Thread Rating:
  • 0 Vote(s) - 0 Average
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
Parma size
Hello all,
Is there a consensus on the size of the parma shield used by veletes during the Republic? I suppose they might vary a little but I’m not sure how to take Polybius when he says that they were three feet wide (Plb. 6.22). Is he talking in Roman feet, making it 88.7 cm or is he using the Hellenistic foot mentioned by Dr.Dobson, which makes it 106.5 cm or perhaps another of the many various Greek foot lengths? I’ve read some who say he is using Roman and others that he uses Greek measurements. Considering the Greek Aspis is only 80-100cm both sizes seem surprisingly big for a skirmishing shield.
Pericles of Rhodes (AKA George)
What follows is strictly my opinion, since nobody has weighed in yet.

I'd say we can trust Polybios with the measurements. First, 3 roman feet is pretty much the standard size I've seen for round shields from the Archaic aspis (and even before, the Assyrian infantry shield) to the dark-age viking round shield. Talking strictly about infantry shields.

Second, the veles would have this shield as his main protective equipment, while operating in a missile-heavy environment, often with range disadvantage - even with the amentum his range would be lower to that of slingers and archers, comparable to the one of other javelin-throwers. Giving a large-ish shield to protect the youngest/poorest warriors in order to limit their casualty rate would be logical. 

I don't think we should use the signifer parma as the standard, because unlike the Veles, the Signifer was armored. Personally, I see him equipped in the manner of a sarissa pikeman.
Thank you for your input, Torongill.
I agree that a shield of this size (taking into account that he used Roman feet) isn't inconceivable and as you say falls into the Aspis size bracket and is only a little large than Viking shields which were about 80cm.
I see what you mean about being outranged and receiving a lot of missiles. Perhaps this was more of an issue for Velites than Greek/Thracian Peltast who carried much smaller shields (although I can’t see why unless there was an increase in slingers and archers in the Republic)? This seems doubtful when you consider the amount of archery the Persians had, Greek Rhodian slingers etc. Also, modern illustrations and reconstructions choose a smaller size for this shield than the c89-107cm we are told, although as you say perhaps they are extrapolating from the later signifier pelte which is more of a buckler.
My main question is – is this shield 3 ROMAN feet of 3 GREEK feet wide. It makes a difference as 3 roman feet are 88.7 cm but 3 Hellenistic feet are 106.5cm, making it over the size of the largest Greek aspis (from memory).
Mike Dobson in 'The Army of the Roman Republic' argues that as Polybius is a Greek, writing in Greek and translating for a Greek audience his measurements would be Greek but I have read elsewhere that he is using Roman feet. I was just wondering if there was a current consensus on which is correct/the most widely held view because Dobson's argument seems very plausible but the size of the shield seems very large at 107cm instead of 89cm.

Pericles of Rhodes (AKA George)

Forum Jump: