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A legionary's Basic Equipment
Grateful acknowledgement is given to Robert Gabisch, the Roman legionary reenactor and civic building modeler who is wearing the uniform shown at left, for the contribution of his time and expertise to this project
The well equipped Roman legionary on the left is a Roman infantryman from about the time of Emperor Trajan's reign
This is indeed an accurate portrayal of the late Republican and early Imperial legionary, but is by no means what all Roman soldiers looked like. Like any modern army, the Romans had their main body of infantry troops and also their auxiliary troops, their cavalry and mounted infantry, their bush fighters, and their desert warriors.
Regular deductions were made from the legionary's pay to cover normal wear and replacement of his equipment, similar to the deductions made for his burial expenses and the annual camp dinner. Curiously, in the case of "nail money" the situation was reversed and the soldier was given an allowance for worn boots.
In this article, we will try to discuss some of the equipment used by the basic infantryman of the Second Century A. D. as well as some of the variations encountered. Beginning with the soldier's basic equipment, we have:
- Steel or Bronze Pot Helmet (cassis) This example is probably a little bit more elaborate than the plain - jane model worn by most of the troops. However, Junior officers (optiones) and centurions might wear protective headgear almost as highly decorated as they could afford to purchase. Most infantrymen used the stock issue helmet provided by the quartermaster's department. The helmet being worn by the legionary in the photo is vaguely reminiscent of the salade types with their rearward protruding neck guard that date from the later middle ages.
- Segmented Plate Cuirass and Body Armour Given the name lorica segmentata by modern historians, thos form of steel plate armor was riveted together securely enough to withstand sword slashes yet with enough play between the plates that the armour would flex when the legionary moved about. this type of armour was much less expensive to fabricate than the fine chain mail that was more popular amongst the legions in the East.
- Long Curved Rectangular Shield or scutum This item is probably one of the most variable of the equipment items carried by Roman legionaries throughout the 1100 year existence of the Roman army in the West and the 1000 additional years during which Romaion or Byzantine military tradition held in the East. During the last century of the Republic and the first century of the Empire, the scutum was in general use. Even so, many units preferred either a large or a small round shield, and oval shields became popular during the later Roman Empire (A. D. 330 to 600). One advantage of this type is that they could be held edge to edge to form a testudo, which provided armored protection with good coverage for a group of men.
- Leather Walking Sandals These did not change much during the course of historical antiquity. Their open design premitted the feet to breathe on long marches. they were relatively easy to make and repair, unlike the formed leather boots adopted by European armies much later. It was the excessive wear caused by so much forced marching that led the mutinous legions to demand "nail money" upon the accession of the Emperor Tiberius. The money would ostensibly be used to replace the worn out sandals.
- Long Red Military Cloak This item of clothing kept the legionary warm in colder climates and helped keep the rain off during inclement weather. Its red color was also probably intended to identify him as a Roman in the dust and confusion of battle and inspire fear into the hearts of his enemies. The sight of a massive red juggurnaut headed relentlessly in their direction must have clamped a cold claw of fear around the heart of many defenders of rebellious cities and sapped their will to fight.
- Short thrusting Sword (gladius) Roman battle tactics called for close - ordered, disciplined troops fighting as a team as opposed to individual heroics as used by many of their enemies. There were no heroes or champions in Roman armies, only trained soldiers, standing shoulder to shoulder for twenty minutes at a time, methodically killing their opponents. When an occasional lucky stroke by a barbarian warrior brought down a Roman soldier, another of his brethren immediately stepped forward to fill his spot. When the twenty minute period of killing was finished, the legionary fell back and rested, to be replaced with a fresh man.
These kinds of tactics called for a short thrusting sword instead of the long one used for slashing. The Roman gladius was 18 to 24 inches in length, double edged, and parallel sided. The last few inches of blade tapered to a point and the grip was terminated on the back side with a large ball shaped pommel. A short, powerful thrust going a few inches into a man was much more deadly, though less dramatic, than the wide, energy wasting slashes made by an individual warrior showboating in front of his buddies.
- Medium length Throwing Spear or Javelin (pilum) This is another standard weapon that almost defines the Roman legionary. The medium weight iron head was connected by a long, thin neck to either an iron socket into which the wooden shaft was fitted, or the metal was extended backward into a thin tang which fitted into a socket in the wood. The main point (No pun intended) is that the hardened head of the pilum would penetrate the enemy shield and the soft neck would bend over. Removing the head of th4e pilum from the shield would take too much time, so both pilum and shield were then thrown away. At this point, the enemy warrior had only two and a half choices left: He could turn around and run like a rabbit, hoping that a Roman scouting party was not waiting for him to do just that. He could let out a bloodcurdling scream and go bare sark like the Vikings much later and run up and try to brain one or two Romans with his sword before being skewered himself. In this case, maybe his buddies would sing sagas about him around the campfire on cold Winter evenings, telling of his brave deeds while the Romans celebrated Saturnalia in their camp, laughing about what a numb skull he was. Choice number two and a half is he could look around the battlefield for a shield not pierced by a pilum, perhaps dropped or thrown away by one of his buddies. He could pick it up and dust it off, and walk coldly and deliberately towards the Roman lines. He could then kill two Roman soldiers, one for his fallen/fleeing buddy, and one for himself, to make up for the embarrassment of letting him get close enough to a pilum equipped Roman soldier to get his shield pierced.