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"Roman shield patterns - by legion? Cohort?" Topic

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darthfozzywig Supporting Member of TMP31 Jan 2017 2:24 p.m. PST

Romans seem to have been pretty orderly folks when it came to their legions.

Did everyone in the legion have the same shield device?

Did it vary by cohort (or other subdivision)?

What of auxiliaries and cavalry?

Did this vary between late Republic (Julius Caesar) and the early Imperial legions?

Any insights are appreciated!

Mars Ultor Supporting Member of TMP31 Jan 2017 10:22 p.m. PST

For questions 1-3, my input would be that there are so little scattered remains found in this place or that that any attempt to reconstruct patterns or designs for Late Republican or Early Imperial legions futile. Guesswork is your best ally.

Question 4, it undoubtedly did vary between the two periods just because of the sheer amount of time, but again, there's little evidence to go on. Of course the shield shape is different between periods as well.

After you do a little research into Roman colors and theoretical shield devices, your instincts will serve you best as how to paint these things. I do recommend Little Big Men shield transfers.

GurKhan01 Feb 2017 2:11 a.m. PST

No-one really knows. "Conventional wisdom" suggests legion patterns, but there is little hard evidence for it. Vegetius – for what he's worth – said that in the "ancient" legion "Lest the soldiers in the confusion of battle should be separated from their comrades, every cohort had its shields painted in a manner peculiar to itself".

noigrim01 Feb 2017 4:50 a.m. PST

All legions had their own shield heraldry, and often it was the only way to identify them. For example: during the civil wars some soldiers of anthony sneaked into the enemy camp by changing their shields, and in 69 AD a group of praetorinas infiltrated enemy lines and disables a catapult just by changing their shields.

GurKhan01 Feb 2017 6:20 a.m. PST

Which shows only that a legionary shield was different from a Praetorian shield, not that each legion had its own distinction, let alone that all cohorts within a legion had the same shield pattern. "Per-legion shield emblems" are one of the things that we _think_ we know, but that we really don't.

davbenbak Supporting Member of TMP01 Feb 2017 7:41 a.m. PST

I think by reading the above posts you will get the idea that anything you do will be fine. I suppose my question would be what scale are you using and how are your figures based? If it makes it easier for you to distinguish your legions by shield color/design then that's how I would do it. If they are based by cohort and you like the look of different shield colors within the legion, do that. Anybody that gives you a hard time about whatever choice you make probably isn't going to be someone you would want to game with anyways. Oh and a second for Little Big Man shield transfers.

darthfozzywig Supporting Member of TMP01 Feb 2017 10:57 a.m. PST

Good points, all.

Much as I love Old Glory's 10mm line, most of the strips won't permit using those LBM transfers, sadly, so it's all going to be done by hand.

noigrim01 Feb 2017 1:02 p.m. PST

gurkahn if I can sneak into another legion with one of their shields it's that all the legion has the same shield, all historians say this, read your osprey

Lucius01 Feb 2017 6:24 p.m. PST

I've done 2 Roman armies. One had a single shield color and design, and the other was divided into 3 different colors.

When all was said and done, the visual impact of all the Romans on the table having the same shield was the best. They look like a swarm of fire ants.

Personal logo Florida Tory Supporting Member of TMP02 Feb 2017 8:06 a.m. PST

If you want to check out someone's reasonable guesses to associating known patterns of classical shields with legions and auxiliary cohorts, I suggest looking at Lino Rossi's book Trajan's Column and the Dacian Wars.


Mars Ultor Supporting Member of TMP02 Feb 2017 11:17 a.m. PST

Noigrim, what evidence would you cite for this statement that all legions had identical shield patterns? I've read a bunch of Osprey and have never come across an author willing to categorically state that all legions had their own shield devices. And I don't think that one instance proves the point across all space and time. Further, just because a modern author states this doesn't prove it unless he can back it up with an ancient source or (better yet) archaeological evidence. So please forgive my doubts, but I'd like to know what you read that convinced you.

By the way, Gurkhan is a very well-read and well-written individual, and your tone was pretty rude. Click on his name and see.

noigrim03 Feb 2017 5:34 a.m. PST

After reading a bit I know that in the republic and early empire:

-We don't know if the whole legion had the same shields or the cohorts had identifying ones, perhaps using the same heraldry but differentiating between cohorts by colours. However, there was some system of identification since Tacitus tells us that during the civil war after the reign of Nero two soldiers picked up the shields of enemy corpses and infiltrated the enemy camp disabling a catapult there.(Adrian Goldsworthy: the roman army).

Both the trajan column and the praetorian relief in the Louvre show diverse shields. In the later there are three kinds of rims and three different motifs: winged bolt, serpentine leaves and lightning bolts. Since they're in attic helmets and two wear tribune laces they can be the cohort's tribunes.


Praetorians show with different shield motifs in several reliefs and those might identify units of different origin: winged bolt (trajan column, Louvre, tombs), winged bolt together with moon and stars (cancellaria relief), moon and stars in cohort monuments (Suetonius mentions that caligula gave some praetorian scouts (?) this motif during his "campaign" in Germania), spiralling vine leaves (Louvre, puteoli…), scorpion (together with leaves in the puteoli relief)found also in the shield of a praetorian rider's tomb, in a banner on the Marcus Pompeyus Asper monument, in a caligula coin, etc. Some symbols adopted by the legions were derived from the sign of the founder: tauro for Caesar, capricorn for Octavian and scorpio (only worn by praetorians that we know) for Tiberius (who increased the number of praetorians). (Boris Rankov,the praetorian guard, osprey).

Vegetius mentions that all republican cohorts had their own designs for their shields, which may be an imperial practice but nor a republican one.(nikolas sekunda, the army of the republic, osprey)

From all this I can infer that the praetorians had different shields for the cohorts, and scorpions for the cavalry and the legions used some distinctive "side" iconography during the civil war of Nero. Vegetius writes in the late antiquity so he isn't a very reliable source. With such scant information you don't have any guidelines as how to paint your shields. You just have to paint either praetorians (but what colour) or use one of the archaeological/relief shields and paint a legion from there based on just one shield. Pg 130 of the Goldsworthy book has some designs, taken from both reliefs and archaeological finds.

About the colour they found an imperial shield in Dura Europos:


And a republican one in egypt


If Gurkhan is so well read he'll surelly be able to give us some more examples, undoubtedly.

andyfb03 Feb 2017 8:54 a.m. PST


Maybe have a look at GURKHAN's book?

noigrim03 Feb 2017 9:04 a.m. PST

I don't see any more examples posted here

Mars Ultor Supporting Member of TMP03 Feb 2017 11:02 a.m. PST

In my mind, what you show is a fair guess but remains circumstantial evidence. And even then there are different ways of interpreting the evidence you've shown.

Deuce0303 Feb 2017 11:32 a.m. PST

I think it's fair to assume that, at least from the time of Marius onwards, there was some uniformity to Roman shields at a per-unit level.

What we don't know is on what scale this unit-uniformity existed: whether it was per cohort, per legion, or even per commander, or per campaign.

The few mentions we have of shield designs are largely circumstantial, as mentioned. Altering shield designs or picking up enemy shields to infiltrate an enemy camp only indicates that soldiers on different sides of a war had different shield designs: hardly all that controversial. Vegetius, if we treat him as reliable, says that each cohort had a different shield, but he doesn't say to what extent they differed. The shields may have had the same design with a single distinctive feature to mark the cohort.

But if anything the sources (including those cited by noigrim) seem to suggest that shield uniformity was on a smaller scale rather than a larger one, most likely that each cohort did to some extent have its own shield design. It seems likely that cohorts within the same legion founded at the same time would have *similar* shields, if only for practical reasons most likely all the same colour, if nothing else but I haven't seen much to suggest that all members of a given legion had identical or interchangeable shields.

Personal logo Swampster Supporting Member of TMP04 Feb 2017 8:07 a.m. PST

Noigrim wrote: 'gurkahn if I can sneak into another legion with one of their shields it's that all the legion has the same shield, all historians say this, read your osprey'

Better to read the original source.
Tacitus does say that two praetorians 'concealed their identity by catching up shields from the fallen'.

He does, though, also say in the previous paragraph, before the praetorians are brought up, that it was extremely difficult to tell the sides apart because they were using the same gear.
This may be because it was dark, in which case the shape of the shields could be more important than any design upon them. But that would also apply to these infiltrators so the shape _may_ have been the issue rather than the design.
It is only after this that the battlefield becomes moonlit and then the troops could recognize their own. It is this that may be more of a clue regarding distinctive designs which are only significant if the light is sufficient.

noigrim04 Feb 2017 9:00 a.m. PST

This only proves that the only way to identify sides was with the shields mr may.

Personal logo Swampster Supporting Member of TMP04 Feb 2017 1:07 p.m. PST

…or by something to do with unit standards which are also mentioned by the original source. (Have you read it?)
Or plumes. Or field signs.

Mr may?
Some problem with suggesting that evidence isn't conclusive? I happen to think that legionary shields probably were distinctive, but I also know that the evidence is not decisive.

Compare two of your quotes -
your own 'all the legion has the same shield, all historians say this'

Followed by your quote of Goldsworthy
'We don't know if the whole legion had the same shields or the cohorts had identifying ones'.

Not all historians then.

andyfb04 Feb 2017 3:08 p.m. PST

If anyone can post a picture of 2 Roman armies on the field of battle in …bc, then I'd happily agree 100%.

But until then…….

Paint your shields how you want! Ignore the rivet counters and enjoy painting and playing with your figures!

It doesn't matter if all the figures on your table have the same coloured shields/shield patterns or mixed! Have fun, because that is what the hobby is all about!

Cheers Andy

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