Torso of a soldier with armour

A male torso in white marble produced in a workshop in the eastern Roman provinces. It was part of a complete sculpture of a soldier. It can be inferred from its size that this was not an image of an emperor, as their statues were done on a monumental scale to be placed in public spaces. This is an effigy for private devotion, to be placed in a private family space or in the tomb of the owner, as a reminder of his position and military past.

The figure has been worked from a block of fine-grained marble. Although it might seem that he is wearing the armour directly over his body, it was normal under the armour to also wear a tunic or colobium which fell to the knees and which had short sleeves. In sculptures on a larger scale or on a life-size scale, such tunics can be seen. In this case, particularly as the legs are missing, we cannot be sure that the artisan sculpted this garment.

The breastplate follows the form of the chest and the lower belly. It is decorated with two facing felines and with the head of the Medusa, as well as with one line of mantling. The leather straps or baltea fall down directly from the bottom of the breastplate over the legs. At both shoulders and at each side of the waist the straps that attached the front of the armour to the back can be easily seen. The quality of the iconic representation of the armour stands out. Given that this piece is less than life-size, the craftsmanship is excellent.

The use of the animals and the head of Medusa in the decoration has a long history in the military world. Athena herself, the Greek goddess of war, carried a shield decorated with this chthonic female monster. The felines, as happens with horses, are symbols of force, bravery and power.

In the ancient world it was common to find representations of military figures in sculptures or reliefs, with a detailed depiction of their armament either in fixed scenes (on state monuments, sarcophagi, votive altars) or portraying individual figures. The importance of the army in Roman society must not, however, be forgotten.

One of the most common sculptural typologies is the funerary stele with a representation of the deceased wearing the garments associated with his office or place in a hierarchy. The dead wished to have this condition made known, along with the honours received in the Roman army and the responsibilities held in this position, in a public monument where they could be eternally remembered. Usually one can make out, due to an accompanying inscription, or because of some detail of the armour, to which body the deceased belonged.


- ACUÑA P. Esculturas militares romanas de España y Portugal. I. Las esculturas thoracatas. Rome. 1975.
- DIXON, K.R. SOUTHERN, P. The Roman Cavalry. London. 1992.
- FRANZOSI, C. Habitus atque habitudo militis. Monumenti funerari di militari nella Cisalpina romana. Turin. 1987.
- FEUGÈRE, M. Les Armes des Romains. Paris. 1993.
- KELINER, D.E.E. Roman Sculpture. Yale University Press.1992.

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