At the Fort we have a wonderful frieze (over 100 feet long) showing a colourised version of part of Trajan’s Column inRome. Here’s another scene from it.
All the Roman soldiers shown here are auxiliaries (infantry and cavalry). The interesting point to note is the extreme shortness of their tunicas and mail shirts. As someone only too used to wearing the mail “lorica hamata” I feel well qualified to make a few comments on this.
None of the mail shirts worn by auxiliaries on the column show shoulder- doubling. This doubling can be clearly seen on the image of yours truly depicting a member of the Fort garrison. The extra thickness of mail on the shoulders was a vital protection against attack by slashing weapons. It was copied from the Gauls in the time of Caesar and rapidly adopted by the late Republican legions. It is surprising to find its absence on the Column, depicting events around 100 AD. Facing up to the murderous Dacian falx would make shoulder -doubling very very important.
The other odd thing here is that extreme shortness I mentioned a few lines ago. The cavalrymen would indeed have worn a short hamata, as it was necessary for them, as riders, to have freedom from the hips down. The same does not apply to the infantry. The more protection the better – and one of the great advantages of the flexible mail shirt is that it gives good protection to the rather vital area of the crotch, which a “lorica segmentata” (as worn by legionaries) leaves wide open. My mail shirt ends halfway down the thigh, completely covering groin and rump. You feel safe in it.
It definitely leaves me wondering whether the designers and sculptors of the Column had ever actually seen a soldier in a mail shirt. If the men were not wearing their “femenalia” – the tight (eye-wateringly tight it appears) knee breeches – the Column would be a spectacle of mass indecency.