A while back, I was asked to write about the different types of shields. I’d already set up the posts for July to promote The Life & Times of Ichabod Brooks, so here we are in August. This takes a lot more research than normal for me because I typically only used three types: Buckler, Large Round (Targe) , and Tower. So, I’m just going to list all the types and be informative:
- Buckler– These are small shields that are about 18 inches in diameter. This doesn’t help much against projectiles, so it’s more useful in close combat. Even then, it won’t protect much against large weapons, so one could see it more as an offensive weapon that you can punch with. Supposedly, the Buckler is partially responsible for the term ‘Swashbuckler’ because it was used to give some defense while depending more on offense.
- Targe– Also called a Target, this is a concave shield that is round and are what you probably think of first. They tend to be iron or wood or a combination, but they are big enough to protect the main body and head. Not at the same time though. Not really sure why it’s a rectangle up there since all the pictures I found were circular. Anyway, this is what would be one of the three standard shield types and shapes.
- Roundel– Also called a Rondache, the second type is a bigger circle made of boards of light wood and rope. Then it was covered with leather or metal plates.
- Heater– This is the other common fantasy shield style with a pointed bottom and a straight top. It actually developed from the Kite Shield, which you can tell by comparing them. The Heater was made from leather over wood and, like the Targe, became used more often in jousting than combat. One thing to note is that this shield doesn’t protect the legs. Also, it’s the shape you tend to see with Heraldic Shields.
- Kite– Just a quick note that this one was made for mounted cavalry. The narrow bottom protected the right leg and the rounded top protected the shoulder and torso. These were eventually phased out by large shields with flat tops and the more manageable Heater.
- Pavise– These are shields that cover the whole body and are placed on the ground to protect archers. There were smaller versions for close combat and for soldiers to wear on their backs as defense. Many times you’ll see these called Tower Shields, but they aren’t exactly the same. Tower Shields might be the inspiration since they were one of two shields used in Greece. Every time I ran into the phrase it was in quotes too, so this might just be a vague term.
- Scutum– These were adopted by the Romans and slowly evolved into a large rectangle that would be used in a phalanx. These are the ones you would see get held up as a shield wall. One thing that I read is that they would have a circular shield as an auxiliary called a Clipeus. The Scutum depended on maintaining a formation, so a break of ranks meant that this large shield lost its full usefulness. Eventually, it stopped getting used and was replaced by oval and round shields.
- Nguni/African– This was a hard one to find info on because it has a bunch of names. Also, I kept finding sites that sold ‘Zulu Shields’ instead of giving any information on them. These are made from raw cattle hide and there are different styles, each one with their own use and name. They were the only pieces of armor and used primarily to deflect spears and arrows. You could also use them to land a stunning blow or knock an enemy off-balance. African Shields also had uses in dance and protection from the elements. Due to it not being as sturdy as the metal and wood ones, its use went into decline due to firearms.
- Celtic– These were usually oval, but could be hexagon or round. They usually had a hollow Shield Boss, which is a round piece attached to the middle front of the shield. Celts had battle shields that were designed to be light and strong, but they could break and were seen as expendable. Some clans also had wooden shields that were used in ceremonies instead of combat.
- Ballistic– This is the modern shield that you see used by SWAT teams. Designed to stop bullets and allow the person behind to see ahead, it’s an interesting design. Almost like it combines the Pavise and Targe since you can protect your body while shooting. Not a perfect combination, but it’s kind of there. This also proves that shields still have a use in the modern age.
Probably forgot other shields like the Coffin, Figure-of-Eight, Wankel, etc. One problem I had is that the information wasn’t always clear and many of the styles overlapped with other cultures. So some shields have multiple names and slight differences of style and use among them, but not enough to get a full entry. The key point is protecting the arms and torso though. That’s the area that they guard more because you have a helmet for your head and the legs were harder to hit than the main body. As for the arms, those were needed to continue fighting. One could still swing a sword with injured legs.
Anyway, feel free to add some shield info in the comments.