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Artis Aboltins




PostPosted: Mon 05 Apr, 2010 12:44 am    Post subject: Shields covered with skin retaining it's hair         Reply with quote

Basically, I am looking for information regarding finds/literary sources/images regarding the usage of shields that are covered in hide that still has it's hair remaining - there have been ain increase of using such shields among the reenactors here, both in Viking age activists and those interesed in later middle age related things and I am trying to find out of there is any serious proof that it have been done. And I mean usage of hide with it's hair on the outside - I know that there are finds of some of the skin hair remaining on the inside of the leather used to cover shields, but that might be just the lousy job on the part of tanner.
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Dan Howard




Location: Maitland, NSW, Australia
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PostPosted: Mon 05 Apr, 2010 4:38 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

It is likely that Mycenaean shields were faced with bull/ox hide with the hair intact. Some North American shields were made from hide with the hair intact.
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Steven H




Location: Boston
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PostPosted: Mon 05 Apr, 2010 10:05 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Dan Howard wrote:
It is likely that Mycenaean shields were faced with bull/ox hide with the hair intact. Some North American shields were made from hide with the hair intact.


Do you have depictions of these to share?

Thanks,
Steven

Kunstbruder - Boston area Historical Combat Study
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Matthew Amt




Location: Laurel, MD, USA
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PostPosted: Mon 05 Apr, 2010 12:28 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Here's a page with Mycenaean and Minoan shields showing hide facings:

http://www.salimbeti.com/micenei/shields1.htm

Homer describes a number of shields made of multiple layers of hide, and it's possible that the facing was hair-on, but we don't really know that. The "figure-8" and "tower" shields pre-date the Trojan War era.

Zulu shields spring to mind, too! Generally a single layer of bullhide.

Matthew
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Matthew Fedele




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PostPosted: Mon 05 Apr, 2010 3:44 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Hair is good armor, but I thought that the Vikings found hair-on hides "uncouth" and part of the reason the berserkers where so spookey looking was their use of fur. It was a long period though and not my forte.
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Ken Speed





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PostPosted: Mon 05 Apr, 2010 5:46 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Matthew wrote, "Hair is good armor, but I thought that the Vikings found hair-on hides "uncouth" and part of the reason the berserkers where so spookey looking was their use of fur. It was a long period though and not my forte."

The Vikings were worried about "couth"? Hmmmm........ What about Ragnar Lodbrok (Hairy Breeks)? I also thought that they slept in bearskin sleeping bags when sailing although that may be an idea planted in my head from fiction. I may sound like I'm making fun but I'm not, I'm really surprised! Can you tell me the source for the idea that hairy leather was undesirable?
I'll grant you that a hairy shield probably wasn't a good idea if you were planning on fighting at sea! Big Grin
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Jared Smith




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PostPosted: Mon 05 Apr, 2010 6:36 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Ken Speed wrote:

I'll grant you that a hairy shield probably wasn't a good idea if you were planning on fighting at sea! Big Grin


Strange enough, now that I think about it (having tended horses, parrots, and some other animals that depend upon the properties of hair and feathers in outdoor environments), I wonder why people would not have favored "hair on" leather for sea going and extended campaigns?

Absence of evidence is not necessarily evidence of absence!
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Sean Manning




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PostPosted: Mon 05 Apr, 2010 6:40 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Ken Speed wrote:
Matthew wrote, "Hair is good armor, but I thought that the Vikings found hair-on hides "uncouth" and part of the reason the berserkers where so spookey looking was their use of fur. It was a long period though and not my forte."

The Vikings were worried about "couth"?

Oh yes. While they were recorded after the Viking Age, the sagas are full of Norse men proud of their long, clean hair or decorated swords or fine clothing. Some Arab sources say that Vikings were filthy, but they definitely cared about their appearance.
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Ken Speed





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PostPosted: Mon 05 Apr, 2010 10:44 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Jared, I'm not a leather worker but my understanding is that the tanning process leaches out the oils that are in the hair that is on a living creature. Compare the literally greasy coat of a live sheep to a sheepskin for example. My GUESS is that skins tanned with the hair on didn't handle water well.

Sean, now I'm even more confused. Vikings liked the hair on their head and faces but thought leather with hair was uncouth?

I'm sure many Vikings were vain as peacocks when they felt they were on display. Decorated weapons then, as now, were a status symbol I'm sure. I would imagine though that if they were besieging Paris or portaging from Finland to Constantinople they probably were less concerned with good grooming.
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David Huggins




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PostPosted: Mon 05 Apr, 2010 10:45 pm    Post subject: shields         Reply with quote

Hi artis,

A good question that it self raises other questions! There is a law of the English King athalstan that forbids shield makers the use of sheep hides on shields. Why? To me this would mean that is was too thin and therefore perhaps unsuitable.

I can't quite get the picture of shaggy looking sheepskin covered shields,. Does this mean alternatively that hair covered cattle hide was used.? I doubt it as most shields depicted in iconography appear to be decorated, some on Anglo-Saxon manuscripts highly decorated others quite simple.. We know there is evidence for painted shields, hair on hides would make this difficult......perhaps this is yet another fashion fad for those who just wish to look a bit different! from fellow re-enactors.

best
Dave

and he who stands and sheds blood with us, shall be as a brother.
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Dan Howard




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PostPosted: Tue 06 Apr, 2010 5:38 am    Post subject: Re: shields         Reply with quote

David Huggins wrote:
A good question that it self raises other questions! There is a law of the English King athalstan that forbids shield makers the use of sheep hides on shields. Why? To me this would mean that is was too thin and therefore perhaps unsuitable.

It might be the way it is tanned but I haven't handled a sheepskin that I couldn't tear with my hands (including a leather jacket). Based on this I would argue that the edict is probably because sheepskin makes a poor shield material (useless for armour too).
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Elling Polden




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PostPosted: Tue 06 Apr, 2010 8:46 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I really can't think of a reason you would want to have fur on your shield, other than wanting to look more "barbarian".

Later medevial shields are covered in parchment, not leather. This sugests that even full thickness leather was considered exessive as shield covering. A plank shield is heavy enough without an added layer of fur on top...

"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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Douglas S





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PostPosted: Tue 06 Apr, 2010 9:32 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

People were very superstitious back then. They may have thought that the cowardice associated with sheep might be passed on to the soldiers.

At any rate, Vikings are not Mycenaeans or American Indians. The image that some of us have of them being shaggy is not borne out by period art.

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Matthew Fedele




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PostPosted: Tue 06 Apr, 2010 11:21 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Ken Speed wrote:
Matthew wrote, "Hair is good armor, but I thought that the Vikings found hair-on hides "uncouth" and part of the reason the berserkers where so spookey looking was their use of fur. It was a long period though and not my forte."

The Vikings were worried about "couth"? Hmmmm........ What about Ragnar Lodbrok (Hairy Breeks)? I also thought that they slept in bearskin sleeping bags when sailing although that may be an idea planted in my head from fiction. I may sound like I'm making fun but I'm not, I'm really surprised! Can you tell me the source for the idea that hairy leather was undesirable?
I'll grant you that a hairy shield probably wasn't a good idea if you were planning on fighting at sea! Big Grin


It was in a book called The Vikings by Magnus Magnusson. Frankly, it's not on my bookshelf because he seemed more concerned with the image of his ancestors than with history so I may be completely wrong, but I buy into the idea because:

a) Never underestimate the power of fashion
b) You don't see much fur in Europe during the middle ages either except as trim.

Sleeping on bearskin isn't the same as wearing it and these folks lived in houses, traded widely, had artists, craftsmen, advanced boat designs, had contact with the continent and there's a lot of fairy tales made up about them up to the Victorian era.

Cheers,
Matt
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Neil Langley




Location: Stockport, UK
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PostPosted: Tue 06 Apr, 2010 12:30 pm    Post subject: Re: shields         Reply with quote

David Huggins wrote:
A good question that it self raises other questions! There is a law of the English King athalstan that forbids shield makers the use of sheep hides on shields. Why? To me this would mean that is was too thin and therefore perhaps unsuitable.


I always understood this was to do with the commercial value of wool to the economy (well documented as a major export product). Using sheep hide means lots of dead sheep that no longer produce wool and so it is reasonable to assume those in charge were keen not to see wide use of sheep for this. I am sure I have a reference for this but I need to search for it.

This is also supposed to be the reason we always have mint source with lamb - due to a law (Elizabethan?) requiring 'bitter herbs' to be eaten with lamb to put people off enjoying it (but circumvented with tasty mint sauce!). This one is one I can't support with references though, just folklore.

Neil.
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Ken Speed





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PostPosted: Wed 07 Apr, 2010 4:46 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Matt wrote" It was in a book called The Vikings by Magnus Magnusson. Frankly, it's not on my bookshelf because he seemed more concerned with the image of his ancestors than with history." so I may be completely wrong, but I buy into the idea because:

a) Never underestimate the power of fashion
b) You don't see much fur in Europe during the middle ages either except as trim."


Yes, I think I've looked at that book and resisted the urge to buy it. I did not resist the urge to buy a book by Robert Ferguson called THE VIKINGS, a history. While its a very informative book it isn't exactly light reading, I'm treating it more as a source than as something I plan to read from cover to cover. Ferguson gives a very different explanation than does anyone else I've read for the Viking hostility to Christianity and their predilection for raiding monasteries and churches for example.

I think it is amazing and fascinating that we know so much and simultaneously so little about this era and the ins and outs of what Vikings and others did. so much is guess work drawn from very minimal evidence.

I can't say much about how much fur people wore at that time but I do remember that there was mention of a Viking trader who spent a lot of time at a King's court in Britain, I think. His description of his land ( very marginal farmland even by his standards) and his trading for furs and other things with the Lapps is recorded history. So I guess we can assume that there was a market for furs or he wouldn't have been trading them.

"Sleeping on bearskin isn't the same as wearing it and these folks lived in houses, traded widely, had artists, craftsmen, advanced boat designs, had contact with the continent and there's a lot of fairy tales made up about them up to the Victorian era."

OK, I think I said that I thought they slept in bearskin sleeping bags when they were at sea. Yes, it was a fascinating age and the Vikings were amazingly vigorous and creative people. I'm suggesting that their clothing and the like, like ours today, was different depending on what they were doing. We don't wear our Sunday best when we're going to cut the grass or paint, I doubt that the Vikings were as fastidious about their appearance when they were raiding or sailing as when they were at home or trying to make an impression on someone.

Ken
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Dan Howard




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PostPosted: Wed 07 Apr, 2010 6:20 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Most of this is irrelevant. There is no evidence for viking shields with the hair left on. Perhaps we can get back to cultures that do use such shields.
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Ken Speed





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PostPosted: Wed 07 Apr, 2010 7:12 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

OK, Dan, there is no evidence for Viking shields with a hairy animal hide cover but we're dealing with a very degradable material in an environment known to be tough on wood, bone, and leather when it is buried so we are left with literary sources (pretty slim) and some supposition. How many surviving wooden Viking sword grips are there? How many surviving leather scabbards? Not very many. While I have no proof that they did so its possible that a Viking or two may have had sword scabbards covered with sealskin or cowhide tanned with the hair on, we just don't know. Frankly, I think a hair on shield is highly unlikely but I'd rather not say such a thing never existed.


All right, shields with hair. The Zulus used cowhide shields with hair on, you can find pictures on the web. So, is that relevant?
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Dan Howard




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PostPosted: Wed 07 Apr, 2010 2:59 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Ken Speed wrote:
Frankly, I think a hair on shield is highly unlikely but I'd rather not say such a thing never existed.

There is a big difference between claiming that something never existed and saying that there is no evidence to support its existence. It is logically impossible to try and argue the former. Without supporting evidence, the latter is the only conclusive statement that can be made. I was just trying to avoid yet another thread being derailed by pointless speculation about vikings.


Quote:
All right, shields with hair. The Zulus used cowhide shields with hair on, you can find pictures on the web. So, is that relevant?

Yep. Already mentioned. What else?
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Artis Aboltins




PostPosted: Wed 07 Apr, 2010 3:06 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Yes, essentially, what I was looking for was if there is anything in the way of solid proof - be it findings, literary sources or iconographic sources that would proove the existance of such shields during the viking age and medieval period. So far it would seem that there is no such evidence, and those who make shields in such way are basing it purely on their own fantasies. (Zulu and Mycenean samples are of the shields made in compleatelly diferent way than, say, circular migration period/viking age shields or later medieval shields so while they are interesting bits of information, they can not really be used as base for making claims such shields where used.)
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