Saturday, November 10, 2012

IMMORTUI – Fighting the Undead – Roman Armour and Clothing

Optio's helmet

In the previous post, we looked at the main weapons used by Roman troops. However, if you are not clothed and protected, you may not last long on the field of combat. In IMMORTUI, I mention some of the articles of clothing that the characters wear as well as their armour.

Pretend you are a Roman soldier getting dressed for the day or that you are preparing to go on campaign and need to stuff some extra clothing into your satchel which you will have to carry on your back along with two sharpened stakes, pots and a shovel and pick axe. When the Legions were  reorganized and equipment standardized by the General Marius, there was a reason why the men became known as ‘Marius’ mules’!

Bracae and Caligae
 The Roman soldier would have a standard issue tunica which was like an over-sized shirt, belted at the waist by a cingulum. You wouldn’t leave without pants or trousers in the morning and neither would a Roman go into battle without bracae which were made of wool, just like the tunic. This basic outfit was completed with a pair of caligae which were standard issue Roman military sandals with hobnails. As an aside, the Emperor Caligula was so nick-named because of the little pair of army sandals he wore as a child. He was called ‘Little Boots’. New archaeological evidence shows that contrary to what was thought, Roman soldiers did in fact wear woollen socks. Makes sense to me; I can‘t imagine trekking through Caledonia or Germania in bare feet. A cloak was also an important piece of the outfit and could serve as a blanket on the march, a shield against the elements.

Cingulum and Pugio
If you were a decorated officer such as a centurion, you would be wearing a leather harness over your chest that was decorated with phalerae, a series of bronze or iron discs with images of gods, goddesses and other symbols that were believed to protect the wearer from harm. Soldiers were notoriously superstitious!

Lorica Segmentata
All that clothing however, is not going to help you if you are not protected by a certain amount of armour. This brings us to the lorica segmentata, the standeard breastplate of the Roman legionary of the Empire. The design of the lorica is ingenious, providing good shoulder, chest and back protection while providing for ease of movement and flexibility due to the segmented style of the steel plates. If you were an auxiliary trooper, you more likely had chainmail. Aside from the leather straps hanging from the soldier’s cingulum, the lorica was the only protection on the torso.

Officer's Pteriges
An officer’s armour would vary from the ordinary trooper’s. Commanding officers or tribunes would be wearing a cuirass which was a breast/back plate made of iron and/or hardened bull’s hide, often ornamented with patron gods and goddesses of their family. Beneath these would be a full skirt of leather straps hanging down to the knees called pteriges. A commander may also have worn ornamented greaves which protected the shins but these were often cumbersome and not always in use during the Empire.

Finally, when it comes to protection, few things mattered so much as the helmet. The standard legionary helmet was perfected over hundreds of years, improving upon ancient Greek, Thracian and Macedonian models. There was a rim to protect the face from downward slashes from an enemy, a large, fan-like neck protector at the back, cheek flaps and holes for the ears so that the soldier could hear what was going on.

Centurion's helmet
Helmet crests were used to denote rank as well. For instance, a centurion would be known by the horizontal, horse-hair crest on his helmet where an optio (one step down from a centurion) had a crest going from front to back with feathers on either side of the helmet. A legate or other commanding officer might add a flourish with a very large horse-hair crest and highly ornamented cheek pieces to denote their own rank and wealth. Later on, parade helmets for cavalry prefects and other auxiliary officers included face masks, giving them an otherworldly look.

Auxiliary Cavalry Helmet
There you have it, a quick look at the clothing and armour of the Roman army. Not much to it, but, it was highly effective and utilitarian and certainly gave the soldiers of Rome an edge when combined with their weapons. Whether or not the armour provides enough protection against the undead enemy in IMMORTUI, well, that is another thing entirely.

Keep an eye out for the third and final instalment of the posts looking at the world of IMMORTUI when I will look at the cult of the Roman soldiers’ god, Mithras. 

IMMORTUI - Carpathian Interlude Part I is now available as a $.99 cent novella on Amazon and iTunes. 
Post a Comment