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By: Shawn M. Caza
The belt was perhaps the most important symbol of a Roman soldier. In some ways it was even more important than armour or weapons which, unlike the belt, were not used on a daily basis. Only Roman soldiers, and some civil servants, wore decorated belts. The belt was so important to the Roman soldier that it was considered a serious punishment to deprive a soldier of his belt, or even his right to wear his belt.
The Roman military belt was known as the balteus until the third century AD when it began to be called the cingulum or cingulum militare. From the second century the term balteus was used to refer to the shoulder strap, or baldric, from which the sword was suspended. As Stefanie Hoss notes (2012), the term balteus therefore might have referred to whichever belt the sword hung from, thus changing as the belt configuration changed. The term balteus is commonly used today to refer to Roman belts of all periods regardless of its anachronism.
Figural representations from the late Republican period show that soldiers used a variety of different belts. Sword and dagger could be hung from a single belt or the sword could be hung from a baldric (shoulder strap) while the belt was hung from a waist belt (as seen on the Arc d'Orange). Few belt decorations are known from this period. It is possible that most Republican era belts were in fact undecorated, or at least unadorned with metal fittings.
During the Augustan to Neronian period (circa 27 BC - AD 68) soldiers are almost always portrayed wearing a pair of belts; one for the sword and one for the pugio (dagger). These belts cross over one another in so-called cowboy fashion. Interestingly, the dagger belt was often more lavishly decorated than the sword belt. Belts were decorated with large rectangular plates which usually had stamped or engraved designs often with niello and silvering. An "apron", consisting of several parallel straps, often hung down from the centre of the pugio belt. The apron straps were usually decorated with narrow plates, studs and small pendants.
Around the middle of the second century the sword waist belts began to be replaced by baldrics (shoulder-straps). These were introduced to carry the new spatha type of sword. The spatha was much longer than the earlier gladius sword. It was in fact too long to use easily from a waist belt, hence the introduction of a shoulder-strap which allowed the sword to be carried much higher.
Despite the introduction of the baldric for the sword Roman soldiers continued to wear a waist belt though it now was only for decoration and to hold smaller items such as a dagger or knife and a money purse. The aprons soon disappeared. These waist belts were narrower than first century belts and narrow solid, or openwork, belt decorations, including the so-called Celtic trumpet style and belts with letter-shaped mounts spelling out words (such as VTERE FELIX), predominated. These belts were usually split at the end into two parts, each with a narrow metal terminal. The baldric was also decorated with openwork phalerae, terminals and pendants.
These styles continued to be used during the so-called crisis period (circa AD 235 - 284) though a new wider belt was introduced fastened a large ring-buckle, or a squarish frame buckle. These belts, which retained the split end and dual terminals, soon came to dominate the period.
During the Late Roman period (circa AD 270s - mid-5th century) wider belts prevailed. These belts were usually so wide that they required stiffeners, most typically the famous propeller-shaped mounts. They also had large terminals. By the early 5th century many belts had grown to over 100mm wide. The chip-carved style of decoration appeared in Germanic areas in the later 4th century AD and spread through Roman-held lands.
Leather from belts or straps rarely survives except for a handful of examples in museum collections. These have been found in either bogs, where the leather has been preserved by the anaerobic water-logged conditions, or in deserts, where it has been preserved by the extreme dryness. The few surviving leather pieces show that the leather was usually only oiled or waxed instead of being tanned like modern belt leather. Roman belts would thus have been much softer than modern belts. Paintings reveal that the belt leather could also be dyed; red was a common colour.
Unlike the original leather, the metal parts of belt sets survive easily and are common finds, though full sets are rare even in archaeological contexts (Hoss, 2012). These parts include:
● buckles: fitted to one end of the belt, they were existed either alone or were attached by hinges or a metal loop to a decorative plate,
● decorative plates: attached to the belt by studs or rivets,
● studs: small simple studs, often with little or no decorations, attached to the belt,
● hangers: loops or rings, sometimes on the lower part of a decorative mount, sometimes simply attached to the bottom edge of the belt, used to hang objects from,
● terminals or strap-ends: attached to the opposite end (or ends) of the belt from the buckle, or to the bottom of a strap which hung off the main belt,
● pendants: decorations that hung from a belt or strap via a loop or hinge.
From the 1st to early 2nd century AD Roman military buckles were D-shaped and were attached by a hinge to a square plate. There were two loops on the side of the buckle for this hinge. These loops were generally set far apart during the Augustan to early Flavian period (circa 27 BC - AD 79) but were set closer together during the later Flavian to Hadrianic period (circa AD 79 - 138). The buckles were often fairly ornate with internal volutes and fleur-de-lys form tongues. They are known as "Saalburg" type buckles. A variant, known as "Varian" or "Kalkriese" buckles, had flat wide bows, thick scrolling and a wide tongue and date from the early 1st century AD. The buckle-plates often had stamped or niello decoration like the contemporary belt plates.
Image: Two early Roman buckles. On the left is a typical high quality sword-belt buckle from the Augustan to early Flavian period (late 1st c BC to 3rd quarter of 1st c AD). The buckle is attached to the remains of the plate by three loops. While two loops is more common three is typical on higher quality buckles. Little remains of the plate though the fleur-de-lys shape tongue is in perfect condition. The buckle ring on the right lacks tongue and plate. It is slightly later in date as can be seen from the fact that the two rings that mount the buckle to the plate are set wide apart. It dates to the Flavian to Hadrianic period (late 1st - early/mid 2nd c AD).
From the Antonine to Severan period (circa AD 138 -235) the buckles were D-shaped with a triangular or rectangular loop at the back. Instead of being hinged to a decorative plate the plates of the time had a thin tongue of metal which was folded through the loop on the back of the buckles and riveted to the rear of the belt. The buckles with a triangular loop are known as "Dura-Europos" type, those with a rectangular as "Osterburken" type. The earliest examples of this type retain the internal scrolling, or volutes, of the 1st century D-buckles and have a trapezoidal loop which starts right at the base of the buckle. They date from the early to mid 2nd century. The more common later type dispense with the scrolling and the loop is set further from the base of the buckle. Small examples of these buckles were probably for spurs, shoes, or other straps instead of for belts.
Image: These Dura-Europos type buckles have a D-shaped main ring with a triangular loop at the back. The form dates to the Antonine to Severan period (mid-2nd to early 3rd c AD). The buckle on the left has both internal and external volutes typical of the earlier examples (mid-late 2nd c AD). The example on the right is much simpler and has the remains of an iron tongue. It should be noted that buckles similar to the one on the right also date to both the early Medieval period and the late medieval period.
Image: Two Osterburkenstyle buckles attached to openwork buckle-plates. These buckles are variations of the ones shown above. The loop behind the buckle-ring is rectangular and not triangular. The example at top has internal volutes on the buckle and a plate with fretwork design. The example on the bottom has punch-work decoration on the buckle. The internal volutes have shrunk and become animal heads with punch-work eyes. The plate has Celtic trumpet style openwork design and a fancy vegetal-design end. In both examples a thin bronze sheet was fitted through the buckle loop and folded over on itself. The leather of the belt would have been 'sandwiched' in this strip. The openwork plate is riveted to this strip, and thus through the belt. Both examples are complete, including the two rivets. Both date to the Antonine to Severan period (mid-2nd to early 3rd c AD).
Huge ring buckles were used from the early- to mid-3rd into the early 4th century. Many of these ring buckles were plain though some had a loop, or indentation, in them. These indentations are found in many forms: square, triangular, rosette or ring. These buckles were used on belts that divided near their end into two narrow strips, each of which ended in a terminal. The plain loop buckles were fastened by looping the leather through the belt and then fastening it to the belt leather, some distance away from the loop buckle, with a fungiform stud. The buckles with indentations were fastened by sliding a tall double-fungiform stud, attached to the belt leather, into the extension loop on the buckle. Some sources instead label these large rings with indentations as fibulae though Roman carvings show that they were used as buckles. A variation of the ring buckle was the square frame buckle which was also used with the two belt ends. Like the ring buckles these buckles had no pin. Instead the belt ends went through the loops on each side.
Image: Large ring buckle. The indentation, with slot opening for the fungiform stud, is semi-circular in shape. This decoration is silvered and is adorned with small grooves around the edge and two external volutes. It dates to the 3rd century AD.
Image: A broken square double-loop buckle. This buckle originally had a rectangular loop at each side. One end of the belt passed through each loop. The middle section is decorated in openwork with a pelta-form design with eyes. The entire buckle is silvered and appears to have been made from a billon (high silver content) alloy. It dates to the early-mid 3rd c AD.
From the late 3rd into the 5th century buckles consisted of D-, oval- or kidney-shaped loops hinged to a square or circular sheet-metal plate. The earliest type appear to be D-shaped loops attached to square plates, Sommer type 1.C.A. They date from the 270s to the mid 4th century and are said to be common in Gaul, Italia and the Danube regions (Redzic, 2009).
The next type, dating to circa 340 - 370, had a kidney-shaped loop with a round plate, Sommer type 1.A.B. They are common in Gaul and the Danube region. A type with a D-shaped, or even roundish loop and a round plate, Sommer type 1.A.A, are nearly contemporary, dating to 340 - 380. They come largely from Pannonia. Finally, a type with kidney-shaped loop and square plates, Sommer type 1.C.B, appears to date from 350 - 400. They are from Rhaetia and Pannonia. Several of these types were used into the 5th century although dating is more difficult.
Unlike earlier Roman military buckle-plates these late Roman plates are made from thin sheet metal. They may be plain or decorated with incised lines, punched dots, or chip-carving. Rarer types include heart (possibly bollocks) shaped plates, usually with round buckle loops; triangular plates (often openwork), with D, kidney or rectangular buckle loops; and square openwork plates with D or rectangular buckle loops. The buckle loops were sometimes decorated with animal head motifs after 350.
Image: Five late Roman plate buckles.
The top-left has a D-shaped ring and square plate. There is incised decoration on the edges of the plate. It has both rivets remaining though one is damaged. It is type Sommer 1.A.B or Soupault 1B/I2a and likely dates from the late-3rd - mid 4th c AD.
The bottom-left has a kidney-shaped ring and a square plate. This buckle is larger and sturdy. The ring is think and is hexagonal in cross-section. It has two flat-head rivets. It is type Sommer 1.C.B and likely dates to the late 4th - mid-5th c AD.
The top-middle is the same basic style though two corners of the plate are broken. One rivet remains.
The bottom-middle has a narrow D-shaped ring but is otherwise similar to the other examples with D-shaped rings. It has two flat-head rivets.
The right example has a D-shaped buckle made of twisted square cross-section wire and a small square plate. The plate has a stamped inter-locking circle and star design. It is type Soupault /I2a and dates to the mid 4th - early 5th c AD. The design is typical of Romano-Gothic items and might indicate a Goth in Roman service.
Image: Three more late Roman plate buckles.
The left example is a kidney-shaped buckle with tongue but lacking plate.
The middle is a kidney-shaped buckle attached to small square plate with scalloped end. It has two small flat-head rivets. The buckle ring is very thick making this a heavy buckle. It is Sommer type 1.C.B and dates to the late 4th - mid 5th c AD.
The right example is a round buckle ring attached to an oval plate. It is two rivets though the top of one is broken. It is type Sommer 1.A.A and dates to the mid to late 4th c AD. This design is typical of Germanic groups though is also associated with Roman sites.
These plate-buckles may have been of Germanic origin - they were certainly used throughout the German lands as well as the Roman Empire. While many of the buckle loops were made of simple round wire some, especially Germanic ones dating to circa AD 380 to 420, were decorated with animal head designs. Dolphin and lion buckles are common in Britain and Gaul and are sometimes found attached to openwork plates.
In the mid-5th century buckles with wide, flat D-, round-, or oval-shaped loops and long, wide tongues began to appear. These Barbarian origin buckles were used into the post-Roman period.
Image: Two late period Germanic buckles. The very large buckle loop on the left lacks the tongue and plate. It was clearly for a very wide belt. It dates to the mid-5th to 6th c AD and is typical of finds from the Hunnic Confederation and the Gepids. The tiny buckle on the right is complete except for one rivet missing from its plate. Given its size it was for something other than a belt - possibly a spur. The round ring with round plate design was introduced in the very late Roman period. However, the tongue, which is round in cross-section and extends slightly over the en of the ring, is typical of Germanic buckles. It dates to the 5th c AD.
Roman military belt plates changed shape, width and decoration on a fairly frequent basis making it possible to assign them to specific periods. Many of these plates were simply decorative - though they likely also played an important role in stiffening and strengthening the belt. However, some plates served special purposes. They were attached to the buckle (buckle-plates) or had loops or hooks on them to hang or suspend items from. The decoration style of the plates was usually carried over to the entire belt set - terminals, pendants, etc.
Late Republican belt-plates, which are very rare, are wide (circa 40 - 45 mm) and decorated with simple embossed or incised designs - usually concentric circles, rope-like designs or cross-hatching. They were usually attached to the belt by four dome-head rivets.
Though some 1st century AD belt-plates were undecorated, or plain except for tinning/silvering, most used one of the three main decoration styles.
Image: Fragment of a possible early Imperial incised belt plate. This item is the right size for a plate. No exact parallel is know from literature though there are few documented plate from this era. It has incised design which appear to have culminated in a circular central medallion. There are five holes at the existing end, presumably for attaching the plate to the leather. It is 41 mm wide (tall). It likely dates to the Augustan - Claudian period (early - mid 1st c AD).
The second style consisted of plates made of thin metal with much more complex stamped decoration - most commonly the Wolf and Twins (reproduction below with selected tinning), a Hunt Scene, or the Emperor's Bust, often between Crossed Cornucopiae.
Image: Modern reproduction of a Tiberian era belt plate with embossed image of the Wolf & Twins motif.
The third style consisted of belt plates that were tinned/silvered and then engraved with geometric or vegetal designs which were filled in with niello (a black paste made from silver sulphide). This style dates roughly to the mid-1st century AD. Bishop and Coulston place it in the Tiberian to Neronian period (circa AD 14-68) while more recently Fischer has placed it to the Claudian to Flavian period (circa AD 41-98).
Image: Belt plate with silvering and niello decoration. This plate was silvered and then had an incised vegetal design which has been filled with blank niello. It was attached with four rivets. All four heads remain, and the copper colour of one can be seen. It is 32 x 56 mm. It dates to the mid 1st c AD.
The first two styles were used on wide plates, often almost square, while the third style was used on narrower rectangular plates (25-32mm wide). All of the plates were usually attached to the belt with four rivets. However, the rivets were flat and usually flush with the plate instead of the domed Republican era rivets.
Rare styles used in the late first, or more likely early second, century AD includes rectangular plates with large rectangular openings which were filled with a separate plate of either openwork or enamel work; and, large plates with enamel work.
Image: Two large belt plates. The left example has a rectangular opening which may have once been filled with an enamelled or decorated plate. It has two pins on the reverse for attachment to the leather. The right example has one pin remaining. It has shallow cells that were once filled with enamel. Traces of dark blue enamel remain in some cells. They are 39 and 36 mm wide. They date to the late 1st - early 2nd c AD.
During the Antonine to Severan period (circa AD 138 to 235) belt plates became long and thin to fit the narrower belts (15-20mm wide) in use during this period (after the switch to the baldric for the sword). There were four main decoration styles in use.
The first style consisted of solid rectangular plates, some with a long rectangular centre hole, often with peltate or other complex-shaped lugs at the ends. This style flourished in the second half of the 2nd century AD.
Image: Two solid rectangular belt plates. The top example has a channel or groove down the centre. As the iron rivet layout shows it was asymmetrical. The flat end was possibly also the belt end. The bottom example is flat and might have been silvered. They are both 24 mm wide. They date to the mid-late 2nd c AD.
The second style consisted of solid rectangular plates with enamel or millefiori decoration. This style flourished in the mid-2nd century AD. (It is possible that some plates that are plain today once had enamelwork attached to them.) These fancy decorated items were likely privately purchased by Roman soldiers. According to noted Roman historian A.H.M. Jones (Inflation under the Roman Empire, 1953) army pay in the 2nd and early 3rd c AD was quite good. Soldiers has roughly 1/3 to 1/2 of their annual salary of 12 gold Aurei to spend on whatever they wished. This marks the height of disposable income in military salaries in the Roman era. I believe that such wealth among the soldiers likely stimulated the fabrication and sale of luxury items such as enamel and millifiori decoration and even solid silver items.
Image: This small retangular enamelled plate with lunate ends is typical of the mid-late 2nd c AD. Traces of possibly dark blue enamel remain. It has two pins on the back for attachment to the belt. It is 17 x 50mm.
Image: This small oval enamelled plate was likely from a belt but might have been from a piece of horse harness. Traces of enamel remain. The knobs likely projected above the enamel providing a copper coloured contrast. It has two pins on the back for attachment to the belt. It is 21 x 30 mm. It dates to the mid-2nd - early 3rd c AD.
The third style consisted of rectangular plates with geometric openwork designs, often with scroll-work or pelta-form ends. This style flourished from the mid- to late-2nd to the early 3rd century AD (circa AD 150/175-220/235). Related types are openwork amphora-shaped belt decorations which date to the second half of the 2nd century AD and the Hare and Hound type also from the 2nd century AD. Squarish plates with some openwork holes in them, often four kidney shaped holes, are likely another variation of this type.
Image: Four openwork belt plates. The two on the left have simple rectangular openings but fancy ends. Each was attached to the belt by two rivets. They are 22 and 24mm wide. They date to the mid-late 2nd c AD. The two on the right are simple rectangles with complex fretwork. Though neither are complete the vegetal design of the fretwork can be seen. Each was attached to the belt by four small rivets at the corners. They are 26 and 31 mm wide. They date to the mid-2nd to early 3rd c AD.
Image: A small rectangular openwork belt plate with pelta-form ends. At 40mm x 20mm this could have been attached to a belt vertically or horizontally though horizontally is far more likely in this era. It dates to the mid-2nd to early 3rd c AD.
Image: A squarish belt plate with four kidney-shaped eyes. At 32 mm wide this type was for a slightly wider belt than the long rectangular types. It dates to the mid-2nd to early 3rd c AD.
The fourth style consisted of asymmetrical plates with Celtic Trumpet style designs (including the "Klosterneuburg" type). This style flourished from the mid-2nd to the early 3rd century AD (circa 150-225/235).
Image: Five pieces of Celtic trumpet design belt decoration. All date to the mid-2nd to early 3rd c AD.
The middle bottom is a broken example of the Klosterneuburg type. It is 24 mm wide and was attached to the leather by integral pins and not rivets.
The middle top is made of lead. While it might be an item for use it is more likely a model for casting bronze examples. It has three large mushrom-head pins on the reverse for attachment to the leather. It is so large that it might have been for horse harness instead.
The right hand example is not a regular belt plate. Two lugs of a hinge can be seen at the top. It might be a terminal pendant. However, given the rivet hole at the bottom it might be a belt plate that was placed horizontally on the belt and that attached via the hinge to a buckle - in other words a Celtic trumpet work buckle plate. It is 18mm wide.
Image: A tear-drop openwork belt plate. These items were possibly used as terminals at the end of the belt. They have been found with Celtic design and other openwork plates and date to the mid-2nd to early 3rd c AD. It is 24 mm wide.
In addition, smaller solid plates in other shapes were used on belts during this period. These include domed round plate with several fungiform studs on the reverse and lenticular plates with either fungiform studs or a loop on the reverse (these two types date to circa AD 140-275), and pelta-form plates with two fungiform studs on the reverse (circa AD 150-300). Small rectangular bars with lateral ridging - the so-called caterpillar mounts - also date from this period. It is not clear if these plates represent a separate style or whether they appeared among the other plates - especially the first two styles.
Image: Small scallop, or pelt, plates for belts of horse harness. Dated to 2nd - 3rd c AD.
Image: Reverse of scallop plates with integral fungiform pin.
Image: Three simple bar mounts, or stiffeners. The right example is a so-called "caterpillar mount". It is unclear if these are to be dated mid-2nd to 3rd c AD or to the late Roman era of wide belts - late 3rd - 4th c AD.
From the late 2nd to the mid 3rd century lettered belt sets, especially the famous VTERE FELIX type, were popular. They are most common in the middle and lower Danube regions and in Dacia. These sets consisted of individual letters which were attached to the belt with rivets on their reverse. The most common type actually spelled out FELIX (buckle) VTERE when the belt was worn, though (buckle) VTERE FELIX when the belt was off. Other words or phrases exist including MNHMWN, LEONTI or LEONI, LEG III CYR, PRIMA, and variations of VICTORIA or VICT, though such sets are much rarer than the VTERE FELIX set. These belts were usually quite narrow, circa 25-35 mm wide, and split before at the end into two narrow straps each of which ended in a narrow terminal. The type flourished circa AD 190-230.
Image: Six letter plates (or fragments) from Roman "letter belt" sets. The first four letters (F, E, L, V) are from VTERE FELIX sets (see image below). Note that the E has a hanger loop on it making determination of which place it has in the wording simple. The E and F are 28 mm tall, though the E is 38 mm tall with the loop. The right hand two letters, found together, come from a different type of "letter belt" set, likely one related to VICT or VICTORIA. The V and C are 29 mm tall (the serifs add to the height which otherwise looks smaller than the F and E).
Image: Reverse of the letter plates showing the integral pins for attachment to the leather. Though most letters have two pins the C has three.
Image: Four letter plates from VTERE FELIX belt sets displayed on a diagram of the proper layout of the belt. (Diagram by SM Caza 2013.)
Beginning in the second quarter of the 3rd century many belts became broader and had a large ring buckle or frame buckle. These belts also split into two tapering ends each fitted with a terminal. To close the belt a fungiform stud, fixed in the belt, was slid into the buckle extension. The narrow strap ends of these belts varied in form and could be teardrop, heart, pear, ring, phallus, triangle, ring-pommel and even shaped like a beneficiarius spear-head.
Finally, during the Late Roman period (circa AD 270s through the 5th century) belt width varied greatly (circa 20-105 mm) though many belts appear to have been 50-75 mm wide. These wide belts were reinforced with as many as 10 tall metal stiffeners, usually in the form of a propellor, though sometimes in the form of a simple bar. Propellor stiffeners, which originated in Pannonia, were most common in Constantinian era (roughly the first half of the 4th century AD) though they lasted into the 5th century when they got taller for the wider belts. Propeller stiffeners were held on with two to six rivets. They could be decorated with a ring in the central circle or have a central spine or ridge. These belts were not split but ended with fairly heavy terminals (heart/bollocks, amphora or circular shaped).
Image: Eight propellor belt stiffeners. From left, are:
Tall with central ridge, four rivets, mid-late 4th c AD, 68mm;
Lead casting model, wide with ridge, 4th c AD, 42 mm;
Plain round design, three rivets, 4th c AD, 33 mm;
Ring and dot circle, two rivets, first 1/2 of 4th c AD, 37 mm;
Top - plain round, two rivets, early - mid 4th c AD, 27 mm;
Top - ring and dot circle, two rivets, early - mid 4th c AD, 22 mm;
Bottom - matched pair, starburst in circle with central "dimple", two rivets, early - mid 4th c AD, 26mm.
The buttons or studs with a fungiform head on both sides appear on belts in the mid-2nd century AD though many are associated with the huge ring buckles (see under Buckles above) dated to the last three quarters of the 3rd century AD. Small studs or rivets were used on apron straps (see under Apron Decorations below).
Small studs in other forms - round, rectangular, square, scallop shaped, lugged, rosette, cruciform, lenticular, etc. date to the 2nd - 3rd century AD and come from belts as well as equine harness.
Image: Six double fungiform studs (i.e. each end widens in a mushroom shape). While some might be simple decorative studs or to fasten unknown objects to leather, most were likely associated with the large ring buckles. Dated mid-late 3rd - early 4th c AD.
Image: Side view of the six double fungiform studs shown above.
Image: Miscellaneous studs associated with belts or horse harness. The left example is oval with lateral ridges and may be related to the caterpillar type. The middle is a trefoil design consisting of the semi-circular domes. The right is a tear-drop with knob at the bottom. The first has a loop on the back indicating it was used on a narrow strap. The other two have two pins each.
Image: Seven lenticular belt or strap plates or studs. The right hand four have pins for attachment to leather and may have been horizontal on a narrow strap or vertical on a wider belt. The left hand three have loops on the back and were therefore on narrow straps. For belts or possibly horse harness.
Image: reverse of the seven lenticular plates or studs shown above. The attachment loops and pins are shown.
Some belt pieces included loops at the bottom and were meant to hang items from. Button hangers are simple devices that were fastened to the lower edge of belts in order to attach a hanging object. While almost all button hangers have a round button at the bottom, the shape of the upper part - mounting ring - varied. Hangers with a round mounting ring date to the 1st century AD while those with a triangular mounting ring date to the late 1st to 2nd century AD. Not all of these items came from military belts as they were also used on horse, and perhaps cart harnesses.
Image: A button hanger with triangular mounting ring. Late 1st - 2nd c AD. This small example is more likely from a belt than from an item of horse harness.
Image: Side view of the button hanger illustrated above. The form, with round button to hang items from, can be seen.
Another type of hanger found on some later Roman belts consists of a small round ring attached to the centre of a small sheet metal rosette.
In addition, some decorative belt plates have small loops on their lower side which act as hangers. Example of early openwork, late openwork, and letter-style belt plates are known with such loops.
Image: Two openwork belt plates with suspension loops. The plate on the left has delicate fretwork. The plate was attached to the belt by four small rivets. Traces of one remain while the other three holes are visible. The plate on the right has two kidney-shaped eye-holes for design. It was attached to the belt by two slightly-larger rivets, both now missing. Both plates are complete and date to the Antonine to Severan period (mid-2nd - early 3rd c AD).
Terminals / Strap Ends
It is not clear what kind of terminals were used on the ends of belts during the 1st and early 2nd century AD. It is possible that many belts had no metal terminal and simply ended in a leather point. The narrow strap ends of the 2nd - 3rd century may also have been used on belts during the 1st century.
Peltate and lunate terminals, often openwork, were used on 2nd century belts. Other 2nd and early 3rd century belts ended in a squarish openwork belt plate.
Image: These plates have a flat end with a slight lip on the reverse on one end, and a scalloped end on the other. The flat end may have formed the end of a belt. It is also possible that these are a kind of baldric terminal for baldrics that did not incorporate a hanging pendant.
However, once belts began to be split into two ends from the mid 2nd century each end had a narrow terminal - usually a pendant on a hinged strap-end. These terminals were used in pairs and were usually identical. The most common form was the narrow tear-drop which was in use circa AD 150/160 - 250/300. These items are often reported as 1st century apron strap terminals however, they are found in graves with buckles and belt plates dating from the mid 2nd to late 3rd centuries. Other, much rarer, terminal forms included heart, pear, ring, ring and extension, phallus, triangle, ring-pommel and even beneficiarius spear-head.
Image: Four tear-drop terminals. The leftmost example is attached to a folded bronze sheet that was riveted to the belt end. The next was riveted directly to the belt end. The right two were suspended from their loops. Three of the four are round in cross-section while the other is flat. While it is possible that these are apron strap terminals from the 1st c AD, it is more likely that they are belt terminals from split-end belt of the mid 2nd to late 3rd c AD.
Image: Five smaller tear-drop terminals. Only one is round in cross section, the other four are flat. All have suspension rings on top though one is broken. It is much more likely that these are terminals from split-end belts of the mid 2nd to late 3rd c AD than apron strap terminals of the 1st c AD.
The later, wider belts of the late 3rd through to 5th centuries had more substantial strap-ends. Amphora shaped terminals appear to be the earliest of these late Roman terminals and date from the (possibly late 3rd century) early to mid-4th century AD (especially 335 - 365). The round terminals and heart terminals (which were likely actually intended to be bollocks shaped according to Laycock in Appels and Laycock) appear to have bega slightly later. These strap ends were usually riveted to the end of the belt though they could also be hung by a hinge or fixed with a simple loop. The latest types were decorated in chip-carving style.
Image: A pair of amphora belt terminals. The left example is the traditional amphora type. It was fitted to a plate at the end of the belt by a hinge at its top. The remains of the iron hinge pin can be seen. It is 51 x 21 mm and dates to the early-mid 4th c AD. The right example is a transitionary piece between the traditional amphora type and the round type. It is split at the top to take the belt leather, which was secured by a rivet (remaining). It is 40 x 19 mm and dates to the mid 4th c AD. Both were once silvered.
Image: A pair of round belt terminals. They are nearly identical. Both have a split at the top to take the belt leather, which was secured by two rivets. The rivets are not visible on the left example as they are on the other side though the rivet ends can be seen. Both are 37 mm long. One is 22 mm wide, the other 25 mm. They date to the mid-late 4th c AD (i.e. later than the amphora type). It is not clear if they were silvered. The hole in the circle might have been decorative as there looks to be no sign of wear. However, it is possible that something was hung from it.
The difference in pendants and terminals is slight. Terminals are fitted at the end of a belt whereas the term pendant is used for a similar device that might have been hung below a stretch of belt or a strap hanging from the belt - in other words not at the end of the belt. Pendants are common in equine harness but relatively rare on belts.
"Nail-cleaner" pendants are dated to circa AD 200-300. It is not certain if the hung from the end of the belt as a terminal or hung from a hanger loop on the belt. Their end is toothed (two or three) and was used to clean dirt from nails (and undoubtedly for dozens of other tasks too).
Image: Nail cleaner type pendant. There are the remains of a broken loop at the top. This may have hung from a loop on the belt or alternatively acted as a belt terminal, especially on the split narrow end belts of the 3rd c AD.
During the 1st century, and into the 2nd century, aprons were frequently used with military belts. They were usually attached to the pugio (dagger) belt. These aprons usually consisted of between 4 and 8 straps (some carvings show as few as two straps while as many as nine straps are seen on at least one carving) which hung down, parallel to each other, from the front section of the belt. The resulting apron was for decoration, and to make noise, and served no protective purpose.
Each strap could be decorated with up to 16 studs or small plates. These small apron-strap decorations could be round, square or rectangular. The rectangular decorations were likely used on the upper part of the straps and known examples are up to 14-15 mm wide and 20-30 mm long. There are also some rarer diamond shaped plates. The round decorations were used on the lower part of the straps. Round studs are usually 14 - 18 mm in diameter and thus appear to be slightly larger than the straps themselves. A surviving strap from Moguntiacum (Mainz) is 13.5 mm wide. Some straps may have been wider as some 40-45 mm diameter round studs have been attributed to apron straps.
Image: Small rectangular decoration for the upper part of an apron-strap. It was silvered and the engraved pattern was filled with black niello, a tiny bit of which remains. Two bronze rivets attached it to the strap. It dates to the mid-1st c AD. It is 40 x 9 mm.
Some apron strap studs were made of plain metal while others were silvered. However, fancier decorations were also used. Niello decorated apron decorations were used with niello decorated belts. Rivetted studs with stamped decoration - often the head or bust of an Emperor - were also used and date to the Flavian to Trajanic period (circa AD 69-117).
Image: Six flat studs. Studs like these, with integral pins on the reverse, have been found as parts of aprons straps. The middle bottom still has silvering. The two smallest have pins that are longer than usual and might have been attached to other items such as wooden boxes. They date to the 1st to early 2nd c AD.
Image: Reverse of the above studs. Note the middle top example on which the integral pin has been peened over two washers.
The apron straps usually ended with a narrow leaf or a lunate-and-circle strap-end. The leaf style was likely used throughout the apron era while the lunate-and-leaf style appears to date from AD 50 - 100. Note: There is some debate about what the common narrow diamond or teardrop strap-ends really are. Some sources, including Bishop and Coulston, indicate that they are early Imperial (1st century AD) apron-strap terminals, while other more recent sources, including Radman-Livaja, believe that they are strap-ends from the split tails of mid 2nd to 3rd century AD belts. This latter explanation is more likely as they are appear to be more typically found in 2nd and 3rd century contexts.
Image: These items may be apron strap decorations from the 1st c AD, including two with loops and one with tear-drop terminal. However, it is possible that they mid 2nd to 3rd century belt terminals, or even, in the case of the rectangular items, late 3rd to 4th century belt stiffeners.
Image: Reverse of the above plates showing the wide-head pins.
Sword baldrics were used beginning in the middle of the second century. At first the baldrics may have been fairly thin (20-30 mm). However, by at least the Military Crisis period (circa AD 235 to 284) wider sword baldrics were used (40-50 mm wide). These were frequently decorated with open work phalerae, terminal plates and hinged ivy leaf, or pelta-form form terminals. Baldric phalerae were usually round and were attached to the baldric with a ring on their reverse or a cotter-pin. The rings were either cast as part of the same piece as the phalera or were a separate piece riveted through a hole in the centre of the phalera. Cotter-pins were fixed through a hole in the centre of the phalera. Some phalerae had a Celtic trumpet design and were clearly used with belts bearing plates with the same style.
Image: An openwork phalerae (strap decoration) from a baldric. It was silvered and dates to the mid to late 2nd c AD.
Image: The reverse of the baldric phalera. This example was attached to the baldric by cotter-pin, not by the more common loop and rivet method.
Image: Four baldric terminals. These were attached to the end of the baldric. All date from the mid-2nd to early 3rd c AD.
The leftmost example is complete except for the hinge loops at the top. It was hung from a plate at the end of the baldric. It consists of a simple design with internal and external volutes. It is thick and heavy and was silvered.
The next example appears to be made of billon and was silvered. It consists of a more detailed openwork design. There are two pins on the reverse which indicates that it might instead have been mounted to the fabric at the end of the baldric (in an inverted position to that shown here). Another terminal would then have hung from its hinge, which is complete.
The third example has the remains of the hinge lugs at the top. It was silvered.
The rightmost example is similar to the last though with fancier fretwork. It too has the remains of the hinge lugs at the top. It is made of silver and would have likely been for an officer of some sort.
Image: This copper-alloy item is 44 mm in diameter and a full 4mm thick. The inner circle was inlaid with millifiori glass inlay consisting of small squares with a blue and white checkerboard pattern. The outer ring with beige enamel (likely once either white or pale yellow) with a blue pattern consisting of pine trees (or palm leaves) over eight-rayed stars. Such millefiori and enamel work likely dates to the mid-late 2nd c AD. There is a 2.5 mm hole in the centre. The item was therefore likely fixed to something with a single rivet. At 44mm it is wide for a belt decoration though that is possible. It might have been horse harness decoration although it is doubtful in that case that anyone would have got close enough to see the fine details. It might have been a phalera from a sword baldric, as they came into use in the mid-2nd c AD, although I can find no mention of any enamelled baldric phalera.
Image: This copper-alloy item is 30 mm in diameter and 3 mm thick. It has a small loop at the bottom (?) and a vertical loop on the reverse to attach it to a 15mm wide strap. The inner circle and outer ring are decorated with dark blue millifiori glass with a white spiral design. The middle ring is brown (likely originally red) enamel with three small white dots. The vertical loop on the reverse strongly implies that it was meant for a horse harness strap though like the item above it would then be hard for most observers to see the details.
Image: Four strap plates or sliders. One is round, one diamond/oval and two round-faceted. They were likely for a horse harness strap though could have been used on any narrow strap.
Image: The reverse of the above plates showing the loops to hold them on straps.
The images below are of belt ensembles or sets. They consist of items that would have been worn together, though not necessarily of items found together.
Image: An early Imperial set with Kalkreise type buckle and silver and niello decoration plate. This set dates to the first 1/2 of the 1st c AD.
Image: Ring buckle belt °įset°Ī with ring buckle, dual fungiform-head stud and two narrow teardrop hangers for the split belt end. It is not known what, if any, plates were used on these belt types. This set dates to the Military Crisis period of the 3rd c AD.
Image: A late Roman set with D-ring and sheet-plate buckle, short propeller stiffeners and an amphora terminal. The set would be used with a narrow belt. This set dates to the mid-4th c AD.
Image: A late Roman set with kidney-shaped ring and sheet-plate buckle, tall propeller stiffener and round terminal. Despite the buckle and terminal this set would used with a very wide belt. Very few wide belts had wide buckles, must had smaller buckles on plates like this type. The belt tapered at the end to the terminal. This set dates to the late 4th c AD.