Form, Function and Design of Shields (2)

Form, function and design (1)

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Extract from Cameron Stone's Glossary
p555 and on

SHIELD. Shields are probably the earliest means of defense and have been used longer than history records. They have been made of all sorts of materials - wood, leather, wickerwork, metals, cloth and even turtle shells. The shields of classic times were mainly circular, though many were elliptical, and the Roman shields were often a section of a cylinder. The Franks, Danes and other northern nations of Europe used round, elliptical or rectangular shields of basketwork, leather or wood with umbos (central bosses) of metal.

In the 11th and 12th centuries the shields usually had straight, or slightly curved tops, and two curved sides meeting in a point at the bottom. This type of shield is usually called 'heater-shaped'. A little later shields assumed the most fantastic shapes both in outline and profile; the object of some of these forms is difficult to imagine. Still later round shields were again used. In Europe shields were of two classes - bucklers and targets. The distinction is in the way they were held, bucklers having the handles in the middle which were grasped with the hand and held at arm's length, while targets had two widely separated handles through one of which the arm was passed while the other was held in the hand. Some Scotch and Persian shields had three loops placed so that they could be used either as targets or bucklers. In Europe the handles were called enarmes, and the sling by which the shield could be hung from the neck the guige.

In Oriental countries the round buckler is, and always has been , the rule ... The shields of the Malayan people are also frequently round and are generally made of woven cane or of wood. Some are targets, but most are bucklers. The Dyaks use wooden shields (kliau) mainly but, occasionally small shields of bark, rounded at the top and pointed below. [Click here for more on Dayak shields].

The Papuans use very rough rectangular or oval wooden shields, usually grotesquely carved, and often decorated in colors. In the Philippines the native tribes use a great variety of shields, almost every tribe having a characteristic type. The Moros use round wooden targets made of a very light wood of considerable thickness. In Mindanao the shields are also of wood, carved and inlaid with shell and decorated with tufts of hair. Many have peculiar shapes. The Igorot of Luzon use wooden shields with three prongs projecting from the top and two from the bottom, the whole well carved from a single piece of wood. Those of the northern tribes are the most elaborate and of the most graceful shapes. They become rougher and heavier towards the south and the prongs are shorter and broader, until with the southernmost tribes, they are rectangular with pointed tops.

In Africa shields are general and of infinite variety. They are round, elliptical and rectangular and made of hide or basketwork. The Kaffir races of the south use elliptical shields of cowhide strengthened with strips of hide about four inches wide laced through slits each side of the center line and further stiffened by a stick up the back. ... [Click here for more on African shields in general, and here for more on Nguni shields.]

In tropical Africa the shields are of hide or basketwork; and towards the north, almost entirely of hide. The skin of the rhinoceros is the most highly valued for this purpose, and that of the giraffe comes next. [Click here for more on hide shields.]

In Australia the shields are of two radically different types. Either they are broad and flat and much longer than they are wide, or very narrow and thick, sometimes not more than an inch wide and four or five inches thick in the middle. The first are used in the general fights and the second in duels with clubs or throwing spears. Their thickness and weight make them effective guards against club blows, and their length and narrowness enable them to be used to knock aside a spear by a turn of the wrist. [Click here for more on Australian shields.]

The North American Indians used shields of various kinds and sizes. Those of the wooded regions of the East rarely used any; those they had were made of hide or wickerwork, sometimes covered with hide. The Ntlakyapanuk used oblong shields of elk hide four or five feet long. Practically all of the other shields used on this continent were round. The shields of the Indians of the Plains were from twelve to twenty-six inches in diameter, averaging about seventeen. They were usually of buffalo hide with one or more covers of buffalo, elk or deerskin. The covers were painted with totemic designs, that of the inner cover being different from the others, and only exposed on going into a fight. Occasionally the shields were made of woven rods covered with dressed deerskins. These were supposed to possess protective power due to 'medicine' Catlin (I 241) gives a description of 'smoking the shield', that is, shrinking and thickening the green hide by heating it slowly over a slow fire. The process is quite elaborate, requiring the assistance of several men. In the southwest the shields were sometimes made by sewing together two thicknesses of hide. The Mexicans made a variety of shields, some of which were very elaborate ...

In Japan shields were seldom used and the few that we know are made of metal. In China large, round, convex shields were very general. Some are of wood lacquered and painted, and others are of cane covered with cloth. A favorite design is a tiger's or monster's head that covers the entire shield.

Some of the shields that appear light and weak were much more effective at the time they were made than they appear to us with our knowledge of present-day weapons. Wallace p360, speaking of the Aru Islander's shields says: 'One of the war shields was brought to us to look at. It was made of rattan and covered with cotton twist, so as to be both light, strong and very tough. I should think it would resist any ordinary bullet. About the middle there was an armhole with a shutter or flap over it. This enables the arm to be put through and the bow drawn, while the body and face, up to the eyes, remain protected, which cannot be done if the shield is carried on the arm by loops attached to the back in the ordinary way.

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Form, function and design of shields (1)