Monday, March 8, 2021

Lorica Segmentata

Despite the armor being commonly associated with the Romans, lorica segmentata-type armor was used by other civilizations before the Romans. The armor was used by the Parthians and possibly the Dacians, Scythians, or Sarmatians before the Romans used it. Some sets of armor similar to the lorica segmentata dating back to the 4th century BCE have been found in archaeological sites located in the steppe. 

Although, the exact time in which the Romans adopted the armor remains unknown, some say it was after Crassus' defeat at Carrhae in 53 BCE. Others say the armor was adopted in 21 CE after the Revolt of Julius Sacrovir and Julius Florus. One form of the armor was used as early as 9 BCE because the soldiers at the Battle of Teutoberg Forest wore it.  

Around the middle of the third century CE lorica segmentata fell out of favor with the Roman army. Some scholars point to soldiers wearing the lorica segmentata depicted on the Arch of Constantine, a monument erected in 315 CE. However, it has been argued that these depictions are from an earlier monument by Marcus Aurelius, from which Constantine incorporated portions into his Arch.

The question as to precisely who used the armor is also debated. On Trajan's Column, auxilia are generally shown wearing mail, cuirasses, and carrying oval shields. Legionaries are uniformly depicted wearing the lorica segmentata and carrying the curved rectangular shield. On this basis, it has been supposed that lorica segmentata was exclusively used by legionaries and praetorians. However, the discovery of parts of the lorica segmentata at areas where auxiliary soldiers would have been stationed implies that auxiliary troops used the lorica segmentata as well. It is entirely possible, though, that the reason behind the presence of the lorica segmentata in these areas could be because these areas had a small amount of legionaries stationed there, too.  So, the common viewpoint is that soldiers' attire on Trajan's column is stereotyped in order to distinguish clearly between different types of troops. 

Bronze statuette of a legionary (foot soldier), perhaps a praetorian guard, 2nd century CE. The soldier wears a tunic, with an outer skirt of leather straps, and on his upper body, lorica segmentata. He is also wearing strapped sandals, breeches, and a crested helmet.  Courtesy of the British Museum.

Closeup of Legionnaire wearing lorica segmentata serves a carroballista (cart-mounted field artillery) on Trajan's Column, 113 CE, sculpture attributed to Apollodorus of Damascus, photo by Conrad Cichorius (1896) courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.


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