Ancient history

Lorica hamata (ringed chain mail)

Last updated:2022-07-25

Lorica is the name of body defenses (often called armor) in ancient Rome).

Hamata is a ring mail chainmail. It was generally coat of mail of the so-called 1/4 type (1 ring is connected to 4 others) closed by a barleycorn rivet (see chain mail and ring mail).

After the disaster of the capture of Rome (about -350) the troops of the Latin league were reformed. The bronze cuirasses were abandoned in favor of the defense of the Celtic adversary, that is to say the ring mail. Following the conquests of Greece and the Levant (Mediterranean near east) the closure of the Lorica Hamata was copied from the closure used by the Greeks on their "linen armor" (see jacket and linothorax). This closure is a U-piece added to the fender. The solid side of the U is fixed in the back, the branches of the U pass over the shoulders and are fixed at their ends. The mesh fabrics being more flexible than the thicknesses of linen used by the Greeks, the shoulder pad thus formed did not stay in place. It slid down the arm. Suddenly the shoulder was no longer protected and the Lorica slipped along the body and hindered the movements of the arm. To Adjust To properly hold the shoulder pads in place, additional side clips have been added. In addition, the neckline has been lined with a piece of fabric or leather. This reinforcement doubled the underside of the neckline and folded down 2 or 3 cm on top. A seam held the liner flap, mesh "fabric" and liner together.

Evolution of the method of fixing the neck of the lorica Hamata:

o The straps holding the neckline closed are replaced by rivets.

o Finally, the strap, holding the shoulder pads in place, is replaced by a metal piece. This piece is loosely riveted at the chest. It affects a U-shape, each branch of which would end in a hook (roughly each branch forms an S, the top of the S forming a hook). The branch hook hangs on a button riveted to the shoulder pad. See this example On a site of the Ministry of Culture.

This form remained the basic form of the Lorica Hamata until the 5th century. From the 5th century it fell into disuse, and was replaced by much simpler and above all cheaper broignes.

From Caesar to his abandonment the size of the Lorica Hamata has however varied. Originally reaching just below the loins, it almost reached the knees and then shortened again.

Likewise, the size of the sleeves varied. The first copies were sleeveless. Then short sleeves (a few centimeters) were added. Thereafter the size of the sleeves varied according to the fashions and the countries. It seems that some legionnaires stationed in Syria have adopted long sleeves. Towards the end of the 1st century after J.-C., the system of fixing the shoulder pads by a bar became widespread. At the same time the shoulder pads seem to have lost their lining. At the same time, it seems that some riders replaced their Greek neck with lorica segmenta shoulder pads.

Throughout the use of this defense, the mesh "fabric" seems to have been mainly done on the 4/1 model.

Additional pieces to the lorica hamata

According to their tastes and the risks incurred, the legionnaires used defenses or additional parts to their lorica.

Surcoats were worn in hot countries (light tunics worn over chain mail are attested throughout the Roman Near East). At the same time, the use of overcoats is known in the northern part of Gaul and on the Germanic borders (thick tunics were sometimes worn in winter).

There are also mesh sleeves, fixed or removable. They could protect the legs as well as the arms.

Cnemides (Greek leggings) were sometimes used.

Some low reliefs show metal plates closing the front of the neckline. A scarf was almost always worn with the lorica, whatever their type (protection of the neck against the friction of the armor and also against the opposing weapons, they generally had large necklines leading to great risk of injury).

Since the reign of Augustus, a gambeson named subarmalis or thoracomachus was sometimes worn under the lorica hamata. This gambeson was often richly decorated and was mainly used as a badge of rank (worn almost exclusively by optios and decurions).

The rings constituting the lorica hamata were made from an iron wire. Since at least the 8th century, an iron wire has been obtained by forcing an iron ingot through a die equipped with orifices of decreasing size. In Roman times, a wire was obtained by forcing an ingot through a die with a single perforation which directly produced the final wire. Using a single die was much more difficult and delicate (breakage of the yarn during the passage). Wire was therefore more expensive and took longer to obtain.

During the civil wars preceding the reign of Augustus (dispute of power between Antoine and Augustus after the death of Caesar), the lorica segmentata was developed. This development indirectly gives us the time needed to make a lorica hamata. The chronicles of the time indicate that it took about 70 hours to make a lorica segmentata (from prepared iron), and about 3 times longer to make a lorica hamata (from wire). The most common type of chainmail seems to have been riveted "classic" 4:1 chainmail (See ring chainmail). Although spinnerets have been known, many seem to have been flat (flattened?) Both the texts of the time and the archaeological remains tell us that most of the meshes were riveted. However, it seems that some chain mail was made of unclosed mail. Finally it seems that some coats of mail were made with a variant in welded rings of the 4:1 mesh. The 4 rings held by the central link were not riveted, but welded. Only the central link, assembling the whole, was riveted.

The Roman legionnaires had their armaments decorated to excess. If this phenomenon reached peaks for the weapons of parades, the weapons of war were not excluded from it.

On the remains of some Hamata lorica found in rivers, we have seen the presence of one or more rows of bronze rings bordering the bottom of the garment. This decoration resembles that used on some 19th and early 20th century Indian parade chain mail.

As specified above, many loricas were closed with a chest clip. This clasp consisted of 2 branches in S. These 2 branches were connected at their base by an axis, the whole affecting the shape of a U or a deformed lyre. This flat surface was very often decorated. Generally the end of each branch (forming a hook) assumed the shape of a serpent's head, but the complete staple could be chiselled and gilded.

It should be remembered that in the Roman army the decoration and wealth of arms was a sign of personal wealth, but also and above all a sign of rank.