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p135 Arma

Article by James Yates, M.A., F.R.S.,
on pp135‑136 of

William Smith, D.C.L., LL.D.:
A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities, John Murray, London, 1875.


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ARMA, ARMATU′RA (ὅπλα, Hom. ἔντεα, τεύχεα), arms, armour. Homer describes in various passages the entire suit of armour of some of his greatest warriors, viz. of Achilles, Patroclus, Agamemnon, Menelaus and Paris (Il. III.328‑339, IV.132‑138, XI.15‑45, XVI.130‑142, XIX.364‑391); and we observe that it consisted of the same portions which were used by the Greek soldiers ever after. Moreover, the order of putting them on is always the same. The heavy-armed warrior, having already a tunic around his body, and preparing for combat, puts on, — first, his greaves (κνημῖδες, ocreae); secondly, his cuirass (θώραξ, lorica), to which belonged the μίτρη underneath, and the zone (ζώνη, ζωστῆρ, cingulum) above; thirdly, his sword (ξίφος, ensis, gladius) hung on the left side of his body by means of a belt which passed over the right shoulder; fourthly, the large round shield (σάκος, ἀσπίς, clipeus, scutum), supported in the same manner; fifthly, his helmet (κόρυς, κυνέη, cassis, galea); sixthly and lastly, he took his spear (ἔγχος, δόρυ, hasta), or, in many cases, two spears (δοῦρε δύω). The form and use of these portions are described in separate articles under their Latin names. The annexed woodcut exhibits them all in the form of a Greek warrior attired for battle, as shown in Hope's Costume of the Ancients (I.70).

Those who were defended in the manner which has now been represented, are called by Homer ἀσπισταί, from their great shield (ἀσπίς); also ἀγχεμάχοι, because they fought hand to hand with their adversaries; but much more commonly πρόμαχοι because they occupied the front of the army: and it is to be observed that these terms, especially the last, were honourable titles, the expense of a complete suit of armour (πανοπλίη, Herod. I.60) being of itself sufficient to prove the wealth and rank of the wearer, while his place on the field was no less indicative of strength and bravery.

In later times, the heavy-armed soldiers were called ὁπλίται, because the term ὅπλα more especially denoted the defensive armour, the shield and thorax. By wearing these they were distinguished from the light-armed, whom Herodotus (IX.62, 63), for the reason just mentioned, calls ἄνοπλοι, and who are also denominated ψιλοί, and γυμνοί, γυμνῆται, or γυμνῆτες. Instead of being defended by the shield and thorax, their bodies had a much slighter covering, sometimes consisting of skins, and sometimes of leather or cloth; and instead of the sword and lance, they commonly fought with darts, stones, bows and arrows, or slings.

Besides the heavy and light-armed soldiers, the ὁπλίται and ψιλοί, who in general bore towards one another the intimate relation now explained, another description of men, the πελτασταί, also formed a part of the Greek army, though we do not hear of them in early times. Instead of the large round shield, they carried a smaller one called the πέλτη, and in other respects their armour was much lighter than that of the hoplites. The weapon on which they principally depended was the spear.


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The Roman soldiers had different kinds of arms and armour; but an account of the arms of the different kinds of troops cannot be separated from a description of the troops of a Roman army, and the reader is therefore referred to Exercitus. We need only give here the figure of a Roman soldier taken from the arch of Septimiusº Severus at Rome. On comparing it with that of the Greek hoplite in the other cut, we perceive that the several parts of the armour correspond, excepting only that the Roman soldier wears a dagger (μάχαιρα, pugio) on his right side instead of a sword on his left, and instead of greaves upon his legs, has femoralia and caligae. All the essential parts of the Roman heavy armour (lorica, ensis, clipeus, galea, hasta) are mentioned together in an epigram of Martial (IX.57); and also except the spear in a well known passage (Eph. vi.14‑17) of St. Paul, whose enumeration exactly coincides with the figures on the arch of Severus, and who makes mention not only of greaves, but of shoes or sandals for the feet.

The soft or flexible parts of the heavy armour were made of cloth or leather. The metal principally used in their formation was that compound of copper and tin which we call bronze, or more p136properly bell-metal. [Aes.] Hence the names for this metal (χαλκός, aes) are often used to mean armour, and the light reflected from the arms of a warrior is called αὐγὴ χαλκείη by Homer, and lux aëna by Virgil (Aen. II.470). Instead of copper, iron afterwards came to be very extensively used in the manufacture of arms, although articles made of it are much more rarely discovered, because iron is by exposure to air and moisture exceedingly liable to corrosion and decay. Gold and silver, and tin unmixed with copper, were also used, more especially to enrich and adorn the armour.


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