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"Greaves, helmets and shields in the late Republic" Topic

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394 hits since 27 Feb 2017
©1994-2017 Bill Armintrout
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Deuce0327 Feb 2017 4:00 p.m. PST

As wargamers we all like our clear delineations between period and equipment, but are also (generally) aware that things weren't always that clear-cut. I like to have some variety in appearance on the tabletop, but nevertheless I do have some nagging concerns about equipment and whether or not it's appropriate for the period in question.

Frustrating in this respect is the tendency of some authors to write that, for instance, the Gallic helmet first appeared in the 1st century BC. As someone who is currently building an exclusively first-century BC Republican army, it matters very much whether that helmet design appeared towards the start of the 1st century (in which case I can use it with impunity) or only at the very end under Augustus (in which case I shouldn't really be using them at all).

I know that often we are extrapolating from a very small set of sources. The number of times I've been shown pictures or read descriptions of the Altar of Ahenobarbus alone… And I know also that we are often arguing from absence, which contributes to the vagueness. But still, tabletop convention aside, it would be nice to nail down some guidelines for what I can get away with.

So my three principal concerns, as indicated in the title:

When did (rank-and-file) legionaries stop wearing greaves?
When did the Gallic helmet first see use?
When did legionaries start using squared-off scuta?

The greaves are mostly relevant because they increase my options for acquiring good figures relatively inexpensively (as the Victrix republican legions can easily fill in for Caesarian-era legionaries otherwise).

The shield I know is pretty much a toss-up. Goldsworthy indicates that while it's generally been assumed it only appeared in the first century AD there's no real reason to do so, given the gap in the record. Nevertheless, if anyone has any top-secret information on the subject, I'd be glad to hear it.

I've got about as far as I can with my own research. JSTOR has failed me, though that's probably my own fault for putting in the wrong search terms or something.

I realise it would be pushing it to have a legionary with a Gallic helmet, a rectangular shield *and* greaves. I wouldn't do that, unless I were modelling some imitation legionaries who hadn't done their research or something. But it would be useful to know if greaves were (potentially) still in use during, say, the Marius and Sulla period, and/or whether the Gallic helmet and rectangular scutum had appeared by the time of Pharsalus.

GurKhan28 Feb 2017 3:32 a.m. PST

The soldiers on the Aemilius Paullus monument, 168 BC, have already given up greaves. Yet two soldiers from Osuna, probably C1st BC, wear them –


And have unusual shields to boot. Conclusion, there may have been more variety than we sometimes think.

Personal logo Swampster Supporting Member of TMP28 Feb 2017 11:53 a.m. PST

The Osuna shields are like those Livy attributes to Samnites. I wonder if these chaps are either non-Roman Italians or even 'Samnite' gladiators.

Deuce0328 Feb 2017 12:58 p.m. PST

That is interesting, thanks. I discovered that Arrian mentions greaves being in use (again, on the left leg) in the second century AD. That, combined with the evidence above, and that centurions continued to wear a left-leg greave throughout, makes me wonder if the apparent disappearance of greaves was less a matter of policy and simply one of practicality/cost – and that legionaries who were in a position to be equipped with them (both logistically and financially) might have continued to wear them right the way through.

As it seems to have been the most dispensible part of the legionary array it was likely the first piece to be discarded when legionaries had to be equipped quickly or on the cheap, so becoming less common as it started to be more of a luxury rather than a standard. Or perhaps legionaries, rather like modern construction workers who fume at wearing hard-hats and steel-caps, disliked the encumbrance of greaves and would sometimes "lose" them on campaign or otherwise just not wear them even when they were issued.

Swampster, I'm always sceptical about the reliability of Livy when it comes to details about anything outside his own lifetime. Obviously he can't be discarded as a source, and provides us with some invaluable narrative at times, but he's also very much a "print the legend" kind of guy and doesn't always seem to have treated his sources as critically as they might deserve.

I may also be biased against Livy having studied him in school and found him to be hellishly hard to translate, thanks in part to his habit of writing long sentences and piling up all the verbs right at the end.

GurKhan28 Feb 2017 3:06 p.m. PST

That is interesting, thanks. I discovered that Arrian mentions greaves being in use (again, on the left leg) in the second century AD

Sort of, but it's in a paragraph about heavy infantry equipment that's all in the present tense – even the bits about Macedonians using the sarissa and Lakedaimonians wearing the pilos. So while he does say that hoplites can wear one greave on the leading leg, like the Romans, he may not be referring to his own period.

Personal logo Swampster Supporting Member of TMP28 Feb 2017 4:13 p.m. PST

Livy may well be wrong about the shield being this shape in the period he is discussing (one of the ROme v. Samnium wars) but some have suggested that he may be giving them the shield of 'Smanite' gladiators of his own time.

bilsonius28 Feb 2017 6:33 p.m. PST

Livy's level of military credibility can be summed up by his notorious reference to Macedonians "dropping" their sarissae, where his Greek source says they lowered them…

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