests against hardened leather show that his sample, at least, was far inferior to layered linen - especially against weapon points. To get decent protection from leather it needs to be much heavier than a metal or even a linen equivalent. So weight and flexibility are definitely NOT benefits of using leather. I am guessing that the thickness required would make leather difficult to shape into the musculata typology. If you reduce the thickness to mould it then it is no longer viable as armour - unless it is layered over something else. In regions where textiles are widely available we see very little evidence to support the use of leather armour. They either use quilted layered linen, or metal. Many cultures covered metal armour with fine leather, both as decoration and to protect the metal. Could this be a possibility? The Romans certainly seem to have had no problems with painting shiny bronze.
Author: Bronze Age Military Equipment, Pen & Sword Books
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#6
Ave Travis,

It sounds to me like you've altered your position somewhat. Before, I thought you had the impression that only some of the musculata was certainly leather (e.g. the shoulders and pteruges), but now you're saying...

Quote: Since I am the self appointed leader of the "leather brigade"... I think you could make a serviceable leather musculata, and my best bet is that the republican and early imperial period musculatae were in fact, hardened leather.

Based on the Prima Porta we know that metal ones did exist in that period. So, there must be at least a ratio between the two types in your view, right ? (With the metal ones being the rare type)

[Image: augustus1.jpg][Image: augustusstatue.jpg]
~~~~~jaime~~~~~~
Fathers of the Church
[Image: CRShield02.png]
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#7
I think this excellent site covers Mr Clark's arguments better than he could attempt on this forum (unless he has uncovered some new evidence since putting this together).

http://astro.temple.edu/~tlclark/lorica ... eather.htm

I don't have a problem with leather furniture on a metal cuirass. I have severe doubts about a complete leather musculata though - especially one that was intended to see use on the battlefield. It simply doesn't resist thrusts very well. Considering that the primary threat was from spears and arrows, it would be suicide to wear leather unless it was heavily layered like Mongol armour or made into scale/lamellar such as the examples at Dura Europos.
Author: Bronze Age Military Equipment, Pen & Sword Books
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#8
I do not see why the evidence used here to show that there existed 'soft' types of musculata hints necessarily to leather. It could also be fabric, felt, or something else we haven't thought of yet.
Just my two cents.
Christian K.

No reconstruendum => No reconstruction.

Ut desint vires, tamen est laudanda voluntas.

LEGIO XIII GEMINA

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#9
Quote:A shot in the dark: any depictions of 'leather armour' are probably leather subarmalis worn without metal armour!

Makes sense to me.

No evidence to back that up though. Cry

When you look at them they have many of the details that are only found on the exterior of the musculata, such as the shoulder harness. So unless these features are part of the subarmalis as well, I doubt it.

Travis
Theodoros of Smyrna (Byzantine name)
aka Travis Lee Clark (21st C. American name)

Moderator, RAT

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#10
Quote:Williams' tests against hardened leather show that his sample, at least, was far inferior to layered linen - especially against weapon points. To get decent protection from leather it needs to be much heavier than a metal or even a linen equivalent. So weight and flexibility are definitely NOT benefits of using leather. I am guessing that the thickness required would make leather difficult to shape into the musculata typology. If you reduce the thickness to mould it then it is no longer viable as armour - unless it is layered over something else. In regions where textiles are widely available we see very little evidence to support the use of leather armour. They either use quilted layered linen, or metal. Many cultures covered metal armour with fine leather, both as decoration and to protect the metal. Could this be a possibility? The Romans certainly seem to have had no problems with painting shiny bronze.

All good points and all possible. My personal feeling though is that we are operating on a set of assumptions that may not necessarily bear out.

I often invoke the "Hamblin" rule. Hamblin is a military historian from BYU and my undergraduate professor.

Once he was telling the class about West African armor, which is amazing. One student objected that it would be too hot to use, to which Hamblin replied, "Well one way you're hot, and the other way you're dead" A lot of the judgements about armor today are arbitrary. In reality, you can only judge it against the next best alternative of the circumstances.

Under that standard, leather works fine. It doesn't have to be perfect, it only has to work well enough.

If it slows the projectile enough to be stopped by a layer of mail or the subarmalis (which might be layered linen) it would provide more than adequate defense. There are always trade-offs. I think that the aesthetic possibilities of leather are part of the trade-off. Looking important is certainly as important to the officer class as being well armored.

Travis
Theodoros of Smyrna (Byzantine name)
aka Travis Lee Clark (21st C. American name)

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#11
Quote:I think that the aesthetic possibilities of leather are part of the trade-off. Looking important is certainly as important to the officer class as being well armored.
I agree with Travis on that one, given "status" and prestige was all important to a Roman. It is supposed that officers of patrician class generally didn't mix it up too much in actual combat either (although Ross Cowan and Kate Gilliver may correct me on that) compared to the common soldier. However, when they did get stuck in, who were they generally up against? From what I can tell of most barbarians, effective armour tended to be for the high status nobility and wealthy members of a tribe or kingdom. Therefore, a Roman wearing a leather cuirass would be at an advantage anyway, unless against one of his own comparable class, so there is a logic to its use.

But, we do have physical finds of metal cuirasses from antiquity, and none of leather, which makes me, at least, lean towards them mostly being made of metal. The Bergama floppy armour is definitely an exception in the evidence, unfortunately sculptural. It's very hard to tell from the photo, but it looks to me to be made of something different than the usual sculptures (creases, etc). Perhaps it was simply a unique set made for that particular general, and that's one of the reasons it's portrayed as such. It could be a part of his unique identity.

And, as Dan points out, the greatest threat was from missiles. But then again, shields were available to protect against those.

Who knows? But if I were to buy a cuirass, it'd be metal.

So far.
TARBICvS/Jim Bowers
A A A DESEDO DESEDO!
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#12
Arggh! I posted a reply to this and it disappeared! Oh well, Here's the brief reply.

Quote:Ave Travis,

It sounds to me like you've altered your position somewhat.

I don't think so, I think if you read my origins essay you will see that the the early republican musculata are based on the linothorax, and I think that the early imperials ones are as well. That would argue that they are most likely leather (or maybe laminate linen).

The primaporta is an isolate, it's the only one that looks like it that we know of. The harnesses, hinges and tongue pteruges during all periods are clearly leather, the big argument is over the cuirass itself.

My best guess is that many were entirely leather, but also that many were bronze or metal. The ratio of leather to bronze is anyone's guess.

My feeling is that by the antonine period, the armor is most likely all leather and mostly ceremonial. This may explain two phenomenon that we see later on, first the lack of obvious side seams, and second, the addition of scales to the musculata.

Everyone comments on the inability of leather armor to deflect missile attacks. The addition of scales to the musculata is obviously a response to that problem. Why would you add them if they were bronze?

Travis
Theodoros of Smyrna (Byzantine name)
aka Travis Lee Clark (21st C. American name)

Moderator, RAT

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#13
Matt posted this on the other board where this conversation started. It's valuable so I am reposting it here.

Quote:Avete!

Matt L., I definitely agree that leather and rawhide are different materials! The problem is that the few archeological finds are uncertain or have not been properly analyzed--it's also true that rawhide is far less likely to survive than leather of any sort. So I frankly don't know if that piece from Dura Europas is tanned or not! There is also ambiguity in the literary references, since translators are not always picky about technicalities between hide and leather, and some Latin words (or worse, Greek) can be ambiguous.

I'm like you, I feel that leather/hide had its place, but would not have been chosen as functional armor by someone who could get the best in metal armor. But they clearly did some things that we simply don't understand! Travis and I have been back and forth about this, and it seems we spend a lot of time shrugging our shoulders at each other.

[Comment inserted by Travis: LOL Isn't that the truth!! Again, I think the evidence is clear it was there, and that it was used, but in what capacity, ammounts, conditions, ceremonial or functional, all of those answers are at best educated guesses.]

That image he posted blew my little mind the first time I saw it... I think that all his suggestions could be entirely correct. Or entirely wrong! I am firmly waffling. Isn't research great?

LOL, Matt you're wonderful. If I ever get around to making one of these musculata, I'm gonna make you get one just for hanging in there with me for so long.

Personally, I think the evidence for a leather musculata is very compelling, but largely circumstantial, and I think that's the best it's ever going to be.

Travis
Theodoros of Smyrna (Byzantine name)
aka Travis Lee Clark (21st C. American name)

Moderator, RAT

Rules for RAT:
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#14
Thanks gavin and Dan for info on leather armor efectiveness
I too aggre with Travis that perhaps to be effective ahd to be used with soething else.
Tarbicus point worths more examination in my opinion.
Kind regards
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#15
Quote:I do not see why the evidence used here to show that there existed 'soft' types of musculata hints necessarily to leather. It could also be fabric, felt, or something else we haven't thought of yet.
Just my two cents.

A very good point.

Has anyone tested a composite armor of linen AND leather?

Travis
Theodoros of Smyrna (Byzantine name)
aka Travis Lee Clark (21st C. American name)

Moderator, RAT

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