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Medieval life and Times

The Definition of Shields

The definition of Shields: Shields are defined as armor carried on the arm to intercept blows or used as a protective covering or structure. For additional interesting information and facts about shields click one of the following links:

Pavise Shield
Shield Shapes
Medieval Shield Designs
Medieval Coat of Arms

The Design of Shields
The design of shields varied greatly according to the type of battles of warfare that was to be fought and the materials and technology available. The size and weight of shields depended upon whether soldiers relied on speed and surprise or whether the enemies weapons had such force that highly protective and heavy shields were required.

The History of Shields
The following facts and information provide a fast reference to the history of shields

  • There is proof that Shields were first used during the Bronze Age, however, shields are probably the earliest means of defence and have been used longer than historical records
  • Shields became common use in all parts of the world including the Americas, Europe, the Middle East, Far East and the Orient
  • The shapes of the earliest shields were round, oblong or rectangular
  • The materials eventually used when making shields included hide or animal skins (leather), bark, wood, metal, leather-covered wood and wicker or basket work
  • Different types of Shields were used by all the ancient civilisations including the Ancient Greeks, Egyptians, Romans, Persians and tribes collectively referred to as Barbarians
  • The Ancient Egyptians wore some protective covering in the form of helmets however only the Pharaoh, or powerful and rich nobles, were equipped with body armor. The main form of defence were the shields which they used
  • The Romans used a variety of different shield with various names including:
    • Cetratus - Light Shield
    • Clipeus - Large, oval body shield
    • Parmula: Small, light shield
    • Parma equestris: Medium-sized, round, cavalry shield
    • Scutum: Large Rectangular Shield
    • Pugnum: Small shield used for thrusting
  • The period of the Roman Empire saw the decline of round shields to rectangular or cylindrical shields, primarily the scutum
  • Light hand-held shields were better suited for man-to-man combat with hand weapons, and for mounted soldiers
  • Shields were gradually overlaid with decoratively embossed or engraved thin metal plates
  • Shields became reinforced with the Umbo which was a boss applied to the center of a shield
  • Shields were designed to become both vehicles of defence to attack by the addition a sharp iron or bronze spike protruding from the center
  • Shields were decorated with distinctive colors for recognition purposes on the battle field
  • The decoration on a shield, or shield symbols, allowed warriors to be easily recognised, especially when helmets and face armor was worn
  • During the Medieval period of the Middle Ages the Normans introduced kite-shaped shields
  • The design of shields developed to increase the effectiveness of defence tactics in the Medieval times:
    • The Pavise (Wall Shields) was introduced which were large shields used as as shelters for foot soldiers and archers
    • The Targe Shields were designed shield to wear on the arm providing greater flexibility
    • The Buckler was a light shield and easier for the bearer to wield a weapon without sacrificing protection
  • Tall shields set on the ground offered more effective defence in pitched battles
  • Medieval shield construction included a strap called a guige that allowed it to be slung over the knight's back when not in use or when on horseback
  • Other shield designs were developed such as the 'bouche' which was designed to be used with the lance
  • Heater Shields - The 'heater' shields were strongly associated with Medieval jousting knights. These were smaller as they complimented full suits of armor and were suited to horseback
  • Shields continued to be used until gunpowder powered weapons made them obsolete on the battlefield
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