The New “Journal of Roman Military Equipment Studies”
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Categories: Ancient, Modern

The New “Journal of Roman Military Equipment Studies”

Three paper copies a journal scattered across an oriental rug
JRMES 17, with its griffin guardians, has arrived in Rhaetia

The new issue of the Journal of Roman Military Equipment Studies has arrived in Tirol. The two volumes published last year contained articles such as:

  • A study of the impact marks from catapult balls and sling bullets on the walls of Pompeii, presumably dating back to the Roman siege of the town during the Social War.
  • A project on Roman locking scale from Carlisle by David Sim and J. Kaminski which started with billets of specially-made wrought iron and ended in having a good bash at the armour with replicas of Roman weapons. This particular armour was sophisticated and effective, and the authors have many interesting insights into metallurgy and manufacturing process, including a time that their wish to ‘tidy up’ more than the original armourers did created a problem. I was left wishing that they had addressed some other issues, but I will put those below the fold.
  • A pair of articles on the reconstruction of Roman boots and their use on a march across the Brenner Pass. I enjoyed the contrasting perspectives of the shoe-wearers and the shoemaker-cum-archaeologist who made the shoes.

The latest volume includes things like:

  • Two examples of Roman lorica hamata squamataque preserved as a whole (rather than as loose scales or small clusters of scales), one of which was preserved with its linen liner. To my knowledge, this is the first archaeological evidence for mail with a lining in the Roman world.
  • A copper-alloy crescent (lunula) similar to those mounted on Roman battle standards from a layer dating to the first century BCE at Gurzufskoe Sedlo in the Crimea. Both the date and the location are worth noticing.
  • A set of silvered bronze saddle plates which ended up buried with a cow in the Meroitic kingdom of Kush.
  • An article by Jon Coulston on Roman archery which makes use of comparative evidence from outside the Roman world.

If that sounds like the kind of thing you want to read or support, copies are available here.

Epistemological Quibbles Below

* Tests of armour are always fun to do and can be informative. At the same time, the test of the armour against weapons is qualitative not quantitative: it shows whether the replica can defeat plausible threats, not how it protects compared to other options. Some comments on how the weight and comfort of this armour compared to equally-protective armour made using other Roman technologies would have been interesting, as would have been addressing the difference in power between a half-hearted jab by a scrawny teenager and a driving thrust by a 30 year old aristocrat with a strong build.

Similarly, on the question of backing, they briefly mention some of the Roman scale armour with traces of backing then state “testing of leather and fabric combinations with the scale armour revealed that the most effective and comfortable pairing was a single layer of linen against flesh with a single thin layer of leather between the linen and the armour”; no further details of the leather and linen are given, nor is how the scales were attached to their backing described, although presumably it involved stitches run through the mysterious empty hole in their top edges. Nobody can be an expert in everything, and just managing both blacksmithing and Roman archaeology is a tough combination. Any reproduction requires choosing a few things to be stubborn about and finding working substitutes for the rest. Still, the casualness about the organic components of the armour does jar in comparison with the painstaking attention to the metal components!

Perhaps the authors address some of these issues in their book on Roman armour? (Edit 2016-07-11: Which, as of this writing, is on sale for GPB 7.95 from the publisher).

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0 thoughts on “The New “Journal of Roman Military Equipment Studies”

  1. Daniel 'Corbin' Hill says:

    I read a well written book, years ago, about Roman horses. All things horse related from collars to chariots, roads banked for speed, etc. Then in a jarring line which really should have been left out, the author stated how sad it was that the people did not live past the age of 20…

    1. Sean Manning says:

      I guess everyone can slip sometimes. One layer of linen and one layer of leather sounds pretty reasonable, and a couple of blacksmiths probably know how to hit things … but Tut’s armour had six layers of really fine linen, and maybe if they had got someone who really likes test cutting he would have done more damage to the armour.

      1. Sean Manning says:

        Also, one thing is that these scales seem to be from the shoulders of the armour (which is cool because that part of scale armour is tricky and the sculptors never show details) and some people think that the Romans at least wore padding under the shoulders of their armour. Apparently re-enactors find that those loricae segmentatae look and fit way better with some scraps of old tunic on the shoulders. Focusing on the metal is fine, but even saying “5 oz., plain-weave bleached linen and a 2 oz. vegetable-tanned sheepskin” would have helped.

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