The Roman Scutum was a shield that defined Rome as we know it. The Scutum was a rectangular, curved shield that actually existed prior to the Roman Empire. It was two and a half feet wide and four feet tall, and had a thickness of about half of an inch, tapering down at the edges. The Romans brought this shield into wide use, and its design made it more than just a piece of wood.
It was, in fact, quite a few pieces of wood. The Roman Scutum had a unique construction. Thin strips of wood were layered three deep, at right angles, to provide a type of plywood that was flexible, strong, and light. There was also no other way to make the highly curved shape of the shield.
The Scutum was almost a cylinder half, protecting the Roman soldier’s side and front. The extremely curved shape did have one disadvantage, however. A Roman soldier could not draw his sword across his body, as there was no room inside the tight-fitting shield. Because of this, the roman legionnaires would carry their sheath on their right sides.
The testudo was one of the most famous ways the Scutum was used. Testudo was the Latin word for tortoise, and that’s exactly what this formation looked like. The testudo formation consisted of a solid block of troops with every man pointing his shield outwards, and those in the middle holding them over their heads. This proved to be a very effective defense against arrows and stones, as well as a great siege weapon.
Just as the Aspis, the Roman Scutum served its makers well. The formations and tactics of the legions and their shields led Rome to more than one victory in the field.