VMRR-01Y Veles with Yellow Shields, Roman Army of the Mid-Republic
Velites were the youngest and usually the poorest (being fifth class citizens, with property worth 400–2,500 denarii) soldiers in the legion, and could rarely afford much equipment. They were armed with veretum, light javelins, each with a 90 cm (3 ft) wooden shaft the diameter of a finger, with a c. 10-inch (25 cm) narrow metal point, and tips designed to bend on impact to prevent them being thrown back, similar to the heavier pila of other legionaries. Livy says that they each carried seven javelins, however Roman satirist Lucilius says that they carried five, suggesting that the amount may have changed. The hastati and principes carried gladii, relatively short thrusting swords 74 centimetres (29 inches) in length, as their main weapons, and the velites carried them as backup weapons. They fought in a very loose, staggered formation like most irregular troops, and carried small round shields called parma, 90 cm (3 feet) in diameter.
The velites were placed at the front of the maniples, so that the velites had the chance to prove themselves and win glory by seeking out single combat with an enemy. This is also why they wore highly identifiable wolfskin headdresses.
In the legion, the velites were attached to each maniple of hastati, principes and triarii. They usually formed up at the front of the legion before battle to harass the enemy with javelin throws and to prevent the enemy doing the same before retiring behind the lines to allow the heavier infantry to attack. After they had fallen back, they would move up behind the attacking troops and throw darts at the enemy. They also sometimes carried wounded back to the rear, however usually a corps of deportates did this.
In a pitched battle, the velites would form up at the front of the legion and cover the advance of the hastati, who were armed with swords.
In the standard legion around the time of the Second Punic War (218 -201 BC) there were 10 maniples of hastati, each having 120 hastati, with 40 velites attached.
The maniples were further split into centuries, of 60 hastati and 20 velites, with the centurion of the hastati century commanding the velites as well.