A Pilum (plural pila) was a javelin thrown by Roman Legionnaires to disrupt an enemy line moments before closing for hand-to-hand contact.
The pilum was about 6 or 6 1/2 feet long, weighing between 2 and 5 pounds (heavier early in Roman era, lighter later). There was an iron shaft at the front which was about a quarter inch diameter and about 2 feet long. A wood pole, 4 feet long or so was attached to the metal shaft. The wood added plenty of mass to the pilum giving it good penetration capacity. A point on the base of the pilum made it usable to stack with other pila in camp or plant in the ground for an ad hoc defense from cavalry.
A hard triangular tip was designed to punch through armor. With enough force it could penetrate a shield.
With a shield held in front of you, the most valuable and most exposed area to be protected is your head. Helmets were in used during the entire Roman Era, as well as routinely used by their predecessors and opponents.
Researchers have identified five major types of helmets, with large number of subtypes for each.
Common thread of all the helmets is the basic design was obtained from some other people group, adopted, then refined. That fits with a broader pattern I have observed that the Romans were aggressive in adopting good ideas used by enemies which they found helpful.
Galea – plural galeae
Wikipedia provides an introductory overview of galea.
Earliest helmets were simple, with a round shape and small neck guard. These would have been easy to produce and cheaper than the later designs. They were made out of bronze.
The basic design was developed from Celtic helmets.
They apparently had cheek guards as well, since they typically have holes in the sides of the helmet. Reportedly, most of the Montefortino helmets discovered do not have a cheek guard, leading to speculation the cheek guards were made of leather instead of metal.
No, I’m not talking about losses in battle. Disease all the time, famine in bad times, and not quite enough food in normal times were deadly in the ancient world. Not even until the American Civil War was germ theory of disease transmission a known thing. (Update: slight wording changes not identified as such.)
The body armor presented on a Roman Legionnaire, whether on ancient statues, modern re-enactors, or illustrations is usually the scaled plate armor referred to as Lorica Segmentata, a phrase that has been in use only since the 16th century.
The armor consists of horizontal scales, sort of like a lobster. Additional plates protect the shoulders.
Wikipediasays the insides of the plates were soft steel and the outside mild steel. The individual plates were hung on a leather harness with brass buckles. Later on rivets or hooks were used.
The armor fastened in front and back. The sections could be stored inside each other, allowing for compact storage.
Legionnaires in the Roman army wore marching boots, called caligae (singular caliga). These may appear to be merely an open sandal. However, they were sturdy enough to wear all day, every day, even on long marches.
A thick lower sole would be attached to a mid sole with hobnails. This added strength to the boot and increased its durability. (I don’t know enough about shoe construction but that is the comment made by several sources.)
For a conception of what hobnailed Roman caligae might look like, consider this photo of a hobnailed boot of the U.S. Union Army. The boot is thus circa 1861 to 1865.
Roman soldiers would wear a belt around their waist.
I have not seen much discussion on the purpose of the belt. It would be the base for carrying some items. For example, a dagger, called a puglio, would be on the left side. A money pouch could be carried on the belt, I suppose.
See update below for comments on purpose of a balteus.
The gladius is a short sword, about 2 feet long, used by soldiers in the Roman army. In the hands of trained legionnaires, the gladius was a potent offensive weapon.
Roman soldiers would advance side-by-side with their shield, called a scutum, held in their left hand and a gladius in their right hand. In this position, the sharp tip of the gladius was best used as a thrusting weapon to stab the enemy, aiming for the torso. In ancient times, an abdomen wound was usually fatal.
With a two foot length and sharp double edges, the gladius could also be used as for slashing or cutting. From comments I’ve read, the main use was for thrusting.
While the main use was thrusting, preferable for the abdomen, legionnaires were trained to take slashes of opportunity, say an exposed knee within reach below the opponents shield. In the other direction, if a shield was lowered, a slash at arm or neck could also end the fight in a moment.
(Note: This post has been updated and expanded several times. For ease of reading, the revisions will not be identified as such.)
Wikipedia describes the various sizes of gladii (plural of gladius – yeah, I had to look it up):
Pay for a legionnaire soldier in the Roman army increased substantially over time, from 225 denarii a year around the turn of the millenium to 600 denarri in the early 200s.
The amount of silver in a denarii was also steadily reduced over that same time. That is called inflation, which as we know from other reading, was driven by Roman Emperors intentionally debasing the currency as a way to help finance the empire.
First, let’s look at the declining value of a denarius. Here is the silver value of each coin, measured as the number of denarii minted from each pound of silver, along with my point estimate of the year of the change: