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Military reforms of Marcus Camillus

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Marcus Camillus

After plundering Rome, to meet different fighting styles, Roman generals made changes in the formation of tactical legions. Military reforms from the beginning of the 4th century BCE are associated with Camillus.

In order to obtain maximum tactical flexibility, the Roman army gave up phalanx completely in favour of manipulation. This flexible linear formation consisted of three classes of soldiers, and the criterion for this division was not only wealth but also age and experience. The quadrangle used by the Greeks was replaced by three ranks of heavy infantry. The first two (hastati and principes) were armed with javelins, a gladius sword and an oval shield scutum. The third and final line (triarii) consisting of veterans was armoured just like the previous ones but used classic spears. The poorest and youngest men served as velites. It provided cover for heavily armed and less mobile comrades-in-arms.

It is worth noting three new weapons massively used in the Roman army – pilum, gladius and scutum. These were very important innovations, largely decisive for the future successes of Roman legions.

The pilum was a perfectly constructed javelin with a long iron cave, probably of Etruscan origin. The legionary was usually equipped with two piles: heavy and light. The length of the larger pilum was about 2.1 m, of which about 70 cm was on the bench and the rest on the tree. The small blade mounted on the long neck was conical or pyramidal. The uniqueness of pilum was in the way of joining metal and wooden parts. Metal ending was fastened with a sleeve or hammer stick, which cracked during impact, preventing the enemy from reusing the pilum. In addition, after hitting a target (e.g. a shield), the long javelin neck easily bent or broke, restricting movement or forcing the enemy to discard the shield. A pyramid-shaped blade, sometimes with burrs, made it difficult to detach the pilum after hitting the target. The effective range of pilum throw was about 20-30 m, thanks to the additional ballast made of lead or cast bronze, which significantly increased the range and depth of penetration. The smaller pilum did not exceed 2 m in length and weight 1.5 kg, and therefore its range was slightly larger, which was why it was first ejected by the soldier during the battle.

Gladius, however, was a short sword of Celtic-Iberian origin. He replaced the sword of Greek origin xiphos. Its iron blade (about 60 cm long) was double-edged and ended with a sharp peak. The handle, on the other hand, had a spherical head made of wood or from a horn whose shaft was corrugated or enclosed in round rings, with a not too prominent box-like handguard. It was primarily intended for stinging and hence it had a characteristic long engraving. All gladius found are perfectly balanced.

Scutum literally meant “shield”. Initially, a round shield was used, which, however, was replaced by a much more durable and effective scutum. It was square and served to parry blows. It was a permanent inventory of soldiers from the 5th century BCE until about 150 CE, when it mainly served as a decorative shield of the praetorians. Its introduction was attributed to the legendary Camillus. The shield was large enough to cover the entire legionary’s torso and slightly convex, which in turn meant that the opponent’s blows slipped on an uneven surface.

It was 110 cm high, 66 cm wide and up to 2 cm thick. Scutum consisted of several layers of boards connected by beef glue, from the outside it was additionally covered with a layer of canvas and calfskin. A metal rim ran around the edges of the shield, protecting it from blows. In the middle of the scutum was an iron protuberance of umbo, which further strengthened the shield, while shielding the hand directly behind it. Under the umbo, from inside, there was a horizontal dipstick to embrace.

Sources
  • Axelrod Alex, Phillips Charles, Władcy, tyrani, dyktatorzy. Leksykon, Warszawa 2000

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