Miscellanea: SCS-AIA Conference, 2020!

Dear readers!

Alas, no regular post this Friday, for it is conference season. In particular, this is the weekend of the Joint Annual Meeting for the Society of Classical Studies and Archaeological Institute of America (Classics represent!), where I will be giving a short paper detailing some of my current research.

One function of these sorts of academic conferences is to give scholars in a given field a chance to present – and to hear other’s present – research either recently completed or in progress. Ideally, that both allows more junior scholars to raise their profile, as well as allowing scholars who find that their work intersects to meet and collaborate, and so on. It’s especially important in archaeology (or, as in my case, for historians whose research relies heavily on archaeology – what we tend to call ‘material culture’ historians), since it gives an opportunity to ‘update’ the field – and for the field to be updated – on the proceedings of work that may yet be years out from final publication. Conference papers for large conferences are typically very short, often 15-20 minutes or so.

For the curious, my abstract (the ultra-short summary of what my paper will cover) is publicly available, so I’ll just put it up here:

Mail Armor in the Middle Republic: Adoption, Prevalence and Impact

By the first century B.C.E., mail body armor in the form of the lorica hamata had largely replaced the pre-existing armor traditions of Italy, becoming the most common and visible armor of the legions, despite being adopted by the Romans from Gaul.  Although mail spread rapidly throughout the Mediterranean, its study has been neglected, especially when compared to the voluminous work on the later imperial lorica segmentata.  In this paper, I assess the date and impact of the Roman adoption of mail in the third and second centuries B.C.E.

I examine the evidence for the introduction of mail in the Roman army and the related question of the prevalence of mail compared to native Italian armor types.  Mail is rarely preserved in the archaeological record, so this examination relies on a mix of archaeological, representational and literary evidence to determine the timing of the adoption of mail and steady rise in its prevalence.  While the expense of mail may have inhibited its adoption by others, the Italian armor tradition already favored an unusually high amount of metal body protection, suggesting that Rome may have been uniquely positioned to take advantage of this expensive new military technology.

I then consider the evidence for battlefield impact during the second century B.C.E.  By comparing the weapons available with the defensive properties of mail armor, I determine which weapons would have had a high probability of defeating mail and which would have been rendered less effective. Notably, this advantage is reflected in Livy’s reports (Livy, 37.44.2, 44.42.8) that Roman armies facing Hellenistic opponents suffered few fatalities but many soldiers wounded.  Based on this analysis, I conclude that the pre-existing Italian tradition of comparatively heavy armor enabled Rome’s rapid adoption and wide use of mail, which in turn provided a significant advantage to Roman armies.

For anyone wondering when they might see the full version of this, I am working on a version for formal publication. I’ll make a note on the blog when that happens, but don’t expect anything right away, for the peer review process is long and full of peril.

See everyone next week, when we’ll resume our regular schedule!

8 thoughts on “Miscellanea: SCS-AIA Conference, 2020!

  1. Very interesting! Good luck with the reviewing process, I wish you rational, generous and open minded reviewers 🙂

  2. So you mean that Julius Caesar’s legionaries weren’t wearing lorica segmentata? Did Astérix lied to me?

  3. Tangentially related to armour, but I just found your thesis and skipped to the section on the gladius to see what your opinion on Michael Burns’ theory about two late 4th century gladius like swords potentially being proto-gladii was. You don’t discuss it – although I don’t think that it would have added much other than providing weight to your suggestion that the adoption of the gladius was a gradual process already underway by the time of the Second Punic War – and Burns only suggests that it *might* be the forerunner of the gladius because the scabbard fittings resemble later Roman fittings and are so different from other contemporary scabbard fittings, but I was wondering whether the omission was just a matter of not being aware of the find and Burns’ suggestion, or if there’s been some subsequent work that has put the matter to rest and shown that the swords aren’t related to the gladius. This is so far outside my field (such as an amateur can have a field) that I thought I should really check what the current consensus is before shooting my mouth off again (as I did with butted mail 😳).

    1. A bit of ‘discretion is the better part of valor’ because we might not have to guess soon – I do reference Burns elsewhere. At least one sword has been recovered from the Egadi wrecks. They’re working with metal-detectors there now, so more equipment is likely to follow, potentially filling in a lot of our gaps for the equipment of the third century. Preservation, of course, is a fickle thing, so we might not see our questions answered.

      That said, at the moment, I am persuaded to F. Quesada Sanz’s work on the topic that the precursor of the gladius comes out of the Spanish archaeological record in the late fourth century (you can find his article in the Journal of Roman Equipment Studies’ 1997 volume, which has a number of quite influential articles – I was having a conversation with Michael Taylor earlier this month where we both referred to it as ‘The Great JREMS’ and were immediately understood).

      (To be clear that’s “I was aware of Burns’ argument, but given my scope I did not need to open that can of worms, nor did I feel sufficiently confident to open it anyway, so I decided to let it lie. In practice, I find Sanz’s argument – which poses problems for Burns’ interpretation – convincing…but my opinion means a lot less than the evidence we’re likely to get to answer it firmly one way or the other in the coming years.)

      1. I’ll just put a link to F. Quesada Sanz’s paper here for anyone interested in reading it: https://www.academia.edu/726930/_Gladius_Hispaniensis_an_archaeological_view_from_Iberia_

        Thanks for the reply! I had a feeling you must have been aware of Burns’ thesis – I did notice that you cited him when I did a keyword search to be sure you hadn’t mentioned the sword elsewhere – so that explanation makes a lot of sense. I didn’t realise they’d found a sword in the Egadi wrecks. Hopefully they manage to find a good deal more and answer some questions!

        With that said, and the caveat being that I’m hardly an archaeological expert here, I’d argue that the Samnite finds pose more problems for Sanz than they do for Burns. It’s possible that these swords are just late La Tene I swords taken from Celtic mercenaries and are entirely unrelated to Rome but, if they *are* Roman (since the dating and location in a shrine raise this possibility), then this would significantly throw his model off.

        The swords: https://i.imgur.com/j2Pv2yu.png

        (F. Quesada Sanz Figure 4 is on the left and Michael Burns’ Figure 70.6 is on the right)

        The shorter of the two swords Burns discusses, on the far right, is relatively short and most like the Cigarralejo, B.54 sword, although the tang is a little shorter and the blade is over a centimeter wider and a tad longer. The longer sword (based on the scale, Burns only provided the blade length and the extent blade + tang suggests an overall length of 72-75cm), however, more closely resembles the Fontillet and, based on the width according to the scale/length of the sword, the Es Soumâa swords, while the tang better resembles that of the La Azucarera or Cabecico B.142 swords.

        If these *are* Roman swords, they may be the ancestors of the broader bladed Republican gladii (which seems to be 1/2 of the examples) while the Celtiberian swords became the ancestors of the more slender form. It will be very interesting to see what the existing Egadi sword and any other potential finds tell us about early 3rd century Roman swords.

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