Testudo formation

Testudo formation

In Ancient Roman warfare, the testudo or tortoise formation was a formation used commonly by the Roman Legions during battles, particularly sieges. "Testudo" is the Latin word for "tortoise".


In the testudo formation, the men would close up all gaps between each other and grab their shields at the sides (rather than by the grip behind the "umbo"). The first row of men, possibly excluding the men on the flanksFact|date=September 2008, would place their shields in front of them, from about their shins to the middle of their faces, so as to cover the formation's front. Everybody in the middle would place their shields over their head to protect from above, balancing the shields on their helmets and overlapping them. If necessary, the legionaries on the sides and rear of the formation could stand sideways or backwards with shields held as the front rows, so as to protect the formation's sides and rear, but the shape of the shields would mean that these soldiers would only be afforded incomplete protectionFact|date=September 2008.


When used correctly, the testudo was an excellent shield against missile troops, and the legions could move with less fear of being harmed by arrow fire and javelins. The primary problem with the formation was that it was so tight that the soldiers had great difficulty fighting in hand-to-hand combat—the Battle of Carrhae showed the testudo's limitationsFact|date=September 2008, as the Parthians shot the Romans with horse archers if they stayed in regular formation, and charged with cataphracts if they tried to form a testudoFact|date=September 2008. Other problems were that the front rank's faces and legs were still exposed; the formation couldn't move very quickly; and more powerful weapons (such as Eastern composite bows) could puncture the scutum and pin the soldiers' hands to their shields under prolonged fire, as occurred at Carrhae.



*Cowan, Ross, "Roman Battle Tactics 109BC - AD313" (Osprey 2007)
*Rance, Philip, 'The Fulcum, the Late Roman and Byzantine Testudo: the Germanization of Roman Infantry Tactics?' in "Greek, Roman and Byzantine Studies" 44 (2004) pp. 265-326: http://www.duke.edu/web/classics/grbs/FTexts/44/Rance2.pdf.

ee also

*Roman infantry tactics


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