Back To CourseAncient Rome Study Guide
6 chapters | 55 lessons
Emily currently is a substitute teacher, and has taught a variety of K-12 courses. She has a master's degree in Mythological Studies.
In the early years of the Roman Republic, the army was a volunteer, citizen army. Only Roman citizens could possibly serve at this time, as well. However, by the end of the Republic and into the years of the Roman Empire, the lands possessed by the Romans became so large that it became difficult to maintain this sort of army. Instead of signing up for specific lengths of time in the army, prospective soldiers now promised a certain number of years of service. While volunteers could still be accepted, many young men were now conscripted into the military, and many of them were not Roman citizens. As the borders of Rome expanded, the military had to rely on the men from the Roman provinces to serve. The only requirement at this time was that they were free citizens.
There were several layers to the typical armor worn by the legionnaires of the Roman military. It's estimated that the average legionnaire carried 60 to 100 pounds of armor and weapons. The first layer was the tunica, or tunic worn under all the layers of armor. A scarf, called a focale would also be worn to protect the neck from rubbing against the metal armor. Worn around the waist were two items. The first was a leather belt, called a balteus. The second was a leather apron with some metal plates, called a sporran. The actual functionality of the sporran is unknown. While pants or trousers were not typically worn, those soldiers traveling to colder climates sometimes wore a bracae, or skin tight wool or leather trousers that reached only to the knees. As for shoes, sturdy, leather sandals with iron treads, called caligae were worn. The third Roman Emperor, who often accompanied his father in the military as a child was given the nickname Caligula, meaning 'little boot.'
When it came to the outer-worn armor, the galea, or helmet is one of the most recognizable. It could offer protection to not just the head, but also the neck, and parts of the face. There were three types of metal armor worn on the chest. The first was the lorica hamata, or chain mail, which was flexible, but hard and expensive to make. The second development in armor was the lorica segmentata, or plate armor made of pieces of iron bound together. This too was expensive to make. Finally, there was the loricae squamatae, or scale armor, which was made of overlapping bronze or iron scales. Though this was the cheapest of the three, it was also the least flexible, making it not always a favored choice. The last piece of armor was the scutum, or the shield. This was made of several, thin layers of wood glued together, bound by bronze or iron on the outside, and covered with leather on the outside. Each Roman legion had its own color scheme and symbols on its shield to help identify each other, and each legionnaire often had their name on the shield.
There were three main weapons used by the Roman soldiers, each serving its own purpose. For long distance combat, a pilum was used. This was a long javelin, known for being fairly lightweight. It was roughly seven feet long, the last three feet being made of the iron point. The secondary weapon was the gladius, or short sword, from which the word 'gladiator' came from. The gladius was a short sword, roughly 18 inches long and double-edged. This could be used for close-range combat. As a last resort, there was the pugio, a small 7 to 11 inch dagger, used only if all other weapons were not available.
The Romans were also well known for having an incredibly systematic organization of their military. The default military formation for a legion involved having the cavalry ride along the front and side flanks of the rest of the legion. This was followed by two rows of five cohorts of heavy infantry. Behind them was a row of light infantry, and then the reserve forces. However, there were several alterations to this formation to adapt to different attack styles from the enemy.
The tortoise was a particular formation that did not involve changing the original layout, but altered the direction of defense. In this formation, a cohort's front row would hold their shield out in front of them, while all the legionaries behind them would hold their shield above their heads, thereby creating a makeshift shell to protect themselves from attacks from the sides or above.
The wedge was a formation in which the legionaries would form a triangle, with one man leading in the front. This was used to divide and direct enemies into small areas, making it easier to fight them at close combat. The gladius was the weapon of choice for this formation.
The saw was a line of soldiers, who could move quickly from side to side. They fought behind the front lines and would move wherever there was a gap in the area to fight off attackers. This was a good way to keep anyone from getting past the front lines.
There were many layers to Roman armor, however the main exterior armor could be one of three different types. The chain mail was flexible and strong, but expensive to make. The plate armor was somewhat flexible, but still expensive. The scale armor was cheap, but difficult to move around in, and not as strong. Roman soldiers also relied heavily on their scutum, or shield to keep them protected.
Three major weapons were carried by Roman soldiers. The pilum was a spear, used as the initial attack to pick off the enemy before they could get close. The gladius was the most used weapon, as it was a short sword used for close combat fighting. Finally, as a last resort, there was the pugio, or dagger, used only if one's other weapons were lost.
Several military tactics were used by the Roman Army. The tortoise was the most well-known as a strong defensive strategy. The wedge helped divide and force armies into hard places to fight from, and was a very aggressive tactic. The saw could help fill in gaps in the front line, preventing an enemy from getting too close to the main part of a legion.
To unlock this lesson you must be a Study.com Member.
Create your account
Did you know… We have over 79 college courses that prepare you to earn credit by exam that is accepted by over 2,000 colleges and universities. You can test out of the first two years of college and save thousands off your degree. Anyone can earn credit-by-exam regardless of age or education level.
To learn more, visit our Earning Credit Page
Not sure what college you want to attend yet? Study.com has thousands of articles about every imaginable degree, area of study and career path that can help you find the school that's right for you.
Back To CourseAncient Rome Study Guide
6 chapters | 55 lessons
Next LessonRoman Legion: Symbols & Flag