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Jason O C





Joined: 20 Oct 2012

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PostPosted: Sat 20 Oct, 2012 7:35 am    Post subject: Newbie Viking Shield Question         Reply with quote

Hey fellow forumites,
I just recently found this great place, and have learned alot from you guys over the last few days. As you might guess by the following question, I'm fairly new to the whole historical arms and armour thing, but I haven't been able to find what looking for elsewhere, so thought I'd just ask here. I've been thinking about getting into reenacting or living history and at the moment I leaning towards the Viking age. The thing is I want to make (or have made, not sure yet) a historically accurate shield. I've found all the info I need, in regards to type of wood, and dimensions etc. but I'm not sure whether to face the shield in leather or in rawhide. Now most people's shields I've seen are faced with leather, but I've seen test done with a rawhide faced viking shield on a show called Weapons That Made Britain. So what I would like to know is, is there any evidence of rawhide faced shields at this point in history? I do know that surviving examples of later medieval shields were sometimes faced with parchment, which is essentially just quality rawhide, or is this wrong? Anyways thanks for any help.

Jason
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Josh MacNeil




Location: Massachusetts, USA
Joined: 23 Jul 2008

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PostPosted: Sat 20 Oct, 2012 11:33 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Hi Jason, and welcome. Happy I have never seen or heard of a Viking age shield being faced with rawhide. I'm not saying it was never done, I've personally just never come across any artifacts or definitive literature suggesting so. This makes it difficult to give a definitive answer based on what information left to us from the period.

A facing on a shield certainly adds significant strength. This site has a lot of great info on shields and all things Viking... http://www.hurstwic.org/history/articles/manu...hields.htm

If I were you, I'd go with a facing of linen. It hardly adds any weight when compared to leather or rawhide, and provides the same amount of strength. The glue and linen fibers create a kind of fiberglass effect. Plus it's a whole lot cheaper, and I would suspect this would be the case in period as well.

Whether you chose to build yourself or buy one, there are a lot of options out there. I'm in the process of putting together a Viking shield myself, so if you need info on supplies and such, feel free to PM me. I hope this was helpful, and good luck.

- Josh
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Jason O C





Joined: 20 Oct 2012

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PostPosted: Sat 20 Oct, 2012 2:02 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Hi Josh, thanks for the reply and for the welcome. Wow that Hurstwic site is great, I've looked through some of it's pages and it seems to be a wealth of knowledge. Well the guy who made the rawhide faced shield for Weapons That Made Britain was a man named Steve Etheridge, does anyone here know where he might be contacted.

Jason


Last edited by Jason O C on Sat 20 Oct, 2012 2:14 pm; edited 2 times in total
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Ralph Grinly





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PostPosted: Sat 20 Oct, 2012 2:05 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I suspect the main reason that folks today cover shields with leather, as opposed to raw hide is a simple supply problem. Tanned leather is fairly easily available, whereas obtaining rawhide, esp in large amounts is pretty hard. Also. rawhide, as it dries, tends to shrink a bit..that would potentially cause buckling in a fairly thin shield. Thats not likely to be a real problem..IF you were prepared for the problem in the first place. Covering with glued linen, or similar material is also a very viable, and historically correct alternative
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Jason O C





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PostPosted: Sat 20 Oct, 2012 3:37 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Hi Ralph, good point, the availability of leather compared to rawhide nowadays explains it's popularity with reenactors and the like. But what about viking times? Was there any need to tan hides for use on shields? Did it provide any advantage? AFAIK some surviving examples of viking shields have been found with traces of leather or rawhide,
but any of have these been analysed for the presence of tannins? As linen has been mentioned twice now I have to ask, what evidence is there for it's use on viking age shields?

Jason
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Peter Messent




Location: Texas
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PostPosted: Sat 20 Oct, 2012 4:17 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

With regards to leather vs rawhide, it can be a difficult debate, as they are both very broad terms. Leather has been tanned and rawhide has not, but it still says nothing of how leather is tanned, or what animal either came from, or its thickness. I have used rawhide that is extremely brittle and I wouldn't consider it remotely suitable - but I've also used rawhide that was somewhat flexible and very tough, which is ideal. The latter was very thick for a shield facing, though.

I agree with the linen suggestion, though I don't have sources to hand to back it up archaeologically. It looks good and it's very durable - many people also build it up in layers to increase the amount of shock it absorbs and the amount of split-protection it provides the wood. I also used a rawhide edging on mine, which can be sewn or tacked on.

Just for the record, I would consider using plywood over butted planks, as is historically accurate, for the reenactment - it's easier, often cheaper, stronger and it won't be as much of a pain when/if it does wind up breaking. Personally, I do want to make some 100% historically accurate shields, but I would consider them display and conversation pieces mostly.

Also note that rawhide, when it gets wet (ie, rain) can get very soft, and could potentially become useless under such circumstances - not to mention much heavier!
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Ralph Grinly





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PostPosted: Sat 20 Oct, 2012 7:17 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

While I don't have any basis for saying whether tanned leather , or rawhide could have/would have been used to cover shields, I suspect we'll not know what was prefered. As far as any shields surviving with traces of leather..I'm only guessing that any that HAVE survived, did so by being bog finds or lost in a lake somewhere, and thus preserved from decay. Organic finds from such sources have usually survived because of submersion in natural sources of tannins..so , after all this time..I'd guess it would be very difficult to distinguish between tanned leather, or rawhide ??
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Jason O C





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PostPosted: Sat 20 Oct, 2012 11:58 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Peter, yes it would seem that linen covered plywood is the cheaper and easier choice if I want to take part in any battle reenactments or sparring. I'm really more interested in have a shield which is 100% accurate, but I'm now considering getting one of each, one for show and one to take blows.

Ralph, I didn't know that about the preserving effect on rawhide in a bog, essentially tanning it and making practically indistinguishable from leather. Oh well I guess this is something that we'll just have to leave to speculation.

This is great info guys thanks.

Jason
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Stephen Curtin




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PostPosted: Sun 21 Oct, 2012 6:40 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Hi Jason and welcome aboard.

Well as far as rawhide vs leather on viking age shields, I'd say either one could be considered accurate. You asked if there was any advantage to tanning a hide intended for a shield, well what about water proofing, which I think would be especially important when you think about where the shields were stored when at sea. On the other hand parchment is known from later medieval shields so could have been used earlier. The Gokstad shields for instance, were painted directly on the wood, so some say that these did not have any covering, and were just ceremonial, while others say that the holes along the edge indicate a rim, and that if a rawhide cover had been used the paint would still be visible due to rawhides translucence. Hope this helps.

Éirinn go Brách
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Doug Lester




Location: Decatur, IL
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PostPosted: Sun 21 Oct, 2012 9:43 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Another thing to consider with these shields is that they were consumables that probably wouldn't survive more than one battle. If you were fighting a holmganga you would be expected to bring three to the duel. If you were wanting to cover the shield to make them last longer during a battle you would want to go with the cheapest and easiest to find material that would do the job.
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Jason O C





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PostPosted: Mon 29 Oct, 2012 12:45 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Hi guys sorry it's taken me so long to get back to this been busy moving house.

Good point about waterproofing Stephen.

Doug, ok so if the cheapest material was to be used to cover shields, then wouldn't that be rawhide? I mean the tanning process has to cost something extra, so why do it?

Jason


Last edited by Jason O C on Tue 30 Oct, 2012 6:11 am; edited 1 time in total
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David Lewis Smith




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PostPosted: Mon 29 Oct, 2012 5:46 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Well the least expensive would be paint.

You could contact the Museum of Oslo directly. The curators there are very helpful.

There is this as well
http://members.ozemail.com.au/~chrisandpeter/shield/shield.html
I am not sure how you meant 'cost' remember that most Scandinavians at the time lived on what could be called farm steads. they made most of their own gear and tanning leather is not difficult. Oak stump tanning in fact produces a hard leather when it dries
http://www.braintan.com/barktan/2tannins.htm

if you do not have a 'stump' to tan in a plastic five gallon bucket works, though for a shield size you might want to go with a large garbage can. Under standing and long suffering neighbors help as well. Tanning Stinks,

David L Smith
MSG (RET)
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Doug Lester




Location: Decatur, IL
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PostPosted: Mon 29 Oct, 2012 9:17 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

The question of what material would be the cheapest to cover a shield with would have to be researched. You could be right but you can't go by modern standards. Leather and other forms of animal skins had a lot more uses back then so it is possible that linen could have been cheaper. Of course there was the possibility/probability that many shields were unfaced because the material needed was not at hand.
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Gary Teuscher





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PostPosted: Mon 29 Oct, 2012 10:21 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

This link might be helful for you, Jason.

http://www.hurstwic.org/history/articles/manu...hields.htm
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Matthew Amt




Location: Laurel, MD, USA
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PostPosted: Mon 29 Oct, 2012 10:56 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Is there any evidence that people often made their own shields? I would have thought they were constructed by professionals, as most items were. Since there was usually a minimum wealth limit for military service, anyone who could not afford to buy a shield would typically not be required to fight, correct? I also think we don't want to stress the "as cheaply as possible" idea, since I'm not sure that was always the highest priority, from what I've seen of military equipment (or anything else!). They certainly knew how to do things with as little waste as possible, but they used what they needed to get the job done. There was enough local and international trade to assure that anyone making a shield had access to whatever materials were necessary.

Just some thoughts and doubts!

Matthew
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Jason O C





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PostPosted: Mon 29 Oct, 2012 3:48 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Hi Matthew, you raise a good point. I had always just assumed that men made their own shields (except for the boss), but after researching all that went into making a shield back then, I think that for the most part shields were left to professional craftsmen to make. If you look at all the stages (listed below) to making a 100% historically accurate shield, and taking into account that they were relatively disposable item, I doubt that many people made their own or at least not regularly.

Here are all the steps it takes to make a historically accurate shield from scratch, hope I haven't left anything out. You have to; fell a tree, quartersaw into planks, leave to dry for a few months, slaughter and skin a cow, lime, dehair and tan hide, forge iron boss and nails, make casein glue, glue wooden planks to form a board, cut board to shape, taper wood from center to rim, carve wooden handgrip, glue leather to front and back, stich on rawhide rim, nail on boss and handgrip, and finally paint.

Jason
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Doug Lester




Location: Decatur, IL
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PostPosted: Mon 29 Oct, 2012 6:20 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Back then all able bodied men owed military service to their chieftain or jarl. They were required to have weapons and shields of some sort. If the call went out, they were expected to suit up and show up. No excuses. Plus Norse society was violent. Personal conflicts were often settled violently and you could be attacked over something that had to do with a kinsman. Plus if a kinsman was in trouble you were expected to go to his aid. Also if you wanted justice over some issue you generally had to seek it yourself. If a man did not arm himself, which included a shield, and learn how to use his arms, he was not likely to live long. With shields being consumable, they probably learned to make them for themselves and not purchase them.
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Peter Messent




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PostPosted: Mon 29 Oct, 2012 8:42 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I think you make a very good point, Matthew. Butting planks firmly and cleanly requires a good deal of skill, if you have no modern tools. However, I have doubts about how closely the planks would have to join for this purpose - if the wooden handle stretches the full diameter of the shield, runs perpendicular to the planks and his nailed or riveted to each plank, then the structural necessity for the straight, square edges is largely negated - their main strength is when the pieces will be glued together, and I do not believe there is archaeological or historical evidence of that happening, though I am happy to be corrected on that issue. However, given the thinness of the planks, this leaves for a very weak spot if the edge is hit with the grain. Without a facing, and possibly an edging as well, it would likely split it down to the boss without a terrible amount of difficulty, from my sword-on-wood experiments. That is one thing I want to experiment with further, though, with a full-sized and relatively authentically-built replica.

I think that the facing is necessary - at least some kind of facing other than paint. I just don't see there being any other way to structurally stabilize a single-ply shield without a facing, edging or both - and the edging is much more labor intensive than the facing, in my experience. I would, however, consider it entirely likely that only the wood in the shield is disposable, in the short term anyway - I think that the shield could become essentially unserviceable through direct hits without significantly damaging the facing, edging, boss and maybe even the grip. I think that in almost all cases, the boss could be reused - same, or almost same, for the edging. The facing I think would depend on the material and method of attaching it. But I do think that more recycling went on than simply the boss.
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Gary Teuscher





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PostPosted: Mon 29 Oct, 2012 11:23 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Quote:
Back then all able bodied men owed military service to their chieftain or jarl. They were required to have weapons and shields of some sort. If the call went out, they were expected to suit up and show up. No excuses.


I'd agree the Norse society was a violent one (like many other cultures of the time), but everyone did not owe military service.

Theoretically a full Leidang meant every able bodied male, but that was more of a theoretical muster. If one was rather poor, you were not expected to arm and armour youself. A one male per three households seems to have been more along the lines of what a ruler would hope for - I remember reading something to the effect of one to outfit the warrior, the other to provision him, and of course the third goes to war.

Hardrada had a huge turn out for his invasion of England - perhaps as many as one man per 5 households using some estimated figures for both the Norwegian population of that time and the size of the army sent to England.

Of course, there were probably a fair amount of mercenaries as with most viking armies, so the 1/5 may not be accurate.

But musters of every able bodied man did not happen - and it's a good thing for them. Norwegian power was cripplled for a while following Stamford Bridge - imagine how crippling a battle would be if you sent "every able bodied man" and took severe casualties.
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Matthew Amt




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PostPosted: Tue 30 Oct, 2012 7:09 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Doug Lester wrote:
Back then all able bodied men owed military service to their chieftain or jarl. They were required to have weapons and shields of some sort. If the call went out, they were expected to suit up and show up. No excuses. Plus Norse society was violent. Personal conflicts were often settled violently and you could be attacked over something that had to do with a kinsman. Plus if a kinsman was in trouble you were expected to go to his aid. Also if you wanted justice over some issue you generally had to seek it yourself. If a man did not arm himself, which included a shield, and learn how to use his arms, he was not likely to live long. With shields being consumable, they probably learned to make them for themselves and not purchase them.


I have not studied Norse society very much, but from what I've picked up over the years it included a sophisticated system of economic and social classes, a huge amount of craftsmanship, trade, and commerce, and a fully-developed legal system that included lawsuits and juries as well as a detailed system of punishments and fines. As I recall, Erik the Red was banished for murder, wasn't he? There were plenty of other comparable warrior cultures in which it was normal for a man to walk in public with spear in hand, so I suspect there was always a certain amount of violence. But in all of these societies, owning weapons was dictated by law and custom, and generally there were slaves and/or poor men who were not required to do military duty, or may even have been forbidden to have weapons. So I tend to be a little curious about a society in which anyone who wasn't a skilled and self-supplied warrior was apt to be killed off.

Sure, medieval people tended to make a lot of stuff themselves. But they also tended to purchase or trade for things, too, including tools, weapons, pots and pans, and even fabric and clothing. I know there were laws about how shields were supposed to be made. So I was curious about any literary references there might be to shield-makers or arms dealers, or if there was actual historical evidence that shields were frequently made by their owners?

Matthew
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