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The Roman Soldier's Cuirass - Lorica Segmentata

The lorica segmentata

A Brief History of The Lorica Segmentata Roman soldiers breastplate

The term, lorica segmentata, is relatively modern, coined to describe this particular type of Roman armor. More recent studies suggest that the term "lorica laminata" may be more correct, but because of a long tradition of use the phrase "lorica segmentata" has become the embedded term used by historians and reenactors alike.

The lorica segmentata was in use for only a relatively short period of time. The various versions are named after the places they were first found, e.g.: the "Kalkriese" segmentata is named after the site where pieces of it were found: Kalkriese, Germany (it was found at the site of the Varian disaster which happened in 9AD at Kalkriese). This is the earliest that lorica segmentata has been known to have been used and it is very incomplete" it is different enough from the Corbridge models.

The "Corbridge" segmentata, early 1st Cen. AD through early 2nd Cen. AD was found at Corbridge, England.


Roman soldier's breastplate - close up showing straps The lorica segmentata was made from strips of iron put together with leather strps in an overlapping fashion.

It's these leather strips that give the lorica segmentata it's strength and flexibility, and thus is a great defence against enemy swords and stabbing weapons.

With this flexibility the soldier could move freely and use his shield and sword without the armor getting in his way.

The lorica segmentata is also much lighter than the lorica hamata (chain mail) which was used before the lorica segmentata and even after. The lorica segmentata eventually disappeared from Roman use and we really don't know why, but most likely it was due to the high cost of manufacture and difficult maintenance — despite its good qualities. Although it appears that lorica segmentata was still in use into the early 4th century, being depicted in the Arch of Constantine erected in 315 during the reign of Constantine I to commemorate his military achievements. (However, it has been argued that these depictions are from an earlier monument by Marcus Aurelius, from which Constantine incorporated portions into his Arch.). Recently there has been evidence of a lorica segmentata found in Spain, dating from the third century. What is more surprising is that it was found in an area where, as far as we know, only limitanei operated. (Limitanei are seen as poorer-quality troops than the contemporary mobile field armies of the comitatenses.)

Some photos of a hyper-authentic reproduction Corbridge "A" lorica segmentata made by Matt Lukes. Matt is one of the premier craftsman in the Roman reenactment world.



Front Quarter



The lorica segmentata in ancient stautary

Here are a few photos of Roman friezes that show the lorica segmentata being worn by soldiers in Roman times.

*Note: Realize that artists are not always detail-minded, so some things we now know to be true about the Roman soldier are not correct in a couple of these shots — it's more to give you an idea HOW they wore the lorica segmentata.


This GREAT bit on the subarmalis is from the The Roman Recruit website and is used with the kind permission of the author, Paul Elliott. Please visit Paul's site and give it a look!

Above Sculpture of Mars the god of war, on an inscription from the fort at Bremenium. Mars wears what looks like a subarmalis.

The subarmalis is a padded jacket worn beneath the lorica hamata (chainmail) or the lorica segmentata. It cushions a blow from an enemy, hopefully preventing broken bones, ruptured organs and internal bleeding, even though the metal armour on top has actually deflected the blade. Graham Sumner argues for a linen garment, with cells stuffed with padding, covered by a waterproofed layer of goatskin.

Above image of a subarmalis from a bas-relief with subarmalis from the Verulamium Museum, 3rd-4th century AD

The subarmalis can sometimes be seen peeking out from beneath armour on wall-paintings and in mosaics of the period, but no physical examples have survived. Typically, the subarmalis is constructed in linen (those depicted are white, which often denotes the use of undyed linen), either a score or more layers glued together, or two layers with wool packed between them and then quilted. Both create a viable 'dead' space behind the ringmail which provides that vital protection from blunt trauma.

Hot and heavy

Above image of a subarmalis from the tombstone of Severius Acceptus Legio VIII Augusta, Istanbul

Obviously, wearing a subarmalis is very hot and heavy to wear — especially when you add on the armour and helmet, and then... all of the weaponry and a shield!

Above image of a subarmalis, from a sculpture in Volterra Italy, possibly shows a subarmalis worn as body armour in its own right.

However, the subarmalis is necessary and without a subarmalis, a blow from a weapon could (and probably would) create "shock" injuries such as the aforementioned broken bones, ruptured organs and internal bleeding.

Kit Detail Map

Roman soldier and his equipment Roman Military Sandal (Caligae)The helmet (Galea)The sword (Gladius)The daggerThe shield (Scutum)Roman Military Sandal (Caligae)The Curiass (Lorica Segmentata)The belt (Cinglium)

<<<< Run your mouse over and select an area on the photo to see a description of that item.

<<<< This photograph taken by the original author, Victius Maximus. Thanks to Optio Gaius Allius of Legion XIV and Verulamium Museum for their assistance

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