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.
"Kite" or "Heater"
Shields are some of the oldest defensive devices ever. They are simple, smart, and easy to make, and we still use them in many modern applications. Helmets, breastplates, and greaves are a few ancient personal defenses, but shields are the oldest.
In the case of shields, it is difficult to determine the very first use. It was probably a day or two after the first use of the club. Caveman One hit Caveman Two, and all of a sudden Caveman Two needed a way to defend himself. Since that time, shields have changed shapes and sizes, but the original concept is still the same.
The vast majority of shields were constructed with the same material: wood. Although there are records of shields made with various types of metals, it is quite understandable that any type of metal might get more than a little heavy. On top of the wood was usually some type of covering, be it cloth, leather, or paper, that could be painted to decorate the shield.
In the late Roman Republic, new cultures and new people were determining the character of the Roman army. One of the new cultures, the Germans, brought their own swords into the army, and it soon took over the territory formerly claimed by the Gladius. Formerly, the Gladius had been the standard issue sword, but the Spatha, initially used as a cavalry sword due to its length, soon became the new standard.
The Spatha was roughly three feet long, and skinnier than the Gladius. In all other characteristics, however, it was very similar to the later Pompeii type of Gladius, with a straight edge and small guard. It remained as the standard-issue sword used by both cavalry and infantry until the end of the Roman Empire.
The gladius, a well-known Roman symbol though it may be, was not initially Roman. Its origin is in the Iberian area, or modern-day Spain. When Scipio invaded Spain, the Roman soldiers under his command came in contact with the sword, and soon the use of the gladius hispanica spread to other units in the army. Marius soon made it the standard issue Roman sword.
The Gladius was approximately 27 inches long, and is commonly split into two types. The first type, the Mainz variety, was wasp-waisted and existed during the first century BC. The second type had a straight blade and was called the Pompeii. It had a straight blade and was used after the first century AD.
With the growing Roman Empire came new people, new cultures, and new weapons. Germanic soldiers soon brought their longer swords into the mix, and in the fourth century AD the Gladius lost its place as a standard sword. It was replaced by the Spatha, a longer sword first used by the cavalry.