Velites (singular: veles) were a class of infantry in the Roman army of the mid-Republic from 211 to 107 BC. Velites were light infantry and skirmishers who were armed with a number of darts (Latin: hastae velitares), each with a 30-inch wooden shaft the diameter of a finger, with a c. 10-inch (25 cm) narrow metal point, to fling at the enemy. They also carried short thrusting swords, or gladii, for use in melee. They rarely wore armour as they were the youngest and poorest soldiers in the legion and could not afford much equipment. They did carry small wooden shields called parma for protection, and wore headdresses made from wolf skins so their brave deeds could be recognized. The velites were placed at the front partly for tactical reasons, and also so that they had the opportunity to secure glory for themselves in single combat.
|Part of a series on the|
|Military of ancient Rome|
|Ancient Rome portal • War portal|
Velites did not form their own units; a number of them were attached to each maniple of hastati, principes and triarii. They were typically used as a screening force, driving off enemy skirmishers and disrupting enemy formations with javelin throws before retiring behind the lines to allow the heavier-armed hastati to attack. They were normally the ones who engaged war elephants and chariots if they were present on the field, such as in the Battle of Zama, in 202 BC. Their high mobility and ranged weaponry made them much more effective against these enemies than heavy infantry. An early Roman legion contained approximately 1,000 velites. Velites were eventually disbanded after the Marian reforms. Lucilius suggests that rorarii and velites were interchangeable, with velites gradually superseding rorarii. Another theory is that the leves' equipment was upgraded until they were at the same level as the rorarii, and they both collectively became known as the velites.