The Roman Republican army – we are looking at the Punic Wars era 264-146 BC – didn’t quite look like the common Asterix tropes, instead their equipment and battlefield role was quite unlike what you see in later imperial times. The army was divided in several divisions: the Velites, Hastati, Principes and Triarii.
The Velites and Triarii do not concern us here. The Hastati were equipped with a large shield, the scutum; the gladius hispaniensis, which, according to Polybios, “has an excellent point, and can deal a formidable blow with either edge, because its blade is stout and unbending” (Plb. 6.23); a Montefortino helmet, single greave and mail. They were armed with pila, basically a throwing spear with a barbed iron head, and gladii. Less prosperous soldiers often chose a pectoral instead of the more expensive mail, a square piece of metal to protect the heart.
On a more serious note, behind the equipment and pretty shield designs there is so much more to learn about the human condition – and its failings – if you concern yourself with ancient history. The Punic Wars were a brutal conflict that enveloped the entire Mediterranean, and did cost hundreds of thousands of lives. While Scipio Africanus and Hannibal Barcas are well-known leaders, which are – even today – glorified to some extend, the sources don’t reveal much about the common soldier who had to live through deprivation, illness and injury. Naturally, Roman sources stress the valour and dedication of their soldiers, but the darker aspects of this world shaped by war, cruelty and warring empires are seldom a focus.
The shield designs were – no surprises here – the part that took most of the time. I didn’t want to leave it at geometric patterns, so I included symbolic and figurative designs. In the end, I decided to go for a eight-pronged star, two horses and a laurel wreath.
You find more pictures and information about the painting process in the blog section.