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[right arrow] If you are looking for lorica in the architectural sense, see this separate article of Smith's Dictionary.

p711 Lorica

Article by James Yates, M.A., F.R.S.,
on pp711‑713 of

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

LORI′CA (θώραξ), a cuirass. The epithet λινοθώραξ, applied to two light-armed warriors in the Iliad (II.529, 830; Schol. ad loc.), and opposed to χαλκοχίτων, the common epithet for Grecian soldiers, indicates the early use of the linen cuirass. It continued to be worn to much later times among the Asiatics, especially the Persians (Xen. Cyrop. VI.4 § 2; Plut. Alex. p1254, ed. Steph.), the Egyptians (Herod. II.182, III.47), the Phoenicians (Paus. VI.19 § 4), and the Chalybes (Xen. Anab. IV.7 § 15). Iphicrates endeavoured to restore the use of it among the Greeks (Nepos, Iphic. I.4), and it was occasionally adopted by the Romans, though considered a much less effectual defence than a cuirass of metal (Sueton. Galba, 19; Arrian, Tact. p14, ed. Blancardi).

A much stronger material for cuirasses was horn, which was applied to this use more especially by the Sarmatae and Quadi, being cut into small pieces, which were planed and polished and fastened, like feathers, upon linen shirts (Amm. Marcell. XVII.12 ed. Wagner). Hoofs were employed for the same purpose. Pausanias (I.21 § 8) having made mention of a thorax preserved in the temple of Aesculapius at Athens, gives the following account of the Sarmatians:— Having vast herds of horses, which they sometimes kill for food or for sacrifice, they collect their hoofs, cleanse and divide them, and shape them like the scales of a serpent (φολίσιν); they then bore them and sew them together, so that the scales overlap one another, and in general appearance they resemble the surface of a green fir-cone. This author adds, that the loricae made of these horny scales are much more strong and impenetrable than linen cuirasses, which are useful to hunters, but not adapted for fighting.a The annexed woodcut, taken from Meyrick's Critical Inquiry into Ancient Armour (plate III) exhibits an Asiatic cuirass exactly corresponding to this description. It consists of slices of some animal's hoof, which are stitched together, overlapping each other in perpendicular rows, without being fastened to any under garment. The projection nearest the middle must be supposed to have been worn over the breast, and the other over the back, so as to leave two vacant spaces for the arms.

An engraving of a sort of shirt made of small rectangles of some hard substance fastened in vertical strips. It is a cuirass of Roman scale armor.

This invention no doubt preceded the metallic scale armour. The Rhoxalani, a tribe allied to the Sarmatians, defended themselves by wearing a dress consisting of thin plates of iron and hard leather (Tacit. Hist. I.79). The Persians wore a tunic of the same description, the scales being sometimes of gold (Herod. VII.61; θώρηκα χρυσεον λεπιδωτόν, IX.22); but they were commonly of bronze (thoraca indutus aënis squamis, Virg. Aen. XI.487). The basis of the cuirass was sometimes a skin, or a piece of strong linen to which the metallic scales, or "feathers," as they are also called, were sewed (Virg. Aen. XI.770; Serv. in loc.; Justin, XLI.2.10).

The epithet λεπιδωτός, as applied to a thorax, is opposed to the epithet φολιδωτός (Arrian, Tact. p13, 14). The former denotes a similitude to the scales of fish (λεπίσιν), the latter to the scales of serpents (φολίσιν). The resemblance to the scales of serpents, which are long and narrow, is exhibited on the shoulders of the Roman soldier in the woodcut at page 136. These scales were imitated by long flexible bands of steel, made to fold one over another according to the contraction of the body. They appear very frequently on the Roman monuments of the times of the emperors, and the following woodcut places in immediate contrast a θώραξ λεπιδωτός on the right and φολιδωτός on the left, both taken from Bartoli's Arcus Triumphales.

An engraving of two Roman soldiers, the one on the left wears a jacket of scale armor of the type known as lepidotos and carries a long oval shield; the one on the right wears a jacket of scale armor of the type known as pholidotos and carries a shield in the shape of an elongated hexagon.

The Roman hastati wore cuirasses of chain-mail, i.e. hauberks or habergeons (ἁλυσιδωτοὺς θώρακας, Polyb. VI.23;º Athen. V.22; Arrian, l.c.). Virgil several times mentions hauberks in which the rings, linked or hooked into one another, were of gold (loricam consertam hamis, auroque trilicem, Virg. Aen. III.467, V.259, VII.639).

In contradistinction to the flexible cuirasses, or coats of mail, which have now been described, that commonly worn by the Greeks and Romans, more especially in the earlier ages, was called θώραξ στάδιος, or στατός, because, when placed upon the ground on its lower edge, it stood erect. In consequence of its firmness it was even used as a seat to rest upon (Paus. X.27 § 2). It consisted principally of the two γύαλα, viz. the breast-plate (pectorale) made of hard leather or of bronze, iron, or sometimes the more precious metals, which covered the breast and abdomen (Hom. Il.  V.99, XIII.507, 587, XVII.314); and of the corresponding p712plate which covered the back (Paus. X.26.2; Hom. Il.  XV.530). Both of these pieces were adapted to the form of the body, as may be perceived in the representation of them in the woodcuts at pages  135, 196. The two figures here introduced are designed to show the usual difference of form and appearance between the antique Greek thorax and that worn by the Roman emperors and generals. The right-hand figure is from one of Mr. Hope's fictile vases (Costumes of the Ancients, I.102), and bears a very strong resemblance to a Greek warrior painted on one of Sir W. Hamilton's (I.4). The figure on the left hand is taken from a marble statue of Caligula found at Gabii (Visconti, Mon. Gab. No. 38). The gorgon's head over the breast, and the two griffins underneath it, illustrate the style of ornament which was common in the same circumstances (Mart. VII.1.1‑4) [Aegis]. The execution of these ornaments in relief was more especially the work of the Corinthians (Cic. Verr. IV.44).

An engraving of two men, the one on the left in the costume of Roman military commander, the one on the right in the costume of a Greek soldier, barefoot, with lance and shield.

The two plates were united on the right side of the body by two hinges, as seen in the equestrian statue of the younger Balbus at Naples, and in various portions of bronze cuirasses still in existence. On the other side, and sometimes on both sides, they were fastened by means of buckles (περόναι, Paus. l.c.) [Fibula]. In Roman statues we often observe a band surrounding the waist and tied before. The breast-plate and the back-plate were further connected together by leathern straps passing over the shoulders, and fastened in front by means of buttons or of ribands tied in a bow. In the last woodcut both of the connecting ribands in the right-hand figure are tied to a ring over the navel. The breast-plate of Caligula has a ring over each breast, designed to fulfil the same purpose.

Bands of metal often supplied the place of the leathern straps, or else covered them so as to become very ornamental, being terminated by a lion's head, or some other suitable figure appearing on each side of the breast. The most beautiful specimens of enriched bronze shoulder-bands now in existence are those which were found A.D. 1820, near the river Siris in S. Italy, and which are preserved in the British Museum. They were originally gilt, and represent in very salient relief two Grecian heroes combating two Amazons. They are seven inches in length, and belong to the description of bronzes called ἔργα σφυρήλατα, having been beaten into form with wonderful skill by the hammer. Bröndsted (Bronzes of Siris, London, 1836) has illustrated the purpose which they served, by showing them in connection with a portion of another lorica, which lay upon the shoulders behind the neck. This fragment was found in Greece. Its hinges are sufficiently preserved to show most distinctly the manner in which the shoulder-bands were fastened to them (see woodcut).

An engraving of a sort of yoke with hinged flaps on either side. These flaps are carved with elaborate mythological scenes involving shields. It is an example of a piece of Roman body armor known as a shoulder-band.

"Around the lower edge of the cuirass," observes Bröndsted, "were attached straps, four or five inches long, of leather, or perhaps of felt, and p713covered with small plates of metal. These straps served in part for ornament, and partly also to protect the lower region of the body in concert with the belt (ζώνη) and the band (μίτρα). They are well shown in the preceding figure of Caligula.

Instead of the straps here described, which the Greeks called πτέρυγες (Xen. de Re Equest. XII.4), the Chalybes, who were encountered by Xenophon on his retreat (Anab. IV.7 § 15), had in the same situation a kind of cordage. Appendages of a similar kind were sometimes fastened by hinges to the lorica at the right shoulder, for the purpose of protecting the part of the body which was exposed by lifting up the arm in throwing the spear or using the sword (Xen. de Re Equest. XII.6).

Of Grecian cuirasses the Attic were accounted the best and most beautiful (Aelian, V. H. XIII.24). The cuirass was worn universally by the heavy-armed infantry and by the horsemen, except that Alexander the Great gave to the less brave of his soldiers breast-plates only, in order that the defenceless state of their backs might decrease their propensity to flight (Polyaen. IV.3.13). The thorax was sometimes found to be very oppressive and cumbersome (Tac. Ann. I.64).


Thayer's Note:

a linen cuirasses, which are useful to hunters, but not adapted for fighting — and then again, just possibly, they may have been very adequate for war: Herodotus (III.47) and Aelian (H.A. IX.17) — 800 years later and surely following him — both write of a linen cuirass dedicated to Athena in her temple at Rhodes; the latter, or maybe a glossator, says that it could not be damaged by stones or iron weapons. Whether it was as resistant as that or not, its prominent dedication to the goddess argues that it was of some use; and to Athena rather than Artemis, that it was of use more in war than in hunting, at least traditionally.


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