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Roman Soldiers - Equipment

The formation of the army in regal times is not clearly stated in the authorities, who compare it to the Macedonian phalanx, a uniform battalion, although they at the same time say that the different classes had different weapons. Whatever the formation was, it was certainly greatly altered, probably under Camillus. After his time, the legion was drawn up in three lines,1 the first (of young men) called hastati, the second (of men at their prime) prindpes, the third (of middle aged men) called triarii or pilani. These names are evidently derived from some earlier arrangement, for, in this later region, the hastati had no hasta, the prindpes were not the front line, and pilani had no pilum. On the contrary, the hastati and prindpes (or antepilani) carried pila (javelins), while the triarii carried hastae (lances). Each line consisted of ten maniples, commanded by two centurions (prior and posterior), but the maniples of triarii were only half as large as those of the other lines.

  • 1. Hastati, or spearmen; young men who occupied the first line. The hastati wore a full suit of defensive armor, consisting of shield, helmet, breastplate, and greave. Their shield, termed scutum, was a rectangular piece of wood, covered with leather or with iron plates, exceeding 4 ft. in length and 2 in width, but so curved as partially to encircle the body. Their helmet was of iron (cassis); the breastplate was merely a piece of brass 9 inches square, covering the heart. But those who were rich enough to make the expense, had the lorica, or complete cuirass of chain-armor. In lieu of cuirass many had bands of metals fastened on their leathern coat across breast and back and on the shoulders. The greave (ocrea), of bronze, protected the leg below the knee.
  • 2. Principes, or middle-aged men, who occupied the middle line. The principes [derived from primi, first, because they originally occupied the front line] were in every respect equipped like the hastati.
  • 3. Triarii [so called, because, in the order of battle, they came third, viz, after the hastati and the principes]; veterans of approved valor, who occupied the third line. The triarti were in every respect equipped like the hastati, except that the latter, instead of pila (or spears) carried pikes (hastes), or long, heavy lances. The pikes, as well as the light and the heavy javelins, formed the characteristic weapons of the legionaries. At the bottom of the shaft was an iron shoe, so that, in camp or during a rest on the march, the spear might be set in the ground.
Besides these, there were,
  • 4. Vetites, or light armed soldiers; distinguished for agility and swiftness. The velites, consisting of the youngest and poorest recruits, acted as the skirmishers of the legion. For defensive armor, they were furnished with a plain headpiece of leather strengthened with brass (galca), and a strong circular buckler {parma) 3 ft. in diameter. Their offensive weapons were a sword and a light javelin (hasta velitaris). The sword {gladius) had a blade about 2 feet long and several inches wide; it was two-edged and pointed, and hung from a belt on the right side, the left being encumbered by the buckler. The shaft of the javelin was about 3 ft. in length; its iron point about 9 inches. This was hammered so fine that it was of necessity bent at the first cast, and therefore could not be hurled back by the foe. In battle, the velites were not drawn up in regular manner, but posted, as occasion suggested, in front or at the wings of the enemy. At the beginning of a battle the velites, skirmishers throwing light javelins, ran forward and retired through openings left between the maniples.
  • 5. Funditores, or slingers.
  • 6. Sagittarii, or bowmen.

The Army of Marius, having no occasion to distinguish age and census, was differently formed. In the first consulship of Marius, the legionaries ceased to serve at their own expenses. The legions were thrown open to citizens of all grades, without distinction of fortune. Then the pila and gladius of the legionaries were used in contradistinction to the hasta, and they were clothed, armed and equipped alike, all being now furnished with the pila and the same kind of heavy sword (gladius). The distinction of hastati, principes, triarii then ceased to exist; the velites disappeared, the skirmishers being included under the general term levis armatura, or light-armed troops, who consisted mostly of foreign mercenaries, such as the Balearic slingers (funditores), the Cretan archers (sagittarii), and the Moorish dartmen (Jaculatores). At times, however, and for special operations requiring great activity, detachments of legionaries were lightly equipped.

The ranks of hastati, etc., and the groups of maniples and centuries continued to be recognised, but the legion as a whole was divided into ten cohorts, each provided with a standard. The legion also now received a standard, a silver eagle (aquila), and, in Caesar's time, was distinguished by a permanent number. Each legion thus preserved its identity and began to have its own history. The cavalry, after the Social War (B.C. 89), was no longer obtained from Italy, but consisted entirely of foreign mercenaries, organised as before in alae.

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Page last modified: 09-07-2011 13:28:20 ZULU