Only known lorica squamata armor reassembled

The only known surviving Roman lorica squamata armor, discovered in a 2020 excavation at the ancient town of Satala in northeastern Turkey, has been reassembled. It dates to the Late Roman period (5th century A.D.) and is in remarkably intact condition. Lorica squamata was made of small metal scales connected with wire into horizontal rows and then sewn to a leather or fabric tunic. Individual scales are not uncommon finds, but this is the first nearly complete set ever discovered.

 Reassembled lorica squamata, front. Photo courtesy Ministry of Culture and Tourism of Türkiye.

The ancient city of Satala became part of the Roman province of Armenia Minor during the reign of Vespasian (69-79 A.D.). Its location just north of the Euphrates near the Silk Road made it an important center for commerce and for the military defense of the eastern border of the Roman Empire. Under Trajan, who visited in person in 115 A.D. to receive the tribute of local princes, the Legio XV Apollinaris was garrisoned in Satala and a large permanent camp built. It would house legionaries continuously until the 5th century.

Today, the castrum of the 15th Legion in Satala is the only surviving permanent Roman military camp on the eastern border of the Roman Empire. Excavations have been ongoing since 2017. The lorica squamata was discovered in the 2020 excavation of the Roman castrum. The iron armor was removed in a soil block so it could be excavated in laboratory conditions to preserve even the smallest fragments.

X-ray and micro CT imagining revealed the armor inside was almost complete. In 2021, conservators at the Erzurum Restoration and Conservation Regional Laboratory began the painstaking process of putting the pieces back together in their original configuration. This includes three sections of chain mail as well as the overlapping scales of the lorica squamata. They are at about waist level and may have helped mitigate some of the weaknesses of the scale armor: its heaviness and limited flexibility. Chain mail (lorica hamata) was more expensive to make and required specialists to repair, unlike the squamata which could be patched up relatively easily by the legionaries themselves. The presence of chain mail elements in this armor indicates it may have belonged to an officer.

This video shows some of the process of excavation, cleaning and reassembly done by conservators: