The Scutum: A Comforting Thought

Every era of warfare has that one weapon that stands out in the crowd.  For example in ancient Greece, it was the hoplon shield and in Rome, it was the scutum.

In examining the defining weapons of Rome, one of the most influential was the Roman scutum.  Measuring about 2.5 feet wide by 4 feet tall, this unique body shield featured a sharp curvature and was viewed as being semi-cylindrical.  The scutum first emerged in an oval shape, but later other varieties developed including rectangular and oval with squared off side or with squared off top and bottom.

To ensure strength and flexibility, the scutum was constructed of plywood covered by leather.  In crafting the shield, it began with three layers of thin wooden strip s of plywood arranged vertically with two outer layers running horizontally.  It was also common for ribs of woods to be pegged or glued into place to reinforce the shield.  A handgrip was then attached behind the boss.  In early versions of the scutum, the boss was made to fit over the wooden spine that ran down the shield.  In later scutum versions, the spine went away and was replaced by a square plate with a hemispherical dome attached directly to the shield’s face.

Roman Shield Scutum Metal:

Roman Shield Scutum Metal

While the scutum was not the heaviest of shields, it was not exactly light.  Generally, a scutum weighed around 22 pounds, which was heavier than the 15 pound Greek hoplon that came before it.  The early scutum had a bronze or iron rim, only on the top and bottom edges while the later rectangular model had a metal rim around all edges.  The shield was also decorated, usually with the insignia of the unit painted on.  This was the same symbol that appeared on the outside of the leather case that the scutum was stored in.

On the battlefield, the scutum proved to be a weapon of offense to block the impact of the enemy’s weapon, as well as hacking at opponent with the metal rimmed edges.  When a legionary reached his enemy, he would be known to put the scutum on the ground and fight from behind it while remaining crouched.  By resting the shield on the ground, more of a soldier’s body was protected and it enabled him to stay grounded and balanced without extra weight.

Roman Shield Scutum 42” x 33” Brass:

Roman Shield Scutum

In siege warfare, the scutum was used in a formation known as the tortoise.  In this formation, soldiers in the front and on the sides would hold their shields outward while the others would overlap their shields above the heads of the formation.  The advantage of this technique was the creation of a box, which had very little vulnerable openings for enemies to attack.  Thus, Roman armies could advance with confidence.

The Roman scutum was truly a versatile weapon that functioned effectively on many levels.  Whether being used by an individual or in a siege formation, its purpose stands strong and recognized, even to this day.  To get your hands on a scutum and other Roman shields, visit:

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