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"Romans in Leather Armor?" Topic

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redmist112212 Nov 2007 12:14 a.m. PST

After researching and playing Caesar and Augustus Romans for the last year, I've come across a few movies that depict Romans wearing a leather version of the Lorica Segmentata. I haven't seen anything in text. Is this Hollywood or history? Thanks.

Personal logo BigRedBat Sponsoring Member of TMP12 Nov 2007 12:39 a.m. PST

I've not seen anything in text, so believe it is probably Hollywood.


Sane Max Inactive Member12 Nov 2007 2:02 a.m. PST

For that period Hollywood.

It used to be accepted Wargamer history that LATE Roman Legionaries wore Leather armour. Essex still have Romans in what is usually painted as Rawhide for the period.
It is now accepted Wargamer History that Late Romans did NOT wear leather armour. I still think it's quite possible they did.

But for Caesarian (Spartacus), Augustus (Passion of the Christ) Aurelius and Commodus (Fall of the Roman Empire) there is no evidence for Leather for a Legionary at all. Just Hollywood.

Legates etc often are depicted wearing moulded breast-plates with nipples and everything (Gladiator). The CURRENT View is that these were metal. But I recall a lovely website that had some very good artistic evidence to suggest they were leather – and soft leather at that. This includes an emperor posing in his civies in front of his stacked arms, in which the 'moulded metal breastplate' is SAGGING against a pillar in a most un-metallic manner.



Pyruse Inactive Member12 Nov 2007 5:06 a.m. PST

Best current opinion is that Late Roman legionaries wore chain mail – like Caesar's legions and their predecessors.
The Lorica Segmentata only came in in the first century AD, and lasted a couple of hundred years.

Gattamalata Inactive Member12 Nov 2007 6:02 a.m. PST


Personal logo John the OFM Supporting Member of TMP12 Nov 2007 6:09 a.m. PST

Don't we all have Xena fantasies…

Gattamalata Inactive Member12 Nov 2007 7:07 a.m. PST


Personal logo Patrick R Supporting Member of TMP12 Nov 2007 9:31 a.m. PST

The leather armour predates Hollywood. Some Victorian reconstructions do show leather. Most such reconstructions were based on sculptures and reliefs which were originally painted to look like chainmail, rather than sculpted on.

It wasn't until later that they dug up some actual armour, but by then it was already in the public's imagination.

Slave2Darkness Inactive Member12 Nov 2007 9:55 a.m. PST

Strictly Hollywood my friend. It's most likely a cost saving measure on the part of the producers/costume departments. Leather, at the price of metal plus the time it takes to make a set of armor for each individual… Well, only we initiated history buffs who pay attention to these details actually mind. Shame really, they (Hollywood folk) are dumbing down the population and don't even care as long as the $ keep coming in.

Gattamalata Inactive Member12 Nov 2007 10:23 a.m. PST


Farstar Inactive Member12 Nov 2007 10:44 a.m. PST

"Legates etc often are depicted wearing moulded breast-plates with nipples and everything (Gladiator)."

What one acquaintance with "the right degrees" calls a "musculus", or "muscle cuirass".

This same acquaintance wouldn't see Gladiator in the theater because the promotional shots of the opening battle showed enough anachronistic helmets to set off his "bad history" alarms.

Not that I cared. Lots of fun, that movie.

troopwo Supporting Member of TMP12 Nov 2007 3:18 p.m. PST

I just want to throw a few ideas out.

What would the trooper serving on a ship wear?
Metal would be a guaranteed drowning wouldn't it?

When Rome suffered a major loss, like against Arminius or the Parthians, of two or three legions at a go, how long would it take to make up for the loss in armour production?
I'ld suspect kit shortages for a few years until it was made up. A lot of that armour might last a few generations. Loosing masses of it at once had to create shortages.

GarrisonMiniatures Inactive Member12 Nov 2007 3:35 p.m. PST

There was a time during the Republic – I'm speaking from memory here – when some troops were equipped with captured Celtic army. I believe these were legions raised to combat Hannibal.

adster12 Nov 2007 4:09 p.m. PST

"There was a time during the Republic I'm speaking from memory here when some troops were equipped with captured Celtic army. I believe these were legions raised to combat Hannibal."

Not much armour amongst that, and what there was would have been mail. Rapidly raised levies may just have had to rely on their shield as a defence.

To return to the original question, I have also read that some Roman monuments were "restored" with Greek depictions in mind and thus acquired a muscle cuirass where they would originally have had mail.

Farstar Inactive Member12 Nov 2007 4:25 p.m. PST

"There was a time during the Republic I'm speaking from memory here…"

Past life?

Personal logo BigRedBat Sponsoring Member of TMP12 Nov 2007 4:39 p.m. PST

The later Romans were rather obsessed with the Classical Greeks, and might possibly have depicted soldiers on monuments in what they thought Greek gear would have looked like… they are often depicted wearing those wierd Attic helmets that haven't turned up in archaeology, yet.


redmist112212 Nov 2007 5:38 p.m. PST

I guess if we were to game "Roman Hollywood" then we would be historically correct with the leather Lorica Segmentata.

Thanks all for the insight.

JJartist12 Nov 2007 7:29 p.m. PST

Armor doesn't matter on a ship.. unlike today, back then few know how to swim…
learning to swim is even bad luck for sailors back then.

Few of us understand what a luxurious life we all live today- actually having spare time to supervise and teach our children to swim? We today think a drowning child is an anomaly since we go to such lengths (simple steps it is true) to save kids by teaching this basic skill… but that was a luxury only the rich could afford in Rome.

Best to wear an anchor if anything.

Personal logo Der Alte Fritz Sponsoring Member of TMP12 Nov 2007 8:21 p.m. PST

Maybe one day Old Glory will resculpt their Late Romans, who are kitted out in leather cuirasses.

Gattamalata Inactive Member12 Nov 2007 9:00 p.m. PST


Mulopwepaul Inactive Member12 Nov 2007 11:47 p.m. PST

While leather might have been a stopgap in isolated cases, it's not reasonable to think that the stopgap armor would have been deliberately manufactured to resemble metal armor--it would be faster and more efficient to just crank out plain 2-piece leather cuirasses rather than doing the lacing and fitting to simulate lorica segmentata.

troopwo Supporting Member of TMP13 Nov 2007 1:56 p.m. PST

"The later Romans were rather obsessed with the Classical Greeks"

Iste graeculus!

khan krum Inactive Member13 Nov 2007 2:32 p.m. PST

I believe that the Lorica Segmentata was regarded as being leather in the Victorian period as none had ever been found. However the legend has it that sometime between WWI and WWII a forgoten example was found in a trunk in an antiquarians attic. As it was a long time ago that I came by this imformation I cannot recall the name of the persom to whom it belonged to. Perhaps someone out there is better aquanted with this explanation than I am.

The lorica segmentata would give better protection from missilw weapons but little against an upward thrust, it would probably be more expensive to manufacture and as there would be large supplies of existing mail available to the romans I see no reason for mail being more common.

Finally as I have mail from my re-enactment days. My experience is that mail worn regularly is less prone to rust as the links tend to abrade against each other thereby keeping them polished, plate on the other hand takes a lot of burnishing to keep it clear of corrosion.Perhaps the plate lorica was gilted or silvered in order to weather proof it, all hats in the ring for that thought.

Gattamalata Inactive Member13 Nov 2007 3:37 p.m. PST


Personal logo BigRedBat Sponsoring Member of TMP13 Nov 2007 4:18 p.m. PST

Iste Graeculus? My latin is not what it was. In fact, it never was what it was!

There must have been a compelling arguement for shifting from mail to Segmentata; either cost, easier manufacture or maintenance or because the segmentata offered better protection in the role the legionaries were performing.


Sane Max Inactive Member13 Nov 2007 4:34 p.m. PST

I suspect the reason they switched to Lorica was 'cos it looked waaaaaay cool. Kewl even.

They switched back to mail when they started having to do real fighting aginst furriners rather than other Romans. They kept the Lorica for Parades, parties and impressing the chicks. Thus the example found in the antiquarians attic. What the Antiquarian didn't mention was that the chest also contained a pair of Panties, one of those party-blowers and half a bottle of scotch.


The War Event Inactive Member13 Nov 2007 4:48 p.m. PST

I have never seen a "leather lorica segmentata", but there is little doubt that Romans fought in leather armor (IMO, based on the texts).

- Greg

Scutatus Inactive Member14 Nov 2007 4:52 a.m. PST

For my part there is tremendous doubt. To my knowledge breastplates were metal, not leather. The subarmalis is highly unlikely to have been made of leather. It's far more likely – and practical – they they would have been a padded/quilted garment. Even the attached pteruges – often also assumed to be leather – could well have been just strips of stiffened linen.

As far as I can see there is little reason to think Romans wore leather armour – at least not in the imperial period. The pteruges, perhaps, could have been leather, but even that is debateable. The subarmalis almost certainly wouldn't have been.

Simply put, the Victorians got it wrong. Unfortunately Hollywood has ingrained the image of Roman leather armour into the public mindset far too effectively, damn them.

Scutatus Inactive Member14 Nov 2007 4:58 a.m. PST

Regarding Old Glory (and indeed Essex) Late Romans that are still scuplted with a leather cuirass. With a bit of green stuff flattening out the overly defined chest these figures can be saved. Once green stuffed, these troops can be said to be going into battle wearing only the padded subarmalis. A practice that apparently did actually occur.

CooperSteveatWork Inactive Member14 Nov 2007 6:35 a.m. PST

Personally I'd be amazed if lighter troops didn't use leather. Some thick hide obviously reduces the depth of any cut. perhaps from lethal to just a nasty cut, eg

Sane Max Inactive Member14 Nov 2007 8:27 a.m. PST

Oh, I would be amazed if light troops didn't do it – I was however not aware there was stuff in the texts that suggests anyone did – Grpitts, where was that? I would love to be able to use my Essex Late Romans again without having to apologise for the leather armour, and being able to wave a page from Dio or whoever in my opponent's face would make me feel much better!


goragrad15 Nov 2007 3:52 a.m. PST

In Armour of Imperial Rome (Arms and Armour Press, 1975), H. Russell Robinson lists only one type of leather armor during the empire for which there are surviving examples. This is the lamellar armor recovered at Dura Europa. He notes the possibility that some muscle cuirasses were made of thick hardened leather, but that all of the recovered specimens (Etruscan, not Roman) are of bronze. The ornamentation of the cuirasses shown on officers is another argument for metal.

Insofar as the field maintenance of the the 'lorica segementata', when I had straps break while in use (SCA combat) a thong tied between the remnants provides a temporary fix. Additionally a legion on campaign probably would have had some 'in house' repair capability.

As to the susceptibility of the lorica to an upward thrust, it must be remembered that the plates overlap considerably (approx. 1/3 of their width). For a blade or spear to slide between them it is nearly parallel to the wearer's body.

My brother and I have painted our 'leather' armored troopers with bronze or iron colored paint and say it is mail. Robinson pretty much puts paid to any other interpretation.


P.S. There are newer works on Roman equipment, but to my knowledge aside from a re-interpretation of the Newstead lorica, they do not contradict Robinson in major interpretations.

khan krum Inactive Member18 Nov 2007 5:37 a.m. PST

So the lorica segmentata offers better protection than I had supposed. Then the question becomes if it is so good then why did it not last so long? Cost of production perhaps? There is little doubt that it looks damned good and is a joy to paint. On the question of leather lorica, why bother? It is a complex connstruction compared to the far simpler method of shaping and hardening leather into a cuirras.

Personal logo BigRedBat Sponsoring Member of TMP18 Nov 2007 8:44 a.m. PST

Re metal Lorica, perhaps the nature of the Roman legionary changed. It has been suggested (Lendon 2005) that metal Lorica was particularly well suited to siege warfare; perhaps, as the empire stopped expanding, the Romans did less beseiging and reverted to chain mail which was generally more practical.


Cloudy18 Nov 2007 2:52 p.m. PST

"P.S. There are newer works on Roman equipment, but to my knowledge aside from a re-interpretation of the Newstead lorica, they do not contradict Robinson in major interpretations"

That's pretty much the case I believe. Since the publication of his book, the introduction date of Lorica Segmentata has been pushed back further in time due to the Kalkriese finds but that's about it.

khan krum Inactive Member19 Nov 2007 11:45 a.m. PST

I'm not familiar with the Kalkriese finds. When was that?and where is it.

I don't know how comfortable the lorica segmentata is, perhaps someone who has might be able to enlighten me, it looks pretty uncomfortable to me for working in particularly considering the legionary used to use their undergarment to help prevent chafing around the neck.
I have worn chain mail and find that pretty easy to wear and move around in even if it is a little heavy.

Personal logo BigRedBat Sponsoring Member of TMP19 Nov 2007 12:27 p.m. PST

Kalkreise= probable site of the Teutoberger Wald 9AD; some archaeological evidence found there suggests routing Romans. In particular they have found a chunk of a lorica breastplate and a fantastic silver facemask, presumably from a signifer.


khan krum Inactive Member19 Nov 2007 3:10 p.m. PST

many thanks I will look that up. 9AD would make the lorica a lot older than I had supposed. Those silver face masks are really incredible are'nt they?

I've got a figure from the Gripping Beast "age of Arthur" range with the mask and it looks pretty good, trouble is my son pinched it for his fantasy army.


Personal logo BigRedBat Sponsoring Member of TMP19 Nov 2007 5:24 p.m. PST

The face mask is rather splendid; it, the chest plate and a lot of other roman Army Surplus gear from Kalkreise are in the Opsrey Roman Legionary 58BC – AD69 book; a really good Osprey.


khan krum Inactive Member20 Nov 2007 7:58 a.m. PST

I can see me purchasing that this weekend. Thanks. Kevin

No Name02 Inactive Member20 Nov 2007 9:34 a.m. PST

I must admit I thought that Roman Marines used leather armour and were sometimes used on land.

Personal logo BigRedBat Sponsoring Member of TMP20 Nov 2007 9:57 a.m. PST

Justin, I considered mentioning them; there are pictures that suggest either a breastplate (possibly leather, or metal), or a flat surface over which chainmail might have been painted.

The marines were certainly used on land, but I wasn't convinced there was a sound arguement for leather armour.


CooperSteveatWork Inactive Member20 Nov 2007 10:54 a.m. PST

I've worn lorica. Pretty comfy

Stevie b Inactive Member20 Nov 2007 1:52 p.m. PST

The Crocodile armour is on display in the British Museum if anyones interested to see it.

CooperSteveatWork Inactive Member24 Nov 2007 9:50 a.m. PST

Is it? Where? Never noticed it…

Duck Crusader Inactive Member24 Nov 2007 12:39 p.m. PST

'While leather might have been a stopgap in isolated cases, it's not reasonable to think that the stopgap armor would have been deliberately manufactured to resemble metal armor-'

Unless it's 'dress armor', designed to make the wearer look military for formal functions, without the weight penalty of real metal armor.

redmist112223 Dec 2007 1:03 p.m. PST

Just received my order from Gripping Beast – Augustus Marines – they appear to a "leathery" looking.

Stevie b Inactive Member02 Jan 2008 2:30 p.m. PST


Stevie b Inactive Member02 Jan 2008 2:31 p.m. PST

Steve Cooper, in the first or second 'classical' room. I think its from Roman Egypt and it has a hood. It looks functional. Be interested to know what you think. Sorry for the delayed response.

Artorius Inactive Member02 Mar 2008 9:49 p.m. PST

"Augustus Marines they appear to a "leathery" looking."

It's due to long exposure to the sea and the smoky bars on shore leave. You'd be "leathery" too.

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