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Work Breatsplate of an Anatomical Cuirass

Department of Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Antiquities: Roman Art

Breatsplate of an Anatomical Cuirass

© 2000 RMN / Hervé Lewandowski

Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Antiquities
Roman Art

Author(s):
Astier Marie-Bénédicte

In the fourth century BC, Italian knights mostly wore a short cuirass that modeled the body and musclature. The breastplate and backpiece were held together with hooks and hinges. The mamelons of the Louvre breastplate are incrusted with a copper-rich red alloy. Numerous examples of armor of this type have been found in tombs in southern Italy, often together with a bronze belt of ancient Italian style. They also appear on pottery and in funerary paintings.

An anatomical cuirass from the classical period

This bronze cuirass, of which only the breastplate has been preserved, belongs to a fairly homogeneous group of short cuirasses which covered the torso down to the waist - unlike Greek ones, which also protected part of the pelvis. These cuirasses are called 'anatomical' because they are perfectly modeled to the warrior's body and musculature; as a result, the details of the torso (collarbones, pectoral muscles, areolas, and abdominal muscles) are precisely outlined. Formerly in the Pourtalès collection, the breastplate seen here entered the Louvre in 1865. It was made in the fourth century BC, probably in a Greek workshop in southern Italy. Each part of the cuirass was made from a sheet of cast bronze, which was then planished to increase the metal's resistance to blows. The front and back parts were held together at the sides by hooks and hinges. The mamelons are incrusted, as was often the case, with a copper-rich alloy which gives a reddish tinge to the areolas.

Part of the armor of an ancient Italian knight

From the fourth century AD, anatomical cuirasses of this type were commonly worn from Greece to Etruria, particularly by the knights of ancient Italy, such as the Samnites, Apulians, and Lucanians. Complete cuirasses also exist, but the shape of the Louvre breastplate seems better adapted to the position of a horseman and more suitable, therefore, for these warriors. The short cuirass was usually worn together with a wide bronze belt, in the ancient Italian style, similar to the Br 1145 belt. The belt in question, which is decorated with leaf-shaped clasps, was probably discovered in the same place as the breastplate (in the vicinity of Ruvo, on the east coast of southern Italy), and the two pieces may originally have belonged together. Much prized during the Hellenic period, the anatomical cuirass became a piece of ceremonial armor, and later a symbol of victory for Roman officers and emperors.

Painted representations and funerary trappings

Large numbers of cuirasses and belts have been found in classical and Hellenistic burial places in southern Italy. They were part of the funerary trappings buried with the deceased and are indicative of his military status. This type of cuirass is often depicted in Etruscan and ancient Italian funerary paintings, as well as on ceramics of the period, in friezes featuring arms or processions of warriors. These representations prove that military equipment of this kind was much prized by the indigenous population.

Technical description

  • Breatsplate of an Anatomical Cuirass

    Fourth century BC

    Ruvo, southern Italy

    Ancient Italy

  • Planished and incrusted bronze

    H. 36 cm

  • Pourtalès collection; purchased by the Louvre in 1865

    Br 1137

  • Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Antiquities

    Sully wing
    1st floor
    Bronzes room
    Room 32, temporarily closed to the public, works n

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