The Scutum

by Daniel Russ on January 14, 2010


Re-enactments Of Roman Formations

Polybius describes the Roman Shield in  Histories “The Roman shield is a curved outward surface of which measures two and a half feet in width and four feet in length, the thickness at the rim being a palm’s breadth. It is made of two planks glued together, the outer surface being then covered first with canvas and then with calf-skin. Its upper and lower rims are strengthened by an iorn edging which protects it from descending blows and from injury when rested on the ground. It also has an iron or copper or brass protuberance fixed to it which turns aside the most formidable blows of stones, pikes and heavy missiles in general”.

Roman Maniple

The oval shield was refered to as the Republican Shield was only gradually replaced with the rectangular or Imperial shield. Curved, rectangular shields were made of strips of overlapping wood, carefully steamed and then curved to fit one layer over another. Over this as placed leather or brass. The umbo on the front in some legions was spiked and itself could be used as an offensive weapon.

On the inside was a handle that the legionnaire held in one hand while he wielded his pilum or gladius in the other.

The shield was light and could be carried over long distances, and it was optimized in a curve to deflect blows or projectiles like arrows and rocks and darts.

Scutum were used not unlike the hoplite shields, groups of legionnaires in a line could bring them together in a phalanx and provide good protection from most of weapons of the day. When you think of a shield that’s four feet high, and two and half feet wide, and the legionnaire carrying it wore a brass or copper helmet, and had metal shin guards as well, the front line of a Roman maniple provided a great deal of armored protection.

Shields often bore painted symbols. Sometimes the symbol was a unit designation, sometimes it was religious iconography.

One thing is for sure, for almost four centuries, a line of Roman shields in front of you meant a bad day ahead.

Scutum Made A Phalanx As Well

Source: Wikipedia, Bing, Polybius’ “Histories”


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