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Bill Thayer

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p196 Balteus

Two articles on p196 of

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

[image ALT: An engraving, very stylized, of a man, standing, wearing a sort of pleated skirt, a metal cuirass over his chest, and metal greaves over his otherwise bare legs. He is barefoot but wears a helmet with a crest. In his right hand he carries a pole which he rests on his right shoulder. Over his left shoulder a large oval shield, and under it the scabbard of a sword. The latter hangs by a sash which is the point of the illustration in the context of this article: the strap is known as a balteus.]

BALTEUS, or BALTEA in the plural (τελαμών), a belt, a shoulder-belt, a baldric, was used to suspend the sword; and, as the sword commonly hung beside the left hip, its belt was supported by the right shoulder, and passed obliquely over the breast, as is seen in the beautiful cameo here introduced from the Florentine Museum. In the Homeric times the Greeks also used a belt to support the shield; and this second belt lay over the other, and was larger and broader than it (Il. XIV.404‑406); but as this shield-belt was found inconvenient, it was superseded by the invention of the Carian ὄχανον [Clipeus.] The very early disuse of the shield-belt accounts for the fact, that this part of the ancient armour is never exhibited in paintings or sculptures. A third use of the balteus was to suspend the quiver, and sometimes together with it the bow (Nemes. Cyneg. 91). The belt was usually made of leather, but was ornamented with gold, silver, and precious stones, and on it subjects of ancient art were frequently embroidered or embossed (Herod. I.171; χρύσεος τελαμών, Od. XI.610; φαεινός, Il. XII.401; Virg. Aen. V.312). The belts of the Roman emperors were also magnificently adorned, and we learn from inscriptions that there was a distinct officer — the baltearius — who had the charge of them in the imperial palace (Trebell. Poll. Gallien. 16). [unsigned]

BALTEUS, in architecture. Vitruvius applies the term "baltei" to the bands surrounding the volute on each side of an Ionic capital (De Arch. III.5 ed. Schneider; Genelli, Briefe über Vitruv. II. p35). [Columna.] Other writers apply it to the praecinctiones of an amphitheatre (Calpurn. Ecl. VII.47; Tertullian, De Spectac. 3; Amphitheatrum.) In the amphitheatre at Verona the baltei are found by measurement to be 2½ feet high, the steps which they enclose being one foot two inches high. [J.Y.]

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Page updated: 7 Feb 09