Subscribe to Fourth Estate Watch our YouTube Channel Follow us on Twitter Follow us on Facebook

Students wage war for history


Photo by Lauren Galloway Fourth Estate

Students in Professor Gregory Aldrete’s History 361 Ancient Rome class took the quad with noodle swords and handmade shields for a lesson in Roman military training May 1.

Lauren Galloway , Life Writer
May 6, 2014
Filed under Life, Top Stories

“Silence the ranks. Say goodbye to your farms and your families.”

Centurion and UW-Green Bay Professor Gregory Aldrete commanded his trainees before they took the oath of enlistment into the Roman Army.

His legionaries are UWGB students enrolled in his History 361: Ancient Rome class.

Learning to march was the most basic and foremost step in training for ancient Roman soldiers. Aldrete made sure his students learned the basic motions before parading them all over the field in between the Cofrin Library and Mary Ann Cofrin Hall.

He shouted Latin commands such as “Ad scutum,” meaning to turn left toward the shield, “Ad gladium,” meaning turn right toward the sword, and “State,” which means to stop. These Latin terms, among others, were just a small part of the lesson in Roman military training for the students.

Each student designed their own shield and wielded Styrofoam noodle swords. They were divided up into two groups and taught how to use their weapons before the groups were told to attack each other.

A key reason why the students were pitted against each other was to become familiar with a famous technique often utilized by ancient Roman soldiers. “Testudo” or “the turtle formation” was often used when being attacked by cavalry. Students re-enacted the formation by squatting down and forming a “shell” with their shields while the other half of the class tried to attack them. This showed the students firsthand some of the lifesaving innovations the Roman Army had on the battlefield.

Unlike actual Roman army training, laughing was heard throughout the activity, even sometimes by the professor himself as he watched his students fumble about in formation.

The event attracted a small crowd of students, employees and history buffs. The crowd shouted various Latin commands as the two student armies battled it out.

Finishing up the lesson in combat training, the students learned one of the hardest lessons the Roman Army had to teach: no one is immune to death.

The losing team of students had to draw sticks, and the person who drew the red-tipped stick faced an untimely execution at the hands of his or her comrades. In this case the execution was being pummeled by pool noodle swords. This punishment was traditionally used by the Roman army as a consequence for cowardice on the battlefield — though not with noodles. If one man was seen as a weak link, the whole team was viewed as weak and was punished.

“This year they’ve got really good shields, better than before, but their discipline is much worse,” Aldrete said of his class.

Aldrete said he’s inspired to do a lot of role playing and simulations in his classes because it activates and reinforces learning. If he could have one thing to make this particular event more exciting, he says he would want hundreds of participants with a lot more practice.

Students Greg Balza, Sigourney Vandebeer, Katie Turner and Liz Schroeder all enjoyed the mock battle.

Balza said he took this course specifically for this year-ending activity.

“It’s much better than simply sitting in a classroom reading a book all day,” Balza said.

Schroeder agreed.

“It was nice to see what it would have really been like to be in the Roman Army.”

Vandebeer said the event was engaging and that it provided students with a better understanding of the course material.