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2000 years ago the Roman army is the best equipped army in the world. While architects have mastered the art of manipulating stone and concrete, military engineers have fashioned metal and wood to create devastating weapons of war.
The Roman foot soldiers main weapon is a fearsome sword called the Gladius, a double edged blade with a sharp point used for stabbing and thrusting, rather than slashing. When not fighting at close quarters, their spear, called a pilum, could kill from a distance with lethal accuracy.
Protecting soldiers from injury is just as important as arming them for attack. Early Roman soldiers wear chainmail, but armourers come up with a far superior form of protection. Articulated plate armour called lorica segmentata, made from overlapping iron plates joined together by leather straps, as flexible as chainmail, but one third lighter.
If the romans weaponry has a modern feel, then so does the tactics they use. The Roman legions know exactly how to fight heavily armed foes. They use the testudo, Latin for tortoise. Legionaries bunch together and lock their shields in formation to create a protective screen, a formation as effective in attack, as it is in defence.
Few examples of Roman artillery survive, but they left detailed clues as to how to recreate them. The Ermine Street Guard Roman Reenactment Society is dedicated to research into the Roman Army and the reconstruction of Roman armour and equipment.
The scorpion fires iron tipped bolts, used in the first stages of attack and during sieges. It fires arrows at incredible speeds, pierces armour, and kills instantly, a bit like a giant crossbow. Although an effective anti-personnel weapon, the scorpion is of little use when attacking a building.
For that the Romans need something with a bit more punch, the onager and the ballista. These pieces of artillery fire large stones at the enemy. During sieges they propel projectiles so high into the air that they can break down enemy walls. The whizzing noise of the stones strikes terror into Rome’s enemies. To increase the fear factor they’re painted black so harder to see.
The ballista works like the scorpion, but is bigger and more powerful. It can fire a 60 pound stone or a 3 foot bolt around 15,000 feet allowing the soldiers to stand well away from enemy archers. The speed of the missile is phenomenal hitting its target at about 115 mph, anyone sustaining a direct hit would be killed instantly.
The onager uses a different principle, it catapults basketball sized stones nearly 100 feet using a single arm and sling. The vertical arm is powered by a large horizontal skein of rope, coiled and twisted to create a rotational force, the skein acts like a spring storing energy to be released on firing.
The combination of technology and tactics makes the Roman army the premier fighting force in Europe for 500 years and influences military tactics for the next 1,500.
Clip taken from the Naked Science documentary “Roman Tech”.
Watch it here - Coming soon!
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