In the last Legion Update we spoke about cavalry at length; despite it being an article concerning light infantry. In today’s article, while on the surface being about cavalry, I would like to focus on a small detail I found interesting. This concerns the arms and armor of the Roman soldier. When looking at illustrations of Roman cavalry I noted that there seemed to be a trend to use more bronze armor when compared to the average legionnaire. After diving into a little research I found that this is only partially true.
For this analysis we will take a brief look at each of the major portions of a Roman soldiers armor. To start with, the infantry and cavalry both utilized helmets of bronze that took after the Greek hoplite in style. These types of helmets will stay popular through the Republican Era, until we get to the early Imperial Era where we see the bronze and iron helmets, known as Galea, be widely distributed in their place. The Galea helmets are most often depicted with the classic Roman plate mail, known as the Lorica Segmentata, another type of armor that will gain popularity during the height of the Empire.
Moving beyond the helmets we move down to the main chest armor. In the days of the Republic the average legionnaire was seen to be wearing what was known as a Lorica Hamata. The Lorica Hamata is a long chain mail shirt. This shirt was long sleeved and covered the entire torso. While somewhat fitted to a man’s upper body, it was made long so that the bottom of the shirt ended a little above a legionnaire’s knees. This piece of equipment found ubiquitous use in armies of the Roman Empire and its enemies through almost all of the Empire’s existence. By comparison the Roman Cavalry of the Republican Era were often seen to wear bronze two piece breastplates. These could be simple in form, but were more often stylized. These stylized choices could include the classic chest muscled look, animal, or mythological designs and these were often called Lorica Musculata. Being stylized like this indicates that unlike the Lorica Hamata, which were made en-mass and to more or less the same specifications, the Lorica Musculata were often custom pieces of equipment made specifically for the wearer. Given the fact that in the days of the Republic it was mostly the sons of nobles that populated the cavalry it is no great surprise to see such men trying to display their wealth and status in one way or another. Upon finding this out I found an answer to my original question. But then another question struck me. While I’m no metallurgist I always assumed that bronze was weaker than iron, so why are the cavalry wearing this bronze armor?
I continued to dig. It wasn’t long until I found that the cavalry were not sacrificing protection for style, in fact they were getting the best of both worlds. I came to find that in addition to wearing their bronze breastplates they also wore a modified Lorica Hamata underneath their breastplate. The aforementioned modification was a simple slit up the middle of the chain mail that stopped at their waist. This allowed the chain mail shirt to be used on horseback. While wearing both of these items means that the cavalry-man had to wear a few more pounds of armor than the average legionnaire this fact is more or less nullified by them being on horseback.
So there we have it, the answer to the question that I was struck with while I was painting up my legion cavalry. One final note concerning armor before we dive into the hobby side of things. Both Infantry and cavalry used leg armor of one kind or another and depending on the era and wealth of the cavalry man they may have had bronze or laminated iron greaves. The same could be said about additional arm armor, though the use of this armor was far less common for the cavalry and, from what I was able to find, basically non-existent among the infantry.
We are nearing the end of my initial foray into 6mm wargaming. By the time this article will be available to you dear reader I will have painted up all of my current 6mm miniatures. As mentioned in previous articles these Romans were part of my initial (and cautious) foray into this type of wargaming and while I will reserve the totality of my thoughts on 6mm miniatures for another article, I am happy to tell you that this is not the last you will see of my adventures into 6mm miniatures. So now lets cut this chatter and see the minis (once again provided by Baccus 6mm)!
What a striking bunch of horsemen! Hopefully they will find success on the field of battle soon. With that said I hope you have enjoyed this latest Legion update.
Until we meet again, happy hobbying and Carthago delenda est.