Author Archives: cincinnatus458

The Roman Scutum: An “Approximation”

In the beginning I set out to build my best approximation of a Roman scutum. It was going to be exciting to learn something about the evolution of Roman tactical equipment while also getting to use power tools. I soon found that making an exact look-alike would be difficult.

An original shield would have been made of plywood and would have been bent by hand.  Due to time and resource constraints, I decided to craft my shield from polystyrene foam.  This is the kind of hard foam that is used for insulation.  Once I had purchased a block that was four feet long, two feet wide, and 2 inches thick, I proceeded to carve it.  At the start, I tried using an orbital sander.  The filter of this tool quickly clogged with foam particles.  Because of this, I was forced to carve the convex part of the shield the old-fashioned way, by using elbow grease.


(Here you can see the foam during the sculpting process.)

It felt like Christmas while I sculpted the front of the shield with a sanding block.  Small pieces of foam clung to me and everything else they came in contact with.  I modeled the convexity of the front by looking at pictures of replicas and a recovered shield on the Internet.  Due to the thickness of the foam, the scutum I made only had about 1/8 the convexity of the real shield that Roman heavy infantrymen carried.  After about four hours of sanding, I had the shape that I desired.  It was then time for the back.


(The foam was everywhere. Including in my ears.)

My longing to use power tools was finally satiated when I sculpted the handle in the back of the shield.  The handle was traditionally made of wood and located in the center of the shield. Because my scutum was so thick, I only carved the handle half of the way through the foam.  To accomplish this, I used a dremel tool.  This made the job much more quick than when I sculpted the front with sanding block.  Next, I moved to the central boss.

My boss would not be as deadly as the metal one on the real scutum. This was because it was made of hollow foam, from the floral department of the local craft store.  The installation of the eight-inch half sphere was incredibly easy.  Once it was installed it only took a few coats of paint to make the shield look like a brand new scutum, ready for action.  Some recovered scuta had ornate paint jobs, but due to my lack of artistic ability, I went with garnet for the body and bronze for the boss and  “metal” strips around the edge of the shield.


(The finished product.)

Through the process of making my shield I had the opportunity to learn about the evolution of Roman military tactics. The fabrication also gave me a chance to get back to my inner craftsman. Although I enjoyed the process, material and time constraints seriously limited the authenticity of my scutum. It seems that in the end, “approximation” was the correct word.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

The Roman Scutum: A Revolutionary Design

Movement in to maniples, during the 3rd century BC, called for a more independent Roman swordsman.  He needed to be able to take sole responsibility of protecting himself in open combat, against more free-fighting adversaries.  With the soldier’s evolution came the adaptation of his shield.  The composition and components needed to acclimate to the changing tide of warfare.  His shield would need to give him a new dimension of lethality while also doing its job in protecting the soldier.  This need gave rise to the scutum, a simple yet effective design that the Roman Army used during the end of the republic, all the way through 300 AD.

Making the scutum strong enough to take repeated sword blows, yet light enough to be carried over long journeys was a challenge.  Either oak or birch constituted the body of the shield.  Birch was considered because of its flexibility, while oak was utilized because of its tight grain, which made cutting through it harder (Matyszak 60-61).  Three thin layers of wood were glued together at right angles.  The plywood made from this process and a strip of iron or bronze around the outside gave the shield the strength it needed to protect its holder from the blows of heavy swords (Matyszak 61; Sage 71). It also kept the scutum light for long marches, at about 15 pounds (Kelly, et al.).

The scutum was rectangular in shape and very convex.  It was built to dimensions that would better cover a soldier’s body as he was fighting.  Ideally, the scutum would cover an infantryman from shoulder to knee and be wide enough so that he would not be seen when crouching behind it.  This means that the shield was about 48 inches tall and close to 28 inches wide (Sage 71).  So convex was this shield, that there was a 26-inch gap behind its face (Guttman). The curvature lent protection from the sides while charging and from a stationary position. With the plywood composition, this design made the scutum an amazing defensive tool.


(Cristian. This is a picture of a Roman turtle formation from Trajan’s Column. Here you can see the rectangular shape of the Roman soldiers’ shields.)

The large round hoplite shields of the phalanx had seriously limited the Roman soldier while on the offensive.  The round shield had an awkward handle that made it useless for anything other than protection. Two sleek adaptations allowed a legionary to insert his shield into his offensive arsenal.  One is that the handle was both horizontal, and built into the shield.

When adding wooden reinforcing strips to the back, the shield maker would cut two small semi-circles in the center of the shield body. Doing this created a bar in the middle that allowed the shield to be held overhand like a suitcase handle (Matyszak 61).  This grip style gave the wielder some versatility in what he did with the shield.  It allowed him to bring the shield up sharply in defense against a sword.  Offensively, it allowed the soldier to punch out with the shield as if it was a big fist (Matyszak 61).  Legionaries often did this to knock their opponents to the ground and jab them with their sword (Kelly, et al.).  Something that allowed a soldier to pack a little more punch into his wallop was the central boss of the shield.


(Kelly, et al. This is a shield that this researcher believes to have been found at Dura Europas. The piece of wood in the middle of the hole is the handle.  The space would have been covered by a metal boss to protect the soldiers’ hands)

The boss was made of bronze or iron to match the metal-bound edge (Kelly, et al.). It was attached to the center of the shield over the horizontal grip to protect the hand from sword blows.  Often the bosses were round or came to a point.  This added to the offensive lethality of the shield (Guttman).  During a punching motion, a sharp pointed boss could puncture through the armor of an enemy and kill him or leave a large open wound that would almost certainly become infected.  Together, the handle and the central boss allowed a legionary to add some offense to his defense.

As the battlefield opened up, the Roman shield had to adapt to allow its user to survive.  Maniples forced the soldier to fight more as an individual.  Because of this, the scutum changed its shape and its composition.  The rectangular shape and taller dimensions kept a legionary safe during the course of the battle.  The special handle and the metal boss at the center helped the soldier use his scutum on the offensive. The combination of these defensive and offensive adaptations allowed the shield and the legionary to survive and thrive for many, many years.


Works Cited

Cristian, Chirita. “Roman turtle formation on Trajan column.” Photograph. Wikimedia Commons. Wikipedia:  23 Feb. 2013. Web. 1 April 2014.

Guttman, Jon. “Roman Gladius and Scutum:  Carving out an Empire.”  Weider History Group:  13 Aug 2010. Web. 9 April 2014.

Kelly, Patrick, et al. “The Shield:  An Abridged History of its Use and Development.” Ed. Patrick Kelly., 2012. Web. 23 March 2014.

Matyszak, Philip. Legionary:  The Roman Soldier’s Unofficial Manual. London:  Thames and Hudson, 2009. Print.

Sage, Michael M. The Republican Roman Army: A Sourcebook. New York:  Routledge, 2008. Print.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

The Roman Scutum: An Evolution

According to the theory of evolution, an organism must adapt or die.  Much like evolution, types of warfare and equipment must change.  These changes must be made to ensure survival of the organism, which in this analogy, is an army.  The army of the early Roman Republic understood this law and changed, or adapted, their techniques to survive in an ever-changing world. Their transition from a phalanx unit into maniples was necessary for the army to survive against more loose-fighting adversaries.  Like one gene that changes a whole organism, the Roman tactical adaptation set in motion many changes.  One of these was the change in the soldiers’ shields.

From the 10th through 7th century BC the shield of the armies of Rome closely resembled that of the Etruscans, with whom they were almost continually fighting. The shield was a large, round, convex, and made of wood.  This made it very heavy. It also had a very unique grip (Sage 15). The strength of this shield was the way in which it was used.  Its unique grip rendered it very awkward for single combat but made it near impossible to breach in a tight formation (Sage 14).  It was made this way because the Etruscans, neighbors to Rome, fought in a phalanx.  Romans evolved their earlier shields into something similar in order to defeat the Etruscans at their own game.


(Nguyen. This is a depiction of the large hoplite shield.  It is easy to see how it could cover the man next to the holder)

A phalanx was a tight, rectangular formation of men.  Men in the phalanx were trained to move as one.  This allowed them to push back enemy troops and always protect their comrades’ sides.  The large round shield of these warriors allowed a soldier on the right to cover the right side of another soldier on the left (Sage 15).  Every combatant did this, and together they formed a line of protection around each other.  On even ground, the soldiers were always able to cover their fellows while advancing against and battling foes.  However, fighting on uneven ground proved not as effective.

When on uneven ground the soldiers of the phalanx were often forced to fight on different levels from one another.  This meant that they were unable to cover each other as effectively.  In the 5th century BC, Rome used round shields because their fighting against the Etruscans, on even ground, allowed them to utilize the phalanx.  As their adversary changed, around the 3rd Century BC, the Romans were forced to fight on more hilly and mountainous terrain (Sage 63).  Their adversary, the Samnite mountain tribes, understood how to fight on uneven ground.  Their fighting was more loose and single combat centered (Rosenstein 151).  Seeing this, the Roman Republican Army chose to once again adapt to survive.

From this decision came the advent, or evolution, of maniples.  On mountainous terrain, a large phalanx was unable to maneuver.  Manipular division of men solved this problem.  A maniple was a smaller, more maneuverable group of soldiers.  The fighters were also more spread out. Each troop occupied six feet of space, which was about double what he had occupied in the phalanx (Rosenstein 143).   This new space demanded a evolution of equipment; it called for a revolutionary rectangular shield (Rosenstein 144; Sage 64).

In the maniples, soldiers were asked to fight more as individuals rather then a solid unit (Sage 71). Their new shield needed to be lighter than the round shield of old and needed to provide more protection for their whole body.  This means that it would be held easily in one hand (“Scutum…”).  The new shield needed to be made out of slightly different materials and different dimensions then those of old. The Roman army had to adapt their equipment once again in order to defeat their enemy.


(Cichorius. This is a relief of Trajan’s column.  One can see the Romans, with their rectangular shields, fighting spread apart from each other)

The evolution in Roman battle technique and equipment was essential to the state’s survival.  Shields utilized by the Roman army were adapted to be the best fit to defeat their adversary.  Phalanx warfare called for a larger shield to protect more than just one soldier.  Movement into maniples necessitated the need for a new breed of shields.  This version needed to be more mobile and agile.  When utilized right, its design became the standard for the Roman Republican Army and would be utilized for many centuries to come.


Works Cited

Cichorius, Conrad. “The Reliefs of Trajan’s Column.” Photograph. Wikimedia Commons. Wikipedia: 3 Nov. 2008. Web. 5     April 2014.

Nguyen, Marie-Lan. “Hoplite wearing his shield with a dog decoration. Attic red-figure eye-cup, 500–490 BC. From    Chiusi.” Photograph. Wikimedia Commons. Wikipedia:  20 Sept. 2008. Web. 5 April 2014.

Rosenstein, Nathan. “Armies of the Roman Republic.” The Ancient World at War:  A Global History. Ed. Philip de Souza.   London:  Thames and Hudson, 2008. 139-155. Print.

Sage, Michael M. The Republican Roman Army: A Sourcebook. New York:  Routledge, 2008. Print.

“Scutum (shield).” Wikipedia. Wikipedia:  17 Dec. 2013. Web. 5 April 2014.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Blog 1 Death From Above: The Persian Bow

During the time of the Achaemenid Dynasty, Persians were able to conquer most of the known world.  Persian leaders, such as Cyrus, fought to conquer and control land and people from Ionia in Asia Minor, South to Egypt, and as far east as present day Afghanistan.  Instrumental in the Persian’s conquest were their weapons and battle tactics.  One of these lethal weapons was the Persian Bow.  With a range of around 500 feet—almost two football fields—the armies of the empire of Persia were able to rain down death from above.  Although they often took 18 months to manufacture, the Persian bow and the two major innovations it contained, was well worth the wait (“Iranian…”).


(Mshamma. Persian archers in ceremonial robe. The smaller size of their composite bows allowed for easier traveling.)

One of the contributors to the lethality of the Persian Bow was the fact that it was made of composite materials.  The bow had a wooden core.  Strips of horn were glued to the belly, while sinew was attached to the back.  Both of these measures were meant to reinforce the weapon. This technique was so effective, that it allowed the bows to have the same amount of power as much larger weapons of the same nature.  It packed a great amount of power in only a 48-inch frame (Dwyer and Khorasani 3-4).

Perhaps the best advantage to the Persian Bow was in its recurved design.  Traditional long bows of other periods were only a long, bent piece of wood.  The major drawback to this was the fact that the resistance was the same all the way through the draw.  Persian craftsmen bent the ends of their bows back towards the grip (as seen in the picture below). This, like its composite make-up, allowed the bow to pack more power than a traditional long bow.  More importantly, this innovation made it so that there was less resistance on the string the father back it was pulled. Tired archers were given a great psychological advantage and were allowed to stay deadly despite fatigue, because of this decrease in draw pressure (Dwyer and Khorasani 5).

Figure 1

(Dwyer and Khorasani. “Figure 1.”  The signature curve of the Ear (Guse) of the bow is what made it so easy to draw)

 Though the composite nature and the special curves of the bow gave it deadly capabilities, it would have been nothing without the arrows to go with it.  Perhaps the most important part of the weapon set, the shafts of the arrows were often made out of wood or reeds, the simplest of materials.  Reed material was preferred because it had great strength for how light it was (Dwyer and Khorasani 5).  The arrows were tipped with bronze or iron heads to pierce the armor of the Persian opponent (Shahbazi).  Together, the Persian Bow and its complementary arrows were a match made in military heaven. They truly were a destructive force that enemies both feared and respected throughout the Persian conquest.



Dwyer, Bede and Manouchehr Moshtagh Khorasani. “An Analysis of a Persian Archery     manuscript written by Kapur      Cand.” Revista De Artes Marciales Asiaticas 8.1 (Jan-June 2013):  1-12. EBSCO. Web. 4 Feb. 2014.

Shahbazi, A. Sh. “History of Iran:  Achaemenid Army.” Iran Chamber Society. Iran Chamber Society. 2014. Web. 4 Feb. 2014.

“Iranian Archer – Soldier Profile.” Military History Monthly. Current Publishing, 10 Nov. 2010. Web. 4 Feb. 2014.

Mshamma. “Persian warriors. Pergamon Museum/Vorderasiatisches Museum.” Photograph. Wikipedia. Wikipedia, n.d. Web. 6 Feb. 2014

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

The Bayeux Tapestry: A Lasting Question

Panel 70 of the Bayeux Tapestry can be seen as the epitome of what went on during the Battle of Hastings in 1066 (Wilson 194).  Bloodshed emanates from every inch of the cloth.  While it is clear that many men, as well as the British King Harold, are losing their lives, certain details still are not understood.  The basic who’s who in the tapestry can be discerned by historical hints based on weaponry and garb or by textual clues around the images.  Small events of the battle may still be unknown due to the lack of inscription or the loss of records.


(Plate 70, Wilson 194. Infantrymen and archers are dying all around.)

In the center of the panel is a man on horseback cutting down an enemy soldier.  Carnage envelops him on both sides.  The panel prior to the soldier shows him and his fellow cavalrymen charging the opposing infantry.  To highlight the butchery, it also contains an inscription reading, “Here the English and the French fell at the same time in the battle,” (Hicks 17).   The charge seems to be a synergistic attack between the cavalry and a group of archers.

In the bottom border, under the horseman, the archers have the angle of their bows held high, raining down arrows on their adversary in the next frame.  It seems that they have hit their mark in frame 71.  A man lies on the ground dying, while also having his leg hacked at by a horseman.  Next to him is his weapon, a battle-axe.  Also, the dead man seems to be wearing different, more vibrant colors than those around him.   This is a clue about his status.

Earlier in the tapestry Harold, Earl of East Anglia, is shown meeting with King Edward of England.  The man announcing Harold to the King is holding a battle-axe.  This is the first time that an Englishman is seen sporting an axe in the tapestry (Rud 55-56).  This sets a precedence in the coming panels of the piece in that a soldier seen wielding an axe is most likely an Englishman.  This allows the viewer to be able to discern who is who in the mass of soldiers in panel 70.  It also gives a great clue about the man dressed so fancily in the next panel.

It is known that in the final stages of the Battle of Hastings, William the Conqueror told his archers to aim high to rain down arrows on Harold (Rud 86).  This is interesting when one considers panel 70.  As said above, the archers in the bottom border were aiming high.  This is not a coincidence when one takes into account the man dying in panel 71.

Both the angle of the archers bows in panel 70 and the standout in color of the man’s clothes point to one thing.  The man dying in panel 71 is Harold, King of England.  One final thing that supports this is the inscription above this man.  It clearly says in Latin, “Here King Harold has been killed,” (Wilson 173).  Together, these three clues; be they text, coloring, or interpretation from earlier imagery, tell the viewer that panels 70 and 71 diagram the death of King Harold and many of his men.  Not all things in the Bayeux Tapestry are this easily deciphered though.

Detailed plate (pictured below) shows a Norman horseman cutting down an Englishman with a round shield.  The thing that makes it odd is that the man on horseback is sitting on the neck of his horse instead of in the saddle.  Seemingly all other cavalrymen in the tapestry are presented fighting firmly in their saddles.  This presentation is not a mistake.  It is most likely that this frame refers to a specific event during the course of the battle (Wilson 194-195).  Although this is reasonable to assume, the modern viewer cannot be sure whether this is the case, and if it is, which event is it.

detailed plate

(Detailed plate, Wilson 194. Notice the man is sitting on the neck of his horse)

The reason for this is that there is no known account of this specific event that survives (Wilson 195).  Perhaps it is sensible to infer that the audience at the time of the tapestry knew what this small abnormality meant.  However, today one cannot assume.  Certain details either are not transcribed or are lost in translation.  This is one of the constraints that one faces when trying to interpret classical and middle aged art.

The Bayeux Tapestry contains a world of information to the modern viewer.  Panel 70 gives a look into the final stages of the Battle of Hastings.  The archers narrowing in on King Harold and the carnage around them give the observer a look into the past.  While some things can be interpreted, others cannot.  The tapestry leaves modern man to wonder about things such as specific events that may have been known at the time.  Through both the known and the unknown, the Bayeux Tapestry has lent an air of excitement to scores of generations as well as many to come.


Works Cited

Hicks, Carola.  The Bayeux Tapestry:  The Life story of a Masterpiece.  London:  Vintage books, 2006. Print

Rud, Mogens.  The Bayeux Tapestry and the Battle of Hastings 1066.  Copenhagen:  Christian Ejlers, 2002. Print.

Wilson, David M. The Bayeux Tapestry. London:  Thames and Husdon, 1985. Print.


Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Castrum Sanguinarium

             In designing a fictional castle many things must be taken into consideration.  The defenses must be made impregnable. There must be a supply of food to nourish the defenders and the peasants who come inside the walls for safety.  A castle must also provide space for defensive weapons as well.

            Our fictional castle was located on a precipice surrounded on three sides by the ocean.  This left one road for attackers to use.  To prevent this, we designed two walls with portcullises that ran the length of the Scottish isthmus that housed our keep.  The first wall was composed of iron-reinforced wood; the second was composed of stone. 

            The castle itself had an inner wall and an outer wall surrounding it. Archers manned the outer, 30-foot, wall raining down fire arrows on our adversaries.  Trebuchets and catapults were situated on the inner, 60-foot wall. These provided a defense for our castle during an attack or siege situation.

            Located in the walls was a garden area that would provide our garrison with nourishment.  There were also fields for grazing for goats, sheep, and cows that could also be eaten.  In addition to this, holes, leading down to hidden caves, between the two walls provided us a route to get to the ocean to catch fish and collect other supplies.

            Together, these three attributes contributed to the safety of our people.  The blueprint provided an unassailable barrier between them and the enemy. Also, the fields and garden provided food for our people to survive a siege.  And finally, the width of the walls allowed our garrison and our people to create their own defense.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Alexander’s Intelligence System

Over the millennia warfare has changed exponentially.  Weapons have been innovated innumerable times.  Tactics have evolved to fit the needs of the modern army just as weapons have.  One thing that has not changed though is the need for military intelligence.  Although methods for gathering information have changed, the need to understand one’s ones strategical position is still essentially the same.  Alexander the III of Macedon, commonly known as Alexander the Great, understood this need.  During his conquest of the Persians, from 336-323 BC, he employed numerous tactics in order to gather information about the foreign lands and enemies around him.  Two of the most important positions in his army were scouts and guides.

Mounted scouts utilized by Alexander were most often called Prodromoi.  This is an apt name for them because the translation of this word, from ancient Greek, literally means “runners ahead” (“Prodromoi).  Their job exactly was to go ahead of the main body of the army to scout and perform reconnaissance.  These men would study the terrain in order to find the best places for the army to camp and march over.  The scouts also would interrogate the local population about weather, supplies, and enemy movements (Payne 283).  These tasks were vital to the survival of the army and were a major piece of the logistical puzzle of the Macedonian army.

Another aspect that could have spelled life or death for the Macedonian army was the work of guides.   Guides had to know the land most intimately so that they could guide the army over the path of least resistance. Alexander and his army needed to be led to traversable terrain and to places with fresh water and a source of food.  The escorts had to keep the troops out of geographical peril.  For these reasons, guides were most often people from the lands that Alexander had either conquered or had been surrendered.  Sometimes the native people willingly helped the Macedonians on their trek.  Other times these people would be angry about being subdued and would purposely lead soldiers astray.  Because of this, Alexander often held the family members of his guides hostage until they had gotten him to where he needed to go (Engles 331-332).  Regardless of the circumstance, Alexander always knew how to utilize his resources.

A time when Alexander most needed a source of information and intelligence was during his march through the Gedrosian Desert.  On his way back from India, through present day Pakistan and Afghanistan, he was forced to go through one of the deadliest deserts in the world (shown in the picture below).  The leader of the Macedonians knew that many other commanders had brought armies into the area before and had perished in the heat.  He knew that no man had ever been successful in bringing an army through the wasteland (Arrian 333).  Knowing this, he entrusted his scouts and guides to lead him through the desert.


(Botsford. “Map of empire of Alexander the Great shortly after acquiring the Persian Empire.” The Gedrosian Desert is located in the bottom right hand corner- Southeast corner- of the page.  Alexander was traveling from the border of the yellow to the capital city Gedrosia in Pura.)

In the beginning, Alexander tried to follow the coast to stay supplied by his fleet.  When nothing could be seen of the ships, he sent some of his Prodromoi ahead, on a reconnaissance mission.  This mission yielded no sighting of the ships or fresh water sources (Arrian 334). Having this important information from his scouts allowed Alexander to save his troops from thirst, for a time.

When the coastal route failed, the King of Macedon turned his army inland.  This turned out to be a bad decision.  The scorching heat and the less than abundant source of water led to the death of many of his men (Arrian 335).  Despite their hardship, his guides continued to lead the way.  After a time though, even they lost their way.  They were unable to find specific landmarks because the marks had been scrubbed away by sand (Arrian 335).  It seemed that all hope was lost, but the tide soon turned.

Once again Alexander’s intelligence gathering system saved the day.  A group of Prodromoi, led by the king himself, found a route back to the sea.  The discovery of fresh water, on the beach, by the scouting party literally saved the bodies and the morale of his men.  Soon after, the guides found their way back to the proper trail (Arrian 339).  Eventually Alexander the Great and his army made it out of the desert and into the less treacherous interior of Persia.

Although many of his men had perished, his force was the largest that had ever made it through the Gedrosian.  While part of this feat can be attributed to Alexander’s true grit, he would have never made it through without his intelligence gatherers.  His scouts and native guides were the true pathfinders through the desert as well as for all of his campaigns.  The combination of these two made the Macedonian information gathering system and army as a whole the most powerful military force of Alexander’s time.

Works Cited

Arrian. The Campaigns of Alexander. Trans. Aubrey De Selincourt. London: Penguin, 1958. Print

Engles, Donald. “Alexander’s Intelligence System.” The Classical Quarterly XXX.1 (1980): 327-340. Print.

Payne, Kathryn. “Information collection and transmission in Classical Greece.” Libri 43.4. (1993): 271-288. Print.

“Prodromoi.” Wikipedia. Wikipedia, n.d. Web. 3 March 2014.

Botsford, George Willis. “Map of empire of Alexander the Great shortly after acquiring the Persian Empire.” Photograph.                Wikipedia. Wikipedia, n.d. Web 3 March 2014.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized