With the term “apron”, we usually define the leather stripes hanging below the cingula. We completely ignore the original term for this piece. For the sake of this article, we will call pteryges the leather stripes which constitute the “apron” – just like the stripes in organic material hanging from Roman and Greek armours.
The “apron” originates from the division of the end of the belt – the part which passes through the buckle – in multiple stripes which were left hanging on the front. Then, the decorative emphasis placed upon these accessories led to realize them as a separate and additional piece of the belt, becoming much larger and more showy.
The leather pteryges were usually made out of leather, decorated with metal strap-ends and studs along the entire stripe lenght, and sometimes they were jointed to a rectangular plaque, probably made out of metal.
Of merely one of this pteryges we know an actual specimen, found in Mainz (Germany).
Being actual and more complete finds lacking, for the reconstruction of the “apron” we must rely heavily on sculptural evidence.
From the visual source, we could deduce that the “apron” could be attached indifferently to the gladius’ cingulum or to the pugio‘s cingulum, if both were present. It’s impossibile to say for sure how it was attached to the belts.
However, some representation lead us to the conclusion that the “apron” was a completely indipendent accessory: in fact, if the belts are usually angled, the “apron” and its rectangular plaque is perfectly vertical. This could be impossible, if the apron was directly attached to one of the angled cingula.
In at least a stelae, belonging to the soldier Largennius and dated 9-43 AD, the “apron” is clearly positioned under the buckles of both the cingula: it was very clearly a separated piece.
As already mentioned concerning cingula and the suspension system of side weapons, the look and use of the “apron” were determined by fashion and personal taste. We can therefore identify trends, but not strict rules.
We can indentify three main types of “apron”.
The “apron” constituted by the terminal stripes of the belt hanging on the front appeared at the beginning of the 1st century AD until the beginning of the 2nd century AD.
More or less in the same period, we can find the fashion of passing such pteryges on the belt itself, so making them “shorter”. The use of wearing the “apron” behind the military belts was mostly typical of the first half of the 1st century AD.
The lenght of the pteryges was subject to fashion and taste too. Under the reigns of Tiberius and Claudius they were quite long, while after this period they were usually shorter. The “apron” totally disappeared during the 2nd century AD.
M.C.Bishop – The early imperial “apron” ; Journal of Roman Military Equipment Studies 3; 1992.
Replicas we used in our reconstruction (click to see):