Velites, Roman javelin throwers, composed of young and poor men, could not afford to buy Roman armour (lorica hamata), worn by professional legionaries. Therefore, they put on animal skins to emphasize their strength and prowess.
In addition, it was believed that Roman commanders made it easier to distinguish velites from ordinary heavy infantry in the turmoil of battle. With the Marius reform in the 2nd century BCE, the velites disappeared from the battlefield. The custom of wearing animal skins was taken over by the legion ensigns (signifer).