SHIELDS ON ME!: SCUTUM on my mind.

Another viewing of HBO Rome and I finally cracked and bought a small stack of Warlord Games Caesar's Legion figures - six cohorts of 24 figures including the first double strength cohort. Now, decisions decisions. How to paint them?

I am attracted to the Lego XI (emblem: Neptune) because of their history with Caesar before and during the civil wars and the fact that the historical Lucius Vorenus and Titus Pullo were both Centurions of that legion. I'm also drawn to the Legio XII (emblem: thunderbolt) because of their length or service and battle record down to 45BCE.

The subject of uniformity for this period is wide open to interpretation but as a general principle, I believe there needs to be some form of uniformity within a cohort as well as relative unity between cohorts of the same legion. Through re-reading Julius Caesar's Civil Wars, it is very clear that specifics of fighting strength was measured in his mind by numbers of cohorts present. In this way it seems that legions were as a modern division - seen more as an organisational rather than tactical structure or accurate measure of fighting capability. A cohort is formed and reformed, merged and disbanded to maintain a necessary fighting strength which is understood and calculated. A legion, it seems can be under strength in numbers of cohorts but by and large, a cohort was fixed.

As the tunic beneath the armour is only partially displayed, the biggest single identifier is the scutum. So, this for me is where uniformity is to be found in my representation. I rationalise that a fighting man knows is mates and enters the fray in formation but if order breaks down, how does any man on your greater side (say from another cohort) know who you are? So, there will need to be some form of uniformity on a legion level at least. Given that the legion makes camp and has all the necessary support elements with the baggage, there should be a higher degree of consistency in supply and repair when it comes to the shield than not. So, what are my options?

Imperial period XI idea
Reds (earth end of the spectrum) and yellow/ochres were in the widest use in all manner of painting and dyeing. But a malachite green was readily manufactured as well as Egyptian blue. Bearing in mind the surface of the plywood scutum was covered in leather and painted linen or parchment, any unpainted shield is likely to be white or even bare leather - always an option anyway. It seems likely that stencils provided for consistent patterns and there is no reason why generally this would not have been maintained on the march and on campaign.

So, given the occasional shortage, wastage with the use of battlefield detritus and the presence within the ranks of recent defectors during a civil war, I will have a sprinkling of non-standard shields through the ranks except perhaps the first cohort. So, some white, some leather, some of plain colour, some with a white or black stencil on white or leather but the vast majority uniform stencil on base colour - albeit with some variation of hue.

The horse is of interest but I'd do it in white - mostly.
At this stage I am leaning heavily toward Legio XI for additional reasons. Neptune is universally associated with the sea, so I'm inclined toward blue or green - everyone else goes for red! A white stencil on dark blue or green, muddied and battle damaged can be very effective and the standards and any red tunics stand out all the more. Also, Neptune is long associated with the horse and a white horse either stenciled (represented by transfers) or occasionally hand painted across some units can look most striking. More typical would be representations of a trident and the dolphin is definitely one of Neptune's chief symbols. Neptune was one of the few gods to whom bulls were sacrificed and he is is strongly associeted with this symbol also. This choice will give me variety within uniformity and may allow greater differences to be displayed between cohorts. I might even throw in a sea horse or two - perhaps for the signifers?
Another Imperial period XI concept: more cluttered than my ideas
If I go Legio XII then yellow eagle wings and lightning bolts are more probable but the shield could also be a dark blue night sky - green and yellow are out for me.

Probably fifth from the top left
My transfer options are somewhat limited and I may have to design and make my own. Most decals provide the colour background to the shield which I personally find restrictive and unhelpful. Anyway, if you've read to the bottom of this, tell what you think? Help me make my decision.

Another XI concept
Jona Lendering in his article on the Legio XI states, "Since this legion was constituted by Caesar, its emblem may have been a bull, but this symbol is nowhere to be found. Instead, the soldiers may have worn badges showing the sea god Neptune."

Imperial period concept
Well, rather than 'showing the sea god' I rather think representing him through symbolism and representing Neptune's earlier association with horses rather than his assumed domain of water is more appropriate. Given that Legio XI was raised for Caesar's campaign against Gaul which was very much an inland war, the horse would appear more appropriate still. 

Neptune is primarily identified by the trident so I'm inclined toward a horse and trident. 


  1. If I were to one day paint up Romans I'd certainly be going down the decal route, there's so many decent ones out there, they're a little fiddly but look fantastic. Especially LBMS. You can have a 6 year old paint up your figures and it'd still look excellent with one of there shield decals on!

  2. I was wondering where you came across the image with the white background of the shield designs?

    Is there a link to an higher resolution version?

    Awesome work on the figures, by the way! I really like how you chose blue instead of the usual red - makes the figures more unique.

    1. Google images search under 'ancient greek horse design' and it will come up ... and thanks for the kind words.

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