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Michael S. Rivet





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PostPosted: Sat 01 Nov, 2008 5:43 pm    Post subject: Shield Myths         Reply with quote

There have been a couple of good shield threads lately, so hopefully this will generate some interest. I've seen lots of threads dealing with sword myths in the past, debunking silly notions about katanas cutting cannon barrels and such. However, there are a couple of things I've read or seen inferred (not necessarily here) that I think might be shield myths. I'd like to list a couple and explain them briefly. What I'm trying to find out, hopefully with plenty of help, is where these ideas came from (sources and deductions, not who said them necessarily), and whether they're valid or iffy. I have no agenda other than increasing my understanding here, so if I'm wrong about anything don't hold back. I just happen to really love shields and when I love something, I try to learn something about it. So here goes.

1) The shield was disposable
I know I've read this somewhere, probably more than one somewhere. Granted, with any statement like this we have to ask "Which shield?" and "When and where?" It's possible that Medieval shields might not have been as expensive to produce as Viking shields, for instance. The only potential source for this idea I've come across is the description of the Viking Holmganga, in which each participant is allowed three shields. However, many Viking shields have been found with metal clamps arranged in a way that suggests they were repaired, not thrown out, when damaged. I can get a source for that, but I want to start a discussion, not rant, so for now I'll move on.

2) Once plate armor became good enough, knights happily discarded their cumbersome shields
Again, I know I've read this more than once. This one always bugged me because lots of types of shields co-existed happily with plate armor and I've seen period art showing fully be-plated knights carrying big "cumbersome" shields. Again, I can get a source, but I'd rather other folks chime in with evidence first. I guess I always thought that a preference for weapons with longer reach and more power (and thereby needing two hands) caused the recession of the shield as well as necessitating the simultaneous evolution of plate armor. But I can't validate that with any timeline, necessarily.

That's probably plenty to chew on for now, though if anyone else has any potential shield myths to lob into the discussion, please do so.
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Doug Lester




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PostPosted: Sat 01 Nov, 2008 8:20 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

When and where are big things that limit argument about most things. I don't know if I'd say that shields were disposable at any time rather than say it was expected at certain times and places that shields would be damaged beyond repair during battle. Shields were used during the joust after full suits of plate came into use. The were used to turn a lance head that could unseat a combatant during a friendly joust, joust of peace, or keep it from punching though the plate armour. In foot combat in full plate I doubt that a shield was of much use at all and possibly an incumbrance.
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Elling Polden




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PostPosted: Sun 02 Nov, 2008 6:48 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

On disposable shields; Shields, by virtue of beeing something that you put in the way of incoming harmfull objects, can't be something you expect to survive a battle. It MIGHT still be usable at the end, but that would be a bonus.
That said, not all shields where made for battle.

On shields and plate armour, wearing plate means that shields are no longer essential. However, they are still handy.
Pictoral evidence sugests that shields still saw limited use in the 1400's. These where eiter small heater shields or targets worn on the shoulder, or pavise type shields. Even fancyfull round shields are depicted.
The variety of odd designs could also sugest that the large scale production of shields from the high middle ages (where most shields where very simmilar heater designs) had stopped and people who wanted shields more or less improviced in their desings.
There might also be a tendecy towards "antique" shields as the renicance got under way, in the form of the pavise (similarities to the roman scuta) and rotella (similar to enarmed round shields of the greeks)

"this [fight] looks curious, almost like a game. See, they are looking around them before they fall, to find a dry spot to fall on, or they are falling on their shields. Can you see blood on their cloths and weapons? No. This must be trickery."
-Reidar Sendeman, from King Sverre's Saga, 1201
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Randall Moffett




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PostPosted: Sun 02 Nov, 2008 8:20 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

There seems to be evidence of shields getting used in battle and reused after it. London Letter books have a few instances of this if I remember rightly. I'd doubt they were disposable, as in made for one battles use, but I am sure at times they failed and it happened and when it did they just had to get a new one. Just like any item they brought to war really.... if it saved your life it was worth it! So made to last one battle, I doubt it, breakable, for sure.

Shields are used from the start to the end of the medieval period coupled with armour, including plate. They are a very common part of knightly and their betters inventories for conflict. They show up often in artwork throughout the 15th and show up in fighting manuals. That said with the full white harness of the 15th they are not as important as earlier periods. With the use of two handed weapons, especially the pole axe, the shield becomes hard/impossible to use. They become much more optional later where before you'd never have fought in battle without one (slight exaggeration).

RPM
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Douglas S





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PostPosted: Mon 03 Nov, 2008 10:10 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Your average shield in the Viking Age was more likely to encounter projectile weapons (arrows, javelins), spears and the occasional axe, much more often than swords. In fact, shields in general were developed with these weapons in mind.

So on an average Viking-Age battlefield, the shield would fend off attacks from spears, and often only spears. Probably much less wear and tear.

Now if you look at single combat between two swordsmen, the shield would probably go through a lot more wear and tear. It stands to figure that some spares would be needed. I wouldn't be so reckless as to call a shield "disposable".
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Artis Aboltins




PostPosted: Mon 03 Nov, 2008 10:28 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

There are plenty of evidence among the archaeological finds to indicate that shields during Late Iron Age in Baltic area (that would be 9-13teen centuries.AD) were repaired after combat - some shields have been repaired by using small bronze or latten plates to fix the damaged parts, for example.
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Jeroen Zuiderwijk
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PostPosted: Mon 03 Nov, 2008 12:23 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Quote:
Now if you look at single combat between two swordsmen, the shield would probably go through a lot more wear and tear. It stands to figure that some spares would be needed. I wouldn't be so reckless as to call a shield "disposable".
I'd expect less wear and tear when the shield is used between two swordsmen. In that case, the shield is more used to limit the opponents movement, rather then actual weapons blocking as in the case with projectile weapons. With sword and shield, you'd rather try to go around the shield, rather then through it.
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Don Z





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PostPosted: Wed 05 Nov, 2008 4:23 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

i don't know heaps about the archeology of shields

but a couple of things i have learned first hand from my own shields

first: they last longer if deflect blows of the face or boss than stopping the blow by blocking with the edge or flat on the face

there is an interesting reference in Egil's saga (can't remember page) he fights a duel and his opponent is said to be skilled with a shield and, from memory, blunts Egil's sword on the boss. Egil subsequently jumps on him and rips his throat out with his teeth......

now taking into account this is a saga.....there is still at least some merit in the skillful use of a shield
ie...they considered there was such a thing as skillful use of a shield

second: swords, axes, and spears tend to jam in the shield if they penetrate the face or edge.
this is particularly in reference to ply, it's not 100% i don't think but likewise i haven't seen any of these weapons retrieved quickly from being bound to the shield they damage, in the few cases i've seen

I even had a sword jam in the edge of a round shield that meant when i rolled the shield it twisted the arm of the wielder of the sword and opened them up nicely for several hits before they pulled it out....very enjoyable Happy

anyways
thats just what i've seen
Z

"war is hell" - unanimous
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Robin Palmer




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PostPosted: Mon 17 Nov, 2008 1:48 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I would like to make a small observation I believe the term disposable is wrong shields were by definition expendable items of kit designed to do a job, If they survived a battle or fight fine if not they were tossed and replaced there were entire towns in Europe which did nothing but churn out basic shields by the thousand. They were cheap and viewed and expendable by users.

The life span of a shield depends on a number of factors, material, construction, facing, edging, also what it gets hit by which may not always be what it is designed to meet. Add to that the skill of the user in battle as you say the trick is never take the blow full on deflect turn shield to take strike at angle kill it's force. Here you have to take into acount is it center boss or cross strap large or small they all alter the way it is used plus situation.

I have been on both ends of blades getting stuck in shields mostly ply ones not good if you are stuck. The favoured wood in viking times was linden wood lime wood which was famed for it's toughness plus once a sword was stuck it would not come out.

By and large the shield did vanish from the knights battle gear once plate was perfected except in tourney it did make a few appearances. A knight at the battle of Tukesbury in 1471 was reported to have been using a heater shield of a type which had vanished 50 years before. A uniquely English addition to plate Armour was an over sized elbow guard on the left arm often a strap on which seems to have taken the place of shield It was not universal but enough were made to make it distinctive.
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Michael S. Rivet





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PostPosted: Mon 17 Nov, 2008 5:37 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Robin Palmer wrote:
I would like to make a small observation I believe the term disposable is wrong shields were by definition expendable items of kit designed to do a job, If they survived a battle or fight fine if not they were tossed and replaced there were entire towns in Europe which did nothing but churn out basic shields by the thousand. They were cheap and viewed and expendable by users.


Can you point me to evidence of this?
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Michael S. Rivet





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PostPosted: Mon 17 Nov, 2008 5:44 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Two things have baffled me in these kinds of discussions in the past.

First, the notion that the shield was "cumbersome." I'm not sure what that means. The shield was a tool. It doesn't become an "encumbrance" until it fails to do what it is designed for. It was not just an obstruction to hide behind; lots of evidence suggests that the shield was used in an active way, possibly even in "shield wall" formations.

Second, there's the idea that plate armor finally achieved acceptable quality that the shield was no longer necessary. The common, and sensible, counterargument is that the technology to make plate armor existed well before plate started to appear. So why did it appear when it did?

Here's an alternate interpretation of the timeline of events:

1) New thinking in martial arts leads to the conclusion that reach is a better defense than a shield. George Silver affirms this in his writing, I believe. Consequently, poleaxes and polearms become more popular on the battlefield among infantry.

2) Unfortunately, these weapons require two hands, making the shield difficult or impossible to carry. Combatants in maille or less are now more vulnerable to arrows and bolts, against which the shield was previously the preferred defence.

3) Armor that is capable of deflecting arrows is now required, hence plate becomes the armor of choice for infantry after hundreds if not thousands of years of preference for maille.

One obvious flaw in this interpretation of events is that plate doesn't appear to have started with body armor, but with reinforcements for the knees and elbows. Important to defend, of course, but hardly the areas most vulnerable to arrows.
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Randall Moffett




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PostPosted: Mon 17 Nov, 2008 10:43 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Michael,

I agree. Earlier said something similar as well. I think it has much more to do with a switch to two handed weapons than plate itself. The only thing I'd say perhaps to modify what you wrote is that plate likely does start for the torso after the head. There are accounts from as early as the late 12th with iron chest plates (i.e.- Will the Breton and Richard I's joust for example where Rich has a plate mail and aketon.) As far as I can tell late 12th/early 13th is about 20-30 years before we begin to see many references to plate limb additions.

RPM
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Michael S. Rivet





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PostPosted: Tue 18 Nov, 2008 6:55 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Randall Moffett wrote:
I agree. Earlier said something similar as well.


Yes, you did. And I should have mentioned that. In fact, thinking about what you posted is what led me to this line of thinking.

The bit about torso armor is interesting. Although an isolated case of plate being used in tournament may or may not reflect changes on the battlefield. Do we have any sources for plate torso defenses in battle situations dating that far back?

Come to think of it, though I know I've read that couters and polyens were among the earlier plate additions, I'm not sure what the original sources are for that. Is it true? Or just something I've read?
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Randall Moffett




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PostPosted: Tue 18 Nov, 2008 7:55 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

It likely has more to do that it was Richard, King of England, than tourney or battlefield uses. As at this time field and tourney uses are slight if at all my guess is likely it was dual purpose. The same source gives two battles where such defences are used, the Battle of Bouvines in 1214 being one of them.

Greaves and Poleyns come along much earlier by the looks of things. Really art seems to be the best source for them as they appear only very rarely in literature. By 1240s greaves appear in art and by the 1250s and 1260s poleyns. in the decades after couters appear but not nearly as common and poleyns.

RPM
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Gary Teuscher





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PostPosted: Wed 19 Nov, 2008 2:55 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Shields were not only defensive weapons, but offensive as well, also used to lever an opponents shiield or weapon out of position

With the two handed issue - IMO, 2 handed weapons were developed noth for the better reach, and also due to the fact they were better able to deliver a telling blow to one who was wearing head to tail mail. Many of the two handed swords were also designed to be "halfsworded", or gripped with one hand higher on the blade to thrust with.

Of course, 2 handed weapons made a shileld impossible to use, but that was the trade off.

IMO plate was developed at defending against the one thing mail was not very good against - arrows and other missile weapons, which was one thing a shield handled well. Sure there were other factors, but I think this played a role.
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Steven H




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PostPosted: Wed 19 Nov, 2008 3:35 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Gary Teuscher wrote:
Shields were not only defensive weapons, but offensive as well, also used to lever an opponents shiield or weapon out of position

With the two handed issue - IMO, 2 handed weapons were developed noth for the better reach, and also due to the fact they were better able to deliver a telling blow to one who was wearing head to tail mail. Many of the two handed swords were also designed to be "halfsworded", or gripped with one hand higher on the blade to thrust with.

Of course, 2 handed weapons made a shileld impossible to use, but that was the trade off.

IMO plate was developed at defending against the one thing mail was not very good against - arrows and other missile weapons, which was one thing a shield handled well. Sure there were other factors, but I think this played a role.


Mail had no difficulty whatsoever dealing with arrows. Plate is better against all weapons because it spreads the blunt force over a larger area.

-Steven

Kunstbruder - Boston area Historical Combat Study
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Gary Teuscher





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PostPosted: Wed 19 Nov, 2008 6:58 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Quote:
Mail had no difficulty whatsoever dealing with arrows. Plate is better against all weapons because it spreads the blunt force over a larger area.


I'd disagree here. Not saying it' does not perform decent against missile fire, but it does not perform as well as other forms of armour (lammelar. plate)

Longbows with Bodkins are going to do a decent job against mail. Now put plate over the mail, and you should be fine in most cases.

Toiugh to say exaclty, as there are a lot of tests but it's difficult to determine if the mail, arrow and bow are good representatives of period armour.

One I have seen is a 50lb(???) longbow vs reproduction (but still rivetted) mail and heavy gambeson, with gauge and size of links similar to what was used for true mail. The 50 lb bow was using modern target arrows (field arrows would have been better IMO). It penetrated at a range of 30 feet deep into the dummy, at 30 yards in penetrated but not deeply.

I think the mail is at least close to true mail. But a 50 lb pound pull bow is very weak, and I think target arrows are not the best rperesentation.

I would think a 100+ weight bow with bodkins would penetrate at a fair further distance.

Read somewhere else mail was good at ranges over 50 yards against C. 1050 bows.

Lets not forget crossbow bolts as well, which were more prevalent than selfbows in most parts of europe.
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Dan Howard




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PostPosted: Thu 20 Nov, 2008 1:09 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Gary Teuscher wrote:
Longbows with Bodkins are going to do a decent job against mail. Now put plate over the mail, and you should be fine in most cases.

People keep saying this but can't produce a single test that uses a decent reconstruction of both mail and bow. Such a test doesn't exist. Williams is the best and he probably underestimated the amount of energy that a longbow can deliver. He concluded that the pieces of mail he tested (one was a museum piece and another was made by Erik D Schmid) were proof against a bodkin fired from a longbow. If you go by primary sources then mail provides excellent protection against all weapons. Some types of mail are more susceptible to arrrows than others but it is perfectly possible to make mail that is proof against any longbow and any type of arrowhead.
http://forums.swordforum.com/showpost.php?p=4...ostcount=4

Nathan has an essay that covers this in much more detail. If only he would put it online <nudge>.
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Jesse Eaton





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PostPosted: Thu 20 Nov, 2008 6:02 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

One of the difficulties in nearly all arguments about medieval combat (and most other arguments) is a lack of clear deffinition.

For instance, in disicussing the first apearance of plate armor, we have to be careful about defining the term 'plate'. By 'plate' we could include a coat of plates, or other sewn-in plate types. If we are talking about simple pieces of plate laced together, as most early armor commonly identified as 'plate' is, would we also have to include Roman Lorica?

While I think that 'mail' is more easilly defined (ie metal mesh), we would be missing the point if we considered the mail alone, without considering what is underneath it and over it. In'The Archaeology of Weapons', Oakshot references a mid-thirteenth century chronicle that describes a piece of armor as a 'a good breast defense which extends from the bosom to the waist belt', which is then covered over by a mail byrnie. It dosn't seem likely that the 'good breast defense' was a piece of mail. But we also can't conclude that the piece was plate armor. In part because of the lack of description and in part because of the lack of definition. Loosely defined, we could assume it to be plate. Narrowly defined (ie if a coatof plates does not count as plate armor), we could not. If we keep a coat of plates defined as a type of plate armor, then could we not make a case that lamellar is also a type of plate armor, after all, it is made of plates.... Now I wouldn't go that far, but the line is a bit blurry. We might want to use an intermediary definition and stipulate that the plate pieces must be riveted, as opposed to sewn or laced together, but then we get more of the problem of a lack of detail in early period descriptions of armor, as in the case above, we know what it covered and its use but not its construction.

I'm not sure how much this helps the argument, but it seems that most of the posts here lack specificity and source referencing, without which, the argument could go on forever with out ever reaching a conclusion or a concensus. I've also noticed a fair number of posters on this site and thread opine in contradiction to senior members of myArmoury. Specifically, that Stephen Hand was written off rather quickly, I've read enough of his books to know better than that. Though I disagree with parts of his work on medieval sword combat, I wouldn't discount his opinion on the performance of armor and questions of historicity. Given that these forums are open to any and all, say what you like, but you might get more out of them by asking the senior members for input, rather than simply arguing. Really, this site give you access to many of the brightest and learned minds in the study of arms,armour and medieval combat. Happy
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Jonathan Blair




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PostPosted: Thu 20 Nov, 2008 8:10 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Dan Howard wrote:
Gary Teuscher wrote:
Longbows with Bodkins are going to do a decent job against mail. Now put plate over the mail, and you should be fine in most cases.

People keep saying this but can't produce a single test that uses a decent reconstruction of both mail and bow. Such a test doesn't exist. Williams is the best and he probably underestimated the amount of energy that a longbow can deliver. He concluded that the pieces of mail he tested (one was a museum piece and another was made by Erik D Schmid) were proof against a bodkin fired from a longbow. If you go by primary sources then mail provides excellent protection against all weapons. Some types of mail are more susceptible to arrrows than others but it is perfectly possible to make mail that is proof against any longbow and any type of arrowhead.


One reason I believe that it is likely maille could be penetrated is the power of the warbow as used by the Welsh and the English. A 1000 grain bodkin on a 1/2" diameter bobtailed shaft shot from a 125-lb draw weight warbow drawn to full length against a stationary target wearing riveted maille over period padding at shorter ranges will penetrate the maille and likely the padding beneath. Now, mix in whether the target is moving, whether the range increases, whether the bow is drawn to full, what the weather conditions are (dampness), and how thick the padding was, and those variables will affect penetration of the arrow. Now by penetration, I don't mean the arrow passes through the target, but that the arrowhead could penetrate to any depth likely to cause a wound. Remember, the object was to stop the other fighter from fighting you. If your arrow killed the enemy, okay then, objective met. However, if the arrow wounded the enemy so he could not raise his sword arm or he could no longer walk, then again, objective met. An arrowhead that penetrates just one-half of an inch could achieve that objective.

Think of how many rounds from an modern firearm set to full auto must be fired to kill one individual on the battlefield. Most rounds that miss are due to the control of the weapon or lack thereof, some misses are due to cover, armor, and sheer dumb luck. However, a few bullets hit and kill the enemy. Thus governments arm their soldiers with M-16s and AK-47s with FMJ ammunition, just as kings sent men with bows and arrows.

Personally, I think the true effectiveness of the arrow and the modern bullet is more of the "if you are ducking behind something to prevent being hit, then you can't get me so easily" effect. Arrows raining down would be a very scary thing to face.

"Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword." - The Lord Jesus Christ, from The Gospel According to Saint Matthew, chapter x, verse 34, Authorized Version of 1611
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