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Lorica squamata

Abramkov A.O.

Lorica squamata (lat. lorica squamata) — is a scale armor used in Roman army.

According to Rassel-Robinson the armor type was in use since early XVII BCE. Lorica squamata’s main feature is its design. Lorica squamata consisted form small metal plates, resembling fish scale structure or roofing tiles. Согласно Расселу-Робинсону, такой тип доспеха существует с начала XVII-века до н.э. Scales were connected by copper or iron wire, or by a lace, which went through pair of holes on the side of the every plate. Depending on a connection way (wire or a lace) scale armor was more or less flexible. Scales were usually attached to leather of fabric. Every scale had from 4 to 12 holes fro attaching to the closest raw. The scales dimensions were from 6.5×9.5mm to 5x8 cm. Mostly widespread scale dimensions were around 1.3x2.5 cm. Mostly, scales’ thickness was around 0.5-0.8 mm.

Scale armor stands quite well against blunt impacts and bow arrows. If a scale armor is properly done it also provides good protection against slashing and cutting. Scales provide better protection from slashing, than lorica hamata.

Typology

Though, there are a lot of different scale types, these are the most common scale types: rectangular (A), arched lancet (B), curved (C), small radius (D), bounded rectangle (E), and triangular (F). Additionally, to the type of scale form, scales varied in their cross-section dimension. Scales could be: flat (i), curved (ii), v-shaped (iii), single-ribbed (iv), and double-ribbed (v). Usually, such scales were made out of iron alloy or copper alloy, thought there can be scales made out of precious metals, like gold and silver. The combination of material, form and cross-section of a scale allows to easily determine the type of scale armor. This typology is sometimes enlarged because of the new archeological findings. Various scales made out of different materials, which have diverse shape and scale are a common archeological finding.

Squamata’s scale shape typology

There are also other scales’ typologies, such as Maximilian von Groller-Mildans ' classification. It classifies armor scales of the first century according to the location of the attachment holes.

1-Carnutum Scales, 2-Ham Hill, 3-Campton, 4-Longthorpe, 5-Chichester

Squamata’s scale hole quantity typology

In archaeological finds, scales with a cross-section are most often found. The rigidity of a flat sheet can be significantly improved by adding corrugations, as can be seen on corrugated iron sheets and on corrugated paper. The stiffness can also be increased by changing the cross-section of the sheet from a flat section to a curved one. In addition, archaeologists have found decorated scales that are more ceremonial than military. So, as an example, you can give scales with a stamped image of Mars or Minerva. There are claims that the scaly armor or its individual parts could have been gilded or silvered.

There are a lot of found variations of scale armor. For example, on the Aquilifer’s tombstone from the Legion XI Claudia Pia Fidelis, you can see shoulder pads, also made of scales. Structurally they are similar to Lorica Hamata’s bindning. There are also reinforced shoulders on another officer's scale armor, depicted in the bas-relief from Civita Castellana (Ital. Civita Castellana, Lazio region, Vitreo, Italy, 1st century BC-early 2nd century AD).

Squamata’s shoulders on aquilifers tombstone from XI Claudia Pia Fidelis legion, 1 century AD
Civita Castellana’s bas-relief (Lazio region, Viterbo, Italy), 1 century BC – late II century AD

Armor structure

To effectively protect, scale armor consists from two main structural layers: scales’ layer itself and the material between scale layer and a body.

The inner layer of the material or even several of them was necessary. Scale armor could tear the wearer’s skin, and connection wires could hurt him with its pointy ends. Obviously, it wasn’t a good idea to put on such scale armor without a protection layer. There are archeological findings, like a crystallized skin on the inner layer of a scales, extracted from Carlisle, which confirms the fact, that there must be a significant layer of a material between armor and a wearer to counter friction. There is an additional confirmation for that idea – the findings of lorica squamata from Carnuntum, Germany. That lorica squamata had preserved pieces of leather and a coarse fabric.

Scales’ overlapping is playing a significant protection role – it significantly increases medium protection thickness of a scale armor. This means, that scale armor thickness varies depending on the overlapped layers. There is one possible configuration of scales overlapping on the image below. Scales on the image are connected from four sides, so these scales are overlapped from every side.

Variation of the squamate structure

This scale armor variant has places with single layer (11%), two layers (68%) and four layers (21%). Such scale overlapping significantly increase armor protection.

A variation of squamata with marks showing scales overlaps

Field maintenance

Scale armor can suffer significant damage in combat and still be functional. Bent scales could be removed, set straight and could be placed on the same space. That scales would offer the same protection as before.

Krum suggested, that lorica squamata could be repaired in field. However, there are found squamata scales that damaged, that in order to restore scale armor protection one had to change the scales entirely. Thought, it has no plausible evidence, whether such amour was used or not. It is also questionable, whether soliders had spare scales of parts to repair squamatas. It is highly probable, that significantly damaged, irreparable squamatamas, were disassembled for spare parts: scales stripped and reused for repairs.

Usage

Roman army used lorica squamata from 1 century AD But lorica squamata became really widespread during Severan dynasty. The whole empire, a lot of different military branches very frequently used lorica squamata. There is evidence, that legionaries, auxiliary and cavalry used scale armor.

Adamclisi’s bas-relief with legionary, early II century AD
Auxiliary (Sagittarii), Trajan's Column, Rome, Rome, early II century AD
Detail of Portonaccio sarcophagus, where we can see roman horseman in scale armor. Approximately 180 AD

Additionally, according to tombstones, not only common legionaries used lorica squamata. There is evidence, that centurions and aquilifers used scale armor. Moreover, there are images of emperors, who used lorica squamata. For example – the Image of Vitelie in lorica squamata. This gives a ground, that lorica squamata was very versatile armor. Lorica squamata was particularly widespread on the east side of Empire.

Tombstone of aquilifer from XI Claudia Pia Fidelis legion, wearing lorica squamata, I century AD
Tombstone of centurion from XI Claudia Pia Fidelis legion, wearing lorica squamata, I century AD
Vitellius’ bust in squamata, 1 century AD

Scale armor in Hellas

It should be said, that scale armor was used before romans, in ancient Greece. Such scale armor resembled linothorax, but was composed out of scales. There are many images of hoplites wearing such scale armor on ancient Greek pottery.

Greek scale armor, VI century BC, Cuprys.
Achilles bandages the wounded Patroclus. Both are wearing scale armour. An image from a red-figure vase of Vulci, approximately 500 BC.

Reenactment

Lorica squamata would fit for a variety of different roman characters to reenact: any roman legionary, auxiliary, cavalry or even emperors can wear lorica squamata. It’s highly recommended to use the mostly wide spread material for scales – different copper alloys (usually brass). Wearing scale armor is like something between lorica hamata and lorica segmentata, the same applies in terms of transporting and storing. If a scale armour is properly fitted, lorica squamata can be even more comfortable than lorica hamata. Another advantage of wearing lorica hamata is an opportynity to wear it with something beneath (like subarmalis) or without it, as usually scales are sewed on a solid piece of leather. It’s also should be mentioned, that scales could be attached not only to leather, but to a fabric. Speaking about a period – lorica squamata can be used for reenactment from mid-to-late I century to early II century. In terms of protection – scale armor is slightly worse than lorica segmentata in terms of withstanding penetrating blows, as well as overall protection. Lorica segmentate offers better shoulder protection than lorica squamata. For reenactors the biggest drawback of scale armor is production complexity, which leads to a significant price.

Centurion wearing lorica squamata
Sagittarii wearing lorica squamata

Similar topics

Legion, Lorica Segmentata, Lorica hamata, Lorica, Legionnary, Aquilifer, Centurion,Hoplite,Linothorax

Literature

Gallery

A piece of lorica squamata from Newstead, between 140-180 AD
Scales from Karagach. Late I century AD (Sofia, Archaeological Museum)
A fragment of squamata. Museum of Israel. Found in Masada, 73 AD
Scales from Cortesia Corbridge Roman Fort Museum-GB, 1st century AD.
Leather-based scales from Vindonissa, 1st century AD.
Finds of scales from the Roman camp Carnuntum , described by Robinson (1975: 154)
Lorica squamata depicted on a tombstone of centurion from XV Apollinari legion, middle of I century.
A series of rare ornamented scales with Mars’ and Minervas’ heads: thickenss 0.25 mm, broadness 8 mm, length 10mm, from a private collection. Approximately 60s AD
Scales from the Museum of the Dikon and Roman Civilization - Virgo R.O. - From the volume "Traiano Ai confini dell'Impero" - Publishing house "Elektra", II-th century AD.
Scales from Cortesia Hermann Historica, International Auctioneers - Munich-D, II-III centuries AD.
Scales from Cortesia Hermann Historica, International Auctioneers - Munich-D, II-III centuries AD.
Scales from Cortesia Hermann Historica, International Auctioneers - Munich-D, approximately 60s AD
Scales from Cortesia Hermann Historica, International Auctioneers - Munich-D, approximately 60s AD
A rare sample of loriqa squamata from Dura-Europos, covered in leather. Separate scales are connected with strings, going through specific holes on a soft leather and fabric basis, The Yale University Art Gallery-U.S.A., approximately II-III century AD
A scale from Cortesia Hermann Historica, International Auctioneers - Munich-D, approximately 60s AD
Bronze solider statue wearing paenula, under which we can see lorica squamata, Museo Civico Archeologico Bologna-IT, second century AD
Scales, Mainz, I century AD
Scales, Mainz, 1st century AD
Soldiers in Lorica Squamata, Villa del Casale, Piazza Armerina Enna, a detail of a mosaic dating from the end of the III - beginning of the IV century AD
Lorica squamata scales from Bad Deutsch-Altenburg, Caruntum, Austria, II century AD
Scales, Mainz, I century AD
Scale armor parts, 45-th year AD, Somerset Museum.