I have seen several images like these, where the soldiers in testudo formation hold shields above their heads and to their sides as well.

enter image description hereenter image description here

The soldiers standing in the extreme left or right column of the formation could either hold their shields over their head or to their side. Did those particular soldiers carry two shields for this? Or are these images inaccurate?


Both variants are possible.

In the variant with side protections, the soldiers at the flanks would hold their shields to their sides. This made the top protection a bit worse and reduced mobility, but provided better protection. Sometimes soldieirs at the rear of the formation would also walk sideways to keep the back protected as well.

Reenactment of the full Testudo

No one is carrying two shields. The shields are big enough to overlap in a close formation. Look closely at the legs at the front. You'll notice three legs for the three shields there, one front, one side, one top. The first holds it to the front, the second to the side and the third on top to also cover the two people before him. You can see, these people aren't fully trained to form a testudo as there is a noticeable gap here at the side.

Shields on top also aren't missing, they are just less dense. In a close testudo formation the shields can overlap providing additional protection, with side protections, you lose those overlaps.

Reenactment of the lighter variant

You can also find many images of a variant with no side protection, which is more mobile and provides better shield density at the top of the formation. It would generally be used in sieges, due to little trouble coming from the sides. The variant shown here is a more loose testudo formation, which would be used for storming a position, it's so loose as to avoid overlaps of the shields, this gives the soldiers the highest possible freedom of movement and speed while in this formation.

  • 2
    In the first image you posted, the soldiers at the extreme side of the column are carrying two shields I presume? Since I do not see any missing shields. Moreover, won't missing shields at the top defeat the entire purpose of the testudo? – Aditya Prakash Mar 19 '20 at 15:57
  • 1
    I updated my answer in response to your questions. Missing shields was the wrong choice of wording, there are just less shields to protect the top, which reduces the amount of overlap on the shields or forces the soldiers into a closer formation further limiting mobility. – Dulkan Mar 20 '20 at 7:26

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.