Greco-Roman armour and 'body building'

May 2013
360
UK
Forgive me for these incredibly weird questions, but I was playing Rome II another day and something just came to me:

Some chest-plates featured in Greek and Roman armies are rather uhh... well defined in showing off the chest and abdominal muscles (don't know why it stood out to me suddenly, maybe it's saying something... :rolleyes:).

Several questions just poped in my head then (note that I know pretty much next to nothing about Greek and Roman armour, so some questions may be very stupid):
1. Most importantly, are they real?
2. How common are they?
3. Is there any advantage to getting an a piece of armour that supposedly 'skin-tight'?
4. More importantly were people back then that well toned? (somehow I'm skeptical)
5. If yes, then how does 'body-building' work back then?
6. Regardless of the answer to 4. or 5., they must have some knowledge about these muscles, how much do they actually know about human physiology (in terms of muscles at least)?

Looking at contemporary statues they seem to have a pretty good idea of how a well toned man looks like, but how many people back then actually lived up to those shapes?
 
Last edited:
Jan 2014
1,905
Florida
The muscle armor doesn't show the wearers actual body. The shape of the muscles is how the armor was made, not an actual reflection of the user's body. It was designed to look fearsome and make the wearer look extra strong.
 

caldrail

Ad Honorem
Feb 2012
5,325
In terms of human physiology, the greeks had learned a good deal about it. Both the greeks and Romans were well aware of the human form and what was a fit athletic appearance. Roman medics were invariably greek, but not all knew anything about medicine (there were plenty of quacks and con merchants around). The Graeco-Romans had picked up a good deal of working knowledge of how to treat wounds from combat, but the rest of their medicine was as full of misconceptions and superstition as anyone else.

Armour is never 'skin tight'. That would cause considerable discomfort.
 

Ichon

Ad Honorem
Mar 2013
3,710
Wrestling and athletic competition separate from military training was very popular in most ancient cultures and also many people were more active than in modern society so probably there were more individuals who matched the toned look which is mostly natural human muscle seen on people with low body fat. Athletes could be minor celebrities in Greece for performances in the Olympics or even regular meetings between towns/villages etc so there was fierce competition.
 

BenSt

Ad Honorem
Aug 2013
4,565
Canada, originally Clwyd, N.Wales
The armour reflected for the Greeks the idealized shape. Because the Gods were viewed to be perfect, the armour of warriors was made to give them that somewhat perfected look I imagine. Plus, I imagine it also had a psychological effect on the enemy, you see warriors coming at you wearing armour that made them look strong and muscular then it might demoralize them.

Jusdfing by the wiki article, they highly muscled look was more for dress and state occasions...as our modern soldiers would have a uniform for state occasions and parades that is more ornate and tigher fitting than their combat fatigues.

Muscle cuirass - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
 

dreamregent

Ad Honorem
Feb 2013
4,346
Coastal Florida
4. More importantly were people back then that well toned? (somehow I'm skeptical)
Actually, I think they were. Life back then was a lot more demanding, physically. What I'm skeptical of at the time was an obesity epidemic. Sure, if you were rich enough to sit on your behind or you were a scribe, maybe there was a greater chance of it but, otherwise, I think the populace was pretty healthy.

5. If yes, then how does 'body-building' work back then?
I don't think everyone was necessarily a body builder but organized athletics have been known for at least 5000+ years. And, outside of that, I'm absolutely certain folks were aware of the effect of physical activity on their bodies. Wrestling was depicted in Old Kingdom egypt:





6. Regardless of the answer to 4. or 5., they must have some knowledge about these muscles, how much do they actually know about human physiology (in terms of muscles at least)?
Their understanding of human anatomy & physiology was well past the muscles. Greeks and Romans were well-apprised of Egyptian medicine, which they built upon. There are extant papyri demonstrating the extent of knowledge known by the Egyptians as far back as the mid-2nd millennium BC...and those papyri are copies and/or revisions of older documents which have been lost. From [ame="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_anatomy"]the history of anatomy[/ame]:

The study of anatomy begins at least as early as 1600 BC, the date of the Edwin Smith Surgical Papyrus. This treatise shows that the heart, its vessels, liver, spleen, kidneys, hypothalamus, uterus and bladder were recognized, and that the blood vessels were known to emanate from the heart. Other vessels are described, some carrying air, some mucus, and two to the right ear are said to carry the "breath of life", while two to the left ear the "breath of death". The Ebers Papyrus (c. 1550 BC) features a treatise on the heart. It notes that the heart is the center of blood supply, and attached to it are vessels for every member of the body The Egyptians seem to have known little about the function of the kidneys and made the heart the meeting point of a number of vessels which carried all the fluids of the body – blood, tears, urine and semen. However, they did not have a theory as to where saliva and sweat came from.[2]
 
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May 2013
360
UK
Thanks for the reply everyone, very helpful .

Perhaps I've worded the question slightly wrong, I didn't think people would be obese or anything, I was just under the impression that to have a body that is implied by the body armour I would imagine one has to go through some specific exercises to achieve (looking at training regimes nowadays), perhaps wrestling with other men all day long *wink* is all you need to get a body like that! :)
 

Naima

Ad Honorem
Jun 2014
2,323
Venice
Fitness was extremely popular in ancient times in Rome , where it got the connotation more similar to the modern one than the religions one from greeks .
They used several gym tools that are still today used like the Roman chair and weight lifters.
 

dreamregent

Ad Honorem
Feb 2013
4,346
Coastal Florida
Thanks for the reply everyone, very helpful .

Perhaps I've worded the question slightly wrong, I didn't think people would be obese or anything, I was just under the impression that to have a body that is implied by the body armour I would imagine one has to go through some specific exercises to achieve (looking at training regimes nowadays), perhaps wrestling with other men all day long *wink* is all you need to get a body like that! :)
It's not just the wrestling. I think a career of back-breaking labor was much more of a norm than it is today. For the most part, we can only get a body like that by working for it in the gym because, for most of us, we don't do anything strenuous, work-wise. Back then, daily work was generally much more strenuous for a huge percentage of the population. I'd say the further you go back, the more strenuous it was.
 

Ichon

Ad Honorem
Mar 2013
3,710
If you ever visit poorer region of the world where people don't eat much but work hard you'll see many toned bodies. Not necessarily well muscled in the sense of modern body builders but with low body fat.

Wrestlers in ancient eras did specific exercises to increase strength which also often increased bulk as well ate special diet if training for competition. Most warriors would also do some wrestling training just as modern fights often end up on the ground the person with better skills would usually be the victor.