Three type of armor are approved for use in Legio XI. They represent the types of armor seen in the Roman military during our time period
(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 flexibility. A belt was worn to bring some of this weight off the shoulders. A padded cloth garment would be worn underneath called a subarmalis, “under-armor.” Variations of this armor continued to be used well after the Roman Empire itself was gone.
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 patterned after the armor of certain gladiators. This armor was made up of many pieces of laminated iron all bound together with leather straps 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 shoulder 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)
(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.
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.
Acquiring your Armor
The following patterns and guidelines are for a Corbridge type A cuirass, followed by options for the type B lorica. (Be aware of the subtle differences in detail.) Complete drawings are found in Excavations at Roman Corbridge: The Hoard. Other photos can be seen on the Roman Hideout site, http://www.romanhideout.com/armamentarium.asp, and at the Online Collection of Roman Artifacts, http://www.roman-artifacts.com/.
The names of the various parts of the armor, and of the types of cuirasses, are purely convenient modern terms and should not be tossed out to the public as if the Romans used the same wording.
The lorica is built in four sections: right and left collar sections (with shoulder guards), and right and left girdle sections. On each collar section the breastplate is hinged to the mid-collar plate, which in turn is hinged to the top back plate, and below that the middle and bottom back plates hang on internal leathers. Attached to these plates by three more leathers are the upper shoulder guard (front, rear, and center plates hinged together), and four lesser or outer shoulder guards. The girdle sections are laced together at front and back, and are suspended from the collar sections by means of straps and buckles–4 at the inside back (2 each side), and 2 at the front on the outside. (On the type B cuirass hooks and eyes are used instead.) The collar sections connect to each other with a horizontal strap and buckle at front and back. The lorica is best put on like a jacket, with all the back closures tied and buckled, then the front fastened. It helps to have someone hold the cuirass for you while putting it on!
Construction of a full-scale cardboard mock-up (at least of the collar plates and one pair of girdle plates) is HIGHLY recommended to assure a good fit.
Building a Lorica Segmentata
One of the finest tutorials on building a Lorica Segmentata was created by Legio XI’s own Alex Matras (pictured in the image to the left). The seg is truly a magnificent piece of work, and so is the tutorial.
Mail was the “standard” armor before the introduction of the lorica segmentata, and it continued in use among auxiliaries and legionaries throughout the imperial period. It is not known what the ratio of hamata to segmentata might have been in the mid-first century AD, but mail shirts in the ranks is certainly acceptable, especially depending on the period of 1st Century impression a member intends to portray. Mail was also worn by standard-bearers, musicians, and centurions, and of course by auxiliary troops.
Roman mail was generally made of iron, with rings as small as 1/8″ in diameter, in the common “4 in 1″ pattern. Usually, half the rings were solid–either punched from sheet metal, or cut from wire and welded shut–while the rest were riveted shut. The solid rings were roughly square in cross-section, i.e., the difference between the ring’s inner and outer diameter was the same not much greater than the thickness. The wire for the riveted rings could be round (usually) or square. While it was long believed that some Roman mail rings may simply have been butted shut, closer analysis of surviving fragments has not revealed any definite proof of that. There is evidence that the rings could be tinned or even gilded!
Roman rings with an inside diameter of c. 6 mm and an outside diameter of c. 7 mm were apparently very typical. An outside diameter of 10 mm or 3/8″ seems to have been about the maximum, but for our purposes an inside diameter of about 8mm will be accepted. Steel wire of about 16 gauge is typical for reproductions, though thinner is better particularly for smaller or riveted rings.
Note that wearing mail does NOT mean that you are limited to wearing a Coolus helmet! This is a modern stereotype, and any acceptable Imperial-Gallic or Italic helmet is an option.
While galvanization protects against rust, especially during construction, it should be removed when the shirt is done, for a more authentic appearance (zinc galvanization is NOT the same as tinning!). This can often be done by soaking the mail in vinegar for 12 to 24 hours–do this outside, as hydrogen gas can be given off. Rinse the mail VERY WELL immediately upon removing it from the vinegar, dry it off as much as possible, and oil it against rust. Battery acid has also been used, as well as hydrochloric/muriatic acids such as “ZAP” tile cleaner. Rolling the mail in a barrel of sand should also work, though it will leave the mail very dirty.
The typical mailshirt is sleeveless or has short sleeves (c.5″), and reaches to about mid-thigh. The shoulder doubling, shaped like a square-bottomed U (at right), was probably backed by leather (c. 2-3 ounce), which is folded over the edges and stitched through. On most modern reconstructions the doubling is attached to the body by a row of rings along the back bottom edge, but two surviving Roman shirts from Britain have small buckles riveted to the back, presumably to secure the shoulder doubling.
The shoulder doublings are held together on the chest by a pair os S-shaped hooks, that may be riveted to the center of the chest-portion of the hamata or simply left free. These hooks are of iron or brass, and hook onto a button or stud on each flap. At some point in the later first century most auxiliaries began to wear shortsleeved mailshirts without shoulder doubling, though the doubling is still seen on legionaries on the Trajanic Adamklissi monument. The zig-zagged edges seen on the mailshirts on Trajan’s Column might be only an artistic convention.
There does not seem to be any direct evidence that the Romans “tailored” their mail, adding or subtracting rings from certain rows to shape the shirt. Since mail naturally conforms to the body, any hamata will fit a number of different-sized people, even without tailoring.
The chest hooks were sometimes cast brass, but they were also made from sheet brass or iron. Studs were often cast as well, but can be made simply by riveting discs in place, not tightly but with some extra length on the shaft of the rivet.
You will need a subarmalis to wear between your hamata and your tunic. Not only does this keep your tunic clean, but it has become clear that some fairly stiff padding and/or leather is essential to allow mail its full protective potential. When properly made and properly padded, mail has been shown to be a far more effective defense than was once thought. It is extremely difficult to cut or break any of the rings under battlefield conditions, though of course it is possible to damage the wearer without actually cutting through the mail. The shoulder doubling may have been backed with leather (or padding), which would have to be cut so that the flaps flair outwards in a slight curve as on the ancient Greek linothorax (linen cuirass). This prevents them from sticking up strangely at the shoulders. (The mail itself can be cut straight because it flexes easily to the proper shape.)
For a PDF file with DETAILED analysis of several original pieces of Roman-era mail, click here:
Photos of original pieces of lorica hamata on the Roman Hideout site, http://www.romanhideout.com/armamentarium.asp, and at the Online Collection of Roman Artifacts, http://www.roman-artifacts.com/.
Soul of the Warrior Offers the best off-the-shelf hamata on the market, made of proper alternating rows of riveted and solid rings. It is made from 6mm inner diameter rings and starts at $600. It features proper shoulder doubling with leather edging, and choices of brass chest hooks.
The best reproduction mail available at the moment is custom-made by Erik D. Schmid, though it is very expensive. Unfortunately, he is not taking new orders at the moment