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Mike Ruhala




Location: Stuart, Florida
Joined: 24 Jul 2011

Posts: 328

PostPosted: Thu 08 May, 2014 7:41 pm    Post subject: Any Evidence For Rope On Shield Rims?         Reply with quote

I'm working on a plank constructed round shield right now and I'm not quite sure what I'm going to do for the rim. Looking over the archaeological evidence and considering the practical challenges it seems like a rope rim, perhaps covered by cloth or leather/parchment/rawhide would solve several problems quite handily. Is there any evidence for rope rimmed shields? For this project I'm especially interested in the 10th through early 13th centuries but I'm willing to cast a pretty wide net for the sake of gathering information.
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Craig Peters




PostPosted: Thu 08 May, 2014 8:09 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

As far as I am aware, the only surviving Viking shields consist of the remnants of planks, so any other material used in their construction was lost. Round shields become less popular by the second half of the 11th century, and have mostly vanished by the end of the 12th century. I'm not aware of any surviving high medieval shield that used rope. Therefore, I don't think there is any evidence to suggest that this was done.
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Mike Ruhala




Location: Stuart, Florida
Joined: 24 Jul 2011

Posts: 328

PostPosted: Thu 08 May, 2014 9:02 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

The most intact artifact I know of is the Tira shield, found in Latvia and dated to the 9th century. The pics I've seen aren't the clearest but it doesn't appear that any edging survives, it might have a ring of holes near the rim all the way around though and I've seen that on a few finds I've come across in my searches. AFAIK there hasn't been any metal associated with whatever this rimming was so I assume it was organic. I've seen reconstructions that have rawhide "sewn" to the rim through these holes but I don't find it very convincing because it tends to look sloppy and the first thing that would happen in a fight is one of the stitches would get cut and the rim would be compromised in a significant way as the stitching comes undone. Not every shield seems to have had a rim but I've seen evidence in art of some kind of raised rim, an effect you probably wouldn't get from rawhide or metal. If a rope were "sewn" to the edge of the rim through those same holes before the shield was faced with leather or cloth you'd get the raised rim effect, it'd explain the holes, add a reasonably tough barrier to the rim of your shield and since it was sewn + covered with the facing it could absorb quite a number of hits before the rim was seriously compromised.

I'm not sure I like the term "Viking shield" since my project's not really inspired by that specific culture. Basically what it comes down to is I really like my Hanwei Tinker Norman and want a shield to go with it. It's true that the kite and then the heater shields were more dominant as time wore on but rounds never really went away, they did do some shrinking and changing over the centuries though.

Probably the thing that strikes me most so far is despite what art and artifacts we have a lot of this is going to have to be speculative since we don't have anything that's truly intact from this era. I almost made some casein glue from milk but then I realized we don't have any surviving glue on the planks of originals to study so the milk glue might have been as wrong as the modern waterproof wood glue I ended up using this time. There also doesn't seem to be a clear consensus from the historical material, the broad strokes are more or less the same but details of design and construction can vary considerably.
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Elling Polden




Location: Bergen, Norway
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PostPosted: Fri 09 May, 2014 6:09 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

As far as I know there are few indications of dedicated edge reinforcements on viking age/early medevial shields.

To make a long story short, a shield was expendable, like a piece of amunition. We are used to see edge reinforcements on reenactment shields that are used for intensive training with blunt swords (or copied from depictions of such shields). Like all sport and training equipment, these are made to endure heavy and long term use.

A combat shield would both be used a lot more seldom, and be subject to sharp weapons. Most attacks would try to avoid the shield, but if the edge takes a hard hit the shield would have to be replaced no matter if the edge is reinforced.

So, if you are making a reenactment shield, simply use rawhide. If you are going for a replica just fold the shield facing over the edge.

"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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Mikko Kuusirati




Location: Finland
Joined: 16 Nov 2004
Reading list: 13 books

Posts: 960

PostPosted: Sat 10 May, 2014 2:40 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Elling Polden wrote:
As far as I know there are few indications of dedicated edge reinforcements on viking age/early medevial shields.

To make a long story short, a shield was expendable, like a piece of amunition. We are used to see edge reinforcements on reenactment shields that are used for intensive training with blunt swords (or copied from depictions of such shields). Like all sport and training equipment, these are made to endure heavy and long term use.

A combat shield would both be used a lot more seldom, and be subject to sharp weapons. Most attacks would try to avoid the shield, but if the edge takes a hard hit the shield would have to be replaced no matter if the edge is reinforced.

So, if you are making a reenactment shield, simply use rawhide. If you are going for a replica just fold the shield facing over the edge.

On the other hand, you still want the shield to hold together as long as possible even if it does get damaged so you can survive long enough to pick up a replacement - remember, the shield is really your main weapon, rather than whatever you hold in your right hand. A firmly fixed rawhide rim seems to do a pretty good job of reinforcing the construction.

In regards to the "sewing", if you use that you obviously shouldn't do it with a running stitch that will come undone if the cord gets severed at any single point. You can e.g. tie off each individual loop on its own so there's no unraveling at all, no matter how many times it gets cut. Combine that with glue and cloth or parchment facing for a sort of laminating effect and you get something quite durable indeed.

The subtle tongue, the sophist guile, they fail when the broadswords sing;
Rush in and die, dogs -- I was a man before I was a king.
-- R. E. Howard, The Road of Kings
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Mike Ruhala




Location: Stuart, Florida
Joined: 24 Jul 2011

Posts: 328

PostPosted: Sun 11 May, 2014 12:27 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Good idea on the individual stitching, Mikko! That's easier and tougher than a running stitch would be. I agree that shields had to last long enough to be useful and there's plenty of evidence that thought was put into making them durable. The aforementioned Tira shield was padded with grass, there's that old law stating that sheep skins couldn't be used for facing and as time wore on we start seeing smaller round shields with extensive iron reinforcement on the face. I've even read that some shields were made of two thin layers of planks set at right angles to eachother for additional strength.

I'm curious, is there archaeological or written evidence for rawhide rimming or is that just something modern people tried and had success with? FWIW I bought some 3/4 inch manila rope to experiment with, it had to be cut with a hacksaw and it wasn't exactly easy so I take that as a promising sign even if it's a purely speculative construction element right now. After this shield is done I'll see how much punishment it can take with some destructive testing.

I have heard there have been finds in Finland of round shields smaller than 30 inches, do you have any additional information regarding them?
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Mikko Kuusirati




Location: Finland
Joined: 16 Nov 2004
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PostPosted: Sun 11 May, 2014 1:24 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Possibly. IIRC, the smallest shield finds in Finland were probably about 60cm across, from the Merovingian period. HOWEVER, one must remember that this is conjecture based primarily on the size of the grip irons (at this time they spanned almost the whole height of the shield and were used as a base for riveting the boards together), as the organic parts have not survived.

There's evidence that leather was used as a facing material, and small riveted metal clamps that may have been used to fix some kind of organic reinforcement around the rim of some shields. But, especially around the Viking times and even later, it seems many shields were also made entirely of organic materials apart from the boss, even the boards being fixed together with cord.

The subtle tongue, the sophist guile, they fail when the broadswords sing;
Rush in and die, dogs -- I was a man before I was a king.
-- R. E. Howard, The Road of Kings
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Mike Ruhala




Location: Stuart, Florida
Joined: 24 Jul 2011

Posts: 328

PostPosted: Sun 11 May, 2014 11:50 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Thanks! Are there any pics of these grip irons online somewhere?
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Mikko Kuusirati




Location: Finland
Joined: 16 Nov 2004
Reading list: 13 books

Posts: 960

PostPosted: Mon 12 May, 2014 2:57 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Hmm... there's some at the University of Helsinki; the site's in Finnish, but of course you can still look at the pictures. Happy

Here's one likely from the 6th Century



That's the grip iron in the center, below the boss, broken into three parts. The middle part (also bent in three) was shaped into a trough to hold a wooden grip.

The subtle tongue, the sophist guile, they fail when the broadswords sing;
Rush in and die, dogs -- I was a man before I was a king.
-- R. E. Howard, The Road of Kings
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John Hardy




Location: Saskatoon SK Canada
Joined: 31 May 2014
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PostPosted: Wed 25 Jun, 2014 7:47 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Mike Ruhala wrote:
Good idea on the individual stitching, Mikko! That's easier and tougher than a running stitch would be. I agree that shields had to last long enough to be useful and there's plenty of evidence that thought was put into making them durable. The aforementioned Tira shield was padded with grass, there's that old law stating that sheep skins couldn't be used for facing and as time wore on we start seeing smaller round shields with extensive iron reinforcement on the face. I've even read that some shields were made of two thin layers of planks set at right angles to eachother for additional strength.

I'm curious, is there archaeological or written evidence for rawhide rimming or is that just something modern people tried and had success with? FWIW I bought some 3/4 inch manila rope to experiment with, it had to be cut with a hacksaw and it wasn't exactly easy so I take that as a promising sign even if it's a purely speculative construction element right now. After this shield is done I'll see how much punishment it can take with some destructive testing.

I have heard there have been finds in Finland of round shields smaller than 30 inches, do you have any additional information regarding them?


Just off the top of my head, with absolutely NO research done whatsoever, it strikes me that the northern European seagoing peoples (like the Vikings) have an age-old tradition of using tar/pitch for waterproof caulking between their ship planks. Often with some absorbent material as the carrier.

(A traditional punishment style 'KP' duty for sailors in the British RN throughout the Age of Sail, for example, was 'picking oakum': taking worn-out bits of hemp rope and picking them apart into their original tufts of fluffy material, which could then be dipped in tar and hammered with wooden mallets into leaks.)

They also, of course, have an equally long tradition of using that same tar to waterproof everything in sight: the ropes of the standing rigging, hats and ponchos to make them into waterproof foulweather gear, etc. etc. etc. And once that tar hardens, those ropes, if they need to be de-rigged for any reason, are virtually impossible to manipulate and are a major bitch to cut. Hence the 'boarding axes' on every tallship until the end of the era of sail.

You mentioned that the Tira shield was padded with grass. I would not be in the least bit surprised to discover that some enterprising Viking shield maker was known locally for his superbly tough shields - because he laced tarred rope around the rim and padded the shields under a rawhide cover with tarry oakum or its then-equivalent...
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Mike Ruhala




Location: Stuart, Florida
Joined: 24 Jul 2011

Posts: 328

PostPosted: Wed 25 Jun, 2014 1:44 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Interesting thoughts, John. I've actually been looking closely at adapting contemporary seagoing technologies to shields, for instance covering the planks with the same kind of wool cloth that would have been used for sails. Now that you mention it I distinctly recall that in the age of fighting sail they used nets made of tarred rope against boarders because they were so resistant to being cut.

As far as the project goes it's mostly done, all I need to do is modify some nails on my grinder and use them to attach the boss. I learned a whole lot doing this first shield and I think I can make the next one much more authentic though I don't think there was every any one correct recipe, all my research has shown there was considerable variation in the details of construction even though they stuck to the same general formula and many of the same basic techniques of construction persisted for many centuries.

I've seen enough evidence in artwork that I do believe rope was definitely used to edge some shields after the Viking age and probably during it but I don't think it should be laced in place. I used rawhide laces and even after they shrunk the rope was firmly attached but still could be shifted around some. After being glued in place under the linen facing material the roped edge was immovably fixed on the rim, if it was initially held in place by some glue or tar on the rim and then augmented by a fillet of the same on each side when the facing was attached that would be perfectly secure and better match the art evidence.

The braiding of the rope is visible through the facing material and it makes me wonder if maybe this was the original inspiration for the roped edges on plate armor in later centuries.
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Scott Baker




Location: Alabama
Joined: 09 Mar 2014

Posts: 2

PostPosted: Thu 26 Jun, 2014 7:31 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Here is a Scottish Targe, that had what looks like a rope embellishment on the front.


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Mike Ruhala




Location: Stuart, Florida
Joined: 24 Jul 2011

Posts: 328

PostPosted: Fri 27 Jun, 2014 2:06 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Awesome, thanks Scott! That gives me a lot of ideas to play around with on my next couple shields.
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Scott Baker




Location: Alabama
Joined: 09 Mar 2014

Posts: 2

PostPosted: Fri 27 Jun, 2014 6:55 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

You are welcome, I know it falls out of your specific year range ,but i liked it when I saw it. Faganarms had it for sale and they may still have pics and a description up. There are a couple more pics one from the back and one or two from the front, if they dont have it up anymore and if anyone is interested I can post them also
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