Discussion in 'General Weapons & Armour' started by evadra, Jul 24, 2011.
Ok what shield type is the best?
General purpose? Horseback? On foot? Fighting in formation or one-on-one?
I guess it would be interesting to know peoples opinions for all of those purposes!
No one got any further comments to add?
Yes, I do. With luck I'll have some free time tomorrow. I'm also trying to organize my thoughts on the subject.
I always appreciate your imput Greybeard! Thanks.
Choice of shield is a big subject, and one I'm afraid I'll barely be able to touch on right now. Consider that the shield was arguably the single most important piece of equipment that most soldiers carried from the dawn of civilization until the 14th century in Europe. A soldier without his spear could use his dagger, a soldier without his sandals could walk barefoot, a soldier without his mess kit could eat from his helmet. But a soldier without his shield had to use his body, and the human body is nearly worthless at stopping a spear thrust.
Historically, shields have ranged in size from the figure-8 body shields of Homeric Greece to the bucklers of the medieval Europe. They've been made of hide stretched on wooden frames, plywood, metal-covered wood or leather, solid steel, and who knows what all else. They've been square, rectangular, oval, round, and kite-shaped, flat, concave, and even convex. They've been strapped to the arm, or just held in the middle.
Given all that, my first inclination is to say that all shields are effective, and the differences more cultural than practical. But I don't really believe that.
My next thought is to say that all shields are good for the way they were used. Or more precisely, the shield and the technique evolved together, so each shield is correct for the technique for which it was used, and each technique is correct for the shield with which it was used. Which works to an extent. The problem is that armies with broadly similar techniques sometimes used quite different shields. For example, the Greek aspis and the Roman scutum were very different (round v. rectangular, two-strap v. centre-punch) although their users fought in close formation.
Anyway, I have to stumble off to bed now, so more later.
Cheers for that. I guessing in the 14th century armour replaced the need for a shield?
Pretty much. Being encased head to toe in steel armour meant you could wear your shield and carry different weapons, either a pair of single-handed weapons, or a polearm weapon like a long axe or halberd.
And eventually, firearms meant that carrying lots of heavy armour which wouldn't stop a bullet anyway was redundant, so armour disappeared almost entirely. Evolution is never more apparent that on the battlefield!
As for which type of shield is better for what; Round would be the best for mounted warriors, as it doesn't take up much vertical space, Tear Drop would be better for loose formation, as it's light and not too difficult to wield, but does not create a wall when all locked together, which is what you'd do with a rectangular shield, if it were infantry in tight formation (like the romans).
Cheers for all your imput guys, very much appreciated. Could round sheilds not be used to over lap? (I can see how a rectangualr would be more suited to this)
As for sheild versus armour, I think I would feel more comfortable with a shield than just armour. It's got to hurt getting hit full whack with a long sword even if you have armour on!
Larger shields limit mobility, so do heavy shields. Shields held at two points allow for a smaller range of arm motion than centre-punch shields. Long shields increase protection for the legs.
I suspect the most important distinction is between shields strapped to the arm (does anyone know a shorter term for them) v. centre-punch shields. Both were used for individual combat, and both were used for formation fighting. Let's look at the aspis and scutum again. They were both large, fairly heavy shields, and both were used in close formation, but the aspis was strapped on and the scutum held. The difference in shape is easily explained, I think, by differences in Greek and Roman armour. Greeks usually wore greaves, but the Romans didn't. That meant the Roman shield had to be long enough to protect the soldier's shins from missile attack, and the centre-punch design allowed the soldier to hold it at arm's length and cut down on the potential for melee cuts to the legs. The square corners were presumably intended to close gaps when used in mass formations like the testudo. It's worth noting that during the Punic wars, the Roman shield was a large oval, and late in the empire - with increased reliance on cavalry and light infantry - the Romans returned to a smaller oval shield, this one flat, not concave.
In general, due to the centre-punch design, the scutum seems a more flexible shield, adequate for tight formation, but also good for individual fighting. The classical Greek shield seems more designed to fight in very tight formation.
Without wanting to come across as stupidly stupid. What counts as a classical Greek shield?
It's a large (3 foot) circular wooden shield usually rimmed or faced with bronze. It was nearly flat toward the middle, and deeply concave near the rim. It had a single strap near the middle and either a second strap or a handle near the edge. The shields in 300 were reasonably accurate, but should have been deeper.
Ok. They look like good shields. Seem a lot like the ones used in Troy. I like the way Achilles uses his in that!
The Greeks fought at Troy.
I am aware of this, though I think the ones in troy had a segment cut out? Maybe for use of a spear?
Troy wasn't classical. Classical Greece was iron age, the seige of Troy was late bronze age, sometimes called Homeric or Archaic Greece. That's where they would have used the huge figure-8 body shield. If I recall my Homer correctly, Achilles' shield was made of the hides of three bulls (presumably one on top of another). Like this one.
I completely understand your reasoning, and agree that it makes sense, but that isn't necessarily the way it worked. For example, the Viking/Anglo-Saxon shield - a basic round, centre-punch design of around 30" - was widely used on foot for both individual combat and close formation fighting, but never (as far as I can tell) for mounted combat. In this case, I think it was a shield designed for individual combat pressed into service for the shield wall. It was actually a terrible shield for the shield wall, since it didn't protect the unarmoured legs and a centre-punch grip limits the amount of pressure you can exert on overlapping shields to strengthen the wall. If the Vikings and Anglo-Saxons had fought on horseback it would likely have been pressed into service again.
The only instance I know of where the Vikings fought on horseback was after they settled in Normandy and came into regular contact with the Frankish cavalry, and then they were using the early kite shields (cf the Bayeux Tapestry where both cavalry and infantry are show using them). So this may be a change brought about by a switch to mounted war, or by a general technological shift at the same time. Remember that the Vikings formed the Varangian Guard of the Byzantine Empire, and the Byzantines were using a teardrop at the time.
The other theory for the kite design is that it's specifically intended for mounted combat. The wide part at top would protect the body, the tail would protect the rider's left leg, but wouldn't be wide enough to interfere with the horse.
Note that while the Byzantine teardrop and the later Western heater used two straps, the early kites shown in the Bayeux Tapestry were centre-punch shields. They were essentially Viking/Anglo-Saxon shields with a tail.
I've decided I think round shields look cooler!
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