Padding on a Viking/Anglo Saxon Shield?
Padded shield faces. My interpretation:

I've seen some references to the addition of padding being placed behind the leather faces of some shields in the form of "pressed grass", and I'm wondering if anyone knows of any historical or archeological evidence for this.

I produce quality reproduction Viking/Anglo-Saxon & Norman Shields for re-enactors, living history enthusiasts, and collectors. My products span the spectrum from simple, unadorned practice shields, to SCA, Vikings, and Regia Anglorum Heavy Combat legal shields, through rather fanciful Barbarian/Fantasy shields to historically accurate living history displays. I find the living history pieces the most interesting to work on.

Iíve never been asked to reproduce this padding technique, but would like to experiment with it and be able to offer the feature on some of my work. Of course I understand that once covered in a leather face, the padding will not be seen, Iíd still like to get it right. It seems some of the most interesting accuracy points are often the most difficult to detect.

Iím wondering how the grass padding might have been laid up on the shield planking. Was it just placed loosely under the face? Was it perhaps thatched in some way, or woven like a basket? Was it glued in place, or just left to hang loosely?

My interpretation so far has been to apply a layer of basket weaving to the shield body with glue, then glue the leather face on top of the straw, securing it around the rim under the edging with stitching. This thin veneer of straw wouldnít add a lot of padding, certainly less than loose straw, but would be more stable, and the cross-hatching, encased in resin, would add a lot of structural integrity to the shield.

Does anyone have any ideas along these lines? Any historical references you can think of?

Thanx, Woebegone
Welcome to myArmoury! There has been a well preserved shield found in Tira peat bog in Kurzeme (Kurland that is dated to ninth century, and it had a layer of pressed grass between the leather and planks - note, that it has leather covering both front and back of the shield. As far as I know, there is no evidence of the grass beeing specifically placed, however, the shield is in rather poor condition nowedays and it is impossible to say.

Last edited by Artis Aboltins on Sat 24 Oct, 2009 10:41 am; edited 1 time in total
Could you post where you found this information, and how I can learn more?

Michael Doughty wrote:
Could you post where you found this information, and how I can learn more?


Well I have seen that shield in museum more than once :) and read the relevant informationthat has been published - mainly in Latvian or Russian languages though, on internet the best information is found here:

but even in thexts in Latvian and Russian I have read there is not too much more valluable information. There is a speculations, I am not certain how justified, that some of the dried grass was actually dried sea-weeds. The umbo was carwed from wood, and nowedays it is very much dried up and shrunk significantly :(
Yes, that's about all the information I've been able to find, too. They tell us grass of some sort was used, but fail to reveal to us how they learned this. I guess short of learning Russian, or traveling to Latvia, I'll have to rely on common sense and try to wing it.

I've always wondered if that wooden umbro, and the over-lacing wasn't an example of a "Field Repair". Wouldn't it be interesting to find that many of these bog finds were in fact out of their garbage heap, where defective items and ill-conceived ideas were disposed of?


Hmm no I doubt it as that sort of field repair - umbo was obviously well made, and shield, when it was found, was in good enough condition. I have the descritpion of that particular find, and it was recovered along with the remains of the warrior - due to the peat bog, some of the textiles had survived quite well too. Shield aparently had some battle damage, but was still in condition to be used. Sadly, the "preservation efforts" it endured made it into what it is today :( so I doubt going to Latvia will do you any good in that regard - all you can see in museum is a planking and remains of the umbo. That packed grass of some sort was used is beyound doubt, but exactly what grass, it is harder to find out.
Well, OK, not a field repair but it's possible that the shield was made by someone who was very isolated from normal trading opportunities. The wooden umbo suggests that there was something out of the ordinary going on.Maybe the same thing is true of the stuffing, perhaps the grass was used as a way to reinforce a type of leather that wasn't normally considered rugged enough to cover a shield. Maybe the guy had deerskin and needed cowhide. Maybe the guy was an outlaw and outcast from society, maybe he was just broke! :idea: I guess the point that I'm trying to make is that when you couple the use of grass with the use of a wooden umbo and the fact that this is virtually a unique find some special circumstances were at work. It seems to me that the fact that this was a bog find tends to give support to the idea of this warrior being outside normal society in some manner.
He had a decent quality equipment with him, and, aparently, had been burried with care, one of hypothesis is that he died in a raid quite a ways from home and as result was burried on the way back but not beeing carried all the way home. His clothing was well made too. The thing is, that most of the shield finds from that period are rather fragmentary - so it is very hard to say if this was more common occureance or not. Also, in some places where some trace of shield has been found, not always there is umbo's - so it is also posible that wodden umbos where used when iron ones where not readilly avaliable (remember, that in teritory of Latvia you can only find deposits of bog iron, everything else have to be imported).
Oh well, another theory shot to Hell! :lol:
Besides this one find, is there any literary references to padded shields?

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