Mycenaean Shields part 1
A while back I mentioned that I loved a particular type of shield and that was the so-called ‘figure of eight’ shield. Via archaeological evidence, it seems to have been used almost exclusively around the Aegean Sea during the bronze age and therefore most likely were made and used by a cultural group in that area now known as the Mycenaeans. Boiling them down to just ‘Greeks’ is historical blasphemy and isn’t accurate in any way shape or form.
The ‘figure of eight’ shield in general is peculiar because due to the depictions of its use by the Mycenaeans themselves, it doesn’t seem practical to use in combat. For a start they seem to be almost as big as its user and would have been really heavy and cumbersome. The deep cavity seen in picture 3 from the standing warrior on the right may seem ideal, but he can’t seem to see what he’s doing. However, the shield was used and according to archaeology it was a popular type to use. In the same picture you can see another warrior on the far left, but he has his suspended on his shoulder by a strap and his fighting pose is more flexible. Could this be a lost martial art?
From all the other depictions of this shield type, the face of it has a cow hyde type of pattern that may represent actual cow hide or a faux one. In every depiction there is a shield rim which may have been made of bronze to give the odd looking structure some strength and shape stability. The shield may have been constructed out of wicker to provide a light weight compromise to the size of it.
This unique shield type seems to have either fallen out of use after the collapse of the bronze age Mycenaean civilisation or evolved into the so-called ‘dipylon’ type. The ‘dipylon’ type was more popularly used during the later ‘geometric’ and even ‘archaic’ periods in what we can now call ‘Greek’ history. ‘Classical’ Greece followed after the ‘archaic’ period with more familiar characteristics such as defined hoplite warfare and political, philosophical & high cultural literature. The Mycenaean period on the other hand was more famous for its fortified cities, tyrannical rulers and the unique writing script they used, now called ‘Linear B’. Unlike the ‘alphabet’, Linear B was made up of Logophonetic symbols, a similar system to ‘Cuneiform' of the middle east.
Picture 1: Carved ivory plaque from the Temple of Artemis, Delos
Picture 2: Wall painting from Mycenae
Picture 3: Bronze dagger from grave-shaft IV, in grave circle A, Mycenae
Picture 4: Linear B tablet from 14th century BC
Picture 5: An artistic reconstruction of the ‘figure of eight’ shield by Nikos Panos.
Iron Age British Shield Shapes & Designs part 4
I forgot one last votive shield (fragment) that was found as a ‘standalone’ artefact. Picture 1 was found in near Sleaford, Lincolnshire and not far from where the Lincoldshire Wolds Hoard was found. It looks to be oval in shape and has ring motifs decorated around the edge. Picture 2 is the Lincolnshire Wolds find that is similarly decorated, except there are torcs in place of the rings.
Iron Age British Shield Shapes & Designs part 3c
The last of the Salisbury Hoard shields.
Iron Age British Shield Shapes & Designs part 3b
Some more from the Salisbury Hoard. Notice the difference in shape & scale each shield portrays. Some shields look like as if they are no more than a buckler, whereas others seem to be full body shields.
Iron Age British Shield Shapes & Designs part 3a
In Contrast to the Lincolnshire Wolds Hoard, here are the other votive shields from southern Britain, the Salisbury Hoard. Notice the obvious difference in shape for most of them. These are the ‘hide-shaped shields’ that match the Deal Warrior grave shield rim. There are no other native made artefacts of a similar type from anywhere else in the culturally ‘celtic’ world and they are now kept in the British Museum.
If you look carefully you can pick out the ‘La Tène’ art work on some them, and these are very British in design. The same style can be found on many other objects from the same area and time period. There are two oval shaped shields of a similar type to another one found in Alcester, Warwickshire.
Iron Age British Shield Shapes & Designs part 2
Some more from the ‘Lincolnshire Wolds Hoard’. Interestingly, the shield face design on image 1 shares some similarities with the shield from the ‘Mondragon Warrior' statue. Image 2 has a unique crossed diagonal dotted pattern and is a surprise in terms of style.
Iron Age British Shield Shapes & Designs part 1
The following images are copper alloy (bronze) miniature votive shields from the ‘Lincolnshire Wolds Hoard’ supplied by The Portable Antiquities Scheme and shows the diversity of native British shields from between the broad period of 400BC to 50-100AD. It would seem that the shapes used in Gaul were used by the Britons as well, but unlike in Gaul there is archaeological evidence of other shapes that are unique to Britain…so far anyway.
Based on the shapes found, patterns can be formed as to what shapes were used in regional locations. For instance, the hide-shaped type in its varieties are currently only found in southern Britain, whereas hexagonal & rectangular shields including some with rounded sides are found more in northern Britain. This isn’t definitive evidence for ‘who used what and where’, but it can be used as collective evidence of British shield shapes in general.
The designs on the shields are just as diverse & similar as in Gaul, but they are distinctively ‘British’. A separate example of this is the ‘La Tène’ art type that is found in Britain (insular celtic). Although the British and continental art styles belong to the same group (La Tène), they are both distinctive to the point that we know their origin at just a quick look. However, The designs do share a lot of similarities with each other suggesting that the meaning of some of them was shared between the different peoples/tribes.
I would like to make a special mention for the Dumnonika group from SW Britain that are representing the Dumnonii tribe that inhabited modern day Cornwall, Devon and Somerset. Dumnonika means ‘of the Dumnonii’ in the British language. These guys are historically accurate and their experimental archaeology is second to none in certain areas.
Anonymous said: I am a grad student writing an article on Seleucid War Elephants to be submitted to Ancient Warfare magazine. I am interested in finding out how to use the picture of the terra cotta elephant trampling a Gaul from Myrina as a potetnial illustration. Do you have the copyright for the photo, and how may I obtain permission to use it for this academic endeavor? Thanks.
I don’t have the copyright. Apparently, It’s currently at the Louvre Museum, Paris and I’m sure if you get in contact you can acquire permission.
Anonymous said: I bought what looks like a shield from yard sale. It is small, approximately 11 inches. Heavy, maybe bronze. Definitely hand decorated and had made. Metal, hand cut tabs connect the outside rim to the dome-like middle piece. Is there a way a could send you a picture to get your opinion of it. The lady that sold it said she traveled the world with her husband and his construction company. She said locals would knock on the door and offer items for sale to make money.
Of course you can
Anonymous said: battle that starts with the letter "J"
Battle of Jaffa 1192 AD
Guess what I’ve started doing today.
This is a novice try on a ‘side notched’ arrowhead made out of the bottom of a bottle from a very lovely ale I drank. Not bad for a first try, eh?
Big thanks to ‘Prehistorics' for the excellent basic knapping kit.
It may not be a shield, but it’s definitely ancient and very interesting.
Picture 1 is from Zahhak Castle in Iran and shows a Parthian relief of either ‘Zahhak’ (character from Parthian mythology), or it shows a Parthian infantryman from its heyday. Whats interesting is that the shield is identical to the republican Roman infantry shield that was used around the same time. Picture 2 is from the Ahenobarbus relief in the Louvre and shows identical shields carried by Roman infantry
Iberian Shields part 2
The Iberian peoples also used another type of shield, one that earned the title of ‘scutum’ by the Romans. We don’t actually know what the various Iberian peoples called it, but it was described in the same light as the Roman scutum (shield), i.e. its size. It is debatable whether the shield board was flat or curved but what is for definite was that it was meant to be a full body shield, protecting the user from neck to ankle.
Iberian mercenaries were known as ‘Scutarii’ to the Romans due to their use of the scutum rather than the caetra and the style of fighting was inevitably going to be different than a caetra carrying warrior. From ancient literary sources the Roman scutum was heavy and modern reconstructions confirm this. The result of this means that the user is going to be a slow mover, but with a massive boost in protection. The use of such tactics leans toward a more defensive style of fighting or used in close quarter formations to create an unbreakable wall of shields (on paper).
Most evidence is archaeological and comes from Iberian pottery, that strangely resembles Greek style pottery with warrior scenes painted on them. One thing is for sure, the overall shape of this type of shield are all portrayed in the same way with straight sides and curved tops & bottoms. It is no surprise why the Romans called it a scutum as well. There are a minor number of stone-work depictions and they also suggest the same in terms of shape and size. Considering that the neighbouring peoples of the Iberians (Gallic, Italic and Balkan) also used similar shape shields, there must have been an revolutionary development of this type at some point.
The designs on the shields vary but in a very particular ‘Iberian’ style that just isn’t present outside of the peninsula. The shield bosses are also varied and also uncertain. In some images there seems to be a lack of a shield boss in total where other images show them in relative detail, with spine. Picture 1 is part of the Osuna relief and shows a realistic Iberian warrior with his scutum and wielding a falcata sword. The shield boss stretches from side to side which is unique to the Iberian peninsula. Pictures 2 & 3 are Iberian kalathoi and show scenes where warriors are holding large shields with ‘s’ shape designs on them and in picture 3 there seems to be a clear image of the shield spine. Picture 4 is the LIbisosa vase and again shows an Iberian warrior wielding a falcata and holding a shield with a spine like in picture 3. Picture 5 is from the so-called Liria vase collection while picture 6 is a vase from Archena. Both pictures 5 & 6 show shields without shield bosses and on the Archena vase (picture 6) the shield is shown to be carried by two separate parallel straps that are tied to the sides of the shield and held together to form a taut handle. The design on the same shield back is either a striped pattern or is a sketch of the construction of it, i.e. strips of wooden planks held together.