Reenactment Event at Corbridge Legio XIIII GMV
Corbridge, 2nd June 2002
Legio XIIII GMV
One of Britain's leading reenactment groups also made an appearance this rainy day, showing us some very elaborate troop formations, amongst other things. How much these guys must practice, to get these things right, I dare not think - particularly given that they receive their orders in Latin !
In any case, their displays are truly remarkable.
They arrived in neat formation, singing a military song. But notice where they're looking. The rain made the ground slippery. I was quite grateful for my rubber-soled boots. Walking with sandals with hobnails on their soles must have made marching quite tricky.
But pitty the poor soul who slipped up. A grizzly centurion stalked the terrain looking for anyone who fell foul of his exacting standards.
The roll call; anyone not there goes in the optio's little book...
The legionaries demonstrate the wedge formation, first slowly then in full charge. And believe me, the audience took one big step back as they came barging towards them. The wedge was used to crack open enemy lines. For if you broke the enemy's formation you'd usually pretty much won the battle.
I myself was a bit doubtful though about the centurion leading the way. I somehow suspect he'd find some poor soul to take that position, most likely someone he didn't particularly like. After all, which man would most likely be the one to come off worse for wear in this formation, the one at the front of the wedge, no ? :-)
Next the infamous 'tortoise' formation. Usually applied to close on enemy fortifications, but very likely also used as protection against sustained enemy archery.
A skirmishing formation, widely spaced, with overlapping second ranks to close the gaps.
A more complex formation designed to repel cavalry. It's very unlikely any horse could be persuaded to pile into that wall of shields and spears. Notice also the archers which are ready to pick off any brave barbarian who tries to give it a go anyhow.
The last stand. Here a few desperate legionaries form the 'orb'. Generally speaking a last gasp attempt in holding off the enemy, once one's lines have been broken and the legion has fallen into disarray.
But the legionaries didn't have it all their way. Some auxiliaries were around, too. Here some Syrian archers displayed their skill. One sneeky character actually managed to guide one of his arrows through a gap in the tortoise formation. A wide rubber tip assured that no-one got seriously hurt. And yet, the loud 'ouch' eminating from under the shields did raise a laugh with the audience.
The legionary dispaly also included a demonstration of their scorpio-ballista. Although the torsion ropes were fairly loosely, as otherwise it would represent a tremendously dangerous machine, the power of the catapult was enough to rib clean apart a bolt which got jammed in the mechanism.
Notice also the rust on one of the soldier's chain mail.
Back at the legionary camp things looked somewhat wet. But I found the means by which they had protected the catapults from the rain somewhat intriguing. It's quite likely that some two thousand years ago some Roman legionaries chose the very same solution to keep their ballistae dry.
If for the catapults they improvised, then for the shields they had the real thing. Here's a cloaked legionary fasting the protective leather covering onto his shield.
Being a cooperative lot they agreed to take the covers off their catapults to let me get a few pictures of them. On the left is a very fine specimen of a scorpio-ballista, on the right is a thoroughly unique recreation of a repeat-firing ballista. Following descriptions of Greek designs one has rebuilt this wonderous contraption and it works a treat. Bolts are simply stacked in at the top and then someone turns the levers back and fourth. This in turn operates the chain made up of wooden links. As this processs takes place, the catapult spits out bolt after bolt.
Its designer told me there was no immediate evidence to prove that the Roman army used this rapid-fire-ballista, but - given that the design was known, he is convinced that they, at some point at least, must have considered its use.
And here's the researcher/designer of the machines himself. His machines have also made an appearance on the BBC documentary 'What the Romans did for us'.
To check out the group's own equipment factory/shop, click below.
The two ballistae above were not all there was to see. Here is the later manu-ballista. You'll notice it's much more compact, and seems to have a higher proportion of iron parts.