[Runequest] Armor Question in RQ3

Pete Nash the.iqari at gmail.com
Sun Aug 2 07:33:41 EST 2009

> Thank you Pete for your response:

And thank you for yours! ;)

> The shaped body armour you are referring to is called a Musculatta & was
> generally parade armour & yes it was sometimes made in bronze. There is
> archaeological evidence for hammered iron plate musculatta & decorated
> courbouli versions. The only bronze ones we find are ones that were
> obviously not meant for combat but merely to look good. I've never heard of
> any that were made for combat, but who knows, maybe someday, they'll find
> one. Combat armour (bronze, iron, or steel) tends to be fairly smooth so
> blows are more likely to glance off it. Besides it's cheaper that way.

At the moment there is no archaeological evidence that the bronze cuirasses
used by the end of the Republic and the start of the Imperium were purely
for parade purposes. That is only a theory.

We do have existent versions of ornately decorated bronze military greaves
from the 1st Century AD, and others of the leather and wool padding used to
line them.  We also have examples of bronze and brass legionary helmets
which were still being used up into the 2nd Century AD.  An additional
interesting aspect is that brass Imperial Gallic (type I) helmets of the
late 1st Century AD have feather holders, (whereas the contemporary iron
ones don't) suggesting that in this case brass was used for officers -
presumably because of the colour.

So that fact that bronze (and brass) armour was still being used, combined
with the statuary evidence of bronze cuirasses, where leather and/or cloth
padding is clearly seen under the metal cuirass (it has hinges), then I
think I'm quite justified in believing that officers and commanders would
have still worn bronze on the battlefield.  Perhaps the fancy moulding would
have been a liability in combat, but on the other hand the 'Hollywood'
effect *does* have a valid place on the battlefield where as a commander you
want to be noticeable by your troops, not only since it makes it easier to
exert authority, but so that you also stand out when you perform heroic
deeds - which are still a part of Roman warfare even into the Imperium.  As
a commander you want to gain reputation since it aids both your political
career and personal reputation; and the fancier the armour then obviously
the more important you are. Its said that some centurions even wore their
awards (phalerae) in battle to proclaim their manliness, and that's a mess
of leather straps just asking to get snagged!

The Roman virtus psyche and their adherence to tradition are both extremely
strong motivations, which could easily explain the maintenance of what some
would see as inferior and/or encumbering armour.  Personally I'd rather have
the cuirass than the chain if facing spears, arrows and sling shots, and the
weight wouldn't be much of an issue being mounted... especially since the
bronze cuirass would be as light as the rank and file's Lorica Hamata.

The gladiatorial helms you refer too are very much like modern Hollywood
> armour - designed to look good & fail dramatically for the audience. In 50
> years of being a sword jock, I have yet to strike sparks off of a blade or
> armour despite having been in thousands of fights & witnessed even more.
> Armour rarely fails gloriously like it does in movies, usually you just
> notice it later on as in "Gee!, when did that plate fall off?" The less
> armour has to catch, the better it lasts & the better it protects. Anything
> to keep the blow from "sticking", LOL.

Although there are *some *gladiatorial helms designed to fail, there are
many more which are solid, hard-core armour.  Remember, well into the
Imperium most professional gladiators weren't cannon fodder to be butchered
- that was the job of criminals condemned to the sword (ad gladium). So it
is perfectly reasonable that what armour they did wear was top quality
stuff... even if it was overly ornate.

As a purely frivolous aside, I cannot envision why a military commander
would have a cuir bouilli cuirass (covered with lots of riveted on bronze
decorations) and use it for the battlefield, whereas he'd also have a bronze
cuirass (with the same decorations, but slightly less snaggable due to being
part of the casting) and have to sit in it for interminable periods of time
during parades.  I'd use the damn things the other way around.  After all
both are rigid and identical in shape and size (thus restrict movement the
same), and both are just as impenetrable to body sweat (so I'd heat up at
the same rate). So I'd use the lightweight stuff for the tedious parades and
the moderately* *heavier, but better protection out where its dangerous! ;)

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