Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Oldest Surviving Roman Body Armor

A recent article from Archaeology in Europe News reports on the find of a nearly complete set of Roman body armor found in the Teutoberg Forest in Germany.  This forest was the site of a disastrous Roman loss to German forces in 9 CE.  Archaeology In Europe News links to the original article from The History Blog, which can be viewed, complete with pictures, and read here.

The armor in question is of the type called a lorica segmentata--a set of largish iron plates shaped to fit around the body and laced together.  The armor was found by metal detector scan during an excavation in the summer of 2018.  Unsure exactly what the item was and knowing only that it contained a lot of metal, the entire block of soil containing the find was dug up whole and shipped to the Münster Osnabrück International Airport, which was the only nearby facility with an X-ray machine large enough to fit the soil block into.  The resulting X-ray revealed only a series of nails, which likely fastened a wooden crate large enough to hold the metal object, but did not penetrate the soil block.  The find was transferred to the Fraunhofer Institute in Fürth, which has a large CT scanner, and only after the CT scan did it become clear what the find actually was, and how it had to be excavated. 

The armor was collapsed and crushed together by the weight of the soil pressing upon it for two millennia. Despite that fact, and despite the extreme corrosion of the metal itself, the armor is surprisingly well preserved, complete with "hinges, buckles, bronze bosses and even extremely rare surviving pieces of the leather ties."  Plates from the shoulder and chest that were not in the original soil block have also been recovered.  There were no arm plates, which has been attributed to the design of this early piece.  Restoration of the armor is currently ongoing.

The find also contains an iron collar connected to a pair of handcuffs.  This item, also called in modern times a shrew's fiddle or a neck violin, was used on slaves and other captives; it indicates that the legionary who wore the armor had been captured, probably after the Teutoberg Forest battle.  

I love learning about finds like this, because it confirms that we have not learned all there is to know about the past. Archaeology continually uncovers artifacts like this one, which extend our knowledge of history.

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