Long before modern military engineers came upon the idea of using armored vehicles to protect soldiers from enemy fire, the Romans had developed armored divisions of their own. When attacking a fortified town or a heavily defended enemy position, the Roman legionaries would arrange their shields to form a box covering their heads and all sides. This tactic was called the testudo, meaning tortoise in Latin. They could then advance through a hail of arrows or sling stones to overrun the enemy in his position. Moving the shields apart just enough to allow their swords to poke through, the Romans used the same stabbing technique that they found so effective in regular battle. Because they did not slash with their swords but would thrust and stab, they did not have to leave much of a space in their shield wall. It must have been a fearsome sight indeed for native warriors in Gaul or Persia or northern Thrace who were not used to the cooperation of disciplined warfare and preferred individual heroics. It was not until the coming of heavy mounted cavalry and well-designed saddles with stirrups that an effective way was found to attack the testudo.
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