First century AD Roman legionary.

At a glance

Appearance

  • Uniform and Imperial

Clothing and Jewellery

  • Military tunic worn as standard
  • Leather belt, baldric, and apron straps often with personalised metallic decorations
  • Scabbard, often with personalised decoration
  • Hobnailed sandals

Weaponry

  • Throwing spear with pyramidal head and long metal shank (pilum)
  • Short, stabbing sword (gladius)
  • Dagger (pugio)

Armour

  • Iron helmet with brow-ridge, cheek-pieces, and back-plate for extra protection
  • Chain-mail tunic with additional shoulder pads
  • Rectangular, plywood body-shield (scutum) with metal boss and painted regimental insignia

Overview

The Roman Imperial Army was a fully professional force of long-service volunteers, half of them citizen legionaries, half non-citizen auxiliaries. The legionaries formed the heavy infantry.

They were organised into legions of 5,000 men, each subdivided into 10 cohorts, each in turn subdivided into six centuries. The cohort (500 men) was therefore the equivalent of a modern battalion, the century (80 men) that of a modern company.

The legionary, who served for 20 years, was rigorously trained, superbly equipped, and highly motivated by pay, bonuses, a range of perks and facilities, and a strongly developed esprit de corps.

Legionaries wore full body-armour, either a mail-shirt with additional shoulder pads or, increasingly, the new lorica segmentata formed of strips of steel strapped together. The helmet covered the whole of the head except the face and included projecting brow-plate and neck-plate. The scutum, a full-length, curving, rectangular shield formed of layers of plywood, could be used defensively to form a shield wall or a tortoise, or it could be used offensively to punch at opponents and throw them off-balance in close-quarters fighting.

The legionary carried two javelins, a sword, and a dagger. The javelin (pilum) was specially designed as a shield- and armour-piercing weapon, with small pyramid-shaped head, long metal shank (60 cm), and wooden shaft. The sword (gladius) was relatively short (40-50 cm long) and had a sharp, tapered point; it was designed primarily as a stabbing weapon.

The legionaries were trained to hurl their javelins and then immediately draw swords and charge to contact. A Roman imperial legionary was the finest heavy infantryman of antiquity, and a massed legionary charge was the ancient world’s last word in ‘shock and awe’.

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