Velites (Singular: "Veles") were a class of infantry in the
Polybian legions of the early Roman republic. Velites were light infantryand skirmisherswho were armed with a number of light javelins, or "hastae velitares", to fling at the enemy, and 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 for protection though, and wore a headdress made from wolf skin to allow officers to differentiate between them and other heavier legionaries.
Velites did not form their own units; a number of them were attached to each maniple of
hastati, principesand triarii. They were typically used as a screening force, driving off enemy skirmishers and disrupting enemy formations with javelin fire before retiring behind the lines to allow the heavier armed hastati to attack. They were normally the ones who engaged war elephants and chariotsif they were present on the field; 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 done away with after the Marian reforms.
Equipment and organisation
Velites were the youngest and usually the poorest soldiers in the legion, and could rarely afford much equipment.]
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