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"Pyrrhic War Roman Shields" Topic

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Quintus Icilius11 Feb 2010 2:38 p.m. PST

The recent Aventine releases have me contemplating the possibility of doing a Pyrrhic War Roman army. I doubt there is much primary evidence allowing us to be very specific, but what's the current consensus if any on Roman infantry shields for the 300-270 BC period ? Would legionaries still use the hoplon or would the scutum have replaced it already ?

Keith of Aventine has posted a pic of a painted early 3rd century triarus with a hoplon. Looks nice and unusual, but it doesn't quite scream "Roman!" to me the way the scutum does, historical though this may be.


Mark S11 Feb 2010 2:55 p.m. PST

Quintus Icilius,

A very good question, I have 4 units of Etruscans to get pianted, also want to do Phyrrus, so want some Romans to game against both. I have Crusader Romans for later period against Hannibal, but like you want to do the earlier period. I intend to use Etruscans as allies against Phyrrus, a stretch I know but lovely figures and they join Phyrrus as far as I am aware, and Rome would have used allies.

So agree how should I represent Romans from this earlier period?

Any help gratefully received from better read persons than me.


Quintus Icilius11 Feb 2010 3:08 p.m. PST


If you're using 28mm, Crusader does the Campanians who sided with Rome during the Pyrrhic war and seem to have stuck to their hoplons throughout the period :


Oscan/Samnite figures can be pressed into service to depict other Italian allied tribes, especially the southern ones. Crusader also does specific figures for the Apulians :


As for the Romans themselves, I'm looking forward to reading what you learned gentlemen have to say on the matter of legionary shields.

Monstro11 Feb 2010 3:09 p.m. PST

My gut reaction to this is not one based ony any research that I can recall and more to do with the functions and uses of bits of equipment. By this I mean that hoplite warfare and it relevant arms,specifically the Aspis (shield)was formed by a particular form of warfare, developed and shaped over a few hundred years.

The scutum shape is markedly different and the question this begs is why.
It was the organisation and formation of the warriors that shaped the form of the aspis and I'd venture a similar process also shaped the scutum, so, to the point of this ramble.
If you believe the legions of the period fought in phalanx formation then you can also conjecture their equipment would be suitable for the task and given the fairly conservative nature of hellenic warfare this may mean something very close to if not identical to standard greek arms, were the fighting to have changed in some way then you can surmise the equipment may also have changed to make it more suitable for its purpose, why it changed and when I cant say here but the move from linear phalanx fighting to a more flexible style( ultimately leading to manipular formations) must have driven this change.Its up to you to decide what your trying to represent.

aecurtis Fezian11 Feb 2010 3:12 p.m. PST

Prior to the reorganization of the army, generally attributed to Marcus Furius Camillus, the First Class bore the round clipeus (or aspis, or hoplon). It's commonly thought that along with the "Camillan reforms", which created the manipular system of hastati, principes, and triarii, the scutum (previously borne by the Second and Third Classes) was adopted by all three "heavy" troop types.

I was wondering about this myself; I've seen nothing to indicate that the clipeus continued in use, and certainly not as late as Pyrrhus' adventure. But I'm not going to claim that it could not possibly be. It's an intersting variation.

In the early Principate, it was common to have a portrait of an ancestors painted on a clipeus. Does that hint back to a time when some of the older men of the legion were still carrying great-granddad's old shield to war?

I think it's unlikely. But I've learned never to say "never". For the campaigns against Pyrrhus, two things are generally acknowledged, but I wouldn't say they're absolutely written in stone:

- Principes still bore the hasta, not having adopted the pilum yet.

- Leves still provided the skirmishers; velites had not yet replaced them.


Quintus Icilius11 Feb 2010 3:13 p.m. PST

Good point Monstro.

The period we're dealing with is that of the Pyrrhic war, however, and it's generally accepted that by 279 BC the Romans no longer used the phalanx formation and had made the transition to the manipular system.


I agree with you that I am almost assuredly looking for certainties that don't exist. If I take the plunge, I'll probably go for principes with hasta spears and poorly armed leves, if only because it's different from the late 2nd Punic war figures I already have.

Since we're venturing in the merry land of hypotheses and things that can't be substantiated, how much chainmail would you include in an early 3rd century Roman army ? I was tempted to depict none at all and have all legionaries in various types of bronze armour something the new Aventine releases will apparently make possible.

aecurtis Fezian11 Feb 2010 3:45 p.m. PST

I'm inclined to think that Rome would have been exposed to the goodness of Gallic mail by the beginning of the third century; that's when they began to colonize the territory taken from the Senones, which would become known as the "ager Gallicus", an area later also known for its armaments fabricae.

That's not to say that older kit would not have continued in use, as long as it was serviceable. And if you're doing an army for, say, the Third Samnite War--against the Samnites, Etruscans, Umbrians, and those Italian Gauls--why not go all in bronze?


Personal logo BigRedBat Sponsoring Member of TMP11 Feb 2010 4:06 p.m. PST

Blimey, I was expecting to use my velites and pilum-armed principes against Pyrrhic armies, later this year. That's a pain.

Now I'll need to buy more figures! :-)


Who asked this joker11 Feb 2010 9:37 p.m. PST

I tend to think that the Princepes/triari were spear armed but have the Scutum and not the Aspis. Of course I base that on the fact that I can double use my triari for earlier armies! grin

Very nice figure though. I would have thought it to be an Oscan of some type with the 3 disk breast plate.

Personal logo BigRedBat Sponsoring Member of TMP12 Feb 2010 1:26 a.m. PST

The ones with the 3 disk breastplates would make good Bruttians…


Martin Rapier12 Feb 2010 2:50 a.m. PST

Being a cheapskate and not fussy, I just use my Punic Wars Romans to fight the Pyhrric hordes. They've got those big oval shields and a lot of them have chainmail – basically what comes out of the HaT boxes.

Mark S12 Feb 2010 11:45 a.m. PST

Quintus Icilius,
Thanks for the comments re Crusader figures, I am aware of the full range, I prefer the Aventine figures though, however both ranges will get used, I have purchased 400 plus Crusader figures.
Thanks for answers re Romans, I intend to be able to use Hastati and Triarri for both earlier and later Romans,do Princeps in both options, however as intend to use Hastati for both periods, I will have to go the Scutum route I think.


JJartist12 Feb 2010 3:37 p.m. PST

Back to the question:
"I doubt there is much primary evidence allowing us to be very specific, but what's the current consensus if any on Roman infantry shields for the 300-270 BC period ? Would legionaries still use the hoplon or would the scutum have replaced it already ?"

There is no specific evidence. It is simply guesswork based on the transitions that can be gleaned from the sources.

The Roman Army, at any given time, is a work in progress. The major trends are clear and easy to translate into game ideas. At one point there were hoplites in the Roman army grouped into classes, and this system dates back to the Etruscans. As Rome moved on she made reforms to deal with other enemies. Adopting Samnite tactics and armor, changing from phalanx to maniples. That major change is credited to Cammillus in 322 BC after the Caudine Forks humiliation. The next fifty years saw the reformed Roman legions knock the crap out of everybody, defeating the Samnites time and again in decisive fashion. Defeating the Etruscans and Gauls, and then move south and defeated the Tarentines. This led to the Pyrrhic intervention, based on faulty intelligence that hundreds of thousands of Samnites and Etruscans were ready to join the cause, they were not.

The legions that faced Pyrrhus are presumed to be in transition to the legions that would reach their apex against Hannibal in 204 BC when they adopted reforms and new equipment that was superior- namely the Spanish Sword and trained their velites similarly to the rest fo the troops- making them superior light troops that could defeat Hannibal's professionals.

The consensus? The Roman used scutums and equipment supplied by the state. It is perceived in Pyrrhus' time, (as Allen stated above) that only the hastati used heavy javelins (pila), the rest were armed with spears. The cavalry, often denegrated by commentary vs. Hannibal's forces was actually better in the earlier period. Of course Hannibal always had numerical superiority in cavalry, a factor often lost on gamers.
The leves class of skirmishers is hardly mentioned in sources as being much of a factor, indeed Epirote and Carthaginian skirmshers seem to own them completely.

The guesswork is the first line had lesser armor, and that older cuirasses may still have been in vogue for the seasoned troops, with mail replacing all of them over a great many years.

Shield designs and tunic colors are completely debateable.
Generally the LBMS designs are workable, they are less fanciful than some of that studio's frivolities with their Greek shields.

What the alae wore and used is completely debateable, the most logical solution is that they emulated Roman practice. As much as it is romantic that a Latin legion carried a round hoplite shield, it's probably false, IMO. It looks nice and cool… and I wouldn't be averse to having that look on the table…. but I know it is unlikely.

I like these Aventines, they look a bit retro. The Alae look great, not too far off the Romans, but Italian looking. And yes I would love an Etruscan allied legion with round shields, how cool is that?

If only I had some time warp machine that could allow me to paint in all those wasted lost moments in the past…:)

Quintus Icilius12 Feb 2010 4:55 p.m. PST

Jeff and Allen : thank you for your answers. Useful and informative stuff, as usual.

Looking forward to seeing more Epirote army pics on your Ancient Battles website, Jeff.

aecurtis Fezian12 Feb 2010 5:49 p.m. PST

"Adopting Samnite tactics and armor, changing from phalanx to maniples. That major change is credited to Cammillus in 322 BC after the Caudine Forks humiliation."

Pssst--Jeff: Camillus died in 365. His reforms are generally attributed to have *begun* in the aftermath of the Gallic destruction of the Roman army at the Allia and the ransom of Rome (Brennus--"Vae victis"--etc.)

Personally, I don't buy the Samnite influence that some credit; I think the major changes in organization and equipment had already occurred, and the disaster of the Caudine Forks was just due to a bone-headed occupational plan.

But you may be able to read about this all one of these days…


Mithridates12 Feb 2010 7:05 p.m. PST

I always found it interesting that Pyrrhus was able to defeat the legions (or at least fight them to a bloody draw). Of course he was the 3rd best general ever.

Later battles against the Macedonians, Greeks and Seleucids demonstrated that the tactical reforms of the 3rd century gave the legions much needed flexibility. This certainly applies to the princeps and the velites equally.

Not much can be done about bone heads in charge even with well trained troops.

BRB – I am sure that Aventine would be happy to provide you with spear armed princeps…………nice looking velites BTW.

Allen – look forward to a good read soon I hope!



Personal logo BigRedBat Sponsoring Member of TMP13 Feb 2010 1:27 a.m. PST

Hi Garry, I gather the Aventine Triarii figures are also intended to be used as Principes (although I understand they are bringing out additional Principes in advancing poses as well), so it's not a problem.

Thanks re velites; those were Craigs; I'll be posting pics of my own, humbler, Renegade's today.

Cheers, Simon

smacdowall13 Feb 2010 9:17 a.m. PST

It appears quite likely that Roman Scuta were plain without any shield pattern at all. The only evidence is a tomb painting in Rome which shows a plain light brown shield. A monument from the Macedonian wars also shows plain scuta in contrast to the decorated Macedonian ones. Tomb paintings from Italian (non-Roman) tombs show painted shields.
I give all my legionaries the same plain colour for each legion and give the Italians individually painted shields.
It is quite likely that the Prcincipes were still spear armed as the only contempory writer says they had cavalry spears which they gripped in two hands. Not sure how they did that with a Scutum and the passage is suspect. There is evidence that 50 years later the Principes did have the Pilum. It was certainly a change-over period so you can easily justify pilum armed Pricipes.
Armour would have been mostly bronze chest protectors and the Hastati may even have been unarmoured. Mail is unlikely except perhaps for a few.
The Velites did not yet exist. The Legionary light infantry were poorly armed and may not even have had shields. They would have been more like Greek skirmishers than the relatively well equipped Velites of the Punic wars. There may have been a reform of the Light Infantry in 211 when the better equipped Velites came into existance.

RockyRusso13 Feb 2010 9:26 a.m. PST


Ya, we all read the same sources and often the same conclusions. The way I read this, your milage may vary, is that all were in Scutum. One pilum for H and P, and allies still in local fashion.

I think Oman, available to most, suggests that it is the experiences of Pyrrus that led to H and P getting a second pilum. I was persuaded then, and haven't seen anything to quibble that one away.

Frankly, I find the period Oscan and such actually make a prettier soldier than the period romans, though.


JJartist13 Feb 2010 10:48 a.m. PST

Yeah some of my dates were suspect.. but I think the overall is generally clear. (Reminds me to not essay while bored at work :)
Figuring out what Early Roman legionaries wore and how decorated is a matter of personal taste. The paltry visual sources may point to blandness, gamers tend to like uniformity and OTT decoration.
I personally would not have a problem of people wanting to use mailed hastati and principes with pila vice spears in an Epirote battle, after all they are just figures… it's nice to be WYSIWYG, but sometimes that can be an extreme.
Players can adjust the stats for the velites downwards easily enough, and if their rules are detailed enough to make a difference bewteen pila armed and thrusting spear armed that be easily adjusted by the stats.

One clever solution is to use swords only models for principes, then it is mostly moot (and too many pilum armed troops look gangly – especially tossing poses)…

(back across the Adriatic, where I should stay :)

smacdowall13 Feb 2010 12:30 p.m. PST

Equally it may have been the experience of Pyrrus that led to the Principes getting Pilum

Quintus Icilius15 Feb 2010 1:55 p.m. PST

"The consensus? The Roman used scutums and equipment supplied by the state"

An interesting point. Until the Gracchi imposed that soldiers be provided with arms and armour at public expense, weren't legionaries supposed to supply their own kit ?

Of course, given the massive size increase of the Roman army between 300 and 150 BC, this system probably wouldn't have worked on a large scale, especially with legions increasingly posted away from Rome for long periods of time. As a source, Polybios would have been too late to be relevant for the Pyrrhic war and I don't recall Livy mentioning the economics of equipping an army. Are there any primary sources telling us anything about this ? Were standard issue items such as shields and body armour purchased centrally with the men paying for the kit they received ? This would appear to be the most practical and most sensible way of equipping tens of thousands of legionaries in a more or less consistent manner.

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