Etymology[ edit ] Sculpture of a Sasanian cataphract in Taq-e Bostan , Iran: One of the oldest depictions of a cataphract. The origin of the word is Greek. The term first appears substantively in Latin , in the writings of Sisennus: "loricatos, quos cataphractos vocant", meaning "the armored, whom they call cataphract". Vegetius , writing in the fourth century, described armor of any sort as "cataphracts" — which at the time of writing would have been either lorica segmentata or lorica hamata. Ammianus Marcellinus , Roman soldier and historian of the fourth century, mentions the "cataphracti equites quos clibanarios dictitant " — the "cataphract cavalry which they regularly call clibanarii " implying that clibanarii is a foreign term, not used in Classical Latin. However, it appears with more frequency in Latin sources than in Greek throughout antiquity.
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At Right - A model of a aquilifer carrying the Aquila Standard. Both displays are at the Museum in Dover, England. The Century, Cohort and Auxiliary units of a Roman Legion, carried several different styles of Vexilla banners , Signums and other types of "Standards" to identify themselves. They were decorated with garlands and sacred oils on special days and occasions. The honor of carrying these "Standards" was entrusted to veteran legionaries who generally were serving their extended enlistments after 20 years of service.
These standard bearers wore maile hamata armor instead of segmentata plate armor and generally are depicted wearing the heads and hides of Wolves "Lupae", Bears "Ursae", and in the case of a legion, maybe a Lion "Leo", over their helmets and armor.
This is thought to have been a demonstration of the dominance of Rome over the forces of nature. They generally carried a round "Parma" style shield in deference to the usual rectangular "Scutum". In the Castra fort or other unit encampment, the standards of the Legion and its Units were housed in the Shrine or Treasury portion of the Principia headquarters building; where they were guarded day and night.
The poles for the various standards would have a butt spike to allow them to be stuck in the ground and many had a handle or "grab" to extract them from the ground and to more easily carry them while on the march. Ludwig Lindenschmidt, who was an early authority on the history and activities of the Roman Legions in Germanic Europe. Note that the Vexillarius is wearing maile hamata body armor and a very impressive lion pelt over his helmet.
Bear ursus and Wolf lupus pelts were frequently worn by the standard bearers of century and cohort units. Note the Wolf Lupus skin worn over his helmet and ring-maile armor, and the round Parma style shield. A legion which lost its Aquila or had it fall in battle was disgraced.
The Aquila emblem generally had up-raised wings surrounded by a laurel wreath. It was mounted on a narrow trapezoidal base, which had horizontal stylized unicorns and lightening bolts extending from the sides.
Aquila legionis : cuadernos de estudios sobre el ejército romano.