The legions of Rome were one of the biggest factors in Rome's success as an empire. They conquered vast quantities of land, and were often used by the government to improve the morale of people living in cities, which often had parts that were cramped and unsanitary. The legions were set apart from contemporary armies due to their level of organisation and especially as they fought as a unit and not as individuals, as many tribes did.
The swords of the Roman Legionaries were different to many people at the time. This figure shows a sword, or _gladius_, found by archaeologists. Though the hilt, guard and pommel have rotted away - showing that they were probably made primarily from wood - the tang and blade remain. The sword was narrow, so that it could fit between small gaps between shields in the close formations favoured by the Romans, and also so that it could easily slide between the ribs, reaching the internal organs and maximising damage, although soldiers were often encouraged to go for the throat and groin; the location of several major arteries. The thicker fuller of the blade tapering away at the edges allowed for sharper blades. A slight discolouration running down the centre of the blade may indicate a 'blood groove', through which blood could run so that the sword did not get stuck in the wound as easily. The sword was also very narrow, and this was probably done purposely, in order to stop soldiers overextending or slashing away, and encouraging thrusting, which was and is harder to parry, as the sword has to be knocked from its path, rather than just blocked.
Flavius Vegetius Renatus, in 'De Re Militari Book I: The Selection and Training of New Levies', which was written in 390 A.D, says that "a stab, though it penetrates but two inches, is generally fatal", as well as citing the reason that "the body is covered while a thrust is given", whereas when slashing, "it is impossible to avoid exposing the right arm and side". This picture shows a Pompeii style sword, which was on Trajan's Column: Trajan had the column made in around 100 AD to commemorate military victories. This gives a very good idea of the size and shape of an original Roman Sword.
Another weapon generally used by the legions was the _pilum_, plural _pila_. The head shown in this image was estimated to have come from the first or second century AD it can be seen that the head was considerably wider than the neck. The base of the throwing spear was made from wood, which has rotted away. The spear was designed to have considerable penetrating capabilities, as the shaft was very heavy - and sometimes weighted with lead. A pair of demoralizing volleys would kill many of the enemy, and those that landed in shields could not be taken out very easily, as the neck bent on impact, so that it could not be pulled straight out. The pila encouraged the enemy to flee, and if a rain of missiles was kept up, only the most disciplined troops would stand. Each legionary would have carried two of these spears, to be thrown on command, and each man had to be able to throw one at least 30 metres.
The Roman shield played a large part in the defence of the legionaries, and could also be used as an offensive weapon.
Made from layered wood, a legionary's shield could block all but the most penetrating of blows. With a metal rim to ram down on fallen enemies and hold the layers together under blows, and a large metal boss to ram into the enemy and deflect central blows, legionaries learned to use the shield well both offensively and defensively. When in formation, the shields synergized with each other, forming a near impenetrable wall, through which the legionaries could still stab to deadly effect.
One of the most famous Roman tactics was to form a _testudo_, or tortoise, using shields for cover. This picture details a part of Trajan's column, and this piece depicts Roman legionaries assaulting a fort under the...