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Officers and Armour of the Cavalry

Similarly they divide the cavalry into ten squadrons
Officers and arms of the equites.
(turmae), and from each they select three officers (decuriones), who each select a subaltern (optio). The decurio first elected commands the squadron, the other two have the rank of decuriones: a name indeed which applies to all alike. If the first decurio is not on the field, the second takes command of the squadron. The armour of the cavalry is very like that in Greece. In old times they did not wear the lorica, but fought in their tunics (campestria); the result of which was that they were prompt and nimble at dismounting and mounting again with despatch, but were in great danger at close quarters from the unprotected state of their bodies. And their lances too were useless in two ways: first because they were thin, and prevented their taking a good aim; and before they could get the head fixed in the enemy, the lances were so shaken by the mere motion of the horse that they generally broke. Secondly, because, having no spike at the butt end of their lance, they only had one stroke, namely that with the spear-head; and if the lance broke, what was left in their hands was entirely useless. Again they used to have shields of bull's hide, just like those round cakes, with a knob in the middle which are used at sacrifices, which were useless at close quarters because they were flexible rather than firm; and, when their leather shrunk and rotted from the rain, unserviceable as they were before, they then became entirely so. Wherefore, as experience showed them the uselessness of these, they lost no time in changing to the Greek fashion of arms: the advantages of which were, first, that men were able to deliver the first stroke of their lance-head with a good aim and effect, because the shaft from the nature of its construction was steady and not quivering; and, secondly, that they were able, by reversing the lance, to use the spike at the buttend for a steady and effective blow. And the same may be said about the Greek shields: for, whether used to ward off a blow or to thrust against the enemy, they neither give nor bend. When the Romans learnt these facts about the Greek arms they were not long in copying them; for no nation has ever surpassed them in readiness to adopt new fashions from other people, and to imitate what they see is better in others than themselves.

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    • A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities (1890), HASTA
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