Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2004.02.49

M.D. Thomas, Lorica Segmentata. Vol. II: A Catalogue of Finds. JRMES Monograph, 2.   Duns:  Armatura, 2003.  Pp. 145.  ISBN 0-95398-485-0.  $45.00 (pb).  



Reviewed by Ross H. Cowan, Glasgow (mantinea@hotmail.com)
Word count: 934 words

Lorica segmentata (the term is modern) was an articulated armour of iron plates and hoops. It is the armour most popularly associated with the Roman soldier. It is worn exclusively by citizen troops on Trajan's Column, distinguishing them from auxiliaries who wear ring mail or scale armour. It is also well known from its depiction on the base of the Column of Antoninus Pius, where it is worn by Praetorians, and it again serves to distinguish legionary from auxiliary on the Aurelian Column. Recent films such as Gladiator have served only to reinforce its apparent domination. However, the use of lorica segmentata was never as total as these monuments would suggest: ring mail was the most common armour in the Roman world for all categories of troops. Until recently, lorica segmentata was thought to have been introduced during the reign of Tiberius or Claudius,1 but recent finds from Kalkriese, the probable site of the Varian disaster (AD 9), including a complete chest plate edged with bronze, have shown that this lorica was developed under Augustus.2 Other early fragments are now recognised from the Augustan bases at Dangstetten (9 BC) and Haltern (AD 9) in Germany.3 Thomas catalogues the relevant finds.

A cuirass of lorica segmentata offered substantial protection, particularly to the shoulders and upper back, but terminated at the hips, leaving the abdomen and upper legs exposed. A padded garment (subarmilis -- as in "under the arma"), sometimes with pteruges to give limited protection to the upper arms, abdomen and thighs, was necessarily worn beneath in order to absorb the force of blows and to protect the wearer from the chafing of the plates and the leather harness to which they were riveted.4 Peter Connolly's reconstructions suggest the armour weighed 9 kg (20 lbs), considerably lighter than coats of ring mail (lorica hamata), which could weigh up to 16 kg (33 lbs).5 Lorica segmentata was in continual development; early varieties with decorative but notoriously flimsy copper alloy fittings (Thomas illustrates numerous broken examples, e.g. figs 23.2; 47.1; 55.59), gave way to simplified forms with sturdier fittings and a reduced number of plates and girth hoops. The two basic types of lorica segmentata were the Corbridge type, in use until the early second century, and the more robust Newstead variety, introduced late in the first century and still in limited use in the mid-third century. 6

Thomas is to be congratulated on the extent of his catalogue. It includes finds of lorica segmentata from 16 countries, all European with the exception of Morocco, indicating a wide, but not the fullest, distribution of the armour as we currently know it. Thomas stresses in his brief introduction that this catalogue features only published finds and raises the possibility of an updated volume if the number of finds warrants it (p.1). The publication of the important finds from Gamla (ancient Gamala), Masada and Zippori (Sepphoris) in Israel should make an updated edition feasible.7

About 1500 objects are divided into 11 categories, ranging from hinged buckles to armour plates: A: Hinged buckles (pp. 6-20); B: Hinged Straps (21-32); C: Hinged Fittings (33-46); D: Hingeless Buckles (47-55); E: Buckles (56-61); F: Shoulder Hinges (62-85); G: Vertical Fasteners (86-90); H: Tie Loops (91-108); I: Tie-Rings (109-113); J: Decorative Washers (114-117); K: Leathering Washers/Roves (118-120); L: Armour Fragments (121-135).

Each category is subdivided into recognisably distinct types. These are listed alphabetically by findspot and accompanied by a brief description of find context, appearance and dimensions, and bibliographic references. There is no actual discussion of the finds and only a few are dated. The finds from Kalkriese, almost certainly lost in the Varian disaster of AD 9, are not dated nor is the battle given as a reason for their place of deposit (p. 130), but Thomas seems keen to indicate the date of the latest Antonine and third century finds from Carlisle and Eining (pp. 121, 129-30). This immediately lessens the value of the catalogue, meaning that it cannot be conveniently used in isolation. However, in an occasional useful note Thomas highlights the possibility of confusing fittings with those of other forms of military equipment, for example buckles (p. 56). Also, to its credit, the catalogue includes a clear 1:2 scale sketch to illustrate every find, no matter how small. Thomas includes two exploded diagrams of Corbridge type cuirasses to indicate the position of plates and fittings on a complete armour (pp. 4-5), but there is no comparable diagram of the later Newstead type cuirass despite the large number of Newstead fragments. This is a forgivable omission considering the similarity between the types.

For the re-enactor or experimental archaeologist involved in the reconstruction of lorica segmentata this catalogue will be a bonus, especially when it comes to the minutiae of fittings. But those wishing to track the chronological development of lorica segmentata and its use by the Roman soldier, will be best served by the preceding volume in this series. In fact, one wonders whether Thomas' catalogue would have served better as an appendix integrated within M.C. Bishop's Lorica Segmentata, Volume 1: A Handbook of Articulated Roman Plate Armour (Duns: Armatura, 2002), rather than a separate volume. This is, of course, a highly specialised volume, and its market will be accordingly limited, but, for archaeologists and serious students of Roman military equipment, Thomas' catalogue will become the standard work for the identification of finds. As a catalogue it does exactly what it is supposed to. It is well structured and easy to use, and as the first publication by an 'amateur archaeologist' (as Thomas describes himself, p. vi), it is a considerable achievement.


Notes:


1.   Thought to have been Tiberian, perhaps developed from gladiatorial armour following the revolt of Florus and Sacrovir in AD 21, or more certainly Claudian: M.C. Bishop & J.N.C. Coulston, 1993: Roman Military Equipment from the Punic Wars to the Fall of Rome (London), 85.
2.   Kalkriese: G. Franzius, 1995: 'Die römischen Funde aus Kalkriese, 1987-95', Journal of Roman Military Equipment Studies 6, 69-88. Kalkriese in context: W. Schlüter, 1999: 'The Battle of the Teutoburg Forest: archaeological research at Kalkriese near Osnabrück', in J.D. Creighton & R.J.A. Wilson (eds.), Roman Germany: Studies in Cultural Interaction (Journal of Roman Archaeology Supplementary Series 32), 125-159. Also, W. Schlüter & R. Wiegels (eds.), 1999: Rom, Germanien und die Ausgrabungen von Kalkriese. Internationaler Kongress der Universität Osnabrück und des Landschaftsverbandes Osnabrücker Land e.V. (Osnabrück).
3.   Dangstetten: G. Fingerlin, 1986, Dangstetten I. Katalog der Funde (Fundstellen 1 bis 603), Forschungen und Berichte, Vor- und Frühgeschichte Baden-Württemburg 22 (Stuttgart), Taf. 7. Further fittings in Fingerlin, 1998: Dangstetten II (Stuttgart). Haltern: B. Trier (ed.), 1989: 2000 Jahre Römer in Westfalen (Mainz-am-Rhein), Abb. 105.
4.   Subarmilis (rather than thoracomachus): G. Sumner, 2003: Roman Military Clothing (2) (Oxford), 37-39. Also, Bishop & Coulston, op. cit. (n. 1), 85-6.
5.   P. Connolly, 1981: Greece and Rome at War (London), 233 (lorica segmentata); 133, 231, 235 (lorica hamata).
6.   Named after the sites of major finds. H.R. Robinson, 1975: The Armour of Imperial Rome (London), 174-186; Bishop & Coulston, op.cit. (n. 1), 85-87, 117, 145; M.C. Bishop, 2002: Lorica Segmenata, vol. 1: A Handbook of Articulated Roman Plate Armour (Duns). Bishop adds 'Kalkriese type' and 'Alba Iulia type' (after a sculptural representation, late second to third century), but the former is clearly the early variety of the Corbridge type, with only slight difference in the shape of hinges, and the latter is part of the Newstead family.
7.   Gamla: brief notes in Arma vol. 6 (1994), 16, and vol. 7 (1995), 8. Sepphoris. G.D. Stiebel delivered a paper on Roman military equipment from destruction layers in Roman Palestine, at the Fourteenth International Roman Military Equipment Conference in Vienna, August 2003. The Masada material will be published as part of the Final Reports Series of the Masada Excavation Reports, The Yigael Yadin Excavations, 1963-1965 (Vol. VII). Note also, G.D. Stiebel 2003: 'The militaria from Herodium' in G.C. Bottini, L. Di Segni, & L.D. Chrupcala (eds.), One Land - Many Cultures. Archaeological Studies in Honour of S. Loffreda, Studium Biblicum Franciscanum Collectio Maior 41 (Jerusalem), 215-44.

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