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Roman military equipment

This post is also available in: Polish (polski)

Every soldier who entered the battle had to be properly equipped. Over the centuries, the development of Roman soldiers’ armament changed as in a kaleidoscope. However, it was really after the Marius’ reform the army of Rome gained importance. Perfectly trained, she also needed excellent equipment, which together with a talented soldier formed an impassable barrier.

Legionary from the beginning of the republic differed significantly from his colleague, for example, from the 2nd century CE. However, the changes mainly concerned the quality of individual elements, as well as the style of armament. The basic elements of armament have always been:

  • helmet (galea)
  • shield (scutum) first round, then rectangular; a small officer’s shield (parma)
  • armor – scale or chain mail armor (lorica hamata), then segmented armor (lorica segmentata). Armor consisting of a caftan and riveted rings (lorica storta), armor with steel scales riveted to a leather caftan (lorica squamata), segmental hand protection (< em> lorica manica) and very small tanks scale armor, intended for the command (lorica plumata)
  • heavy spear (hasta) or javelins (pilum)
  • short, double-edged sword (gladius); long, also double-edged sword (spat (h) a) used by Roman cavalry
  • sandals (caligae)
  • coat (sagum or sagulum), which was a rectangular piece of material or paenula (a form of Roman poncho with hood). The coat was typical Gaul clothing and was adopted by the Roman army.
Joseph Flavius​ wrote in the 1st century CE that every legionary carried in addition to weapons: a saw, basket, bucket, ax, leather belt, sickle, chain and a food ration that was supposed to last for three days.
License Creative Commons Uznanie autorstwa - Na tych samych warunkach 3.0.

As the military developed, the legionary’s armament was enriched with bows (arcus) and arrows (sagitae). In addition to them, a sling (fundae) and a crossbow (arcoballista) were used, which was pulled with a special instrument. Initially, they were used only by foreign troops, among which Cretan archers and Balearic slingers led the way. Later, these weapons were used by auxiliary troops.
During Marius’ activities, leggings (ocreae) were introduced, worn on the right leg, which were originally only worn by hastati and principes. During the Empire, the metal shin was replaced by leather or woolen, reaching half-calves. Feet were strapped up to the ankles.

Legionaries were additionally equipped with hoes (dolabra), shovel-pickaxes, and turf-picking shovels, in the shape of a crescent, placed on a pole. The Romans also had a device for marking out a grid of rectangles. It was called thunder. Thanks to this device, they were able to set out the plan of the camp, on the basis of which they built it very quickly. Such a device was found during excavation work in Pompeii. The aquila eagle was always kept by the 1st legion cohort.

The belongings of soldiers in sacks – dishes, a sapper blade and food supply were carried on a wooden bar called furca..

To maximize the flexibility of legions, as a result of Marius’ reform, soldiers were ordered to carry sacks (sarcinae) with cooking utensils (vasa), a shovel and several days of food (cibaria) outside their armor. The whole was complemented by parts of dismantled war machines.

Barbarization of the Roman army

In the 3rd and 4th century CE Roman units at the borders underwent a significant transformation, which fundamentally changed the character and appearance of the Roman imperial army. Mobile army units increasingly used horses to confront and fight off barbaric invasions. The widespread presence of soldiers outside Rome in the ranks of the army has led to the widespread use of Eastern and Germanic weapons, armor and combat methods.

Further evidence of the barbarization of the Roman army is evident in the changes in armaments and armor. The Roman offensive weapon in the form of light and heavy piles and gladius was replaced by a Germanic spear and a longer, straight, double-edged sword called spatha used by both infantry and cavalry. Although spatha was sharp for stab wounds, it was usually used for cuts, mimicking the preferred tactics of Germanic tribes. It was heavier than Gladius and was characterized by a well-developed and typical sword handle of medium length, thick and straight handguard and a head that would seem to be a reduced form of the handguard. Spathy’s blade was double-edged. Unlike gladius, adapted primarily for use in tight pedestrian formation under the cover of a large shield scutum, spatha better suited for riding and looser formation. Barbarisation also influenced the defense of the Roman soldier. By the beginning of the fourth century, Roman infantry had almost completely given up body armor. The Roman soldier’s protection was a shield whose round or oval shape was modeled on Germanic shields, and which completely supplanted the rectangular scutum. According to German practices, heavy riding still wore chainmail and metal helmets.

Due to gradual barbarization, the quality of armament in the Roman army clearly decreased, and the degree of training compared to earlier standards deteriorated. In this way, the legion we know from the times of the late republic and principate disappeared completely at the beginning of the 4th century CE.

  • Carey Brian Todd, B. Allfree Joshua, Cairns John, Wojny starożytnego świata: Techniki walki, Warszawa 2008
  • Szubelak Bronisław, Legionista Cezara: studium uzbrojenia, Częstochowa 1999
  • Żygulski Zdzisław, Broń Starożytna: Grecja, Rzym, Galia, Germania, Warszawa 1998

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