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!