Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
The scutum was the standard shield carried by Roman legionaries. Unlike the round or oval shields of most infantrymen of the time, the scutum was squat and squarish. Scutums were constructed largely of overlapping bentwood, set in place by steaming over a curved form (in much the same way as a modern plywood chair is made). This meant the shield was strong and yet light enough to be carried over long distances. The scutum was shaped roughly as a section of a cylinder, so the centre of the scutum as vertical, allowing it to absorb (and deal) heavy blows, while the sides sloped away from the attacker, allowing arrows and enemy blows to glance off without transmitting the full force of the impact to the legionary sheltering behind. The boss in the centre of the shield (the umbo), constructed either from bronze or iron, was itself a melee weapon, being heavy and dense enough to stun or wind an opponent (easing the legionary's subsequent strike with his gladius). Legionaries would typically advance alternately with the scutum and then (with the scutum partially raised, crowding and blocking the opponent) with the gladius.
The shape of the scutum allowed packed formations of legionaries to interlock their shields to provide an effective barrier against enemy archers. In a conventional hand-to-hand battle, legionaries would advance in lock-step and strike in unison from behind their thrust-forward scutums (the concurrency of motion intended to give each legionary the partial protection of his neighbours' scutums). The most novel (and specialised, for it afforded negligible protection against other attacks) was the testudo (latin for "tortoise"), which added legionaries holding shields from above to shield against arrows raining down from parabolic trajectories.
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