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Roman Armor And Military Dress

( Originally Published 1928 )

The Lorica.—A cuirass, originally of leather, was made so that it followed the form of the body. The same idea was carried out later in metal of elaborate design. The statue of Augustus Caesar in the Vatican, and the one of Trajan at Naples, show closely fitting loricas adorned with figures of gods. Underneath were double tunics with wide pleats showing at the shoulders and above the knees, the fullness of the material easing the pressure of the metal.

The Paludamentum.—A cloak, longer but corresponding to the Grecian chlamys, was draped over the shoulder, arm and chest. One is shown on the statue of Julius Caesar in the Capitoline Museum, in Rome.

The Paragonium.—A short sword was fastened to the cinctura (belt).

Brass helmets were topped by variously colored horse-hair crests.

The buskin or cothurnus was worn by generals ; the caliga, by common soldiers ; greaves on the legs.

One division of infantry, the Velites, wore the skins of wolves over the head ; they were armed with swords, light javelins and bucklers (shields) of a circular form three feet in diameter.

The Hastiti, composed of older men, used a convex shield two by four feet, made of two planks fastened together and covered with linen and calfskin, with a boss (knob) of iron on its center; brass helmets with three feathers either black or red; a brass pectoral or a ringed lorica. (This resembled the one worn by Normans.)

The Principes and the Triarii carried pikes instead of javelins.

The Standard Bearers draped the head and skin of a lion over their head and shoulders. The image of an eagle appeared on the standards; those of Brutus and Caius were of silver.


The Romans, like the Greeks, used masks in theatrical productions. Actors wearing them entertained the public at festivals and impersonated the dead at funerals. During the reign of Tiberius all players were banished from Rome.

The Gladiators.—All those who fought in the arena of an amphitheatre were called gladiators. First known in Rome, 264 B.C., this class represented condemned criminals, slaves and desperate characters who gained a pre-carious prolongation of existence by fighting wild beasts. Before the fall of the Empire these combats had become such a fad that even senators and emperors entered the arena.

The gladiatorial costumes are depicted on the wall paintings found at Pompeii. Every form of known weapon was used. The retiarii carried nets and tridents, fillets bound the hair, the entire left side including the shoulder and arm was protected by armor, the caliga covering the foot. The secutores, whose business necessitated their being as light as possible on the feet in order to avoid being ensnared in the net, used no body armor save on the right arm; the subligaculum (an apron), sandals, a tight-fitting helmet and a large round shield completed the costume. The two classes known as velis and samnis wore a red or white subligaculum held by a girdle of bronze or embroidered leather; the rest of their equipment was made up of a buskin of colored leather worn on the right leg with a greave on the left, a helmet with ornamental visor, a long buckler and thigh armor of iron plates. Gladiators who hailed from Thrace were clad in their native armor.

Edwin Forrest as Spartacus, in Robert Montgomery Bird's tragedy, "The Gladiator," is represented on an old engraving in a leather lorica, a gold-fringed tunic and buskins. His face is decorated with side whiskers, mustache and a lip beard. No matter what the part, Hamlet, Othello, Macbeth, Coriolanus and even Metamora, the Indian chief, Forrest never sacrificed these facial trimmings so fashionable in the nineteenth century.

The Charioteers.—There were four sections distinguishable by the color of the costumes, viz., blue, green, red or white. Thongs clasped about a short tunic gave extra support to the body; the long reins were wound about the waist and hips with a short knife, its blade shaped somewhat like a question mark, thrust through them to use for cutting loose in case of accident. In the photoplay "Ben Hur," this detail is omitted ; both Navarro and Bushman wear knives in their corselets of leather strappings, but the reins, beyond the loop through which they are held by the drivers, are allowed to dangle loosely to the floor of the chariot. The raison d'etre for the knife was, apparently, overlooked.

Augustus Caesar became the first Emperor of Rome in 27 B.C. At this date Virgil, Horace, Livy and Ovid were living.

Rome fell in the fifth century, A.D.

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