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Шиманович А.А.

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Clipeus (Latin clipeus, clipeum) — a round or oval shield used in the army of Ancient Rome. The name of the shield, presumably, is connected with other-Greek. καλύπτω — "to cover". It was mainly used by auxiliaries, i.e., auxiliary troops such as spearmen and cavalry, while the main shield in the Roman army was the legionary scutum. However, the clypeus itself appeared much earlier, and subsequently survived scutum, becoming the main shield of the Roman army by the fifth century AD.

Historical background

The klipeus has its origins in the ancient Greek hoplons - round shields that were used by Hoplites. The Romans, who also used the phalanx as the main battle formation of their infantry until the IV century BC, used parma shields similar to hoplons , which had a round shape. During the period when the Romans adopted maniple tactics, the scutum becomes the main Roman shield, while Parma remains in service with velites (lightly armed infantry with javelins) and partially with cavalry. Around the same time, the klipeus - an oval shield, apparently developed from Parma, is a distant descendant of Hoplon, and was adopted by the auxiliary troops - auxilia. However, there is a version that the names "parma" and "clypeus" themselves were used interchangeably in the early Republican period, and were used to refer to the same type of shields. Parma, as a small round shield, remained in service with the standard bearers of the legion- Aquiliferi, Signiferi, Vexillarii, as well as Corniceni and Tubuceni.

The oval clypeus, as well as the round Parma, will remain in service with the Roman army throughout the entire existence of the Roman state. In the third century AD, the Clypeus will gradually replace the Scutum from the position of the main shield. Finds from the Roman fortress of Dura Evropos, dating back to the third century AD, indicate a predominance of round or oval shields rather than scutums. (However, it was in this fortress that the best-preserved scutum was found.) The shields found in the fortress were no longer straight, but convex, more like Greek hoplons. The decoration of clipeuses is also changing - it becomes much more complex, often including images of Christian saints. However, there is an opinion among historians that the shields found in Dura Evropos would be more correctly called Parmas, but there was a dispute about the correct name for this type of shield during the early republic, so it can be argued that both options take place.

Image of a Roman auxiliary with a clypius. Bas-relief of the pedestal of one of the columns that decorated the courtyard in front of the complex of buildings of the headquarters (praetorium and principia) of the citadel of the Roman city of Mogontiac (Latin Mogontiacum, modern. German city of Mainz). "Land Museum", Mainz, Germany. Second half of the first century AD
Image of Aurelius Sabius auxilarius with clipeus, from legio II Traiana fortis. Alexandria, inv. No. 252. 222-250 A.D.
Image of Roman auxiliaries next to the "turtle". The clipeuses are clearly visible. Metopes of Trajan's column, II century AD


The structure of the clypeus was generally similar to that of scutum. The base of the klipeus was made of vertical strips glued together, which were then covered with canvas or leather from the outside (and sometimes from the inside) and framed with rawhide edging (in the early Republican period and before the third century AD, the klipeus was presumably edged with bronze or brass). It is worth noting that such klipeus were generally higher than the skutum of the late republic and empire - the average height of the skutum could usually be about 105-107 cm, while the size of the remains of klipeus found in Dura Evropos suggests that their size was approximately 125 centimeters in height, and 70-80 centimeters in width (in the widest part).

Like scutums, clypeus were also covered with digmas, a variety of which can be found on multiple bas-reliefs. Apparently, these digmas also served to distinguish auxiliary units.

In the center of the base of the clipeus, as well as in the scutum, a round hole was cut out, designed to accommodate a round metal handle, covered from the outside with an iron or bronze umbon. In many places where the remains of various Roman equipment were found, it is quite difficult to determine whether a certain type of handle or umbon belongs to a specific type of shield - scutum or klipeus, and it is quite possible that the production of these parts took place using approximately the same technologies, from which we can conclude that the handles and umbons of these two types of shields are extremely similar. It is worth noting, however, that clypeus is usually attributed to umbons with a round base, while for scutum they existed with a square, rectangular or hexagonal base.

Round bronze umbon. Found in Kirkham, England. Kept in the British Museum
Outline of different variants of handles found at Hadrian's Wall (II century AD)
Emperor Trajan's address to the troops after the victory over the Dacians. Various digmas on clipeuses are clearly visible. II century AD Trajan's Column

Imago clipeata

Special mention should be made of such a factor as Imago clipeata-a sculptural element, also called a clipeus for its round shape. In Rome, from the period of the Republic to the third century AD, there was a sculptural and pictorial tradition of depicting various mythical or historical characters in a round frame. This frame can be just an even circle, an intricate wreath, or any other round object. Such an element is very often found on bas-reliefs of sarcophagi of the III-IV centuries AD.

The origin of this tradition can be traced back to the images of triumphant generals on a small round shield-clipeus, attached to the standard when the commander returns to his homeland in a solemn march.

Sarcophagus of Two Brothers, III-IV century A.D. Catacombs near Rome. Preserved in the Pio Cristiano Museum, Rome
Constance's sarcophagus. 4th century AD Mausoleum of Constantia, eastern outskirts of Rome. Preserved in the Pius Clement Museum, Vatican City
Sarcophagus with relief imago clipeata. III century AD Villa La Pietro, Florence


In Legio X Fretensis, the reconstruction of auxiliary troops is dedicated to the Second Cantabrian Cohort, which was the closest to the Tenth Legion in terms of its place of service. For the reconstruction of the auxiliary cohort, our club uses clipeuses made according to the following model: 125 cm in height, 65 cm in width (along the widest part). The decoration is a canvas with a yellow background, an auxil digma from Trajan's column is taken as a digma, the edging of the shields is brass.

Clypeus auxiliary, reconstruction
Auxiliaries with clipeus in battle formation, reconstruction
Drawing of the club clipeus Legio X Fretensis
Drawing of digma clypeus from Trajan's column. Written by D. R. Travis. The leftmost digma is used for reconstruction in Legio X Fretensis
Metopes of Trajan's column. II century AD Exactly in the center you can see the image of the digma used in Legio X Fretensis

Related topics

Auxiliaries, Shild, Parma


Connolly P. Greece and Rome. Encyclopedia of Military History, Moscow: EKSMO-Press, 2000. 320 p. - 10 000 copies. — ISBN 5-04-005183-2.

Bishop, M.C.; Coulston, J.C.N. (2009). Roman Military Equipment from the Punic Wars to the Fall of Rome (2nd ed.). Oxford, UK: Oxford Books;

JAMES CURLE, F.S.A. SCOT., F.S.A. A Roman frontier post and it's people. The fort of Newstead in the Parish of Melrose. Glasgow, MDCCCCXI. Originally published by JAMES MACLEHOSE AND SONS for the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland.

Hilary & John Travis. Roman Shields: historical development and reconstruction. Amberley Publishing, Gloucestershire, GL5 4EP, 2014.


Auxiliaries cross the river. II century AD Trajan's Column
Auxiliaries that hunt wild animals. IV century AD Roman mosaic from the Villa del Casale near Piazza Armerina (Sicily)
Drawing of the clypeus of the third century AD from Dura-Evropos, by D. R. Travis