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Samnite warrior

Евсеенков А.С., Садовин В.О.

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Fresco from the Nola fortress, Campania. 330-310 BC

Samnite warrior

The Samnites were an ancient Italian people who lived in southern Italy. They left the main trace in history in the 6th-3rd centuries BC. They did not have time to form a completely original culture due to the relatively short time of existence as an independent civilization. Due to their close proximity to the Greek colonies in Magna Graecia, they were significantly influenced by their neighbors, thus creating an interesting combination of Italian and Greek material culture.

The flourishing of Samnite culture coincides with a period of weakening of the foreign policy of ancient Greece.Etruria, especially in the southern part of the Appennine Peninsula. Probably, this circumstance allowed the Samnites to express themselves, including in material culture. The main differences from other Italian peoples are mainly reflected in Samnite clothing, patterns,and weapons. Most likely, representatives of the Samnite culture often acted as mercenaries, since according to archeology, many typical Samnite artifacts are found not only in the south of the Italian Peninsula, but also in the Alps, and even in North Africa.

Military affairs

Like most of the peoples of Italy at the beginning of the Iron Age, the Samnites adopted their weapons and fighting style from a neighboring more advanced civilization located on the other side of the Tyrrhenian Sea- the Greeks. Historians suggest that cultural exchange began at least in the 7th century BC. e. Samnites began to use round shields (hoplons), one - handed spears, arm and leg armor, Greek-style helmets, and body armor, similar to the Greek phalanx of the transitional archaic-classical period. General trends in military affairs in Italy were noticeably lagging behind Greece, so in the V-IV centuries BC you can see tombs with warriors, including full muscle armor, greaves, bracelets, forearm armor and heavy helmets. A similar set of weapons for this period in Greece itself is already considered long out of use.


With the development of Samnite warfare, light-armed warriors became increasingly common, and by the fourth century AD, Samnite weapons were becoming simpler than those of the Greek Hoplites. In the vast majority of images, Samnites are clear supporters of spears as the main weapon item. Conventionally, they can be classified into 4 types:

Also in some images there are spears with loops on the shafts, which were created either for carrying or to improve the range of the throwing spear. Similar analogs are found in modern South American tribes, some of which are still engaged in hunting in the forests.

It should be noted that most of the images of the Samnites depict not mass military clashes, but one-on-one duels. Perhaps this indicates fundamental differences from the Greeks in the field of warfare and tactics. However, it is no less likely that these are just conventions of the visual arts.


Despite the predominance of spears over other types of weapons, alternative weapons were also used. For remote combat, the Samnites used not only light skirmishers with javelins, but also archers. Bows, apparently, used compound recursive, as in many other peoples of the ancient era.

Lucan fresco from the tomb with a Samnite archer. Archaeological Museum of Paestum, 375-350 BC


Samnite swords are extremely rare. There are only a few archaeological finds of swords and a couple of images from the territory of Southern Italy of this period.

All found swords can be divided into 2 types: kopis and double-edged xiphos. Both of these types are borrowings from other peoples, primarily the Greeks. Among the Samnites, this bladed weapon had a clearly auxiliary purpose and was used only when the spear was no longer possible to use (in case of breakage or close contact with the enemy).

In Paestum there is a curious find of a large kopis in a complex with typical Samnite weapons. It is most likely that it belonged to a mounted warrior, since the sword has an atypical blade length (about 70 cm), since such a length for an infantry sword was atypical in the ancient period under consideration. The general geometry of the swords does not differ from the analogues of neighboring peoples.

It should be noted that there is a similarity between the hilt of the copis from Capua, in the shape of a horse's head, and the Iberian copis, for which this is a typical feature.


Another distinctive element of Samnite equipment is belts. They are a long brass sheet fixed to the skin. It was fastened with cast hooks inserted into holes in the brass base of the belt. Such belts were often decorated with coinage, often with mythological themes (sea monsters, pegasi, etc.)

The Samnite belt. Museo Del Samnio, Benevento. 4th century BC
Belt and sword made of Paestum. 4-3 centuries BC
A fragment of a belt from Capua, second half of the IV century BC is kept in the British Museum

Body armor

Despite the fact that there are images of muscular cuirasses and linothorax on the territory of southern Italy of that period, it cannot be said that they were widely distributed. The main options for protecting the body were cardiophylaxis or the body was not protected at all. The cardiophylaxis itself can be called the most original item of Samnite defensive weapons, for example, three-disc shells. Also, there were cardiophylaxis imitating the male torso. This is a kind of stylization of the Greek muscular cuirasses, but inferior to them in weight and protective properties. Perhaps this difference can be explained by the general poverty of this region, or the emphasis on the mobility of warriors in the Samnite military tactics used.

Greaves On a large number of vase paintings and wall paintings in tombs, Samnites are depicted in greaves. Samnites are depicted not only with one left leg, but also with a full pair. The greaves themselves in the images are similar to classical Greek anatomical greaves. In archaeology, there are samples with rings on the back side, used to tie a cord. Sometimes, instead of a greave, an ankle bracelet is used as an ornament.


Samnite finds of shoes are absent. According to pictorial sources, they used analogs of Roman kaligas and Greek kampagas, sandals, and various versions of boots. Images of Samnites without shoes at all are also common.

A duel of warriors. Paestum, IV century BC Examples of tunic coloring pages
An example of a Samnite linothorax. Campania, Italy, Second half of the fourth century BC
Panoplia of Paestum, late 4th century BC

The helmet Bronze helmets that have been widely used since the sixth century BC can be divided into several types. These are Pylos, Pot-shaped (Negau), Etruscan-Thracian, Chalcidian, Apulo-Corinthian, and Samno-Attic, which are often considered as a subgroup of Chalcidian helmets.

The popularity of different types of helmets peaked at different periods. Apulo-Corinthian helmets - 6th-5th centuries BC, Etruscan - Thracian-4th-3rd centuries BC, Negau-5th century BC, Italian Pylos-4th century BC, Italo-Chalcidian helmets-5th-4th centuries BC, Samno-Attic helmets-4th-3rd centuries BC.

Samno-Attic helmets
Chalcedonian helmets
Apulo-Corinthian helmets

In each type of helmet, there is a huge variety of structural and decorative elements, which indicates the complete absence of any standardization of products or well-established military traditions in military weapons. For more details on the nuances of the variety of Samnite helmets, see The Bronze Italian Hemlet: The development of the Cassis from the last quarter of the sixth century B.C. to the third quarter of the first century A.D. PJohn Miles Paddock. The most common were pot-shaped (Negau) the type of helmets is probably due to the ease of manufacture.

The Negau, Etruscan-Thracian and Pot-shaped helmets, were most likely not directly borrowed from the Greeks, but were a product of the local evolution of blacksmithing. Chalcedonian helmets and pylos are the direct analog of Greek helmets. Apulo-Corinthian and Samno-Attic helms are local offshoots of the Greek Corinthian and Chalcedonian helms. Apulo-Corinthian in this respect went the farthest, and are the most original Italian helmets. Even functionally, this type of helmet began to differ from its predecessor, the front slits went to the frontal part and became decorative, probably the helmet was worn with a chin strap and richly decorated with patterns and chasing. The type of cheek pads in this type of helmet is not ambiguous. Among the archaeological finds, there are no found whole helmets along with cheek pads. Some bas-reliefs, which archaeologists began to identify the slapstones, have insufficient preservation and detail.

Samno-Attic helmets became very characteristic of Italy from the IV century, and became widespread. They are characterized by ear slits, the absence of a "nanosheet" and the frequent presence of fasteners for the plume. The plumes themselves usually included a longitudinal horsehair comb and feathers with grommets for attaching them in various combinations. The crest itself was attached to a fork-holder that held the crest above the helmet. Also, as additional decorations, there may be wings on the sides of the helmet, which later became a distinctive feature of the gladiator type in ancient Rome, which represented the defeated Samnite people (gladiator-Samnite).

The Samno-Attic type of helmet was actively used not only by the Samnites, but even by the Romans.

Pot-shaped helmets (Negau)
Etruscan-Thracian helmets
Italian pylos



More than half of the surviving images of Samnite warriors show no body armor at all. Thus, the tunic is one of the defining attributes of appearance.

A unique feature of the Samnites is their options for decorating their clothes. For example, the Romans and Greeks did not resort to such methods of decorating clothes. There are no Samnite textile finds, but it is most likely that such patterns were the result of staining the tunic itself. Flax, according to Dionysius and Livy, was used on a par with wool.

Types of patterns on tunics
Types of patterns on tunics
Types of patterns on tunics

In most of the images, Samnites wear extremely short and rather narrow tunics, corresponding to the length of modern shirts, hardly covering the intimate organs. At the same time, Roman tunics, on the contrary, are extremely voluminous and baggy, and can reach up to the knees. In addition, the bottom of the Samnite tunic was often complex in shape, and the length of the tunic was shorter near the hips. This feature makes Samnites easily recognizable.

Also, some of the images of Samnite tunics still reach to the middle of the thighs, and there are several images of Samnites in Ionian-type tunics, extremely characteristic of the Greeks. However, such images are orders of magnitude rarer.

Return of the Warrior, Lucan fresco. Paestum. 375 BC
Judicial duel of the Sphinx. 340 BC Paestum, Italy
Lucan fresco from the tomb. Archaeological Museum of Paestum, 375-350 BC


A significant part of the tunics in the images are monochrome and do not have any patterns, but there are still quite a lot of patterned ones. Archaeologists divide tunics into 4 types by region of use: Lucan, Campanian, Apulian and tunics from Nola (a small region near Capua). Apulian tunics have perhaps the most complex patterns, perhaps due to the best material well-being of this region. The main colors were red, white, blue, blue, black, mustard.

A warrior on horseback. Paestum, Italy, early 4th century BC
Return of the warrior on horseback. Late IV-early III century BC Sarno Museum, Campania, Italy.
Procession to the woman. Sarno, Campania, Italy. End of IV century BC

Samnite shields

In most pictorial sources, Samnite warriors are represented with a round shield, most likely a hoplon or its variations. It is believed that hoplons began to be used in Italy starting from the VII century BC. e. during the Greek colonization and introduction of the phalanx into military affairs . Hoplons could vary in size from 70 cm to 100 cm (judging by the size ratios with the human body in the images), just like the Greeks. Also, the shield could be completely covered with bronze, or only on the edge. By color, they could be either monochrome (usually white), or with various patterns. In Samnites, abstract (geometric) patterns predominate over zoomorphic ones in their visual forms.

Types of patterns on billboards
Types of patterns on billboards

In many images from vases and some tombstones, there are other versions of round shields. These are smaller versions of hoplon, similar to pelts in Macedonian phalangites of the same period. It can also be artistic distortions of the size of a regular hoplon. This theory is contradicted by the fact that Samnite warriors are often depicted riding a horse with a spear on their shoulder, at the tip of which is attached a shield, belt and clothing elements. Such a design can be real only if the shield has a low weight, which is almost impossible in the case of a classic hoplon.

Another variant of the round shield is the so-called "parasol", which got its name from the similarity with umbrellas. Shields of such a structure have not survived to our time (not to mention the fact that 2 pieces of classic hoplons have come down to us, despite their prevalence). Perhaps this is a unique construction used only by Samnites, according to another version, it may be a way to display a hoplon, but the second hypothesis is weakly convincing, since we can observe both a parasol and a normal hoplon even in one image.

A duel of warriors. Paestum, IV century BC Both fighters are armed with hoplons upholstered in bronze with a star pattern.
Lucan image of two fighters. Paestum, 3rd century BC 2 full-size fully bronze-studded hoplons
Duel of fighters from Paestum. You can see the difference between the classic hoplon (right) and parasol (left)

Quite rarely, there are pelts of irregular shape, similar to those of the Greek Peltasts and Thracians. Probably, among the Samnites, they were also used primarily among skirmishers. Also occasionally there are shields similar in design to Celtic shields with a wooden rib, usually oval or diamond - shaped. Curiously, Livy has descriptions of Samnite shields, which he calls "tureos", referring to their elongated shape.

Livy wrote about the Samnites 'use of "scutums", and that the Romans inherited them directly from the Samnites. This information should be treated very skeptically, since many descriptions of Livy differ from the data of archeology and his contemporaries. The same applies to the description of Samnite weapons. Among the archaeological finds, there is not a single image that corresponds to the description of a trapezoidal partially concave shield. The closest analogue is the shield of the gladiator-Samnite and dates back to the first century BC.

An example of a Samnite diamond-shaped shield with a rib, similar to Celtic and Iberian shields. Hydria, Lucania, IV century BC
Pelta. Apulian pottery fragment, IV century BC
Samnite way of wearing a shield. Lucania, IV century BC

Samnite warrior equipment

The equipment of a Samnite warrior for the period 5-3 century AD could consist of the following elements::

Fabric / Leather products:

Metal protective equipment items:


Additional elements:


For the entire period of their existence, the Samnites show a mixture of classical Italian and Greek influences. Moreover, according to pictorial sources, the degree of influence also varies - in some cases, the Samnite warrior could look like a copy of the Greek Hoplite. When reproducing the image, it is recommended to use the most original elements that emphasize belonging to the Samnites: a tunic with open hips, a wide belt with a brass insert, a cardiophylax. As an initial set for events, it is recommended to collect a spear, shield, tunic, shoes, belt.

Related topics

Samnite Wars, Tunic, Hoplite, Chlamydia, Samnite women


1. The Bronze Italian Hemlet: The development of the Cassis from the last quarter of the six century B.C. to the third quarter of the fircst centure A.D. PJohn Miles Paddock

2. The sarnnite warriors appearance. 1995

3. The cultural and military significance of the south Italic warrior 39s panoply from the 5th to the 3rd centuries BC

4. Collection of vase paintings with Samnite themes

5. Peter Connolly: "Greece and Rome"


Fresco from the Nola fortress, Campania. 330-310 BC
Fresco from the Nola fortress, Campania. 330-310 BC
Fresco from the Nola fortress, Campania. 330-310 BC
Finds from Sarno tomb No. 1801. Museo Archeologico della Valle del Sarno, Sarno, Campania, Италия. 4th century BC
Fresco from Paestum. 4-3 centuries BC
Fresco from Paestum. 4-3 centuries BC
Ceramic vase from Capua, IV century BC.
Wall painting from Capua, IV century BC.