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"Roman Segmata Armor" Topic

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Personal logo Grunt1861 Supporting Member of TMP13 Feb 2004 11:15 a.m. PST

Osprey and Angus McBride say gun metal, reenactors say polished iron, Hollywood seems to preffer a blackish brown, aged metal look. What say you?


Para Bellum13 Feb 2004 11:18 a.m. PST

I lean towards the reanactors; the constant polishing and oiling of the armor must have left a nice finish.

mhauck13 Feb 2004 11:26 a.m. PST

Hey Rodger
It is all in your own Art direction! Pick a theme and stick to it as Strunk and White would comment.

TERMINATOR13 Feb 2004 12:17 p.m. PST

Hollywood originally portrayed Roman armor as leather. This was the accepted form which the Segmata armor was believed to have taken until actual finds were made showing it was iron. More recent finds show it was available much earlier then previously thought. With archeologists finding some samples from the debacle in the Teutoburg Forest. I think the polished look is probably both the most accurate and also the most appealing look.

bollix13 Feb 2004 12:36 p.m. PST

Actually it is "Lorica Segmentata" not "Segmata".

-one of those reenactors with polised armor.

aecurtis Fezian13 Feb 2004 1:05 p.m. PST

...which is a term not known to have been used by the Roman at all.


Saginaw13 Feb 2004 1:08 p.m. PST

For appearance's sake, I would think polished iron would stand out brilliantly against the red tunics.

chocker, you just saved us from the 'Grammar Fascist'.


Autarch13 Feb 2004 1:20 p.m. PST

what exactly is the difference between mcbride's 'gunmetal' and polished iron? are we just talking about a limitation of an artist's depiction of a metallic surface, or does he actually have some sort of difference of opinion with other folks (reenactors)?

so how would you translate polished metal into a mini's paintjob? ink wash over white metal?

Plynkes13 Feb 2004 1:47 p.m. PST

It doesn't matter much how you spell it, coz it's a made-up modern term. The Romans themselves didn't use it.

Personal logo Grunt1861 Supporting Member of TMP13 Feb 2004 2:00 p.m. PST

Thanks for the help. I knew the reenacting folks would come through. For the record the modern term is Lorica Segmentata. I beg for mercy G.N.

Lucius13 Feb 2004 2:42 p.m. PST

Not to open up a can of worms, but the last Osprey book that I read leaned more towards white tunics, rather than red.


Plynkes13 Feb 2004 2:52 p.m. PST

I'm a white tunic man, myself. White shields, too, with Republican armies. I just think it looks nice, and if anyone tells you it's wrong, they're lying, coz nobody knows.

Plynkes13 Feb 2004 3:52 p.m. PST

Chocker: Actually it's 'polished', not 'polised'.

-One of those painters with gunmetal armour.

(People in glass houses, etc. Yuk, yuk!)

Saginaw13 Feb 2004 4:02 p.m. PST

tjskupin, white tunics were more during the Republican period and their civil wars, not the Imperial period, right?

I'm pretty much going by info from an old WRG book on the Roman Imperial armies, so I'm sure my "knowledge" on that has been succeeded by more research and findings. :-)

Plynkes13 Feb 2004 4:18 p.m. PST

Saginaw, I don't think there's actually any proof for the red tunics we always see in depictions of the army of the Principate. It's just a modern artistic convention that everyone's bought into.

Meiczyslaw13 Feb 2004 5:18 p.m. PST

But they're always green in Asterix! ;)

Actually, I'm surprised we don't have an idea of what colors they were. There's gotta be a mosaic (or once-painted carving) somewhere that'll tell us a valid color.

Saginaw13 Feb 2004 5:25 p.m. PST

Hey, we might have another subject growing from this one!

So, who introduced this idea of red Roman military tunics, and when did it generally become accepted as truth?

And I have 15mm DBA Late Roman army infantrymen painted in red.


The Dread Pirate Roberts13 Feb 2004 5:41 p.m. PST

I don't think it's actually been accepted as truth. The truth is we just don't know, and red looks as nice as anything, so why not?

It's the colour the Spartans chose, and Greek Mercenaries did too. It was also the traditional colour for the cloak of a general. It makes you look big and mean, and if you're a nineteenth century Tommy Atkins it supposedly scares the bejezuz out of uppity dark-skinned natives (and Russian serf-soldiers) to see several hundred fighting Englishmen (or Scots) come marching over the hill dressed in it.


The people's flag is deepest red,

It shrouded oft our martyred dead,

And ere their limbs grew stiff and cold,

Their hearts blood dyed its every fold.

So why not? Can't hurt.

Incidentally, I paint my tunics white, apart from the odd officer. And for a bit of variety I sometimes include some dirty brown, mucky yellow, burgundy and even plaid ones in there, just for good measure.

Meiczyslaw13 Feb 2004 5:43 p.m. PST

I did a quick run-through of the re-enactor's sites, and came up with three accepted facts along with possible interpretations:

1) Legionaires definitely wore white tunics at some point. Whether it was normal wear is open for debate -- one scholar makes the argument that it was parade wear, based on funerary evidence and a single extant request by a centurion to wear white. Another argument is that it was the usual campaign wear, because it was easier to clean given the technology of the time. Given how long Rome existed, both arguments might be correct, but for different periods. (Carthaginians supposedly wore white as well.)

2) Somebody in the army wore red. This is based on contemporary foreign accounts describing "Roman red," and the preponderance of red dye at certain digs. One conclusion is that all Legionaires wore red, while another is that only officers wore red. (Spartans and Macedonians are supposed to have worn red.)

3) Roman units were color-coded. At bare minimum, Roman sailors wore "the color of the sea" -- either blue or green. Coupled with the issue of blue shields, some scholars have come to the conclusion that cohorts were colored differently to aid their control. This can also be used by the red tunic proponents to argue that Legionaires wore red, while Auxiliaries and Cavalry wore different colors.

Meiczyslaw13 Feb 2004 5:47 p.m. PST

Oh, one last thing. Those "mosaics and paintings" I referred to are extant. They don't help the argument much, but are limited to red and white, which makes me discount the color-coded-cohort theory.

The Dread Pirate Roberts13 Feb 2004 6:11 p.m. PST

While that gives us the green light for white, red and green/blue, it isn't enough to actually rule out other colours, or give us a definitive uniform. I think it's unlikely that the gaps in our knowledge will ever be completely filled in this respect. What we know is always going to be insignificant compared to what we don't know.

It seems reasonable that troops in far flung corners of the Empire would get replacement tunics made locally, using whatever dyes were available. And troops that had been on hard campaign for a while might end up with a very patchy and non-uniform appearance.

Until somebody digs up a Latin 'Osprey' book, I think it's still safe just to paint them in a way that appeals to you. I just find the all-red look a little dull and uninspiring.

I mean, those are last season's colours. Retro-chic is just SO nineties, darlings.

Baconfat13 Feb 2004 10:14 p.m. PST

I hate you all,
I was completely oblivious to this "not red" thing
I just finished painting an old RAFM and Ral Army Roman army, that I've been saving for years and finally painted.
I suppose my augies shouldn't be blue (like in WAB)either?

Jay Arnold13 Feb 2004 10:20 p.m. PST


Do what works for you, man. Nobody is sure, if someone tells you that "White was the most likely color ..." Ask them if they were there. If not, they should shut up. They're your toy soldiers, paint them how you want.

If you want you auxiliaries lokking dapper in blue, rock on. Me, I think Romans should be in red. Looks damn smashing.

Saginaw13 Feb 2004 10:53 p.m. PST

One more thing before I put this to rest, and this concerns Roman shields.

Is it true that there is/was evidence that the color of the inside of the Roman shields was a dark red?

Again, I'm remembering this from the WRG book. Thanks.

Ken Sharp14 Feb 2004 12:39 a.m. PST

From a practical stand point, to get the longest use of the plates, I would have left them "in the black". It's the greyish state that armor plates are in after being shaped with forge,hammer and anvil. Reportedly, in this state, the armor is more resistant to rust and corosion. The Roman Army has been known to be practical. On the other hand, there was a lot of fanfare and pagentry going on as well. So it's your best guess.

I know that during my stint in the U.S. Army from 78 to 82 ( and, yes, the 1970s and 80s, not the 1870s and 80s), each of my three duty stations had different load plans for the same items/equipment. It got down to how and where you underwear were stored. It was the same equipment in the same army, but there were differences in appearence due to the whims of the commanders.

To relate this to the Romans, if legion A's commander is a pomp and circumstance kind of guy, his folks might have polished armor, whereas legion B's practical commander might have left their armor unpolished. In an era where 100 miles was a 2 or more day trip, it seems more likely that autonomy through isolation would result in different looking units.

So, unless you are painting a unit for which documentation exists, paint them how you wish. Please yourself (in only socially acceptable ways, please)


Plynkes14 Feb 2004 4:43 a.m. PST

Hey, Jdarnold, we're not saying they shouldn't be red, only that they don't have to be.

I agree entirely, paint 'em how you like.

RockyRusso14 Feb 2004 9:09 a.m. PST


Connolly in "The Roman Army" and "Greece and Rome at war" indicates that the colors varied by cohort and legion pointing out to original refrences where individuals were able to recognize a individual in a different body by cohort and legion at a distance in poor light.


Clayton14 Feb 2004 6:02 p.m. PST

Allright heres another point then, certainly during the civil wars/power struggles there must have been some variety, I strongly suspect with the tunics, but at the very least with the shields. Some 60,000 blokes in red shirts with red shileds carrying lightining bolt patterns would have just been a mess. The shields would have been needed for the individual legionaires, but if you think about it, for a general looking on from behind trying to get a idea of whats going on, to just have the shields with different designs would not have cut it.

I am going to guess that the legions also liked to be distinct from each other like regiments always have. A point of pride et. all (although at Cannae I am thinking they were all wearing pink or a pastel peach, that would explain alot).

Also, did the praetorians wear purple or no?

Meiczyslaw14 Feb 2004 11:32 p.m. PST

I think the Praetorian Guard did *not* wear purple -- purple is definitely the color for patricians (e.g., Senators), and was illegal for others to wear, at least during the Republican period. It was also hideously expensive -- but that might not be an issue for the Praetorians.

That said, there was also a Praetorian *rank* for patricians -- which is not the same thing as being a member of the Praetorian Guard. There might be some references that state, "Praetorians wore purple," that *aren't* referring to the Guard.

I'm thinking that the only guys who wore purple in a Roman army were the generals and the legates.

The Midge15 Feb 2004 3:32 p.m. PST

I'm painting my lowly Auxillaries in undied buff linen tunics and saving the red expensive looking paint job for the legionaries. I haven't made my mind up about the shield colour yet!

Plynkes16 Feb 2004 6:33 a.m. PST

I've done one auxillia unit in black tunics, like the guys on page 23 of 'Imperial Rome at War' (Marin Windrow & Angus McBride, Concord). It's not that I disagree with having 'red for Legion, blue for Aux', it's just become so familiar as to be tiresome. I fancied something a bit different. My Legionaries have white tunics.

The above-mentioned book is well worth getting, 44 or so pages with a McBride colour plate on every other one. Lots of ideas for painting Romans in that book.

Plynkes16 Feb 2004 11:07 a.m. PST

That should be 'Martin', not 'Marin'. That's somewhere in California, ain't it?

ChrisGermanicus17 Feb 2004 4:30 a.m. PST

"Hollywood originally portrayed Roman armor as leather. This was the accepted form which the Segmata armor was believed to have taken until actual finds were made showing it was iron. More recent finds show it was available much earlier then previously thought. With archeologists finding some samples from the debacle in the Teutoburg Forest. I think the polished look is probably both the most accurate and also the most appealing look."


The "leather" armour originally stems from a german archeologistīs (I think Lindemann was his name) misconception: he had modeled a reconstruction based on reliefs which showed lorica hamata, ie mail armour. Since mail is darn difficult to reproduce in sculpture, it appears that roman sculptures showing such armour where painted to indicate the type of material if it was unfeasible (ie too expensive) to have the sculptor actually carve the rings. Anyway, with time washing away the paint, it appeared more or less like a muscled cuirass, and Lindemann thought it to be leather.

As far as I know, the segmentata (as shown on Trajanīs Column, for example) was always visualized as metal armour, since it was akin to medieval to early modern plate.

I paint my romans in varying colours... since I plan to do three legions til 2009, I have adopted a "one-legion-one-colour" pattern (ie first legio red, second blue, third green). Hope to finish the second blue cohort soon...

ChrisGermanicus17 Feb 2004 4:31 a.m. PST

And on the metal: Nothing like a shining, polished surface to dazzle those hairy, pants-wearing barbarians!

"One thousand years of roman civilization could not teach those gauls how to make good wine!"


brevior est vita17 Feb 2004 5:53 a.m. PST

After having spent a *lot* of time researching this subject (too much time, arguably), for my 15mm Testudo Late Republican Romans I settled on various shades of off-white for all of the legionary tunics, with Caesar and his legates sporting deep crimson tunics to represent the rich-looking Roman "coccum" dye. Since I game at a grand-tactical scale, painted the scuta for each legion in a different basic color. For me at least, these decisions seem to best reflect what the various (and sometimes conflicting!) visual and literary sources have to say on the subject. And they also look quite striking too, if I do say so myself!

brevior est vita17 Feb 2004 6:48 a.m. PST

"So, who introduced this idea of red Roman military tunics, and when did it generally become accepted as truth?"

As best I can tell, the idea of legionaries uniformly dressed in red tunics and carrying red shields with yellow decoration seems to have coalesced in the early 1980's around Phil Barker and some of the earliest British reenactment groups, such as the Ermine Street Guard. Now, since British infantry troops of the 18th-19th centuries often wore red uniforms with yellow decoration, I can see why it would be perfectly natural for British wargamers and reenactors to be very strongly attached to the notion that the Romans surely did likewise. However, it is interesting to note that reenactment groups and wargamers in Italy, France, Germany and the U.S. appear to be rather less likely to come to the same assumptions/conclusions.

But having said that, I heartily agree that there is plenty of ambiguity in the surviving evidence. So if your own research leads you to the same conclusions as Mr. Barker, or if red tunics and shields simply "look right" to you, then you should definitely go with what brings the most enjoyment and "color" to your own gaming!

Best wishes,
Scott K.

Aarbitrary Aardvark17 Feb 2004 1:55 p.m. PST

Vegetius claims "Lest the soldiers in the confusion of battle should be separated from their comrades, every cohort had its shields painted in a manner peculiar to itself." He was writing in the late 4th century, but was using older texts. It's unclear if there was standardization between multiple legions, and its also unclear what ten colors you would use. Last time I painted a legion, I used red, white, black, dark blue, light blue, dark green, yellow, grey, dark red, and medium green for the different cohorts.

brevior est vita17 Feb 2004 2:31 p.m. PST

Of course contra Vegetius there is the late fourth century Notitia Dignitatum, which indicates different shield blazons and colors for different legions, but not for individual cohorts. The surviving evidence can sometimes be conflicting indeed! (grin)

RockyRusso18 Feb 2004 8:44 a.m. PST


except that the Notitia does not list EVERY unit, and those "legions" it does list are usually about cohort sized anyway!
Some 20 years ago, friend of mine was convinced by the Connolly illos...and did what he called the "NFL legion". Each cohort was in the colors of a different football team.


brevior est vita18 Feb 2004 9:28 a.m. PST

As I said earlier, "whatever works for you!" (grin)

Best wishes,
Scott K

ChrisGermanicus19 Feb 2004 9:40 a.m. PST


Actually, the "red tunic issue" is archeologically founded, since it appears that the only fragments and paint residues found were red pigmented... so RED is the only colour that has actual archeological proof attached to it. I think both Junckelmann and Connolly elaborated on the subject...

Then again, Iīm perfectly happy to give my legionaries colourful tunics, and only red sagum and paludamentum coats.

brevior est vita19 Feb 2004 10:53 a.m. PST

Chris Germanicus:

I don't want to appear argumentative, but that is simply not true. For more information, please see the following, which is still the best source on the subject:

Fuentes, Nicolas, "The Roman Military Tunic," in _Roman Military Equipment: The Accoutrements of War, Proceedings of the Third Roman Military Equipment Research Seminar_, ed. by M. Dawson (BAR International Series 336), London: 1987.

Also of value is:

Sumner, Graham, _Roman Military Clothing (1) 100 BC - AD 200 (Osprey Men-at-Arms 374), London: 2002.

I do have some problems with the rather selective way in which Sumner deals with some of the evidence (in spite of protestations to the contrary, he clearly has an "axe to grind"), but both of the above sources present the most comprehensive overviews of the issue of Roman tunic colors - much more so than either John Connolly or Marcus Junkelmann.

Best wishes,
Scott K.

brevior est vita19 Feb 2004 11:12 a.m. PST

Oooops... my source citation for Fuentes was incomplete (no page numbers)! That should be:

Fuentes, Nicolas, "The Roman Military Tunic," in _Roman Military Equipment: The Accoutrements of War, Proceedings of the Third Roman Military Equipment Research Seminar_, ed. by M. Dawson (BAR International Series 336), London, 1987: 41-75.

I have also looked over all of the sources cited by Fuentes and Sumner, to check on thier conclusions (I said that I had probably spent *too much* time on this!), but it really is necessary to do so, if you want to be accurately acquainted with *all* of the available evidence on the subject.

ChrisGermanicus19 Feb 2004 11:30 a.m. PST

Well, Iīd be the first to admit that Junckelmannīs work is getting a bit dated, and Iīll be happy to correct my stance. Going to try to check it out; hope to find it at university.

Interesting and good to see, however, that there has been more research going into it; I had done a check-up around 2001 during work on a paper on equestrians, and the sources I had been able to aquire all defended the "red is the only one documented"...

Thanks for pointing it out to me! I just hate to give false info...

brevior est vita19 Feb 2004 12:47 p.m. PST

No problem, Chris Germanicus! Just a hunch, but were sources you acquired, the ones who all defended the "red is the only one documented" stance, for the most part British ones? (grin)

ChrisGermanicus20 Feb 2004 5:49 a.m. PST

Actually, no... I had mainly perused articles from US and German history science magazines (the actual university ones... donīt know what the exact english term for "historische Fachzeitschriften" is) and some books my seminar library had. They mainly followed the

"the only pigments to have been discovered have been red, so it is safe to assume they wore red tunics, although other colours might have been used, too"

line of argument.

However, when it comes to wargaming, I am happy to use whatever is reasonably assumable (ie what types of colours COULD have been used) and what slakes my artistic longings...

brevior est vita20 Feb 2004 11:49 a.m. PST

"Specialist literature in history" might be a possible translation. To which pigments are these sources referring? Traces of pigment on reliefs? Dyes from clothing fragments? Fuentes and Sumner both deal with these issues, as well a fairly large (but somewhat ambiguous) amount of evidence from visual and literary sources.

brevior est vita20 Feb 2004 11:52 a.m. PST

"Historical specialty periodicals" might be an even better translation. Do you have any citations of your sources handy? I might like to go and check them out.

Elhiem20 Feb 2004 5:22 p.m. PST

The Lorica would in all probabilty been bright and shiney. I base this on a recent find in Germany of silver plated lorica segment.
The red tunic actually comes from the finds in Israel, a roman helmet was found wrapped in a tunic of deep red. It is assumed that it was the soldiers tunic.
Haveing said that, most mosiacs show white tunics (mainly republican).
Personaly I think that white would of showed up the rust when the romans advanced into North Europe and would of been abandoned in favour of one that didn't make them look scruffy.
There have been a couple of shields found, these were painted red with yellow and black designs.

Randy Collins20 Feb 2004 5:29 p.m. PST


Where did you obtain that information, particularly the red tunic find in Israel and the shield colors? I would like to follow up on it.


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