13 most effective Ancient Roman weapons

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The weapons used by the Ancient Roman army played a key role in securing their victories in battles. They used a variety of weapons and each weapon had a different purpose and role. These weapons were very effective for the Ancient Romans. Moreover, their effectiveness varied according to the circumstances.

Let’s take a look at the 13 most effective Ancient Roman weapons.

1) The Pugio- Used for the assassination of Julius Caesar

The pugio is one of the most famous Ancient Roman weapons. It is essentially a dagger. The pugio was used for assassinating the Roman emperor Julius Caesar. Due to its small size and concealable nature, it was a popular weapon for assassination and suicide. Soon emperors came to wear the dagger as a symbol of the power of life and death. The Romans usually wore this dagger with a sheathe.

A picture depicting the assassination of Caesar
( C: Leemage/UIG via Getty Images)

2) The ancient Roman weapon Gladius- The Roman army’s most definitive weapon

The gladius was a long sword, and it primarily represented the Ancient Roman soldier. A Roman soldier would never be seen without his gladius or his shield. It was most effective during close combat. The Roman soldiers would block the enemy with their shields and attack them with the gladius. The main purpose of the sword was to thrust and slash the enemy. Additionally, the gladius was very effective in cutting the kneecaps of the enemies thus rendering them helpless. This is what made it such a popular and effective ancient Roman weapon. However, towards the end of the 3rd century AD, the spatha eventually replaced the gladius.

The picture of a Roman soldier wielding the Ancient Roman weapon gladius
A Roman soldier wielding the Ancient Roman weapon gladius

3) Pilum- One of the most effective Ancient Roman weapons

The Roman legions commonly used a type of javelin known as pilum. It was essentially a throwing spear. It was designed in such a way that the tip was made of hard iron while the shank was made of soft iron. Hence when thrown at the enemies it would break off easily. In this way, the enemy could not throw it back at the Roman Army. Additionally, the tip of the pilum was wider than the shank, hence it left a large hole when it pierced through the shield of the enemy. Essentially wounding the enemy soldier behind the shied. Thus making it one of the most effective Ancient Roman weapons.

A picture of Roman legionaries carrying the pilum By CristianChirita
A picture of Ancient Roman legionaries carrying the pilum (By Cristian Chirita)

4) Plumbata- A tactical Ancient Roman weapon

The Roman army carried lead-weighted darts called plumbata. Soldiers carried about 5-6 of these and embedded them in the hollow of their shields. This Ancient Roman weapon was very effective on the battlefield. The soldiers used it to wound the enemies before they came in contact with the actual combat weapons. Another name for plumbata is martiobarbuli, which is basically little spikes of mars.

A picture of ancient roman plumbate heads
Plumbate heads

5) Spatha- The superior replacement of gladius.

The spatha was another type of long and straight sword. The Romans used this sword in both gladiator battles and war. Spatha replaced the gladius towards the end of the 3rd century AD. The longer length of the spatha provided the infantry more reach when thrusting. It was introduced to the Roman soldiers by the Celtic troops who were in the Roman service. The Roman heavy infantry later used these long swords.

A Picture of the ancient roman weapon spatha
A picture of the spatha

6) Parma shield- An Ancient Roman shield popular for its lightness and small size

Roman soldiers used round shields known as Parma. The shield was made of wood and had iron embedded in its frame, thus making it an effective and strong weapon. Parma had handles inside and shield bosses. The Velites, the lowest class in the Ancient Roman infantry used this weapon They were especially popular for their lightness and small size. The signiferi, the standard-bearers of the Roman legion also used the parma shield as a defensive weapon. Additionally, the Ancient Roman gladiators used the parma shield during their fights.

A picture of the effective roman weapon Parma shield
Parma shield (by Carole Raddato)

7) Scutum- Gave the Roman army an edge over their enemies

Scutum is also a type of shield. The Roman Army started using it in the 4th century AD. They started using it when they changed their military formation to maniples. Originally the shield was oblong in shape, later it evolved into a rectangular and semi-cylindrical shape. What made the scutum effective is the fact that it was easier to hold in one hand and due to its large height the soldier was protected from missile fire. Additionally, it served as an advantage in hand to hand combat. The convex shape of the shield further served as a punching weapon.

The efficiency of the weapon is understood from the Punics Wars. Polybius, the Greek historian wrote how the scutum shields gave the Roman army an edge over the Carthaginians. The shield provided them with both protection and confidence.

A picture of the Scutum shield
The scutum shield

8) Montefortino helmet and the Coolus helmet- Used by the poor legionaries

The galea (helmet) was an important part of the Roman soldier’s armour. One important type of helmet was the montefortino helmet. It was a conical-shaped helmet with a knob with a raised centre, the neck guard protruded and sometimes it had plates to cover the sides of the head. Most of the montefortino helmets discovered had no cheek plates, which indicated that the plates were made of perishable material (most likely leather). These helmets were mass-produced and used by the poor legionaries.

The second important type of galea was the coolus helmet. A hemispherical helmet made of brass or bronze. It co-existed with the montefortino helmet. It later evolved into the imperial helmet.

A picture of the montefortino helmet
The montefortino helmet

9) The Imperial helmet- The final evolution of Roman helmets

The imperial helmet was the final evolution of the helmets worn by the Roman legionaries. H. Russel Robinson coined the term and he divided the imperial helmet into two types ‘Imperial Gallic’ and ‘Imperial Italic’. The imperial helmet had more advanced features thus making it efficient and effective during wars. The imperial helmets had a sloped neck with a ribbing pattern at the nape. Additionally, they had ear guards, ornamental bosses and brass trim.

After the Dacian Wars, the Romans made further developments in the helmet. They attached two iron bars crosswise across the helmet skull, said to be a protection against the falx. This soon became a standard feature.

A picture of the imperial helmet
Imperial helmet

10) Onager- A small catapult with a great kick

The onager was a Roman siege engine. It was essentially a small catapult. It had a large frame with a sling attached to the front end. Once the sling was pushed down it violently fired projectiles. It got its name from the wild ass who has a similar violent kick. Additionally, due to its ability to hurl objects at a large distance, the Ancient Romans deemed it an effective weapon.

A picture of the ancient roman weapon onager
The onager (by Diels)

11) Carroballista- A cart-mounted ballista

Another widely used weapon was the carroballista. It was cart-mounted mobile field artillery. And it shot arrows and bolts. There was one man operating the ballista while another was manoeuvring some sort of winch handle. The horses or mules usually pulled the cart.

A picture of the ancient roman weapon carroballista
The carroballista

12) Corvus- An innovative Ancient Roman naval weapon

Corvus was a naval weapon that allowed the Roman legions to cross over to enemy ships. It was extensively used against the Carthage during the Punic Wars. The device was a small bridge with a parapet on both sides and it had a heavy barb on the underside to pierce and anchor onto the enemy ship. Additionally, it used the system of pulleys.

Before the Punic Wars, the Romans had little experience in maritime warfare. Through the invention of the corvus, they went on to win many battles. However the corvus had its disadvantages, it wasn’t suitable to use during rough weather. Hence as time went on the Romans became more experienced and advanced in naval warfare and it diminished the use for the corvus.

A picture of the corvus
The corvus

13) The Lorica Segmentata- The protective personal armour

The Lorica Segmentata is the iconic symbol of the Roman soldier. It is a body armour most associated with the Roman army. It was an armour that had metal strips that were fastened to the leather straps inside. The auxiliary troops usually wore the Lorica Segmentata. The armour provided for the protection of the chest and the back and it absorbed and deflected physical attacks. Additionally, it could be stored properly as it was easy to fold and keep.

A picture of a soldier wearing the lorica segmentata
The Lorica Segmentata


Enjoyed the above article? You may also enjoy What did the Romans ever do for us? Five amazing Roman innovations 

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