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Шиманович А.А.

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Scutum (Latin: Scutum, plural: Scuta) – a type of growth or tower shield common in ancient times, used initially by some peoples of the Italian peninsula, and then from the 4th century BC — by the army of Ancient Rome. Initially, scutums were oblong oval in shape, but by the first century BC they acquired approximately the same appearance with which most of our contemporaries associate legionary shields-rectangular and semi-cylindrical. It is worth noting that the scutum was not the only shield used in the Roman army, there were several types of shields, each of which was used by different branches of the military, but it was the scutum that became the most famous, becoming a kind of symbol of Rome and its mighty legionnaires.

Legio X Fretensis legionnaires with scutums, reconstruction


Historians dealing with the appearance of scotoma on the weaponry of the Roman army, it is widely believed that the Romans began to use scutum during rejection gorlitsky phalanx in favour manipularnos tactics, entered into force in the period of the Samnite wars (mid – late IV century BC). Before the Roman soldiers used clypeus — round shields, similar to the earlier of the goplon, and allegedly during these wars, the Romans took over scutum from the Samnites.

This statement is based on the works of several ancient writers. However, the ancient Roman historian Titus Livy (54 BC - 17 AD) pointed out that oblong shields, as well as manipulative tactics, appeared at the beginning of the IV century BC, that is, before the Samnite wars. The ancient Greek writer and philosopher Plutarch (46-127 A.D.) mentioned in Comparative Biographies the use of a shield similar in description to the early scutum in the battle of 366 B.C. The French archaeologist P. Coussin argued that the scutum was used long before the Samnite Wars, and, accordingly, was not borrowed from the Samnites.

The image of an oval scutum can be found on the bas-reliefs of the altar of the general Gnaeus Domitius Ahenobarbus (d. 104 AD). A similar scutum was found in 1900 in the small Egyptian town of Qasr el-Harit, near the Fayum oasis on the banks of the Nile (Fayum scutum). By the beginning of the civil wars, the shape of the scutum changes, in parallel there are rectangular and barrel-shaped variants. Due to the imperfect depiction of skutums on bas-reliefs, it is impossible to say that either of these two forms predominate, so both options are allowed.

Fayum skutum. Late II-early I century BC Found in 1900 in the Fayum oasis near Qasr al-Harith. Cairo, Police Museum
Scutum of Dura-Evropos (3rd century AD) after restoration. Found in the 1930s near Dura Evropos. Stored in the Yale University Art Gallery

Scootums were mostly used by legionnaires. The Praetorians also had their own scutum, which retained its former oval shape, unlike the "combined arms" version. The officers of the legions, optiones and centurions, were presumably also armed with scutums, as indicated only by written sources: "Skaeva, who lost one eye, was wounded in the thigh and shoulder, with the scutum pierced (by arrows) in one hundred and twenty places, continued to hold the gates of the fortress, which were in his charge... "- this is a reference to the centurion Cassius Scaevus, whose feat at the Battle of Dyrrachia (48 AD) was recorded by Gaius Julius Caesar himself. This feat was later recounted by Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus. In addition, scootums were used by gladiators, sometimes in a shortened form — this option, for example, was used by provocateurs.

Sandstone relief (II century AD) depicting three legionnaires with scutums. Found in the castrum of Croy Hill, Val Antonina, Scotland. Kept at the National Museum of Scotland
Funeral stele of Gaius Valerius Crispa, legionnaire of Legio VIII Augusta. The end of the first century AD is found in Mattiakum (modern times). Wiesbaden, Germany)
Relief from the Trophy of Trajan in Adamklisi (109 AD), depicting the battle of a legionary and Dacians. The combat use of scutum is clearly visible. The original monument itself has not been preserved, it was reconstructed in 1977.

By the third century AD, the Scutum seems to have disappeared from service. Archaeological finds from the fortress of Dura Europos indicate the predominance of oval or round shields among the Romans in this time period, which were no longer semi-cylindrical, but convex or flat. The very word "scutum" survived the fall of the Roman Empire and was preserved in the military terminology of the Eastern Roman Empire. Even in the 11th century AD, the Romans referred to their heavy infantry as "Scutates" (Gr. σκυτατοί).

Structure of the scutum

Polybius, in his Universal History, describes Scutum as follows:"...Roman protection consists primarily of a shield (scutum), the convex surface of which is two and a half feet wide and four feet long, with a thickness on the rim equal to the width of the palm. It consists of two glued layers of wooden plates( planks), the outer surface of which is covered with canvas and calfskin. Its upper and lower rims are reinforced with iron edging, which protects it from bumps and damage when placed on the ground. It also has an iron shield (umbo) attached to it, which deflects the most terrifying blows from stones, spears, and heavy projectiles in general..." The description takes as an example the shield of the beginning of the II century BC.

Scutum structure from Dura-Evropos


The production of the scutum base throughout its use in the Roman army remained almost unchanged: several (usually 9-10) wooden plates 6-10 cm wide were laid out longitudinally, and they were glued perpendicular with thinner plates on both sides (outside and inside the shield). This created a three-layer wooden base of the shield with a thickness of about 6 mm. Initially, the base was covered with felt, and then, by the time of the republic, a layer of calfskin and canvas, after which the upholstery around the edges was reinforced with an iron or bronze edging, sometimes leather. In the center, a round hole was cut for attaching the handle, covered with an umbon, originally made of wood and had a spindle-shaped shape, and during the republic — an iron or bronze rectangular umbon.

Structure of the Fayum skutum


The umbon protected the legionnaire's arm by covering the hole in the central part of the scutum to which the handle was attached. Initially, on oval scutums, as already mentioned, the umbons were wooden, had the shape of a spindle and were attached vertically to the height of the entire shield. Apparently, in addition to directly protecting the legionnaire's arm, such umbons also increased the overall structural strength of the shield. An example of a fusiform umbon is clearly visible on the Fayum skutum.

By the time of the Republic, changing the shape of the shields to a rectangular one led to a change in the umbons. They began to be made of iron, bronze or brass, decreased in size, and acquired a round, rectangular, or hexagonal appearance. In the center of the umbon was a round convex part that covered the hole for the handle. Sometimes umbons could be decorated with coinage.

Decorated umbon Legio VIII Augusta. First half of the second century AD Found in Britain on the River Tyne. The British Museum
Round bronze umbon. Found in Kirkham, England. Kept in the British Museum


To increase the protective characteristics and increase the overall strength, the edges of the scooters were edged with iron, brass, or bronze. There was also a variant of leather edging (scutum from Dura-Evropos).

According to Polybius, early scutums were edged only at the top and bottom, to protect against upper blows and damage to the shield when it was placed on the ground, and the side edges remained uncoated. In the future, the shield was edged around the entire perimeter, which significantly increased the protective characteristics and allowed the scutum to withstand terrible chopping blows, such as those that could be inflicted by the falx (weapons of the Dacian and Thracian tribes). In addition, this made it possible to increase the overall wear resistance of the scutum and increase its operating time.

Bronze edging of the skutum. I century BC-I century AD Valchian Museum, Nijmegen
Iron edging of the scutum, first half of the first century AD Found in the Teutoburg forest. Stored in the Kalkrize Park Museum


In the very center of the scutum, covered with an umbon, was the hilt. Unlike many medieval shields, the handle of the scutum was mounted horizontally, and this arrangement was most convenient, given the overall structure of the shield. The handles were made of iron, mostly elongated cylindrical shape, flattened on the sides, where holes were punched in order to fix the handle with nails based on the shield. In earlier scutums, the handle could be the central part of a transverse rib fixed horizontally on the inner surface.

Finds from the Trimontium Fort at Newstead (I-II c. AD), the scutum hilt is visible on the lower left.
Outline of different variants of handles found at Hadrian's Wall (II century AD)


Tegimentum (Lat. tegimentum - covering, shelter, shell) - a leather cover worn on the scutum during long transitions. It served for additional protection of the scutum from moisture in bad weather, thereby extending the service life of the shield. As a rule, it was made of cured calfskin. To the tegimentum, a tag was sewn separately cut out of leather-tabula ansata (Latin tablet with handles), indicating the legion to which the owner of the scutum belonged. It should also be noted that such a mark was also applied to the shield itself, if this was provided for by the legion's digma, and denoted the legion and cohort of the shield owner.

Tegimentum from the scutum of the legionnaire Legio XI Claudia Pia Fidelis. 70-100 AD Found in Vindonissa. Kept in the Vindonissa Museum
Tabula ansata in the center of the tegimentum Legio XI Claudia Pia Fidelis from Vindonissa
Tegimentum Legio X Fretensis, reconstruction. A tabula ansata is visible, indicating that it belongs to the legion-LEG X FRT

Combat use of Scutum

Taking into account the shape of the shield, the position of the handle, and the way the legionnaires carried their swords on the right side, we conclude that the scutum was held by the legionnaires in battle not in front of the chest, like most medieval shields, but along the left side, covering the body from knee to shoulder. This allowed the fighter to push the enemy in a tight formation leaning on the shield, and at the same time deliver quick stabbing blows with the sword from under the protection. According to Polybius, scutum gave the Romans an advantage in close combat with the Carthaginians during the Punic Wars: "Their weapons give them increased protection and confidence, due to their size shields".

The unique shape of the scutum allowed legionnaires to use it to create various battle formations designed to protect themselves from arrows and other projectiles both on the offensive and in defense. The most famous of these constructions is the "tortoise" (Latin Testudo), which uninformed people often refer to other Roman constructions, such as "Tela" or "Murus" (Latin Murus). Such formations were often used during Roman sieges, allowing legionaries to safely approach close to the city walls and fortifications, being almost completely protected from arrows and stones of the besieged.

Scutums in a tortoise shell on Trajan's column. First half of the second century AD

The Jewish historian Josephus writes about the use of scutum during the siege (37-100 AD). In his treatise "The Jewish War", he describes the siege of Jerusalem in 70 AD: "The Jews defended themselves from the height of the galleries and repeatedly repulsed attacks on the walls, but were still forced to retreat before hot shooting. Then the Romans arranged the so-called turtle, which consisted in the fact that the advanced soldiers firmly rested their shields against the walls, those who followed them rested their shields against the previous ones, and so on. The arrows that fell on this canopy glided along the surface without any effect: the soldiers could now completely safely dig through the wall and had already made preparations to set fire to the temple gate.".

Scutum Decoration

Skutums were often decorated: the so — called "digma" (Latin Digma) was applied to their fabric cover-a drawing depicting lightning bolts, wings, wreaths, and sometimes indicating the number and name of the unit. According to Tacitus, the digma could be used to identify a specific unit, since each legion or auxilia (auxiliary unit) had its own unique digma. Tacitus describes an incident that occurred during the second Battle of Bedriacus (69 AD), when two soldiers from Vespasian's legions took the digma shields of Vitellius ' hostile legions and sabotaged the enemy's rear by damaging their catapults.

It is also assumed that the surface of the skutum could be decorated with various overlays made of iron or bronze, which is confirmed by archaeological finds of bronze fragments imitating the shape of a digma.

Digma outline from Trajan's Column
Metal fragments in the form of lightning are interpreted as part of the decorated digma. First half of the first century AD Found in the Teutoburg forest. Stored in the Kalkrize Park Museum


In the reconstruction, our legion uses barrel-shaped scootums, with a red base and a digma from the beginning of the second century. The skutum itself is made 106 cm high, the width of the central part is 60 cm, along the upper and lower edges - 50. The depth of the shield in the bend is 22 cm. Thickness - 6 mm. Umbon is iron, round or rectangular. Shields are edged with brass.

A legionnaire with a scutum from Trajan's column. The first half of the second century A.D. Clearly shows the digma used in Legio X Fretensis

The shield field is red, which corresponds to archaeological findings of shields from Masada, which was besieged by the Tenth Legion in 70-73 AD. The digma is yellow in color, a sample of it is presented on the column of Trajan (early II century AD). The digma depicts four wings symbolizing the messengers of Jupiter, carrying lightning and thunder to enemies, also depicted on the shield. Thunder is symbolized by the ornate columns that make up the central part of the digma composition.

Legionnaires of Legio X Fretensis in the Tela formation, the scutums used in the club are clearly visible
Drawing of the Legio X Fretensis club scooter

Related topics

Legionnaire, Hoplon, Clipeus, The Praetorian Guard, Centurion, Gladiator, The provocateur


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

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.

Joseph Aviram, Gideon Foerster, Ehud Netzer, Guy D. Stiebel MASADA VIII. The Yigael Yadin Excavations 1963–1965. Final Reports. ISRAEL EXPLORATION SOCIETY. THE HEBREW UNIVERSITY OF JERUSALEM. JERUSALEM, 2007.

"The Arms and Armour from Dura-Europos, Syria : Weaponry Recovered from the Roman Garrison Town and the Sassanid Siegeworks during the Excavations, 1922-37". University College London (University of London).

Couissin P., Les armes romaines, pp. 224.

Josephus. "The Jewish War" / translated by Ya. L. Chertka in 1900, with an introduction and translator's note. Vekhi Library, 2004.

Livy Titus. Istoriya Rima ot osnovaniya goroda [History of Rome from the foundation of the city]. edited by M. L. Gasparov and G. S. Knabe, vol. I-III. Moscow, 2002

Polybius. Universal History, vol. I (books I-V), Moscow, 1890.


Scutums in a turtle in the illustration "Maneuvers of the Roman Army" from the magazine "Nature and People", 1915.
Fayum skutum. Late II-early I century BC Found in 1900 in the Fayum oasis near Qasr al-Harith. Cairo, Police Museum
Early oval scutums on the bas-relief of the altar of Domitius Ahenobarbus. Found in Rome, Champ de Mars, Temple of Neptune
Scutum of Dura-Evropos before restoration. Found in the 1930s near Dura Evropos. Stored in the Yale University Art Gallery
Tabula ansata Legio X Fretensis, reconstruction
Decorated umbon Legio VIII Augusta. First half of the second century AD Found in Britain on the River Tyne. The British Museum
Fragment of the monument with the image of Scutum with digma, I BC-III century AD, Romano-Germanic Museum, Cologne.
Image of sktum with curved sides from the funerary stele of Gaius Samius Kreszenos, soldier of the XII city cohort, a stele erected by his brother Fortis, warrior of the VIII Praetorian Cohort, I-th century BC-III-th century AD, Art Nouveau Museum.
Detail of a stone relief of the first century AD depicting an oval shield decorated with lightning and wings, Turin Museum of Antiquities.
Skutum edging. I-th century BC, III-th century AD Vindonissa Museum.
Umbon of Carlisle Tully, 1st century BC, 3rd century AD
Round umbon made of brass, has remnants of gilding and silvering. III century AD Found presumably in the lower Danube region. Kept in the private collection of Axel Gutmann
Gilded image of the imperial eagle on a round umbon
Gilded image of the goddess Minerva on a round umbon
Stone fragment of the ancient gate of Porta Ticinese in Milan, depicting a shield with wings, lightning and L-shaped ornament (gammadia) in the corner, I-th century BC-III-th century AD, Museum of Arechology of Milan.
Fragment of an umbo with a square plate made of bronze, dating from the II century AD. It is 18.3 cm wide and decorated with dots. At the top is the figure of Mars , in the corner is the decoration "L" (gammadia), usually used to strengthen the corners of shields, and on the right are the initials "AUG", referring to the Legio Augustus, Vindonissa Museum.