This page cannot be viewed in frames

Go to page

If you have found a spelling error, please, notify us by selecting that text and pressing Ctrl+Enter.

Pilum murale

This post is also available in: Polish (polski)

Pila murale set up as a camp palisade.

Pilum murale it was a wooden pole, sharpened on both ends, which was used by a legionary.
It was used to finish the agger (embankment, earth embankment) surrounding the camp palisade. The name pilum muraleis often used, but it is a misnomer, meaning “wall spear”. Another valid word for such a pal was sudis (plural sudes) or vallus.
Usually, one soldier had two such stakes (plural pila muralia).

Each such pile was made of hardwood (usually oak), 150-180 cm long and 50-100 mm wide at its narrowest point. The narrow width in the central part of the pile raises the suspicion that the three piles could have been tied in this place like a spiky “hedgehog” and used as a very stable obstacle that could not be knocked over (as is the case with an ordinary palisade).

Pila muralia bound in the shape of a “hedgehog”.

One can only consider whether sudes was only used as palisades or perhaps as “crosspieces” (another name for “languages”). If such piles are tied in three and firmly embedded in the ground, it is very difficult to throw something like that off the shafts, and you cannot fall over. In addition, there is a danger of receiving damage from defenders when you try to do something like this in the heat of battle.

Experiments by Peter Connolly have shown that tying short stakes is not at all in their favour. Well, if the ground becomes soft, such a makeshift palisade can be destroyed with one strong kick, because one broken element causes “breaking” of others.
An additional issue is an issue of providing protection by such a low palisade. It can cause problems when crossing it, while it does not provide protection to defenders, which makes you seriously think about its use, because the basic function of each fortification is the protective function.

Continuing to compare the two uses: no matter how the entanglements are placed, they turn their sharp point towards the attacker every time. After breaking it, the palisade is basically useless.

In the Battle of Mons Algidus in 458/7 BCE between the Roman republic led by the dictator Lucius Quinctius Cincinnatus, and the Aequi, valli was applied on a large scale. Cincinnatus ordered each soldier to equip himself with twelve piles to build a fortification around an enemy who himself was besieging another Roman army. With this manoeuvre, the Roman commander turned the tide of the battle and defeated the Italian tribe.

Illustration showing the construction of the Roman fortifications of the camp made of poles, tied in the shape of a “hedgehog”.
Creative Commons Attribution license - On the same terms 3.0.

IMPERIUM ROMANUM needs your support!

Your financial help is needed, in order to maintain and develop the website. Even the smallest amounts will allow me to pay for further corrections, improvements on the site and pay the server. I believe that I can count on a wide support that will allow me to devote myself more to my work and passion, to maximize the improvement of the website and to present history of ancient Romans in an interesting form.

Support IMPERIUM ROMANUM!

News from world of ancient Rome

If you want to be up to date with news and discoveries from the world of ancient Rome, subscribe to the newsletter.

Subscribe to newsletter!

Roman bookstore

I encourage you to buy interesting books about the history of ancient Rome and antiquity.

Check out bookstore

Spelling error report

The following text will be sent to our editors: