VMRR-04Y Veles with Yellow Shield, 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.