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Kite Shield Kite Shield Kite Shield

The classic “knight in shining armor” medieval shield evolved from a roughly triangular-shaped Norman shield. Our earliest reference to this Norman-type shield is on the Bayeux tapestry, which shows several images of a shield shaped like an upside-down water droplet.

The Norman shield was used for several centuries, due to its effectiveness at defense, especially for a rider on horseback. The long, narrow shape easily covered the rider’s side, and guarded against the lance strikes of any opposing horsemen.

Unlike the Viking or Anglo-Saxon shields, the Norman shield was quite securely fastened to the arm of the user. Three straps on the shield, called enarmes, kept the shield on the left arm of the wearer. Another set of straps, called the guige, wrapped around the neck and shoulders of the wearer, to allow the weight to hang there while the arm was used for another task.

Over time, this shield turned into the classic medieval shield. The medieval shield looked like a triangle with two slightly curved sides, and was made out of wood with a covering of leather, cloth, or parchment. One or both sides were painted to represent the house of the knight who carried it. This practice became complicated over time, due to the marriages of different houses and the large number of knights, and turned into an art all of its own, called heraldry.

In keeping with the style of the Norman shield, the medieval shield also had the enarmes and guige that allowed greater flexibility and protection at the same time. This was essential, as the protection against lances was paramount in the medieval tournaments.

Even as styles and sizes changed, the basic construction of the ancient shield remained the same through the middle ages. So did its function. And although the construction of the shield has long since passed, the function of a shield hasn’t even changed today.


Scutum Scutum Scutum

The Roman Scutum was a shield that defined Rome as we know it. The Scutum was a rectangular, curved shield that actually existed prior to the Roman Empire. It was two and a half feet wide and four feet tall, and had a thickness of about half of an inch, tapering down at the edges. The Romans brought this shield into wide use, and its design made it more than just a piece of wood.

It was, in fact, quite a few pieces of wood. The Roman Scutum had a unique construction. Thin strips of wood were layered three deep, at right angles, to provide a type of plywood that was flexible, strong, and light. There was also no other way to make the highly curved shape of the shield.

The Scutum was almost a cylinder half, protecting the Roman soldier’s side and front. The extremely curved shape did have one disadvantage, however. A Roman soldier could not draw his sword across his body, as there was no room inside the tight-fitting shield. Because of this, the roman legionnaires would carry their sheath on their right sides.

The testudo was one of the most famous ways the Scutum was used. Testudo was the Latin word for tortoise, and that’s exactly what this formation looked like. The testudo formation consisted of a solid block of troops with every man pointing his shield outwards, and those in the middle holding them over their heads. This proved to be a very effective defense against arrows and stones, as well as a great siege weapon.

Just as the Aspis, the Roman Scutum served its makers well. The formations and tactics of the legions and their shields led Rome to more than one victory in the field.


Aspis Kite Shield Scutum
"Kite" or "Heater"

Shields are some of the oldest defensive devices ever. They are simple, smart, and easy to make, and we still use them in many modern applications. Helmets, breastplates, and greaves are a few ancient personal defenses, but shields are the oldest.

In the case of shields, it is difficult to determine the very first use. It was probably a day or two after the first use of the club. Caveman One hit Caveman Two, and all of a sudden Caveman Two needed a way to defend himself. Since that time, shields have changed shapes and sizes, but the original concept is still the same.

The vast majority of shields were constructed with the same material: wood. Although there are records of shields made with various types of metals, it is quite understandable that any type of metal might get more than a little heavy. On top of the wood was usually some type of covering, be it cloth, leather, or paper, that could be painted to decorate the shield.

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