Okrea (or greaves) — a type of antique armor that protects the front of the leg. The length of the perimeter and the protection zones could be different. Greaves were attached to the leg with laces, straps with buckles, often a leather or fabric pad was glued into them, or a cloth was wrapped around the leg before putting on the okrea. Greaves were widely used in the ancient world, especially in the Greco-Roman culture. They came to the Roman army from Greece, where they were actively used by Hoplites. Because of the form hoplon Greek soldiers had open legs that needed to be protected, which contributed to the spread of greaves in the Greek army. Roman greaves are similar in type and structure to Greek greaves. In the Roman army, ocrea was worn by legionnaires, centurions and horsemen, as well as gladiators.
In the Roman army, the use of greaves began during the Republic, they were actively used among ordinary soldiers. However, over time, greaves almost completely disappeared from the equipment of legionnaires, and by the beginning of the principate era they remained attributes of cavalry and centurions. This was most likely caused by the peculiarities of Roman tactics, which did not allow effectively hitting legionnaires in the legs.
At the beginning of the 2nd century AD, greaves again begin to appear in the equipment of legionnaires. The earliest evidence for the use of okra during Imperial times is the trophies of Trajan. Interestingly, legionnaires, like provocateurs , wore only one greave, worn on the leg from the side of the shield. This type of okrei does not cover the knee, unlike the greaves of Greek hoplites, which is associated with the height of the scutum. There was practically no point in covering the knee. Such greaves were found, dating back to the II century AD, made of bronze alloys.
Centurions in greaves are depicted in bas-reliefs much more often. Always worn on both legs, richly decorated with coinage, the ocrea was anatomically shaped and reached to the knees, like the Greeks. Centurions often had to fight outside the main formation, which is why they had the highest mortality rate in the Roman army.
Also in the Roman army, greaves were worn by horsemen, as there was an urgent need to protect the legs. The blows came mostly from below, the shield was small, and there was no formation. All this led to vulnerability in hand-to-hand combat, and greaves often saved their owner. The riders, being wealthy people, could afford richly decorated armor, including elaborately forged okrea.
There are many archaeological finds of presumably equestrian okreys, which have rich chiseled decoration. The main material from which such ocrea are made is bronze alloys, there are instances with a silver coating. Both short greaves and knee protectors were found, with composite cups fixed on hinges.
Greaves were widely distributed among gladiators-provocateurs, Thracians, Murmillons, etc. The general appearance of ocrea and their number differ for each type of gladiator. For example, the Thracians always had two of them, they were long, and protected the knees. This is due to the size of the Thracian shield, which did not cover the kneecaps during the combat stance. At the same time, the provocateurs who wore large shields had only one short greave with an open knee. All archaeological finds attributed to gladiators are made of bronze alloys and are richly decorated. There were also quilted greaves, which could be worn separately or together with metal okreyami.
As mentioned above, greaves first appeared in ancient Greece, and passed from Hoplite warriors to the Romans. The Greek shield hoplon did not protect the legs, which led to the appearance of greaves in the Greek army.
Greaves are perfect for reconstructing images of a gladiator, horseman, hoplite or centurion. Legionnaires of the Imperial era also wore greaves, but here the reenactor should be careful – the appearance of one greave on the left leg is characteristic of a legionnaire of a later period and has been relevant since the 2nd century AD.
You should pay attention to the type of greaves: the area of protection (with or without a knee), the material (almost everywhere – bronze), the number (many soldiers wore only one greave). It is also important to create shock absorption for greaves, since it is wrong and impossible to wear metal armor on a naked body. Shock-absorbing parts can be windings, fabric or leather linings glued inside the greave, or another quilted greave (acceptable when reconstructing the image of a gladiator).
A. E. Negin. Roman ceremonial and tournament weapons. 2010