History of Samnium and Samnites - Samnite warriors and weapons.




Third Part


Bronze cheekpieces - Pietrabbondante IV century b.C.


Literary Sources

Contrary to what was seen for the early period, literary sources are not lacking for the most recent custom, though they refer not to our region but the vast Sabellic scope in which the region is included. The majority of stories are related only to the armaments. This is related to the interest of Roman writers to describe how and by what means the power of Rome has been engaged in the relations with the people of these lands.
The tradition, reported by Festus, wanted the Samnites derived their name by the "national" weapon, a kind of javelin, that the Greeks assimilated to their saunion.
Since the earliest panoply, in our region there are different types of javelin and it is impossible to identify among them the "saunion". Virgil (Aen. VII, 730) recalled instead the teretes aclydes as typical of Oscan people, spears equipped with an appendix along the rod (strip of leather called amentum) that have already seen in the panoply of Capestrano Warrior.
Polybius (VI, 23 2-3) considers the Roman scutum derived from the Samnitic shield, whose form was to be sometimes rectangular and sometimes trapezoidal (Liv. IX, 40, 2). The Greeks likened to a port and named it "thyreos". That the "scutum" was characteristic of the Sabellian people is confirmed unanimously by the tradition, which it had considered introduced in Rome, already since the time of Romulus, by the Sabine or, more likely, by the Samnites.
  Samnite warrior
Samnite warrior from
Capua (IV century b.C.)
Livy (IX, 40, 3) describes about spongia as the defense of the chest area of the Samnite warrior's armour. We have supposed that the term refers to a type of armor in which a sponge cushion the contact between the metal and the epidermis; the term, therefore, doesn't distinguish a particular form, as a technical device. Was likely that this term was identified typical Samnite armor, but you can not acertar this.
Helmet from Lavello
Helmet from Lavello
Livy also describes, moreover categorically, about the single greave to defend the left leg (but, according to various testimonies, it was used only in gladiatorial customs) and about helmets fitted with crests that added imposingness at the stature.
On another time the same author (IX, 38, 13), after had told that the young members of the Legio Linteata were fitted with crested helmets to emerge on the other fighters (perhaps like the Italic helmet from Lavello, dating from the fourth century b.C.,
  Helmet from Lavello
Helmet from Lavello
with a crested lophos between two metallic pens - Archaeo-logical Museum of Melfi), Livy adds that the Roman consul Papirius Cursor had to warn his troops that the ridges surmounting the helmets didn't produce injuries (X, 39, 12).
The same Livio (IX, 40, 3), in short, testified the existence of saddlecloth placed on the backs of horses and multi-colored or white robes beneath the armor of warriors.

Apulian warrior from IV century b.C. according to the
sculptural reconstruction of the Romeo Models.



The figurative evidences

The little bronze statues of warriors from Roccaspinalveti don't offer the stereotyped image of Mars which, with few variations, is found in the votive offering deposit, but they reproduce costumes very clearly marked; to the excavation site they can be identified as Frentan warriors or belonging to the tribe of Carricinans.
In statuette smaller (lower left), the description of armour is conducted in a way that, without indulging in detail, each element is expressed with remarkable fidelity.
The helmet had a conical calotte, fitted with neck guard and cheekpieces. On calotte there are two holes that flank a third closed hole, which protrudes from the small residue of an inserted element.
Does not seem arbitrary to recognize an attack for crest and feel that, in the side holes, were to be included pens - as you can see in the painted chamber tombs at Paestum and the surrounding territories.
  Fresco from Paestum
Fresco from Paestum
The body is covered with a garment down over his knees (hauberk?); are not sure if glimpse a tunic or a smooth armour of leather. The garment is tight at the waist by a wide belt, the legs are covered by greaves and the feet are bare.

Bronze statuette from Roccaspinalveti
Bronze statuette from Roccaspinalveti

The other statuette (the right) is done in a better manner. The helmet, tendentially to hemispherical calotte, rounds in the edge on a light brim and gets up in front as a kind of front guard. It is equipped with cheekpieces and presents the three holes already observed in the other. However are be observed, around the central hole, four little holes and a smaller sign that denote a different complexity of the crest. The statuette had a smooth cuirass with fringed short skirt fairly common from the fourth century b.C., which is supposed to be leather.
Greaves are present; the feet are bare.
From votive offering deposit of Carsoli come from same warrior statuettes that for some details differ from those of Roccaspinalveti: they have helmet with conical shape, cuirass with spaulders, a tunica with triangular neckline and short sleeves; the feet are without shoes.
In Carsoli, also appears another kind of warrior (picture right). A statuette had an helmet with semisferic calotte fitted with neck guard and cheekpieces but topped by a raised central knob which excludes the presence of a real crest; a short tunic tight at the waist by a belt; oval shield bracing with the left arm, apparently bare legs and feet. This little bronze finds a unique counterpart in another statuette kept in the Kirerian Museum but it was thought to depict a Gauls warrior.
Warrior from Carsoli
The presence in Carsoli of armors that mostly correspond to those Sabellian of pictorials seems to confirm the hypothesis, already proposed elsewhere, that at Carseolan sanctuary come faithful from the Tyrrhenian coast, starting from Lazio.
Notes about armaments supplied by literary sources have clearer correspondences in monuments of later date, with depictions of gladiators. The rectangular "scutum" appears in the gladiatorial relief at Museum of L'Aquila and trapezoidal shields in the large relief of Lusius Storax Mausoleum in Chieti.

Amiternum relief
Gladiator's relief from Amiternum.


Grave Goods

If the informations about armaments, provided by literary sources and also by the figured monuments, are far more numerous than those that we have for the past time, can not be said for what concerns the documentation directly represented by the grave goods.
Most of informations about armaments comes from the necropolis of Alfedena which, with its more recent burials, comes from the third century b.C.; from the burials discovered in Chieti in Contrada Sant'Anna, which can be assigned to time between the third and second century b.C.; from Italc burials of Villafonsina and Villamagna, in province of Chieti; from those of Pretoro, at the slopes of Mountains Maiella and from remarkable complex of bronze and iron weapons found in the excavations of the sanctuary of Pietrabbondante.
Poor is instead the contribution of the necropolis of Corfinio and unfor-
  South Italic helmet
South Italic - Chalkidian
helmet - IV century b.C.
tunately may tell us little the archaeological finds, disappeared by the time, of a vast necropolis discovered at the beginning of the XX century, at Guardiagrele in Contrada Comino.
Unlike what was noted in the previous period, the helmet appears with some frequency in the Sabellian tribal districts. Known specimens found in Frentan area (Comino di Guardiagrele, Orsogna), in Marrucinan area (Chieti, Pretoro, Villamagna) and in the Samnite Pentrians area (Pietrabbondante - see dedicated pages in Italian).

Helmet with Tethys offerer.
Pietrabbondante - IV century b.C.
The types of helmets are mostly similar in the findings occurred in different regions of central Italy, so that they can not be attributed to local peculiarity, nor with regard to our region nor to individual tribal districts. Some ornamental elements related, on what we know from literary sources and figuratively, at the costume of the Samnite warrior, is considered to be added "in situ".
The so-called Gallic type of helmet is a protection hemispherical dome-shaped in which a rear edge extends to make a brief defense of the neck. This helmet is not necessarily to be connected to the Celtic tribes of central and northern Italy because, given its wide distribution, was also present in areas where there is no news of Gauls. A fine example of this helmet comes from the necropolis of Porta Sant'Anna in Chieti and for it are documented, in an old photograph, cheekpieces, now disappeared, of trilobed shape singly similar to the shape of Samnite armor.
Other specimens are in the Leopardi Collection of Penne and two specimens came from Pietrabbondante escavations, with cheekpieces that would call "pelta-shape" or shield-shape, similar to that of the Attican (Greek) helmet. In one of two specimens, the cheekpieces are decorated by a female figure dressed in chiton and uplifting in his right hand a helmet of Attic type; to his feet is a dolphin. We can identify therein Thetis with the weapons of Achilles.

Thetis with Achilles' weapons
Cheekpieces with Tetide and Achilles weapons.

Not easy to define an dome-shape helmet, tended conical and comes from Orsogna (this city was in Frentan area - IV century b.C.). This helmet is a fusion of elements relevant to other varius types: the helmet with conic calotte, the helmet with neck guard and the Attic helmet. Its singularity prevents to establish the genesis, as well as impossible to fully understand the meaning of all its parts. The very fine execution presumed a production in a center of major traditional craftsmanship.

Gauls-Italic helmet.
Helmet from Orsogna.

Helmets type Attic finally come from Pretoria and Pietrabbondante.
The Samnite cuirass par excellence, portrayed in numerous painted vascular and by frescos on walls of burials of southern Italy, is known in original through a number of specimens, more or less elaborate, more or less enriched with ornaments, and even with figures, but mainly referable to a single type.

Trefoil cuirass

Trefoil cuirass from Spoltore (IV century b.C.)

It consists of two breastplate (or shells), Humerale and Pectorale, of bronze plate of equal size and shape, on each of them are executed in relief three disks which form a trilobe or trefoil with single disc at the bottom. The underlying bronze sheet is cut higher in a straight line, while on the sides between the pair of discs and the lower disc, curves in a semicircle. Two spaulders, each consisting of a pair of curved and hinged rectangular plates and two side bands consisting of a curved single sheet, join together the semicuirasses through a system of hooks.
From southern lands of Abruzzo come a couple of very simple specimens. The first from the necropolis of Alfedena and the second from an isolated burial discovered at Spoltore, in provence of Pescara (about cuirasses see also the pages dedicated to "Legio Linteata" and "kardiophylax", latter only in Italian). It was already supposed the derivation of the Samnite armor from disk "kardiophylax" that, through the normal flow of time, evolved from a defense consisting of two coupled discs and documented both in pictorial representations than by the discovery of original specimens from the escavation of burials. In reality the "kardiophylax" both as function than as a concept seems little connection to the trefoil cuirass. It is more likely, if you want to find a source to this kind of defense, that it is a simplification of the stylized armor anatomical "Thorax".
  Samnite cuirass
Trefoil cuiras from Alfedena.
IV century b.C.
The metallic belt that clasped the tunic at the waist of the warriors in the pictures on the Campanian vases, in the frescoes of Paestum and Apulian chamber tombs and that we have saw depicted on a bronze statuette of Roccaspinalveti, it is present in the original in large numbers in tombs of Alfedena and other burials, individual or grouped as in cemeteries, especially in southern Abruzzo. This object consists of a strip of bronze foil extremely flexible and elastic. At one end, using little iron nails, is fixed a pair of hook clasps. But in some exemplary of belt, the fasteners are obtained from the same sheet prepared with a thickness on one side, while on the other there are two or three pairs of eyelets for the gradual insertion of the hooks. All along the edge of the belt a continuous series of small holes demonstrates the existence of a lining of fabric or leather, sewn and blocked using rivets.

Samnite belt
Samnite belt from Pietrabbondante - IV century b.C.

Samnite belt
Samnite belt from Pietrabbondante - IV century b.C.

The decoration of the belts is reduced almost entirely to fasteners; indeed are rare the specimens that have some ornamental motif or some carved figure or embossed along the band.
The fasteners have given rise to a decorative repertoire quite varied, both in parts that must stick to the lamina as in the hooks:
the first have portrayals of rams that fight each other, palms and leaf decorations, human figures (Hercules, Victory etc.); the second, the fasteners, are spear shape or wolf head.
Several assumptions have been made about the origin and also to production sites of the belts. It was assumed that they were from Greece, from Veneto and from Etruria. In reality, the discoveries made in excavations conducted almost exclusively in the territory of the Sabellian tribe or tribes associated with them, economically or politically, suggest that this object was very important to their tradition and their elaboration and probably producing should be sought in the production area of central-southern Tyrrhenian along the strip where Etruscan experiences may have encouraged the creation of a local metallotecnica.
The association of grave goods with dateable material allows to place these items in the IV - III century b.C., chronology that, moreover, agrees with the frescoes of tombs above.
  Fasteners from Pietrabbondante
Fasteners of belt
from IV century b.C.
But it was noted that the pictorial representations of such a belt is not exclusive of the warriors, being reproduced even in a manly habit, in the gladiators and charioteers that participate in the funeral games, and in a fresco from Paestum, and even on woman's tunic. The fact deserves to be further developed through a careful examination of burials in Alfedena and in other necropolis; but if it proves correct, the belt would lose at least part of its role in the military costume of Central and South Italy, lose that value of a symbol of freedom conferred by the presence in war trophies.
In the tomb there even the greaves, so frequent in the painted figuration: a pair was found in Pietrabbondante, another comes from the necropolis of Villamagna. All specimens lack the robustness that is observed over the greave from Campovalano and nor its big volumetry. In them, the internal twins muscle is also emphasized by relief but in a manner less obvious than in the oldest specimen. A similar greave, found in the necropolis of San Martino in Gattara, is ascribed to the Etruscan type.
Unique is that the news given by the sources on the existence of only left greave of panoply of the Italic warrior seems contradicted by the findings, while could be confirmed by making report to the earliest times.
  Greaves from Pietrabbondante
Pair of greaves
from Pietrabbondante.
The literary evidence and figurative expressions in agreement assign to Samnites warriors, as their characteristic, the "rod weapons". Are greedy, instead, in citing the so-called "white weapons", abundantly illustrated by ancient times.
The findings seem to validate these testimonies. Indeed, besides a great number of "irons of spears", very few are finds of swords, daggers and knives. The same necropolis of Alfedena, the only so far where have been systematically explored also tombs of the Sabellic period, has returned a handful of specimens of those weapons, that for the form can be dated to this period.
  Spears from Venafro
Irons of spears from Venafro
However, it seems doubtful that the prevalence of rod weapons can to be linked with the preponderance of cavalry in Sabellian armies.
The "rod weapons" don't show substantial differences from those that Sabellian peoples have received from the most ancient tribes who inhabited the region.
Only one type has an unquestionable originality and is a kind of falcate iron lance with cannon connection and sharp only in the concave part; was found in two specimens only at Pietrabbondante. As for the Samnite shield remembered by
tradition, we must recognize that in the territory has not been found any specimens, nor were they found elements, such as the reinforcement of the border and the umbo that necessarily had to be metal, even if the shields were of perishable material.
At the end of this review about the Sabellic armament seems appropriate to mention a single object, also found in Pietrabbondante and that, at least according to our knowledge, is not reflected in the Italic environment.
  Bronze Rooster
Bronze rooster, metal hammered plates.
It is the headless figure of a rooster with tail composed by several metal plates, worked with hammer and joined by bolts using the technique of "sphyrélaton".
The object has been recognized as a Samnite military insignia, hypothesis very reliable if you remember the Roman military insignia, also not much ancient, with representations of animals.


The text is taken from the book of V. Cianfarani, L. Franchi Dell'Orto, A. La Regina
Culture adriatiche antiche di Abruzzo e di Molise
De Luca Editore - Rome 1978



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