Lorica segmentata was armour from faulds, called a segment armour, composed of wrought iron strips. It spread in the Roman legions from the 1st to the 3rd century CE.
The genesis and origin of the segmentate are difficult to establish with certainty. There are at least several theories, including about the gladiatorial pedigree of segmentates and the ineffectiveness of chain mail (lorica hamata) before the pilum type weapon during clashes between legionaries during civil wars at the end of the republic. Regardless of the discussion about the creation of the segmentate, it seems that it was a typically Roman invention – but we do not have definitive proof of it.
Segmental armour was worn as early as the beginning of the 1st century CE, as evidenced by the found specimens of lorica segmentata in Kalkriese (West Germany), which belonged to Roman legionaries at the time of battles in the Teutoburg Forest in 9 CE. Segmental armour spread during the rule of Tiberius (14-37 CE). It was an all-metal armor and was popular especially in the west of the empire.
The armour consisted of metal (iron or bronze) plates covering the chest, arms and back, and 4 to 7 leather belts. The discovery of two pieces of armour from Corbridge, Great Britain (near Hadrian’s Wall) in 1964, shed light on the technique of making this armour. Individual plates were held together from the inside by a leather thong. Metal belts are fastened both at the front and at the back. The parts of the armour were connected inside with straps on rivets, hinges, pin clasps, buckles and hooks. The only decorations were brown rosettes on threads and decorative cutouts of hinged tiles.
A tunic was put under the armour, and sometimes chainmail was put on it, made of two types of iron rings: full and open ones, which well protected the soldier against cuts, and sometimes even thrusts.
The armour was supplemented with a leather belt (cingulum militae), wrapped several times around the torso, ended with several straps with metal fittings to protect the abdomen against cuts. It was founded by lower officers and soldiers. The commanders also wore a corresponding state, an appropriate belt (cinctorium). Losing such a belt was one of the penalties in the army.
Kinds of lorica segmentata
Corbridge A and B and Newstead armour have been identified and classified to this day on the basis of archaeological findings. This type of armour certainly began to appear in the time of Tiberius. These were the first plate and fully functional armour, apart from the Mycenaean armour from Dendra (15th century BCE).
Type Corbridge A and B
Now classified as Type A armour, it was widely used during the time of Claudius and the invasion of Great Britain (CE 43). Certain elements found at supply bases on the British coast suggest that at about this time the B type variant was used. Reconstruction and classification of these armours were possible only thanks to the aforementioned discovery from 1964 in Corbridge (formerly Corstopitum) near Hadrian’s shaft. Both types were found in a wooden chest hidden under the floor of the building. The difference between them is in the way the epaulettes are attached.
- Type Corbridge A has shoulder pads attached to the trunk covers with leather straps and buckles.
- Type Corbridge B has shoulder straps attached to the body with hooks. Two at the front and two at the rear.
The armour fittings and fasteners (often ornaments) were generally made of bronze.
Another and the last fully classified armour is the so-called Newstead. Its fragments were found near the former Roman fort Trimontium (Newstead) in Scotland. Devoid of hooks, buckle fasteners and leather straps, it was the strongest, most durable, and fully functional of all types. Probably his depiction appears most often on Trajan’s column. Such armour probably appeared around 70-80 CE and survived until the end of the 2nd century CE. Used less and less frequently in the 3rd century until it was completely withdrawn.
The advantage of the segmentation was the fact that, with the tools and materials of that time, it could be done in 60 hours. It was flexible and relatively light armour compared to chain mail and scale armour. Its weight depended on the thickness of the sheet metal used. It is estimated, inter alia, on the basis of the size of the armour excavated in Corbridge, that the average height of an Italian inhabitant at that time was 160 – 165 cm. As a result, the weight of the armour was approx. 6-7 kilograms.
This armour, like any other armour, had disadvantages. Bad or carelessly made fastening resulted in endless repairs. Perhaps that is why types A and B have been replaced by segmentata of the Newstead type. The segmentata did not protect the lower abdomen and armpits sufficiently, but these were protected by a large shield.
Such armour was continued in the times of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, and later in the Polish military in the times of Jan III Sobieski, they found their imitation.