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Евсеенков А.С.

Armillae (Latin: armillae, from armus - "forearm") were a type of wrist adornments in ancient Rome. Depending on the design, they could be worn on the wrists, upper arms, or together with phalerae on the chests of centurions. The fact that both military and women's armillae are called the same is explained by their origin from the word "armus" (forearm), not "arma" (weapon). In other words, armilla refers to anything hanging on the forearm.

Armillae in the Military

Armillae were actively used as decorations or distinguishing marks in the Roman army and were most commonly worn on the wrists. In terms of shape, armillae resembled traditional Celtic ornaments (torques) or were made as flat elongated hoops, sometimes consisting of segments.

A gold bracelet. Corinium Museum. 1-2 century AD
Armilla. Cortesia Hermann Historica, International Auctioneers - Munich-D. 1st century AD
Armilla. Vindonissa. Cortesia Vindonissa Museum. 1st century AD

Centurions, in addition to their set of phalerae, also had armillae, which were placed higher up. They were either attached to the leather base of the phalerae, worn over the cloak, or separately fastened with a special scarf. Armillae were made of colored metals such as bronze, silver, and gold. They often featured patterns, were twisted, and adorned with animal heads at the ends. They were worn in pairs, and they could be attached as a separate element or directly onto one of the phalerae, "sliding" onto it. A centurion could also wear armillae simultaneously on the wrists and phalerae.

A centurion with armillos on his thighs and wrists. It is kept in the Rheinisches Landesmuseum in Bonn. 1st century AD
Tombstone to Centurion Marcus Petronius Classicus with an unusual armill mount. 1-2 century AD
A centurion from the Republic with Armylls. 3-2 century BC

Armillae for Women

Women in ancient Rome also used armillae as ornaments to showcase their social status. They wore them more often on the shoulder area of the arm rather than the wrists. Wealthy women would wear several bracelets on one arm. The ways of wearing and the fact that this type of armilla was for women are indicated by surviving pictorial sources such as frescoes and statues.

The Palaestra of the Forum of the Baths at Herculaneum, AD 79.
A satyr embracing a maenad. Pompeii. Naples, National Archaeological Museum, Inv . no. 110590. Early 1st century AD.
Aphrodite Kallipyga. Marble. Naples, National Archaeological Museum. Inv. no. 6020. 2nd century BC

The most popular type of armilla was the snake-like variety, coiling around the arm in one or several loops. Such bracelets were borrowed from Greco-Etruscan culture in Rome. Occasionally, they were adorned with precious gemstones.

Greek snake-shaped bracelet. 5th century BC
Greek snake bracelet. Gold, amethyst. 3-2 century BC

In Rome, armillae bracelets became fashionable among various social classes. They were beloved by both aristocratic women and female slaves. In Pompeii, near Mogerinum, a golden armilla with the inscription "dominus ancillae suae" - "from the master to his slave" was found, which essentially meant a valuable gift to a concubine. While in Ancient Greece, the snake was a symbol of Hermes and Asclepius, in Rome, it was primarily associated with Apollo. It was believed that the snake bestowed beauty, health, sexual attractiveness, and strength upon its wearer.

Roman gold serpentine armilla from Pompeii with the inscription "dominus ancillae suae". 1st century AD
Roman serpentine armilla from Pompeii. 1st century AD
Snake gold bracelet. The British Museum. 1st century AD


For armilla reenaction, it is recommended to use brass or other precious metals. Silver-plating or gold-plating is permissible. It is especially relevant for women's attire to use armillae for wearing on the shoulders and wrists. Centurions can wear bracelets on their phalerae and wrists.

A centurion with armillos on his thighs and wrists. Reconstruction
Aristocrat with a bracelet on her arm, reconstruction
Military armylls, reconstruction

Related topics

Women in Ancient Rome, Legionnaire, Centurion, Falers

Military Armylls

Vindonissa bracelet. Cortesia Vindonissa Museum-Brugg-CH. 1-2 century AD
Vindonissa bracelet. Cortesia Vindonissa Museum-Brugg-CH. 1-2 century AD
Vindonissa bracelet. Cortesia Vindonissa Museum-Brugg-CH. 1-2 century AD
Bas-relief with the Praetorian Publio Elio Pontico holding an armilla in his hand. Archaeological Museum of Padova (Museo Archeologico di Padova), 2nd century AD

Women's Armillae

Roman snake gold bracelet. 1st century BC - 1st century AD
Gold bracelet in the shape of a snake. Pompeii. 1st century AD
Roman snake gold bracelet. 1st century AD
Roman snake gold bracelet. 1st century AD
Gold Roman bracelet in the shape of a snake. 2nd century BC