The dimensions and curvature of Legio VI’s shield, or scutum, seen at left, are copied closely from the one known example of a rectangular Roman scutum, uncovered at Dura Europus and dating from the mid-third century AD. Our legionary emblem is a variation of the standard winged thunderbolt motif seen on Trajan’s Column and numerous other monuments, with a laurel wreath added as befitting our legionary suffix of Victrix (Victorious). Legio VI possesses a special press and a set of jigs for making all of our own shields, which can be purchased from the unit. Shields from other legions are acceptable for use, provided they are of similar dimensions (41”x 35”), and are repainted with the Legio VI logo. We have stencils available to assist in painting or repainting your shield.
The main body of our shield is constructed of plywood, as were the originals (yes, the Romans had plywood– thin layers of wood glued together with grains at right angles for added strength). The outer and inner surface are covered with fabric or leather (we use canvas for the front and linen on the back) and painted. The outer rim of the scutum is protected by thin brass or copper sheeting. An excellent tutorial on how to edge your shield in brass can be found on the website of Legio VI member Jared Fleury, aka Quintus Florentius Agrippa, HERE. Wooden stiffeners are glued to the reverse if the shield to help it maintain its cambered shape. The horizontal handgrip is located in a hole at the center of the shield. We have found that offsetting the handgrip slightly toward the bottom of the central hole results in a more comfortable grip. The domed metal boss, or umbo, which covers the hole and protects the hand, can be made either out of 16 or 18 gage sheet steel (mild, not stainless or galvanized), or brass of similar thickness. Above right is our Centurion’s shield, which is based on the older curved-sided Augustan pattern and has a slightly fancier wreath. We have also made another form of shield, called a parma, which was circular and much smaller than the standard combat shield. It was employed by standard bearers and specialist troops who could not be encumbered by a standard large shield. Finally, Roman auxiliary soldiers (non-citizen levies) employed a flat oval shield called a clippus, of which we have also made copies.
When not in use during battle, the scutum was generally kept in a leather cover to protect it from the elements. In fact, as leather survives in the ground far better than wood, it is through finding fragments of shield covers that archaeologists have determined the range of sizes and shapes for Roman shields. Jared Fleury’s shield cover is seen at left. A page on the making of Jared’s cover can be found HERE.
We do not know for certain how Roman soldiers carried the scutum on the march. Trajan’s column seems to suggest that soldiers simply carried it in their left hand by the horizontal grip, as they would in combat. However, our experiments with marching in this fashion suggests that the left hand quickly gets tired and the left arm can even go numb after a long period gripping the shield in this way. It seems likely that some sort of strap arrangement was used to stow the shield on the march. Again, our own Jared Fleury has come up with a plausible system based on the earlier experiements of Germany’s Dr. Marcus Junkelmann, which is outlined HERE.