Friday, November 20, 2009

Tower Painting

I just sent the final illustration to the editor. Here are two in-progress photos. You can see I moved away from Bédeoyère's Scarborough sketch. The article author didn't want crenelations on the tower walls (these weren't meant to withstand a siege). I initially wanted an isometric view from above, but in the end opted for a ground level view with another tower in the distance. Check Ancient Warfare Magazine vol III, issue 6 for the completed illustration. It was fun doing a night scene—those aren't so common.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Illustrating a Signal Tower for Ancient Warfare Magazine

This week I am starting work on an illustration of a Roman signal tower. It will be part of Murray Dahm's article, "An Ancient Enigma—Solving the Secrets of Ancient Military Signaling" in Ancient Warfare Magazine Vol III, issue 6. For a reference I am using the above illustration from Guy de la Bédeoyère's The Buildings of Roman Britain. This was a 3rd century tower situated at Scarborough. All examples of such towers appear to have had a walled courtyard and outer ditch.

The appearance of the tower itself isn't ground-breaking, but Dahm's interpretation of its signal fires is a fresh concept.

I will also be illustrating some Roman military tactics for Ross Cowan's article.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Gaullic Shield Sculpture from Nîme, France

I'm trying to make a habit of posting ancient shield blazons as I come across them. I hope the graphics will be of use to wargamers, reenactors, and illustrators. This Roman sculpture depicts a Gaulic shield with carnyx. I scanned this from Espérandieu's Recueil Général des Bas-Reliefs de la Gaule Romaine et Pré-Romaine. Vol I, page 297. 1908. This Roman relief of captured equipment was found in Nimes, France. Note: crescent shapes also appear on the Gaullic shields on the Arc d'Orange.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Puteoli Block Praetorians

Naturally. the vast majority of Roman sculpture and artifacts reside in museums in Europe and along the Mediterranean. However, the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology holds an object of keen interest to Roman military equipment studies. The Puteoli block was carved during the reign of Domitian and depicts his Praetorian guardsmen. One carries a shield emblazoned with a very nice vine and scorpion design. The scorpio, birth sign of Emperor Tiberius, often appeared on Praetorian equipment. Tiberius was so honored because he allowed the Praetorian camp to be built in Rome, centralizing their power. No other Roman legion appear to have used the scorpion emblem. A color interpretation of this shield blazon appears in The Praetorian Guard by Boris Rankov.

The above photo of the other half of the Puteoli block is courtesy of Jasper Oorthuys. It is housed in Pergamon Museum in Berlin. Thanks, Jasper! Images of both these sections are rarely found on the internet, so I definitely appreciate your contribution!

For a detailed study of this monument see Flower, Harriet. "A Tale of Two Monuments: Domitian, Trajan, and Some Praetorians at Puteoli" in American Journal of Archaeology, Vol 105. No. 4, October 2001. pages 625 - 648.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Archaeology Journals

American Journal of Archaeology This is the journal of the Archaeological Institute of America. Their back issues include numerous articles on Rome and are available online for free as PDFs!

The Antiquaries Journal is published by the Society of Antiquaries of London. The articles cover a range of ancient subjects.

Bryn Mawr Classical Review publishes timely online reviews of current scholarly work in the field of classical studies (including archaeology).

Council for British Archaeology Offers free PDF versions of archaeolgy reports.

Society for the Promotion of Roman Studies The Roman society publishes the journals Britannia and Journal of Roman Studies. Click here for an online index of Britannia volumes.

Institute for the Classical Tradition publishes Aufstieg und Niedergang der römischen Welt. ANRW presents all important aspects of the ancient Roman world.

Israel Exploration Society This archaeology society has published a number of titles of interest to the Roman military historian. Their final excavation report dealing with the Roman weapons found at Masada was published in 2007. Their journal, Israel Exploration Journal, has the occasional Roman article.

Journal of Roman Archaeology

Journal of Roman Military Equipment This is the key publication of Roman military equipment studies.

Select Roman Army books

A public library can be very helpful in finding the following books. Your local branch may not have the desired book in their collection, but they can often order it for you using inter library loan. However, this can take several weeks and the loan time is frequently short. Don't forget your nearby college or university. University libraries will have the more academic hard-to-find books and journals. They probably will not allow non-students to check them out, but you can certainly read and make photocopies there.

Auxilia of the Roman Imperial Army, by G. L. Cheesman. Although this text is approaching 100 years since its first publication, it is still the defining book on Roman auxiliary forces. For a reference on the arms and equipment of the auxiliaries, you are better off going with the more up-to-date books by Peter Connolly.

The Roman Army at War : 100 BC-AD 200, by Adrian Keith Goldsworthy: A solid book on the Roman army, the legions and auxiliaries.

The Making of the Roman Army, by Lawrence Keppie: Roman armies built and maintained the borders over a period of centuries. Naturally, the tactics, equipment, organization, etc all went through changes as the empire grew older. Keppie discusses all these traits and how they related to the various time periods. A very good reference.

The Grand Strategy of the Roman Empire : From the First Century A.D. to the Third, by Edward Luttak. This book is pretty much standard reading for Roman army buffs. Luttak describes the changing methods the Romans used for expanding and defending their empire. Although many Luttak's central theory that the Romans had a specific long-term plan for expansion seems doubtful to me, the book does provide a wealth of information which is extremely valuable in understanding the ways of the Roman army.

The Column of Trajan, by Filippo Coarelli. Translated to English by Cynthia Rockwell (first published in Italian as Colonna Traiana). ISBN: 8886359373. This is the BEST illustrated book on Trajan's column! Another book on the subject, "Trajan's Column: the Cichorius Plates," is better known, but the photographs are small and hard to view. I recently found a U.S. distributor for this title: Michael Shamansky, Bookseller, Inc.

Roman Military Decorations, by Valerie Maxfield - a specialized volume about all things related to Roman military awards.

Roman Military Equipment

From The Punic Wars To The Fall Of Rome,
2nd Edition
Mike Bishop and Jon Coulston. Oxbow Books, 2006.

I am very much into the things of history. Helmets, swords, etc. are really quite sculptural—like art pieces. Indeed, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NY has an entire wing devoted to armor. That is just a little aside explaining my interest in such objects. Of course, the historian’s value in armor and weapons goes beyond aesthetics. The study of Roman military artifacts informs our view in how they waged war. Typically, when archaeologist discovery the object is published in one of a number of journals. Bishop and Coulston have done an excellent job gathering the most relevant finds into one text—presenting the discoveries that have informed our present understanding of Roman arms, armor and equipment.

The official website has
corrections to the published text.

Fort the Glory of Rome

by Ross Cowan
This offering from Cowan stands out a bit from the typical Roman military texts. Its focus is on the hearts and minds of the soldiers. Rome's conflict with Pyrrhus of Epirus is the principle setting used to illustrate the Roman military psyche: discipline, blood-lust, honor, sacrifice, devotion to the gods, etc. Various anecdotes from throughout Rome's history of war also define these aspects. It is a enjoyable read, with a satisfying degree of detail.

The Works of Peter Connolly

Peter Connolly is an archaeologist / historian with a talent for reconstructing equipment. A research fellow at Oxford in England, he is also a skilled illustrator. He is a noted authority on Roman archaeological finds, so his superb illustrations are accurate and well detailed. His profusely illustrated books are a superb reference for Roman army life. Connolly is a regular contributor to such journals as the Journal of Roman Military Equipment and Roman Frontier Studies. He has also appeared in the occasional TV Roman army documentary.

Peter Connolly wrote 3 excellent books now out of print: Greek Armies, The Roman Army, and Hannibal and the Enemies of Rome. Their contents were combined to form this much valued hardcover book, Greek and Rome at War. This is absolutely the must-have for anyone interested in the Roman army. Copiously illustrated, the book contains detailed descriptions of the armies and equipment of the Italians, Greeks, Macedonians, Romans, Carthaginians and Celts. The book was first printed in 1981. A revised edition was published in 2006. The book is extremely valuable to the Roman military scholar. Indeed, this book provides a reference for a majority of articles on this site!

The Legionary describes the life of a typical Roman soldier by following the career of a historic figure from Trajan’s Dacian Wars, Tiberus Claudius Maximus. Connolly’s text and ample illustrations are all based on the latest archaeology. Unfortunately, specific sources for his illustrations are not given, nor is there a bibliography. These books were intended for a general audience. Connolly's scholarship can be trusted, but it would have been nice for interested readers to know the specific sources for the author's arcaheological illustrations.

The Cavalryman continues the career of Maximus into the cavalry. Sadly, this book, The Legionary, and The Roman Fort are all out of print. I was fortunate enough to buy them when they were only $12, but now they used copies are selling for quite a bit more. I'm hoping they are combined into a single volume, as with Greece and Rome at War.

The Roman Fort examines life in a Roman fort by using the Housesteads on Hadrian’s Wall as an example.

The Holy Land is in the same style as the above titles, this volume details what life was like in the Roman province of Judea (modern day Israel and Palestine). The book illustrates the introduction of Rome into the affairs of the Jews, the reign of King Herod, the Roman governor Pontius Pilot and Jesus, up to the late 1st century Jewish War with Rome

The Salisbury Hoard

by Ian Stead. Tempus Publishing, 1998.

Stead’s sleuthing reclaims a national treasure and exposes the illicit trade of antiquities.

Metal detecting is a very popular pastime in Britain. For the most part, these hobbyists are considerate to the landowner and are helpful to archaeology. They bring their finds to the attention of local museums and split any earnings with the land owner. Objects of silver or gold are given up to the government. Sadly, there are also metal detectorists who are not so law-abiding. They are treasure hunters motivated only by the money their finds can bring them. In the 1980s a pair of ordinarily honest metal detectorists found a great hoard of Bronze Age and Iron Age objects. They gave in to temptation and sold the objects into antiquities trade. The artifacts were split up, sold and re-sold. If it were not for the work of Ian Stead, this collection and its history would be lost.

In 1988 Ian Stead was the Deputy Keeper in the Dept. of Prehistoric and Romano-British Antiquities at the British Museum. An antiquities dealer introduced him to a set of miniature bronze shields. They were authentic, yet unprovenanced. The British Museum bought them, but Stead was very curious about their origins. The Salisbury Hoard details the detective story that was his attempt to establish provenance and re-unite the scattered hoard.

Chapters 1-3 give an account of his hunt for the original finders of the hoard, tracking the find-site. Chapter 4 describes the British Museum’s excavation of the site, which confirmed the provenance of the treasure. Chapter 5 de-tangles the web of finders, dealers and collectors into which the hoard fell. Chapter 6 recounts the trial of the metal detectorists. 7 describes the Museum’s efforts to acquire the pieces. 8 explains the archaeological relevance of this hoard. Chapters 9 and 10 explain the value of provenance and the context in which archaeological objects are found. Various anecdotes are provided to illustrate.

An engaging read, Stead’s personal account guides us through a specific investigation to reach an understanding of the true value of artifacts. An object’s contribution to our understanding of the past far outweighs its intrinsic beauty.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

The Dacian Wars

The Dacians were related to the ancient Thracians. 1st century AD Greeks called the Dacians "Getae" which was the name of the Thracian tribe that had lived in Dacian lands in past generations. Our understanding of the appearance of the Dacians comes primarily from Trajan's Column and the Adamklissi Monument, which both show scenes of Trajan's campaigns against the Dacians. In these monument's reliefs the Dacians are seen wearing trousers, cloaks and caps. At the base of Trajan's Column various types of armor and military equipment are depicted. They carried swords, spears and shields similar to their Gallic and German neighbors. An interesting weapon of there's was the Falx. This great 2-handed curved blade was capable of cleaving off an arm or leg with ease. The weapon was so powerful that the Romans felt it necessary to add to the armor worn by their legions (iron greeves and segmented arm guards came into use, as well as the ad hoc reinforcing of helmets with two crossed strips of metal). Due to their close proximity to the Guals and Germans, it seems reasonable to assume that Dacian style may have shared a preference for bright colors, plaids and patterns.

Emperor Trajan himself wrote a memoir of his campaigns in Dacia, though that work has not survived to this day. Cassius Deo gave a few pages to the in his Histories, 67-68 Here is a brief overview

85AD The Dacian king Decebalus begins raids in the Roman province of Moesia (south of the River Danube).

86AD Roman Emperor Domitian sends his prefect of the Praetorian Guards, Cornelius Fuscus, to retaliate. It ends in disaster for the Romans. Two Legions are destroyed.

88AD Tettius Julianus leads a new attack on Dacia. The battle of Tapae is an important win for the Romans. As the Dacians near total defeat, the Romans make a hasty treaty and pull out to quell of the revolt of the Roman general, Antonius Saturnius, on the Rhine. There was also trouble with the German tribes in that area. According to Cassius Deo, the treaty was extremely embarrassing for the Romans. They had to pay the Dacia large sums of money, and they had to send captives of artisans and military craftsmen. Domitian strengthens the defenses on the Roman side of the river and divides the Province of Moesia into two: Lower and Upper.

96AD The unpopular Domitian is murdered. Nerva takes his place and adopts Trajan as his heir.

98AD Trajan is made emperor at Nerva's death.

101AD Drawn by its vast supplies of gold or revenge, Trajan prepares for a new war with Dacia. He raises 2 new legions (XXX Ulpia and II Tajana) to replace the ones Cornelius Fuscus lost in 86AD. 13 legions were made available to invade Dacia. Trajan moved in tot he country meeting little resistance. As winter sets in the Romans fortify what they have conquered and set up camp. Decebalus leads a sneak winter attack into Lower Moesia. It's repulsed.

102AD Trajan headed toward the Dacian capitol, Sarmizegetua, laying siege to Dacian fortresses on the way. When he finally reaches the capitol, Decebalus sues for peace. He is allowed to remain King under Roman direction. Trajan leaves some troops behind and returns to Rome with the title "Germanicus."

105AD After secretly rebuilding his forces, Decebalus wipes out the Roman garrisons in Dacia. Trajan returns and defeats the Dacians again. Decebalus tries to flee into the mountains, but he tracked down by Roman cavalry and commits suicide before he can be captured. Sometime after 106AD Dacia is made a Roman province, however there remained a section of Dacia to the mountainous north never occupied by Rome.


1. Dio Cassius. Roman History. Volume VIII, Books 61-70.
2. Peter Wilcox. Rome's Enemies (1): Germanics and Dacians
3. Peter Connolly. The Legionary
4. Peter Connolly.The Cavalryman

Dacian Helmets

Dacian helmet design was influenced heavily from the East. The more wealthy soldiers often wore Phrygian style helmets. These were characterized by a foreward facing knobby projection at the top. Their allies, the Sarmatians, were fond of dome-shaped helmets formed from several strips of metal welded together. Presumably, this helmet could also have been worn by the Dacians. The helmets above are depicted on the the base of Trajan's Column.

Related Reference
Check out the journal, Acta Terrae Septemcastrensis. Often discussing Dacian finds (including helmets), this Romanian publication includes many English language articles. Free PDFs are on their website!

Dacian Shields

Our knowledge of what equipment the Dacians and their allies used comes primarily from the sculpture on Trajan’s Column in Rome. The true accuracy of these sculptures is open to question. It is assumed that Dacian warrior was armed similarly to the celt. He carried a (probably flat) wooden shield 4 to 5 feet tall. It was usually oval in shape, based on the celtic design. It was covered in leather (to protect the wood from warping). Riveted to the center of the shield face there appeared an iron or bronze umbo. This protected the shield hand. This metal boss could also be used offensively when punched. The Dacian shield graphics appearing on Trajan’s Column to have a vine and floral theme.

Related Reference
Check out the journal, Acta Terrae Septemcastrensis. Often discussing Dacian finds, this Romanian publication includes many English language articles. Free PDFs are on their website!

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Greek Helmets

Of all the Greek helmets, the Corinthian is probably the most recognized. It was probably first developed in the 8th century BC. Each helmet was custom made for the man who was to wear it. It took a great degree of skill to fshion the helmet from one single piece of bronze. Early in the helmet’s career there were two types of crests. One layed flush on the crown arcing from front to back. The other type was worn high, curling forward at the top. Around the 5th century BC we see representations of Spartans wearing crests transversly, arcing from one side to the other. This was probably a sign of high rank. When not in use, these helmets could be pushed back to rest on the head. This is the position common in greek art as it allows the viewer to see a face. The helmet itself was very strong, but it had some serious drawbacks. The small eyeholes seriously impaired the wearer's vision AND left him practically deaf. After the 5th century the use of the Corinthian helmet fell out of use in favor of more lightweight, open-face types.

This greek helmet originated in the Peloponese in the 7th century BC. Unlike the corinthian, the Illyrian was made in two pieces joined together at the crown. The crest always ran from front to back, flush to the helmet in order to help protect the seam. There were also two ridges running along either side of the seam to provide extra protection.

“Chalcidian” is a modern name refering to the type of vases on which this helmet is often seen. It was used mostly by the western Greeks and Italians. This took the basic form of the Corinthian helmet, rounded the cheek guards and formed openings for the ears. They often were made with ram heads embossed on the cheek pieces. The temple and forehead were also often deocrated with relief lines.

Greek armorers found much inspiration in civilian hats. The pilos helmet is based on a felt hat of the same name. The Spartans are said to have started wearing this helmet in the mid 5th century. It was soon after adopted by other Greeks of the Peloponese. This particaular example has attacments for a crest.

The petasus was a wide-brimmed hat worn to keep the sun away while working in the fields, traveling etc. The form of this hat was also appeared as a helmet. It was worn by Greek horsemen and lt. Infantry in the 5th century. Interestingly enough, some of these helmets were covered in fabric to give the appearnce of being nothing more than a cloth hat. This is indicated by helmets that have bee found with holes for stitching.

The Beotian was especially favored by the cavalry because of its great visibility. It was a popular helmet, used also by the Romans until the end time of Republic.

Developed in the 5th century BC, the Thracian was based on a form of cap worn in... you guessed it, Thrace. The cap was made of a soft material most often rising to a forward pointing peak. It was re-enforced by a band or hem running across the head. The helmet repeated this from in bronze.

During the mid 4th century BC there was a return to more heavy armor. This Phrygian began showng up during this time and soon became the most common helmet used by the Macedonians and the Greeks.

1. Connolly, Peter. Greece and Rome at War. Greenhill Books, 1998.
2. Sekunda, Nicholas. The Ancient Greeks. Osprey Publishing, 1986.

Friday, July 10, 2009

My Gentleman Scholar's Research Guide

Are you a classical history buff searching for greater detail, but you’re not sure where to get it? Here you will find my guide to accessing the same resources as the professional scholars. My guide speaks from my own experience in the US, but the process is applicable to other countries.

After reading lots of general history books I have become very interested in uncovering specifics. This has lead me to the primary sources: reports from archaeological digs, conference procedings, and specialized monographs. Generally, these are intended for fellow academics. Existing outside the academic world, it can often challenging for me to acquire these publications. However, the search itself can be fun, and it is always satisfying to finally gain access info at the end of the hunt. “History buff” is an appropriate term for a guy like me, but I much prefer “gentleman scholar.” It’s Much more charming, wouldn’t you say?


A good place to start is the general history book. A look through the bibliography can direct you to more specialized texts. For instance, In Ross Cowan’s Roman Legionary, 58-BC-AD 69 he briefly describes the military decorations awarded to Roman soldiers. Little more than a page is devoted to this, but if you look in his bibliography you will see a reference to an entire book on the subject, The Military Decoration of the Roman Army, by Valerie Maxfield. Books written to a higher academic standard than Opsrey Publishing’s titles will have foot notes citing the references for each of the author’s statements. These citations are often specific to the page number of their source, making it all that much easier for you!

BIAB The British and Irish Archaeological Bibliography is an online catalog exclusively featuring archaeology publications.

Bryn Mawr Classical Review publishes timely reviews of current scholarly work in the field of classical studies (including archaeology).

Roman Army Talk has a handy References and Reviews section, and a number of archaeologists and authors frequent the forum.

Universities: Check univeristy websites for class reading lists. The authors of those books you want are often university professors. Their biography often appears on the university website, along with a publication list. Their contact info is also often listed. Alot of authors have their own website. I don’t advocate pestering them, but if you do... for Pete’s sake keep your question short and specific! They’re usually busy grading papers and don’t have time for uneducated queries like, “How did the Roman legion fight?”

Journals and Newsletters: Archaeology magazines and journals typically have a new book review section. The websites of archaeology associations often have a free downloadable newsletter, also with book reviews.


Once you know the specific book you’re after, then the first place you should go is your local library. If they don’t have it (and they probably won’t), you can request it through interlibrary loan. Basically, your library will look through the holdings of nearby lending libraries. When your book arrive you may see that is came from 2 or 3 states away. This process varies somewhat from place to place. In Maryland I could easily request a book online. The books always came at no cost. Here in Colorado I have to actually go in the library in person and hand-write a request form. Sometimes the holding libraries here charge a fee to ship it to my local branch. If the lending library has too steep of a fee, you can also try requesting photocopies. This photocopy request can be made through your library’s inter library loan process OR you can try contacting he holding library directly. In general, I have found librarians to be more than happy to help. Tracking down your hard to find text is an engaging challenge—a welcome respite from their routine requests for the new Tom Clancy novel.

Another option is to visit a nearby university library. Typically, you can only check out books if you pay a yearly fee. However, you can make all the photocopies you want, and you can request their books through your local library’s inter library loan. I used to go to the University of Maryland library quite a bit. On one occasion I had a rather amusing encounter with the librarian. I had emailed a request to put a book on hold. It was L’Arc d ’Orange, by Robert Amy—a french monograph about the Roman triumphal arch near Orange, France. When I told the librarian at the desk that this book was waiting for me she asked me for my “student ID.” “Oh, I’m not a student,” I replied. Assessing my apparently young age she questioned, “Are you an assistant teacher?” “No,” I said. “Then what are you?” she asked puzzled. “I’m just a guy” I said. Why would anybody read this stuff if they didn”t have to for a class, right?

There’s a great online catalog, World Cat, that searches libraries all over the world.

When making an inter library loan I often use this catalog to tell the librarian where copies of the book can be found.

If you are looking for a journal article see JSTOR. This is an online database of with scans of print journals. You need to pay a subscription fee to use it from home, but most universities have their own subscription. You can visit a university library and print out your article at no cost.

Sometimes you want for a really hard to find publication. No library near you has it, and it’s too expensive to buy. SOMETIMES if you contact the publisher they are nice enough to photocopy the appropriate pages for you. This is especially true if the publication comes from a small passionate institution. Local archaeological clubs, non-profit groups, museums, and various institutions often publish a journal or put out books. These people are excited about their study and are happy to share information. For instance, I was looking for a 1977 article about Fowl in Iron Age Britain appearing in the World Pheasant Association Journal. After no luck with libraries or book sellers I contacted I emailed the WPA. The president himself emailed me copies!

After borrowing a book, you may like it so much that you want a copy for your bookshelf. Or maybe you can’t find your publication in any local library. You may even consider buying a book, making some copies and then selling it again. There are many book sellers out there, but I have listed only those which I have used.

AddAll is a site that will search the inventories of used book sellers. This site is good for finding out of print publications. It is also useful to find titles from your favorite author (or vice versa). I have often used this site to figure out other books that might pertinent to my research.

AbeBooks is another source for out of print books. The website is a collection of third party sellers. You pay AbeBooks, they pay the seller and the seller send you the book. My only caveat is if you don't see your book within 30 days, make sure you initiate AbeBooks return/refund process. I once ordered a book that was coming from Germany. A month went by without seeing the book, but I assumed it was simply delayed in customs or something. After another month went by it was still missing and too late to get a refund! is another excellent source for books. It is also a place where you can sell your used books.

Hadrian Books is the exclusive distributor for British Archaeological Reports (B.A.R.). They also sell used books from a variety of publishers.

ILAB is the International League of Antiquarian Booksellers. They are especially useful in finding long out of print publications.

Oxbow Books is a highly regarded publisher and bookseller based in England. If you live in North America the site will direct you to the David Brown Book Company. Oxbow carries “everything on Archaeology, Prehistory, the Classical World, the Middle Ages, Egyptology, Near Eastern studies, and related Environmental and Heritage topics.” Oxbow can be a bargain because they often have damaged book at a reduced price.

The French, Germans, Spanish, Dutch, etc. are as interested in their ancient past as the Brits. To read their texts Google has a brilliant language translation service. You can type in entire pages in French, German, Spanish, etc. and it will translate your text into your native tongue.

If you use an Apple computer, download the language widget. This widget brings Google’s translation service to the convenience of your computer’s desktop.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Roman Military Standards

The Romans utilized a number of different standards in battle. These standards served a function similar to the battle flags carried by more modern armies. The Romans used standards in conjunction with the horn (cornu) to coordinate commands. As well as being utilitarian, these standards held a semi-religious significance. The practice of the standard bearer wearing an animal skin may be related to the standard’s role as a spiritual object. It was a tremendous dishonor to loose one to the enemy, especially the eagle standard of the entire legion (the aquila). Here I have listed the officers charged with carrying these dfferent standards. The illustrations I drew myself using Osprey Military books as reference for armor, uniforms, and standard appearances. Only fragments of Roman standards survive, so historians rely on sculpture and written accounts.

During the early Republic the eagle, wolf, boar, horse, and boar were used as the standards of roman legions. In 104 BC the consul, Marius, made the aquila (the eagle) the universal standard used for each of the legions. There was one officer in each legion charged with carrying the aquila. An aquilifer could strap on a round parma into battle rather than a larger shield, as his hands were already full. Judging from sculpture, the aquilifer of the elite Praetorian Guard wore a lion skin rather than the bear or wolf skin typically worn by the legionary standard bearers. (see left illustration, top)

The draco was predominantly a cavalry standard originated by the Sarmations. It made its way into the Roman armies when Sarmations were used as auxiliaries in the early 2nd century AD. Wind flowed though the bronze dragon mouth and billowed out the cloth tail much like a modern wind-sock. (see left illustration)

The imaginifer carried a standard with an image of the emperor. After Augustus the emperor began to be regarded as divine. This is when the imagio came into use. It was carried only in the leading cohort. (see first, illustration top image)

Each cohort of the legion had its own standards besides the aquila. A signifer carried a signa. (see middle illustration, top image)

This typically red or purple flag was suspended from a crossbar which was attached to a pole or lance. It carried the name and/or emblem of the legion. It could be used by infantry or cavalry. (see last illustration, top image)

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Roman Medicinal Herbs

Foiled by my attempts to take up backyard beekeeping, in the spring of 2007 I became interested in growing herbs. While doing the requisite research I was pleased to see a connection to the ancient Romans. The history of herbal medicine has close ties to the Roman military. Pompey the Great is credited with bringing a wealth of herbal knowledge to his country. Roman soldiers benefitted from effective herbal medicines and also followed ineffective (apart from the possible placebo type effects) superstitious herbal treatments. There are three main sources for Roman herbal knowledge—Pedanius Dioscorides 40-90AD, Gaius Plinius Secundus (Pliny the Elder) 23-79AD and Galenos (English: Galen, Latin: Claudius Galenus), c. 129 - 200 or 216 AD. All men had direct dealings with the treatment of trauma and wounds.

Dioscorides was a Greek physician who served with the legions of Emperor Nero. His tour of duty brought him from Germany to the Middle East. He published De Materia Medica (On Medicines) in 78AD.

Pliny was informed by his time in the Roman military. He served as a tribune in a Roman legion in Gallia Belgica and as a prefect of an auxiliary cavalry unit at Xanten (Castra Vetera) in Germania Inferior. Pliny’s Historia Naturalis (Natural History) speaks much about the medicinal properties of herbs and other plants. Vol. 12-19 discuss botany. Vols. 20-27 focus on medicinal herbs. Pliny attributed Roman knowledge of herbs to the research and writings of Mithridates of Eupator (120-66BC). This Pontic king was defeated by Pompey in 66BC. When his royal treasures were looted Mithridates’ herbal encyclopedia came into the hands of Pompeius Lenaeus, the freedman of Pompey. The victorius general returned to Rome with this vast collection of herbal knowledge.

Galen, a Greek physician, gained much insight into the human body while treating the gladiators of Pergamene (modern Turkey). His skill eventually lead to his appointment as court physician to Emperor Marcus Aurelius.
Galen was a prolific writer of medical texts. Interestingly, many of the herbal remedies touted by these ancient writers have been confirmed by modern science.

Listed bellow are some of herbs that are likely to have been used on the infirm Roman soldier. Note: the latin names listed for these herbs are modern scientific names, not those used by the Romans themselves.

Yarrow (Achillea millefolium)
Homers Illiad has a scene where Achilles treats the wounds of his friend with Yarrow. This well-read story would have ensured this treatment was common knowledge in the Roman world. Modern research shows that Yarrow is an astringent, is anti-inflamitory and speeds healing. (McIntyre)

Garlic (Allium Sativum)
Galens wrote of Garlic as a cure-all. This herb is antibacterial, antiviral, antiparisitic and antifungal.

Marshmallow (Althea officinallis)
Marshmallow pollen has been found at Bearsden Fort. Pliny suggested this herb can be used as an ointment or a cough syrup. (Alcock)

Marigold (Anethum graveolens)
Used as a fever reducer, marigold was grown in southern Europe.

Uva Ursi (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi)
Galen wrote that he used this herb’s leaves to treat wounds and stop bleeding. (Castleman)

Taragon (Artemisia dracunculus)
Pliny suggested tarragon as a way to prevent fatigue from physical exertion. The Roman soldiers were well acquainted with long marches. Perhaps some used tarragon to invigorate themselves.

Borrage (Borago officinalis L)
High in calcium and potassium, Borage leaves can be used to treat inflammation and bruises. Roman-era Borage has been found in the South Downs of England. (Alcock)

Hyssop (Hyssopus officinalis)
Hyssop was considered protection against the plague (McIntyre). Although it would not protect the user from deadly disease, volatile oils found in Hyssop are useful at treating the coughing associated with colds and the flu. (Castleman).

Chamomile (Matricaria Chamomilla and Anthemis nobilis)
Pliny recommended Chamomile as a cure for headaches, kidney, liver and bladder ailments. (Castleman)

Horehound (Marrubium vulgare)
Pliny and Celsus (a 2nd century Greek writer) suggested horehound as a treatment for coughs. At the Roman fortress at Carpow (Perthshire, Scotland) an amphora was found with the Greek word for horehound (prasion) written on it. Aprently, Leg. VI was using medicated wine used as cough syrup. (Alcock)

Parsley (Petroselinum Crispum)
Many herb books state that gladiators ate this herb before a fight to promote strength, cunning and agility. Some add that the Roman soldiers did the same. However, I have yet to see any citation to confirm this story.

Plantain (Plantago major, minor, lanceolata)
Wound healer, poison antedote

Blackberry (Rubicus fruticosus)
Dysentary has always been a problem to armies. Pliny reccomended drinking a decoction of blackberry leaves and bark to treat diarrhea. Chewing the leaves was supposed to cure bleeding gums. Blackberry leaves contain high levels of tannins - an astringent that can indeed control diarrhea and bleeding gums. These tannins would also be useful in treating war wounds. The controlling body in Germany that regulates drugs endorses blackberry leaf as a treatment for diarrhea. (Castleman)

Thyme (Thymus vulgaris)
There was a belief in the Roman world that sleeping on thyme could cure melancholy. There are many confirmed health benefits to consuming thyme (it treats coughs and aids in digestion). Of course, sleeping on it could offer only a placebo type effect. However, it is interesting to consider its use. As with today’s soldiers, Roman troops deployed away from home for years on end could suffer from depression. The Roman army was perhaps not very sympathetic to this problem, yet the treatment was known.

Fenugreek (Trigonella foenum-graecurn)
The cavalry would have likely made use of this herb. Fenugreek was widely used in the ancient world as a food for sick horses and cattle. Some modern veterinarians use the herb to encourage sick livestock to feed. Roman physicians prescribed fenugreek to people suffering from fevers, respiratory and intestinal troubles. Modern researchers have not found fenugreek to have any effect on fevers, but it is recognized as anti-inflamitory.(Castleman).

Fenugreek is mentioned in Josephus' The Jewish War. The besieged Jews in Jerusalem added the plant to the scalding liquid that they poured on the Roman attackers. The plants gelatinous fibers made the scaling ladders slippery and difficult to climb!

Stinging Nettle (Utrica dioica)
Some herb books include an intriguing story in the history of the herb. They often state that nettles were first brought to Britain by Julius Caesar’s invading army. The plant’s stinging needles were supposedly used by the Roman troops in cold climates to create a warming sensation on the skin. Although Pliny does mention nettles as a food source, there is no evidence to suggest legitimacy to any part of this story. Neither its use as a skin-warmer, nor its arrival in Britain are discussed in classic texts. The story was written by an English scholar of Elizabethan times, William Camden, and is apparently purely conjectural.
1. Alcock, Joan. Food in Roman Britain. 2001.
2. Boon, H. and Smith, M. The Complete Natural Medicine Guide to the 50 Most Common Medicinal Herbs. Robert Rose, Inc. 1994.
This text is a excellent resource for learning the effectiveness of medicinal herbs. Unlike many other herb books, this text cites studies and explains the science.

3. Castleman, M. The New Healing Herbs. Rodale, Inc. 2001.
This book comments on the historic use of herbs (Greeks and Romans), unfortunately it does not cite specifically sources.
4. McIntyre, A. The Medicinal Garden Henry Holt and Company, Inc. 1997. Same comment as for Castleman.
Jashemski, W. A Pompeian Herbal: Ancient and Modern Medicinal Plants. University of Texas Press, 1999.

The Vexillum (Roman flag)

When a detachment of soldiers was separated from a legion the resulting unit marched under a special banner, the vexillum. Vexilla were a standards, much like the aquila (eagle) or signa, yet their use was much more limited.

In a military emergency—barbarian incursions, civil war, etc.—it was necessary to move troops to the troubled area. Moving an entire legion had number of problems. It was time-consuming, and the men did not like breaking connections with the locals. Most importantly, leaving the legion's home-base made their sector of the frontier dangerously un-manned. Starting in the mid-first century AD, detachments of troops from a number of nearby legions were deployed to the trouble spot, rather than moving a whole legion. A "vexilation" ranged in size from 1,000 - 2,000 men. The men might not return to their legion for several years. This practice was especially common in Flavian times. (Keppie)

The vexilla was also used by the legionary cavalry and alae. It seems this banner was employed on a regular basis, contrasted with the legion's occasional use.

The vexillarius (Fig. A)
The man who carried the vexilla was the vexillarius. The legionary vexillarii probably made use of the smaller parma as their shield. In the auxiliary cavalry each unit known as a turma was commanded by the vexillarius. (Dixon and Southern)

Only one example of vexilla has ever been found—the 3rd century example from Egypt (fig. B). This was made of linen. The banner cloth was found alone, but by looking at sculpture we can tell that it hung from a horizontal bar which was attached to a pole. The horizontal bar often had straps with pendants dangling on either side of the cloth. The pole was often topped with a spear head. This spear point could be a simple leaf shape or more decorative. A sculptural piece, such as the goddess Victoria, might also appear atop the pole.

Decoration and Color
The Egypt vexillum (fig. B) was decorated with Victoria (godess of Victory) dominating the globe. In the corners can be found the gamma motif (named after the Greek letter which looks like an upside down "L"). These gamma figures are also seen on the vexilla of the Adamklissi monument (fig. A). The name of the legion could also appear on the banner. This is born out by a number of carvings. (fig. C). The historians Tacitus (in The Histories 2.85) and Suetonius (in The Twelve Caesars, Vespasian 6) both make mention of the leader's name written on the banner. Although there is no direct evidence, it is possible that the legion's emblem may also have appeared as a design.

Suetonius (Augustus, 25) wrote that the general, Agrippa, recieved a blue banner from Augustus. The vexillum found in Egypt is red cloth. The vexillum depicted in the fresco at Dura Europos is also red (a color plate of this Terentius painting can be seen in James, p.xxv).

Fig. A
Vexillarius depicted on the Adamklissi monument.

Fig. B
Intact vexillum from Egypt, probably 3rd century AD. Dimsnsions: .47m x .5m (Dixon and Southern)(Connolly, p.219)(Bishop and Coulston, p. 185-186, 188)(Rostovetzeff) Connoly wrote that it is currently housed in the Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg, Russia. This may be an error. Others place it in Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts in Moscow.

Fig. C
Sculptural relief of vexillum on a stone tablet left by Leg. II Augusta at Benwall. Benwall was a fort on Hadrian's wall built during the reign of Hadrian.

Fig. D
Vexillum depicted on Trajan's Column, Rome.

Fig. E
Vexillum relief from Bridgeness. (Bishop and Coulston, p. 146, illustration after Bishop)

Fig. F
Vexillum relief from Corbridge. (Bishop and Coulston, p. 146, illustration after Bishop)

1. Bishop and Coulston. Roman Military Equipment, Second Edition. Oxbow Books, 2006.
2. Connolly, Peter. Greece and Rome at War. Greenhill Books, 1998.
3. Dixon and Southern. The Roman Cavalry. Routledge, 1992.
4. James, Simon. Excavations at Dura-Europos, 1928-1937. Final Report VII. The Arms and Armour and Other Military Equipment. British Museum Press 2004.
5. Keppie, Lawrence. The Making of the Roman Army. University of Oklahoma Press, 1998.
6. Rostovetzeff, M.I. 1942 "Vexillum and Victoy" Journal of Roman Studies 32. p.92-106. Note: I have not yet seen this article, but I believe it has a detailed account of the vexillum found in Egypt.

Auxiliary Shield Blazons

The latin term, clipeus is often used by modern historians to describe the flat oval shield carried by the Roman auxiliaries. However, this is not appropriate. The Roman applied the name clipeus to circular shields such as those carried by the ancient Greeks. Scutum was the general latin word for "shield," but there does not appear to be a specific word for the oval shields used by the auxilia.

The one monument that depcits the greatest number of shield design is Trajan's Column. The sculpture was created at the very hight of the Roman Empire and its army. The shields on the column represent a very specific time in Roman history, but their symbolism could be applied to anytime in early to mid imperial history. Lino Rossi, a modern historian, conveyed his ideas on the symbolism in his now out of print book, Trajan's Column and the Dacian Wars. I present a streamlined version of his concept here:

Numbers 1-4 were probably units granted Roman citizenship for valor. 4-8 were units raised from Roman citizen volunteers. He bases this hypothesis on the fact the these shields show Jupiter's eagle and lightning bolts—just as seen on the legionary scuta.
9-18 Are shields probably from units that were awarded the title torquata.

19-30. Various auxiliary designs. Note the rectangular shield carried by an auxiliary (30.). Rossi thought this had special significance, but it was probably just an error on the part of the sculptor.

The wings and thunderbolt design was almost never seen on the non-citizen auxiliary shields. The few times that it did appear could be explained by attributing those instance to auxiliaries who were awarded citizenship or those units who were not citizens, but served the emperor directly. (such as the emperor's bodyguard)

The wreath design is very common on auxiliary shields on Trajan's Column. A wreath (or cown) was awarded to a general who retuned from battle with victory. There were also a number of military decorations awarded as crowns. It can be guessed that whe this design was painted on a shield it meant that particular unit had recieved an award for some great victory.

1. Greece and Rome at War, by Peter Connolly.
2. Rossi, Lino Trajan's Column and the Dacian Wars.

Late Roman Shield blazons

For this subject I really must defer to Luke Ueda-Sarson’s website. He has excellent scans of the Notitia Dignatum housed at the Bodleian library in the UK.

Starting sometime around the 3rd century, the Roman Legion ceased being purely "Roman" in that the soldiers were primarily recruited from foreign tribes. The names of the legions from this time bear out this fact. However, a tribal name like "Cornuti," for instance, did not mean that only Carnutes were in that legion. Men from different tribes found themselves mixed together.

Due to logistical reasons, the soldiers were not issued standard uniforms. The men were given an allowance to buy their own clothing and armor. To give uniformity, the troops of a particular legion probably all had the same color helmet crests and shields. Shield blazons (graphic designs) were recorded in a document used by Roman administrtors called the Notitia Dignitatum. An original of this scroll does not exist. It was, however, copied by monks in medeival times. As a result the colors may not be exact.

The top shield corresponds to the Celtae Senio, a senior infantry unit from the Western Empire. The bottom shield corresponds to the Batani.

Phil Barker published an excellent handbook for wargamers. The Armies and Enemies of Imperial Rome features all the shields from the Notitia Dignatum plus other Late Roman shields. The line drawings are in black with a key for color.

Roman Shields

Above: a sculptural relief from the Legionary fort at Mainz (in modern Germany).

Although Roman shields evolved over the years, their principles of construction remained quite consistent. The Romans used the term, scuta to reffer to their shields (the singular form is scutum). The most familiar is the rectangular scutum commonly seen in movies. There were several shield varieties used by the Roman army. Long oval shields are often depcited on sculpturs of auxliares. Modern writers often refer to this shield as the clipeus, yet this term was used by the Romans only to describe the dished circular shield carried by the Greek hoplite. The Romans had their own circualr shield known to them as the parma. It's small size made it the prefefered shield of the encumbered standard bearers.


Wooden Shieldboard:
In the Republic and early-mid Empire the main body of the scutum was constructed of plywood. Three layers of wood glued together with the grains at right angles for added strength. Vertical strips faced the front and the back, while horizontal strips were sandwhiched in between. In the later Empire shields were frequently made with vertical wooden planks, rather than plywood. A liquid hide glue was probably used. The resulting thickness of the plywood was roughly 1/4 to 3/8 inches. Birch and oak were frequently used woods. Presumably because they are less likely to splinter when struck. The outer and inner surface were covered with painted cloth (linen, felt, canvas) or leather.

The outer rim of the scutum was often edged with nailed strips of bronze. Fragments of this edging have been found at numerous 1st century archaeological sites. One would think that the metal would be helpful in countering the slashing strike of an enemy's weapon. Suprisingly, the finds show the metal to be too thin (less than 1/32 inch think) to be anything more than a decorative element. Toward the third-century the more economical rawhide was stitched on, rather than the metal. The corners were most often rounded with metal edging. However, square corners were easier when using the leather. Some shields had no edging at all.

Horizontal lengths of hardwood, were glued and nailed to the back. These wood strips were 1/2 to 3/4 inches wide and about 1/4 inches thick. One of these strips formed the handgrip in the center of the shield. It was 3/4 inches wide and 1/4 thick for most of the length. In the middle (where the hand gripped) it was 3/4 inches thick, rounded and sanded or wrapped with leather. The handgrip could also be a steel strip about 1/8 inches thick. The shield probably had carrying-strap attachments.

a decorated bronze shield boss from a rectangular scutum
A hole roughly 5 inches in diameter was cut in the center of the shield to give a place for the hand. The hole was covered on the front by a domed metal boss, or umbo. This was made of sheet iron or bronze. This dome was at the center of a round, rectangular or hexagonal metal plate (flange) which could be roughly 8 inches square to 10 x 11 inches. The entire unit was riveted into place. Judging from sculptural evidence, it appears the Romans made an effort to match up the general shape of the boss with the shape of the shield.


Legionary shield blazons from Trajan's Column.

1. Greece and Rome at War, by Peter Connolly.
2. Roman Military Equipment by M.C. Bishop, J.C.N. Coulston.
3. In the 1960s several shield fragments were found at Masada, and published in Masada VIII, The Yigael Yadin Excavations. Israel Exploration Society. 2007.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Roman Artillery

(above illustation from Trajan's Column)

To supplement their forces, the Romans used various forms of artillery. Originated by the Greeks, these mechanized weapons represent the height of ancient technology. There are actually quite alot of surviving ancient discussion on the subject. There is also a wealth of archaeological finds allowing modern researchers to accurately re-construct these machines. Perhaps the most useful writer has been Vitruvius, an engineer who served under Julius Caesar and Emperor Augustus.

The Romans used torsion machines, meaning they were powered by twisted cords. Sinew was the preferred cord material, but horse hair (and reportedly the long hair of women) was also used. When triggered, a considerable amount of energy was released and directed toward launching the projectile. There were two generla artillery types: stone-firing and arrow-firing. Unfortunately, the Latin terms used to describe the different siege machines are not fully understood. In the Republic and early Empire catapultae referred to bolt-shooters (arrow-firing). Scorpiones were the smaller mobile catapultae. Ballistae were strictly stone-shooters. Yet, in the 2nd century AD the term, ballistae, was applied to both arrow throwing and stone throwers. In the 4th century AD it appears that the arrow throwing machines were differentiated from stone throwing catapults by having the term ballistae apply only to them.

The most common artillery piece was a catapult that could fire a bolt 3-hand spans long. The scorpio (circa 50BC) threw a bolt 27 inches long (67cm).

Although the wooden bolt shafts have long since rotted, quite alot of the iron points have survived to this day. Stabilizing flights may have been made of feathers, leather, or wood. The iron points were pyramid shaped. The hand cranks at the rear were used to winch the arrow, or bolt, back to the firing position. The largest artillery filed pieces could lob a 78kg stone ball!

Both types of artillery were manned by men called ballistarii. It is not known exactly how many each legion had. Each cohort may have had only 1, or as many as 6. Auxiliary units typically did not have artillery, although it appears there were exceptions to this rule. If these non-Roman citizens should turn against the legions, the Romans did not want them to have the added firepower of artillery. In the 2nd century AD the metal-frame carroballista was introduced. It had more power and better aim than the older wooden-frame scorpion. See above illustration. It's lighter weight was an improvement over the older wooden-frame catapults by enabling it to be mounted on a type of cart.

By the 4th century AD the legions no longer had a compliment of artillery. Artillery was reserved, instead, for a few specialist artillery legions and for defending fixed positions. Artillery was also used on warships. They were often mounted on wooden towers, giving them a more advantageous angle of fire.

The Onager was named after a wild ass because of the way it kicked back upon firing. although it was powered by torsion, it was an artillery piece apart from catapultae and ballistae. It was first mentioned in writing in the 200s BC. It was most common in the armies in the mid 4th century AD. Since they were so large and slow to move the onagri were most suited for sieges. The length of the sling on the end of the arm could be adjusted to affect the trajectory of the stone.

Two excellent Roman artillery books were coincidentally both hpublished in 2003. They are both available inexpensively as used books:

1. Greek and Roman Artillery, By Duncan Campbell.

2. Roman Artillery, By Duncan Campbell.

Roman Weapons

The Romans were quick to improve upon ideas from other cultures. Early Etruscan arms were based on those of the Greeks. When the early Romans came in contact with the the Gauls, they took their idea for a large oval shield. When they Spanish Celts, they took their idea for a sword and so on.

Pilum: The pila (plural form) were quite unique in design. These javelins were designed to warp after impact, so they would drag down an enemy's shield, sometimes pinning two of them together. The average pilun was 1.8 meters long. It had a barbed iron shaft connected to the wooden pole in a weighted socket. A lead ball weight was added to further increase the throwing distance in the late half of the 2nd century AD. Pilum were used until the late empire.

Hasta: The hasta was the Roman trusting spear. It was carried by the units called triarii in Republic times. Marius military reforms made the pilum the standard spear carried by all legionaries.

Gladius: The Romans patterened their short swords after those of the Spanish Celts. The historian, Polybius, says they were introduced into the army during the second Punic War. This sword was intended as a thrusting weapon. This was the best way to use a sword in tight formation. Using the sword in a slashing motion would cause the soldier to open his side to attack. The gladius was replaced by the traditional long swords of the barbarians in the late empire. The below image is of the Pompeii type.

Archaeologists have catagorized these swords into three main types. The oldest, "Mainz" pattern had a blade 20 - 22 in. long, about 2.5 - 3in. wide. The edges curved inward at mid length of the blade. This was the blade carried by the soldiers of Caesar's time up till Tiberius. The later "Fulham" and the "Pompeii" types had edges which were parallel. The Fulham pattern was jus as long as the "Mainz." The blade started slightly wider at the hilt, sloping sharply to a 2 in. width for the rest of the length to the tip. The "Pompeii" had a shorter blade length, 18 - 22 in., was typically 2in. wide, and had completely parallel edges.

See photo of a Fulham sword on the British Museum website.

Spatha: The was the sword used by the cavalry. The blade was much longer than the galdius and was used for slashing. The large numbers of barbarians serving in the legions used the spatha in the late empire. It was ideal because the spatha did not require the same skill and training needed to properly wield a gladius.

Pugio: The legionaries carried a dagger starting in the 2nd or 1st centuries BC. During the rein of Augustus the gladius was carried on one belt and the pugio hung on another. By the 2nd century AD daggers were no longer issued.

Lancea: This repalced the pilum as the primary weapon of the 3rd century AD on. It was a thrusting spear.

Veruta: This was the throwing javelin of the late empire.

Plumbatae or Mattiobarbuli: These were hand-thrown lead weighted darts carried by the infantry. They were rather expensive to produce, but they allowed the infantry to effectively double as missile troops.

1. Bishop and Coulston. Roman Military Equipment, 2nd Ed., Oxbow, 2006. p. 98-100.
2. Connolly, Peter. Greece and Rome at War,. Greenhill Books 2006.

Roman Helmets

The armor of Rome felt a strong influence from its neighbors. Early Roman armies displayed helmets similar to those of Greece and Gaul. After Caesar conquered Gaul in the 50s BC, the Roman government employed the very skilled iron smiths of that country to produce the legions' first iron helmets. Consequently, Gallic style became prominant in this Roman equipment. In the later Empire armor was influenced by the Persians and Sarmatians.

It should be noted that the names for these helmets are not Roman in origin. Archaeologists named them based on their appearance or where they were first unearthed. In his 1975 book, The Armour of Imperial Rome, H. Russell-Robinson formulated a typology for Roman helmets, which is the standard for helmet discussions to this day. This book is out of print and difficult to find. Fortunately, a synopsis is available on

I illustrate a few of Robinson’s types bellow.

Montefortino Helmet
4th century BC to the 50s AD. The Romans copied this style of helmet from the Gauls and Celt-Iberians. The legions of Julius Caesar’s time would have worn helmets like this. There is an attachment at the top for a horsehair or feather plume. It is named for the find site, the Necropolis at Montefortino, in northern Italy. Typically bronze, the helmets of centurions were often plated in tin.

Coolus C
Late Augustan to Tiberian period. This type of helmet was very well made. The horizontal ridge along the brow was put in place to prevent sword blows from hitting the main headpiece. It is named afrer the Coolus region of the Marne River valley in present-day France where the first examples were found.

Coolus E
Late Augustan to Tiberian period. Unlike the Coolus C, this helmet was mounted with side tubes for plumes and a top spike for holding a horse hair crest. This crest would be held in a small metal box, rather than the Republican era method of gathering all the hair at one point like a paintbrush. As more advanced forms of helmet were developed the Coolus was continued to be used by auxiliaries.

Imperial Gallic H
1st century AD. The embossed eyebrow pattern at the front of the shull cap displays a Gallic influence, resulting in the name of this family of helmets. The drawing shows a Gallic H, which featured a more sloping neck gaurd then found in previous Gallic types.

Imperial Italic G
3rd century AD. The term "Italic" applies to a whole family of Roman helmets all sharing a similar style. They were used at the same time as the Gallic types. A notable difference is the fact that the Gallic embossed eyebrows are missing.

3rd century AD. (this term, Spangenhelm, is best applied to helmets from the Middle Ages.) Believed to have originally been developed by the Sarmatians, this helmet was relatively easy to produce. It was made of between four and six curved iron plates shaped into a bowl and riveted together by bands or Spangen. Adopted by the Romans in the 3rd century AD, it continued to be used by European armies well into the 7th century.

Ridge Helm
4th century AD. This helmet appeared with the end of the production of the Gallic style helmets. It consisted of two curved plates connected by a central ridge. To this cheek pieces, neck guard, and sometimes nose piece were added. Produced in a variety of styles, they were manufactured in huge quantities for infantry and cavalry. By this time the Empire found it more cost effective to reduce the armor of the legions. A helmet and a shield would, on most ocassions, be the only armor a Roman soldier would receive. The style may be from a Persian influence.

1. Bishop and Coulston. Roman Military Equipment, 2nd Ed., Oxbow, 2006. p. 98-100.
2. Connolly, Peter. Greece and Rome at War,. Greenhill Books 2006.

Ancient Roman Armor

After a Senate decree in 123BC the state began providing the legions with their equipment. This, of course, included armor. As the years went by new styles of protection were developed and incorporated into the legions. It was not uncommon to have the men of a legion to wear a mix of different types of armor, some newly produced and some re-issued. There was quite a range of variety of style that could be found in each armor type. For instance, in a particular legion one soldier's mail armor may have had straight edges. His comrade may have been wearing mail edged with a zig-zag cut. Still another soldier might have extra flaps of mail on the shoulders. To make things simple, I have made only one illustration for each type of armor described here.

Lorica Musculata (breastplate)
In Rome’s very early history men wore fitted bronze plate armor in the Greek hoplite style. These were well decorated with animal, mythological and chest muscle designs. No Roman examples have been found in excavations, but sculpture shows them being used by officers and emperors well into the 1st century AD. The rectangular strips dangling at the sleeves and waist in this illustration are called pteruges. Made of layered linen (or perhaps leather), they added protection to the upper arms and thighs, while conserving metal. They were probably attached to a cloth arming doublet worn under the armor.

See: J.L. Sebesta, L. Bonfante, "Costume as Geographic Indicator: Barbarians and Prisoners on Cuirassed Statue Breastplates" in The World of Roman Costume. Masidon WI. University of Wisconsin Press, 2001.

Lorica Hamata
(Loricae Hamatae plural form) translates as "hook armor," referring to the hook which fastened the shoulder straps. There is some dispute over the origins, but mail was probably first developed by the talented smiths of Gaul. Mail showed up in the Roman armies in the first half of the 2nd century BC. A typical mail coat might weigh 15 lbs. It provided excellent protection, along with great flexability. A belt was worn to bring some of this weight off the shoulders. A padded cloth garment would be worn underneathe called a subarmalis, "under-armor." Variations of this armor continued to be used well after the Roman Empire itself was gone.

Lorica Squamata
(Loricae Squamatae plural form) Literally translates as "scale armor." This armor consisted of row upon row of overlaping bronze or iron scales, which resembeled a coat of feathers when completed. Each scale was wired to those adjacent and sewn to a cloth backing. Some examples of scales have been found with embossed ridges down the middle. Incidentally, this strengthening devise mage them look even more like feathers. Lorica squamata was easier to produce and less expensive than mail armor. The downside was it was less flexible and it offered far less protection. It was especially vulnerable from an upward stab. The only archaeological exmaples date to the Imperial period, although it is seen in sculpture from Republican times.(Bishop and Coulston)

Lorica Plumata, "feather armor," was an expensive variant of scale armor. This consisted of a coat of ring mail on which small bronze scales were attached. These scales were only fastened at the top, which allowed them to rustle in the wind much like the feathers of a bird.

Lorica Segmentata,
The Latin term, Lorica Segmentata, is used to describe the segmented armor. Yet, it is not known by what name the Romans themselves used. This armor appears to have been a purely Roman invention. It may have partially patterened after the armor of certain gladiators. This armor was made up of many pieces of laminated iron all bound together with leather sraps and metal hooks, forming a very flexible and strong protection. It began to be issued to the legions during the reign of Emperor Augustus. The earliest fragments of this armor have been found at Kalkriese, the presumed site of Varus 9 AD battle with the Germans in the Teutobergen Wald. By the resign of Tiberius this form of armor had gained widespread use. It appears to have fallen out of favor after the mid second century AD.

There were several varieties of segmented armor. “Corbridge A” and “Corbridge B” were discovered by archaeologists in the UK. The primary difference between the two is the way the choulder plates fasten to the torso plates. The “Newstead” type came into use in the 1st century AD. This style differed from the “Corbridge” types in the way it reduced the number of fasteners needed to keep the armor together. There are not enough surviving pieces of the "Kalkriese" type to create a good reconstruction. Scarves (focale in latin) were worn by the men to keep the metal collar from scraping their necks.(Bishop)

1. Bishop, M.C. Lorica Segmentata Volume I: A Handbook of Articulated Roman Plate Armour ,. Armatura Press, 2002.
2. Thomas, M.D. Lorica Segmentata 2 ,. Armatura Press, 2003.
3. Mike Thomas is working on Lorica Segmentata 3.
4. Photo of armor fittings from the lorica segmentata on the British Museum website.
5. Mike Bishop’s website discusses lorica segmentata.

Called balteus early in the empire and then cingulum militare in later times. The mark of a soldier, belts were not meant for civilian use! When worn over chainmail, the belt helped to take some of the weight off the soldier's shoulders. In the first half of the 1st century AD it was common to wear two belts in the army: one to hold the sword and one to hold the dagger. Foot soldiers wore their sword on their right, officers on their left. In the Later Empire, this distinction fell away. The belts were rather narrow and were decorated with metal plates all the way around. The decoration of each bronze plate could be quite ornate. They featured embossed or engraved designs, sometimes plated with tin, and in rare cases coated with silver foil. The engraving sometimes had blue-black niello inlay.

During the 1st and 2nd centuries AD the belt supported several vertical strips of metal-studded leather, forming a groin guard. However, judging by the meek protection offered a few dangling pieces of leather and the ornate decoration, it may be that this apron's more important purpose was to portray a man's social status as a soldier.

Roman military sandals used iron hob-nails as treads, rather like the cleats of a modern-day football player. These were used for the 1st and 2nd centuries AD. After that time boots became more popular.

Segmented arm protection is seen in the Adamclisi monument reliefs. The Tombstone of Valerius Severus also depictss this interesting armor. Iron example of this armor have been found in Carlisle, England. They are dated to reign of Hardrian. (Bishop and Coulston)

During the Republic a single metal shinguard was worn by heavy infantry, apparently only on the left leg. Although there are no Republican-era sculptures of soldiers wearing greaves, gladiators are shown wearing a single greave on their left leg. Polybius writes of the soldier’s greave only in the singular tense, implying only one was worn.(Sekunda, p8) The fighting stance of a soldier position his left leg forward, so there was no need to armor the back right leg. The soldiers on the Aemilius Paulus monument (erected after battle of Pydna, 168BC) do not show depict any greaves, so it is beleived they had fallen out of use by this time. Centurions of the Republic on through the Empire wore two greaves as a mark of distinction. The reliefs from the Roman monument at Adamklissi show greaves being worn by common legionaries. This is thought to be a protection against the Dacian’s falx, a weapon known to cleave off limbs with ease. The coverage of greaves from the Republic appear to extend up, over the knee. Those seen at Adamklissi extend only from top of the ankle to the bellow the knee. Cloth padding was worn beneath the greave to act as padding. A Linnen example of this was found at Dura Europos. Sculpture also indicate use by the cavalry.(Bishop and Coulston)

1. Bishop and Coulston. Roman Military Equipment, 2nd Ed., Oxbow, 2006. p. 98-100
2. Connolly, Peter. The Legionary. Oxford University Press, 1988.
3. Connolly, Peter. Greece and Rome at War,. Greenhill Books 2006.