In a notable conservation achievement, the only known example of Roman legionary armor of the Lorica Squamata type, which is 1500 years old, has been successfully restored in Türkiye. This unique artifact was unearthed at the ancient site of Satala, in Gümüşhane, during the 2020 excavation season, and the restoration project was led by the Ministry of Culture and Tourism of Türkiye.

Initially discovered and extracted from the site with the support of the Ankara Regional Laboratory, the armor was transferred to the Erzurum Regional Restoration and Conservation Laboratory in 2021. At Atatürk University in Erzurum, detailed analyses were conducted, including X-rays and tomography, to document the armor in its original state, embedded in soil.

According to the ministry’s statement, this armor belongs to the Late Roman Period and represents a significant example of the Lorica Squamata type, the only one discovered so far.

Ruins of the city of Satala in Cappadocia, the place where the armor was found.
Ruins of the city of Satala in Cappadocia, the place where the armor was found. Credit: Carole Raddato / / Wikimedia Commons / Flickr

The Lorica Squamata, also known as “scale armor,” was widely used by Roman soldiers, especially those of higher rank such as officers, standard-bearers (signifers), musicians, and some cavalry units.

Unlike the more well-known Lorica Segmentata, made of large rigid plates, the Lorica Squamata was composed of small overlapping metal scales sewn onto a backing of cloth or leather. Each scale, typically made of bronze or iron, had small holes drilled in it that allowed them to be attached with wire or sewn in overlapping rows.

This design provided a unique balance between flexibility and protection, allowing greater freedom of movement for the wearer, although at the cost of requiring careful maintenance to prevent rust and damage, and being relatively heavy. However, the ability to replace damaged scales individually without discarding the entire armor provided practicality and longevity.

State in which the Lorica Squamata was found, encrusted with earth.
State in which the Lorica Squamata was found, encrusted with earth. Credit: Turkish Ministry of Culture

X-ray examinations revealed that the armor was almost intact. The meticulous restoration involved micro-CT imaging of three edge plates to determine their precise measurements and metallurgical properties. According to the ministry’s statement, Such armor rarely survives to the present.

Through rigorous efforts over three years at the Erzurum Restoration and Conservation Laboratory, each plate of the armor was carefully cataloged, preserved, and restored to its original form, to be finally reassembled on a mannequin to reflect its original appearance.

In Roman times, legionary armor was not custom-made for specific individuals; instead, it was repaired and reused as needed. When an armor was beyond repair, it was melted down and reused, which explains why surviving examples are so rare today.

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