Put on the full armor of God, . . . with the belt of truth
buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and
with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In
addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish
all the flaming arrows of the evil one.
Ephesians 6:13-16, NIV, emphasis added
Through the early morning mist Severus Maximus could see barbarian warriors amassing at the far end of the valley. For six months these enemy combatants had been raiding wagons that traveled along Roman trade routes in the region. Severus and his cohort of 600 Roman soldiers had been dispatched to clear them out.
Severus's men knew their jobs well, but going into battle was never taken lightly. Tension filled the air as they quietly and efficiently donned their armor. The youngest of the cohort, Valentinus, visibly trembled as he adjusted the straps on his armor. Not yet out of his teens, he was about to taste battle for the first time.
When Severus approached, Valentinus snapped to attention.
Severus carefully checked the young man's armor and then ordered, "Pick up your equipment!"
The young recruit knelt and picked up his sword and his large rectangular shield. The battle shield held Severus's attention. It was Rome's secret weapon and the key to many battlefield victories. Amazingly light, it was nonetheless firm enough and large enough to give a soldier almost complete protection. A nervous Valentinus stood to attention, holding his shield closely by his side--it was almost as tall as he was.
"Young Valentinus, you are now a Roman soldier," Severus announced. "You are part of the best-trained, best-equipped fighting force the world has ever seen."
The commander put his hand on the young man's shoulder and softened his tone, "You were sent here to face this barbarian horde. But remember this, you were not sent here to die. You were sent here to win! Keep your shield up and you will do well."
As the young man's eyes brightened, Severus smiled slightly, "Strength and honor, Valentinus."
"Strength and honor, sir."
Across the valley the barbarian warlord was preparing his men for battle also. His camp was quite a contrast to the one Severus ran. It reeked of unwashed bodies and spoiled food. The men were poorly trained, ill equipped and shaggy in appearance. However, their stench and paint-streaked faces had struck terror into the hearts of many a foe.
The barbarian horde was divided into two groups. On the front lines were 700 warriors. Armed with swords, lances and axes, they milled about, laughing and boasting of their prowess. Each seemed eager to prove that he was stronger and louder than the others. The second flank consisted of 200 archers, their arrows tipped with black pitch, which would be deadly to their enemies.
The warlord was proud of his men. They had seen many battles and had always been victorious. But they had never fought the Romans.
The moment the sound of a trumpet echoed across the valley the barbarians saw the Romans forming long lines and ranks. Soon the air was filled with an ominous sound, like low-pitched thunder. It was the rumble of marching feet and Roman swords rhythmically slapping the edge of large rectangular shields.
The barbarian hordes were not intimidated. Eager to taste blood, they began to curse and taunt the approaching Romans. Finally the warlord gave the signal. The first wave of enemy warriors let out a battle cry, lifted their weapons high over their heads and sprinted across the narrowing strip of land that separated the two forces.
To the horror of the warlord, the Romans responded with a tactic that he had never before seen. As the first wave of barbarians approached, the Roman soldiers--marching shoulder to shoulder--linked their shields together to form an impenetrable wall. The barbarians found themselves rushing headlong toward a solid mass that was moving inexorably toward them.
When the enemies clashed, the barbarian weapons harmlessly clanked against the Roman shields. The warlord could not believe his eyes: His brave warriors were quickly impaled on Roman swords that were thrust through narrow slits between the shields.
The barbarian leader signaled a second wave of attack but saw this force meet the same fate: dashed against the moving fortress of the Roman army. A third wave was just as rapidly repulsed. A few Roman soldiers fell, but they were instantly replaced by others who moved up from the rear.
As the Roman wall of shields continued to advance on the barbarians, the warlord shrieked in anger and gave a signal to his archers. Pitch-tipped arrows were dipped in firepots. At the warlord's next signal, the air above the Roman forces was filled with a storm of flaming arrows.
But once again the Romans were prepared. While the frontline soldiers kept their shields closely linked, the soldiers behind them lifted their shields overhead, fitting them together in a formation the Romans called the testudo (tortoise). The Roman line had been transformed into a roofed stronghold! Their linked shields quickly extinguished the flaming arrows and allowed the soldiers to continue their advance.
The barbarian warlord had no formal education, but he was no fool. He knew his forces were defeated, so they quickly retreated. As the barbarians fled across the valley and out of sight, Severus knew that because of their shields, another battle had been won. Just as the final clouds of dust were settling, Severus caught sight of Valentinus. The young man, who had been so nervous before the battle began, now stood tall, proud and victorious. "Strength and honor, sir," the Roman soldier said to his commander.
"Strength and honor, Valentinus," Severus beamed to the child who, by trusting in the strength of his shield, on this day and in this battle had become a man.