|econstruction of a
of Corbridge type 'B'
(Robinson 1975: 180-181).
he form of cuirass for which the 1st century is best known is the lorica segmentata. The name was not invented by the Romans but came into use during the Renaissance. It was the first type of articulated laminated plate armour cuirass, the origins of which are unknown (Bishop & Coulston 1993: 194). The segmental cuirass may have found its way into the Roman army from the gladiatorial arena (Bishop and Coulston 1993: 85) . The first time the Romans came into contact with this armour may have been during the revolt of Florus and Sacrovir in (A.D.21). Heavily armoured gladiators, called crupellarii, fought against legionaries. Tacitus describes how armoured gladiators were killed by legionaries hacking through their segmented armour with pickaxes (Bishop & Coulston 1993: 85, see also Tacitus 1989: 139-141, see image SE1). It is highly probable, that this form of armour was being issued as standard legionary equipment by the time the Emperor Claudius' troops invaded Britain in A.D.43. An assortment of fittings from such armour have been found on sites occupied by the Romans during the first years of the invasion (Simkins 1994a: 16).
From archaeological excavations at, Corbridge, Newstead, and other sites, a number of variation of the segmented loricae have been identified. The earliest form known (Corbridge type 'A') of this armour consisted of 40 plates. The collar and shoulder units consisted of 24 plates (lames) and there were 16 girdle plates" (Robinson 1975: 177, see image SE2). The latter were half semicircular iron lames, consisting of strips of iron sheet, and were positioned horizontally, riveted onto straps.
The lames were laced at the center of the breast and back in such a way as to encircle the trunk completely while still allowing the body considerable freedom of movement because of their [methods of] articulation (Tarassuk & Blair 1982: 312).
The articulation of the bands was kept in place by a complicated system of straps and buckles. Fastened on the inside by leather straps and fastened at the front and back with laces, buckles and straps (Bishop & Coulston 1989: 32). These fittings, which were usually made of thin brass (copper alloy) sheet, were vulnerable to damage and caused electrochemical corrosion at points of contact with the iron plate (Bishop & Coulston 1993: 191). The fragility of these components could explain why broken ones are often found at excavations (Bishop & Coulston 1993: 85). The defence was completed with two half-collars (shoulder guards) of articulated lames. Each collar consisted of a small breast-plate (3.3 cm by 8.6 cm wide at the lower end) which was fastened to other lames that formed a neck guard (Robinson 1975: 177). Both of the shoulder-guards consisted of five plates. The largest upper plates were made from three pieces joined to each other by lobate bronze hinges as were the collar units beneath (Robinson 1975: 177).
|SE1 - RELIEF|
|SE2 - DIAGRAM|
he lorica segmentata was superior to mail in both manufacturing and as armour. However, the armour's chief advantage was in its weight, around 12lb, depending upon the thickness of plates used (Simkins 1994a: 16). Plates were made by hammer work, and Bishop and Coulston (1993: 190) note that an analysis of surviving fragments of iron plates of the lorica segmentata type shows that they had not been hardened in any way, although the Romans are known to have been aware of this technique. They also suggest that Roman armourers deliberately produced 'soft' armour that could absorb the energy/force of a blow as it crumpled. This softness allowed the metal to deform extensively, absorbing the impact of weapons and denying them the resistance needed to penetrate effectively. Massey (1994: 38) cites evidence of contemporary arrowhead types used against this type of armour. On no occasion did arrowheads of any type tested afford lethal penetration (Massey 1994: 37). Shots directed at this type of armour either glanced off or gave minimal penetration (Massey 1994: 37). This effectiveness apparently due to a combination of the softness of the metal and the internal gap between the plates (Massey 1994: 38). Massey (1994: 38) also proposes that up until the introduction of lorica segmentata in Claudian times there was no armour form in widespread use which could guarantee the wearer's safety against arrow attack. This armour was also especially fortified in shoulder-defence (Bishop & Coulston 1993: 85). As such it may have normally been employed by particular legions, notably those fighting the Celts, whose style of fighting and use of weapons such as the long sword posed a particular threat to the head and shoulders of the line infantryman (Bishop & Coulston 1993: 209).
Segmented plate armour had disadvantages as well. Most notable is the loss of protection to the thighs and upper arms. Simkins (1974: 16) states that during the Emperor Trajan's Dacian campaign, the Romans fought against adversaries armed with long scythe-like swords (falx). These were capable of reaching past the legionary's scutum (large curved shield) to injure the unprotected sword arm. This weapon may have also endangered the soldiers' legs which from Republican times were bare, protection here being compromised for the sake of mobility. However, the Adamklissi monument suggests that legionaries in these two campaigns may have augmented their protection with greaves and segmental armguards similar to those worn by gladiators (Bishop & Coulston 1989: 41, see image SE3).
|SE3 - METOPE|
|SE4 - TRAJAN'S |
The archaeological record provides rich evidence of this type of armour. Excavation has provided more evidence of this form of cuirass than both scale and mail (Bishop & Coulston 1989: 32). From excavations, three minor variations of segmented lorica have been identified, basically differing in the methods employed to attach the upper and lower sections (hooks verses buckles), the lacing, and in the number and size of the lames used (Peterson 1992: 39). The most important discovery was made in 1964, at the site of the Roman station of Corstopitum in Northumberland (Corbridge-on-Tyne) at Hadrian's Wall, when two complete sets of this type were found in a wooden chest buried below the floor of a timber building of the Flavian period fort. This is the only site where this type of armour has been found in a reasonably complete state, despite the fact that copper alloy buckles, hinges, hooks and loops of this armour are a common find on 1st century Roman military sites throughout Europe and the Golan Heights in Israel, indicating its widespread use (Peterson 1992: 39, see image SE5). The 'Corbridge Hoard', as it has been termed contains, among other items, bundles of badly oxidized iron loricae segmentatae wrapped in cloth (see image SE6). The involvement of Robinson, a practicing armourer, has led to a fully-functional reconstruction of these armour pieces (Bishop & Coulston 1993: 40). Ultimately this archaeological evidence is the only viable means of understanding what the segmental cuirass looked like. Two different patterns emerged of lorica segmentata of almost certainly from the 1st century, which are known as Corbridge types 'A' and 'B' respectively (Connelly 1982: 48, see images SE2 & SE7). According to Robinson (1975: 177), the latter, has a slightly larger breast-plate and only seven, instead of eight, pairs of girdle lames. In type 'B' the buckles connecting the collar units with the girdle plates, replaced by hooks which pass through loops on the breast and back plates. Robinson (1975: 180) further argues that the increase of width of the breast plate (7.7 cm by 9.4 cm) of this pattern gave increased defensive coverage to the chest, although it was far from fitting satisfactorily at the sides and the front of the neck.
|SE5 - DRAWING|
|SE6 - DRAWING|
third pattern of lorica segmentata has been identified and tentatively reconstructed from fragments found in the well in the headquarters building at Newstead near Melrose in Scotland. Simkins (1994a: 16) suggests that this pattern was probably developed in the later years of the 1st century and is the model for the majority of representations of legionary soldiers on Trajan's Column. This provides multiple simplified representations of this pattern with many different attempts to suggest fastenings and fittings. However, none of these representations stand up to critical examination and prove misleading for reconstructing this form of armour (Robinson 1975: 183). It is difficult to tell how long the earlier Corbridge 'A' and 'B' pattern lorica remained in use until it was eventually replaced by the Newstead type (Robinson 1975: 182). They may have continued for quite some time after the introduction of the Newstead type for two reasons:
first, like the replacement of mail by segemented armour types, re-equipping legions with new armour was expensive; andThe Newstead type of cuirass is a much simplified pattern in which the elaborate extraneous fittings of the older patterns (such as buckles and ties) have been discarded (see image SE8). The hinges have been replaced by simple rivets, and the belt and buckle fastenings by hooks (Warry 1980: 191). The shoulder plates are riveted together and the girdle lames are larger than previous lames, although probably reduced to five or six pairs, the lower two pairs being replaced by a single pair of wide plates. The inner shoulder-guard plate in this type is a single strip instead of three plates hinged together, coming down much further at the front and back (Robinson 1975: 180). This deep inflexible breast and upper back plates were laminated in the same way as the girdles and held together by internal leather straps (Robinson 1975: 180). The simplification of lorica segmentata indicates that earlier designs were probably over engineered and complex cuirass types which were both labour and maintenance intensive and more prone to fall apart (Bishop & Coulston 1993: 209).
second, armour which was still in a serviceable condition remained useful regardless of age (Simkins 1994b: 18).
|SE7 - DIAGRAM|
|SE8 - DIAGRAM|
ecorative embellishments on lorica segmentata are not present in the limited archaeological record. Sculpture evidence indicates the presence of a kilt and upper arm pteruges which would have been attached to an arming doublet beneath the cuirass (Simkins 1994b: 18). This is represented on the base of the column of Antoninus Pius, where groups of Praetorians are represented in a skirt of scallops or pteruges hanging below the bottom-most armour lames (Robinson 1975: 184). Moreover, a contemporary small bronze figure in the British Museum represents a legionary armed in the same manner (Robinson 1975: 184). On panels from the Arch of Marcus Aurelius, pteruges are also shown in conjunction with lorica segmentata hanging below shoulder-guards, suggesting an undergarment to which the pendant straps were attached (Robinson 1975: 184). Second century sculpture, up to the last representation of the lorica segmentata type of armour on the Arch of Severus, add nothing to what is known of the later development of lorica segmentata (Robinson 1975: 183). This form of cuirass was used extensively for most of this period due to its successful form. In contrast to the earlier armours lorica segmentata, was flexible, lighter and easier to maintain and repair. The technical morphology of this armour form adapted and evolved in response to the fighting techniques of a number of diffentent enemies. It is not surprising that the archaeological record is rich in the evidence of this form of armour.