An Introduction to lorica segmentata

Re-enactors wearing replica Corbridge-type lorica segmentata

Lorica segmentata is a type of Roman ferrous plate armour articulated on leather straps. We do not know the Roman name for it: the term with which we are all so familiar was probably first used in the 16th century. There were three basic types (Kalkriese, Corbridge, and Newstead) and one related form (Alba Iulia). Each cuirass was made up of four sections: two for the shoulders and two for either side of the torso.

It was first used at the end of the 1st century BC, and continued in service with the Roman army until at least the latter part of the 3rd century AD. It is probably best known from the spiral reliefs on Trajan’s Column in Rome (ITA) and it was sculptures of this type that first led scholars to study it… and in order to do so, they had to think of a name for it. Since most scholars at that time wrote in Latin, they coined the phrase lorica segmentata (‘armour in pieces’). It is still known by that term, but you will also find it described as segmental, articulated, or plate armour, or even Schienenpanzer.

The first recognisable fragments were excavated at Bad Deutsch-Altenburg in Austria (the legionary base of Carnuntum) in 1899. However, it was not until the discovery of the Corbridge Hoard – a wooden box containing 12 sections (six shoulder and six torso, none of them matching) at Corbridge (GBR) in 1964 – that it was possible to interpret it without the help of the sculptural ‘evidence’ (most of which only bears a superficial resemblance to the real thing). Thanks to painstaking reconstruction of the rusty fragments by the archaeologist Charles Daniels, it was possible for H. Russell Robinson of the Tower Armouries to make the first accurate working replica.

After Robinson’s initial designation of this Corbridge type, he realised that pieces found in 1905 at Newstead (GBR) came from a later variant, which he called the Newstead type. More recently, excavations at Kalkriese (DEU) found first parts –and subsequently a complete example – of an even earlier form than that from Corbridge, and this is (not surprisingly) now known as the Kalkriese type. The final, fourth, type may be represented by a sculpture from Alba Iulia (ROM); for the sake of consistency, this is known as the Alba Iulia type.