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Felix Wang




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PostPosted: Wed 16 Nov, 2005 11:15 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

All very good information. I would like to add that the curvature of a shield makes a bit difference in the ways it can be used: the deeply curved imperial Roman scutum is primarily a personal defense, whereas a large round flat shield can be used as a group defense. The Greek phalanx overlapped shields so that each man was guarded by his right-hand neighbor's apsis as well as his own; a Viking shield wall likely utilized the same sort of defense.

In re the scutum, there is an interesting thought in Connolly's Greece and Rome at War, to the effect that legionaries sometimes fought with the shield resting on the ground; in effect a personal wall. I have not seen this substantiated elsewhere, but if the shield is 4.5 feet tall and the man is 5.5 feet tall, this idea doesn't sound so outrageous.
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Wolfgang Armbruster





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PostPosted: Wed 16 Nov, 2005 11:28 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Sorry, my fault!
I got it all wrong. I should have read the posts more carefully Wink

But why were later European shields throw-away items? Maybe because the armies were smaller (in most cases) during the migration period and the early middle-ages so it wasn't very expensive to replace 'em? Or was it because the construction was not as complex ?
I'm just guessing here.
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Hank Reinhardt
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PostPosted: Wed 16 Nov, 2005 11:45 am    Post subject: shields         Reply with quote

Let me explain what I mean by "throwaway" shields. If in the fight, whether duel, melee or full scale battle, your shield took a large number of blows so that it was almost, or even completely, useless, you would throw it away, scare up another, etc. You did not worry about losing the shield. You will read about very fancy shields with a lot of gold and silver. Generally these were not used in combat, but if they were, and ruined, the body was simply thrown away and the ornamentation saved and used on another wooden shield. Now Kings and Earls would have nicer shields, and if it got torn up, so what, they would simply have some one make them a new one. (One reason I would like to be King is that they always have nice things). But even the poor grunt in the front line didn't worry overmuch about his shield. If it wasn;t used up the first fight, maybe the third or even the forth. Romans rarely engaged in single combat. They were an army, and the object was to kill. AS for simply standing up the shield, too easy to knock it over. When fighting in line, whether Roman or Saxon, the legs are not that vunerable. No room for the opponent to swing his sword, as he has friends on either side. When the line breaks, then the legs become quite vunerable. (Usually most of the casualties in battle occur when a line breaks rather than in the full clash. Then people are trying to get the hell out, leaving the heads, back and legs open)
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Felix Wang




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PostPosted: Wed 16 Nov, 2005 11:54 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Complex construction is part of the reason, I think.

As noted above, the Fayum (Republican Roman or Celtic mercenary) shield is made with a plywood construction, thin strips of wood glued in crossing layers. The Greek apsis was made with a complex concave curvature - slightly curved in the middle, more curved near the rim, and flat at the rim itself. We don't know exactly how the Greeks shaped the wood, but it must have taken some time and effort. A Viking or medieval shield is generally made of flat planks side by side, either forming a flat board or with the edges slightly beveled so the boards form a curve, with simple glued butt joints. This is much simpler than either ancient method.

The use of the shield may be another reason. The Greeks and Romans seem to have expected their shields to stop oncoming attacks outright. Also, most ancient cultures didn't use mass weapons to any great extent. The mace was used by very ancient peoples, long before the Greco-Roman period; the Persians are shown with the occasional single-handed axe, and the Celts used long cutting swords. When the Romans fought the Dacians, they were very impressed by the Dacian falx, possibly because Roman legionaries had relatively little experience with large, heavy cutting weapons. By the Viking and early medieval period, long cutting swords are the standard sidearm, and the battleaxe is common - so shield damage might well be greater. In addition, it is noteworthy that many Viking and early medieval shields are not very thick, and do not have any kind of rim. One thought is that they may have been used to trap and catch sword blades, rather than merely block them. If the shield is expected to snag a sword, the shield will obviously be hacked up in the process.
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Hank Reinhardt
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PostPosted: Wed 16 Nov, 2005 12:26 pm    Post subject: shields         Reply with quote

A quick comment. The early Greek shields were made of leather, or rather rawhide. Which is really tough stuff. The later large circular shields are believed to have been made of leather covered with a thin bronze bowl. I guess you could say a bronze bowl backed with layers of rawhide. Snodgrass's goes into this in "Early Greek Armour and Weapons",but one can easily reach this conclusion if you remember that bronze is about 1/3rd heavier than iron. A full sized shield made of bronze thick enough to stop something would be enormously heavy,50-60 pounds at least. But backed with rawhide, it would be much lighter. Bronze helmets are always quite thin and surprise most people when they seem them. Same thing, they forget about the weight. But I digress. Sorry. Hank
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Dan Howard




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PostPosted: Wed 16 Nov, 2005 1:20 pm    Post subject: Re: shields         Reply with quote

Hank Reinhardt wrote:
A quick comment. The early Greek shields were made of leather, or rather rawhide.


Is there any evidence other than Homer to suggest that Greek shields were made of multiple layers of hide? Personally I think Homer was right but I was wondering whether there is any corroborating evidence.
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Hank Reinhardt
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PostPosted: Wed 16 Nov, 2005 1:37 pm    Post subject: Shields         Reply with quote

Hide is quite perishable. But we have small bronze bosses in grave finds, with small bits of bronze that appear to have been pins. Early representations show bull hide shields with wood rims. We do know that in early Greece bronze was not as abundant as it was in Assyria where bronze faced shields were already in use. When you put it together, with no evidence of wood around the bosses, one can only assume that leather was used. And it works quite well. Hank
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Dan Howard




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PostPosted: Wed 16 Nov, 2005 1:48 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Yes hide is perishable, but tons of leather/hide artefacts have turned up in the archaeological record for various cultures. It seems that none of it has turned up yet to support the Greek hide shield theory. Though there is evidence for leather backed bronze shields in the British Isles showing, at least, that it was done by some cultures.

Regarding full-height bronze faced shields - it isn't possible. Lets look at Aias' shield for example. It is commonly believed that Aias carried a full-height "tower" shield. Yet Homer specifically describes it as made of seven layers of hide with a facing of bronze. Assuming that Aias stood over 6 feet tall, a curved tower shield would have dimensions approximately 3 feet by 5 feet. Even if the bronze facing was only 0.3mm thick, it would weigh around 25 lbs (bronze has a density of around 8,300 kg/m^3). A single layer of six ounce hide with the same dimensions would weigh 5.6 lbs for a total of 31.6 lbs. When one adds the remaining six layers plus the other furniture including rim, handle, guige, boss, etc., it is obvious that even a warrior of heroic strength could not wield this shield. If Aias' shield was made of seven layers of hide with a bronze facing then it could not have been a full-height shield. Personally I think Aias carried a circular shield like every other one described by Homer.
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PostPosted: Wed 16 Nov, 2005 2:09 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I believe that wooden fragments have been found in association with the bronze parts of Greek hoplite shields, and as I recall the bronze is sometimes very thin, and of limited protective value itself. (Matthew Amt's page proves useful, as ever: http://www.larp.com/hoplite/hoplon.html ). Bronze is pretty dense stuff; a 1 meter shield of mostly bronze might be pretty heavy.
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Dan Howard




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PostPosted: Wed 16 Nov, 2005 2:23 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Hi Felix, I don't know about Hank but I'm limiting my discussion to shields that were in existence at the end of the bronze age in the Aegean. i.e. around the alleged time of the Trojan War. I wouldn't argue that classical hoplite shields were made of wood and faced with bronze, but this doesn't automatically indicate that earlier shields were made in the same way.
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PostPosted: Wed 16 Nov, 2005 3:43 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Agreed. My comments are directed to the hoplite's shield, since the construction of the earlier shields is more difficult to verify. More direct physical evidence exists for the Classical period.
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PostPosted: Thu 17 Nov, 2005 7:23 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Given the weight range of actual Roman scutae (hope my Latin grammar is correct there), are we to assume that legionary recruits practiced with a mock shield in the 30-40 lb range, as per Vegetius's claim? Worried
"Why meddle with us--you are not strong enough to break us--you know that you have won the battle and slaughtered our army--be content with your honor, and leave us alone, for by God's good will only have we escaped from this business" --unknown Spanish captain to the Chevalier Bayard, at the Battle of Ravenna, 1512
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Geoff Wood




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PostPosted: Thu 17 Nov, 2005 4:17 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

David Black Mastro wrote:
Given the weight range of actual Roman scutae (hope my Latin grammar is correct there), are we to assume that legionary recruits practiced with a mock shield in the 30-40 lb range, as per Vegetius's claim? Worried


I suppose it depends how they were using them. I've not handled one, but they look as though the CG is behind the grip in examples I've seen, so with a 'suitcase' pick up they'll naturally fall agains the fore arm, giving a nice stable load. Girls at my place of work are routinely handling loads much more awkwardly shaped of 25Kg (~55lbs). I makes them tired, but maybe that was the idea of practising like that.
Geoff
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PostPosted: Fri 18 Nov, 2005 1:31 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

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PostPosted: Fri 18 Nov, 2005 5:19 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Geoff Wood wrote:
David Black Mastro wrote:
Given the weight range of actual Roman scutae (hope my Latin grammar is correct there), are we to assume that legionary recruits practiced with a mock shield in the 30-40 lb range, as per Vegetius's claim? Worried


I suppose it depends how they were using them. I've not handled one, but they look as though the CG is behind the grip in examples I've seen, so with a 'suitcase' pick up they'll naturally fall agains the fore arm, giving a nice stable load. Girls at my place of work are routinely handling loads much more awkwardly shaped of 25Kg (~55lbs). I makes them tired, but maybe that was the idea of practising like that.
Geoff


15 lbs can be handled and used actively. I would guess that if I were not a desk-jockey, it would be a bit easier still.
Worried
Distribution of the mass is part of the key to this. Celtic, early Germanic and some Roman shields had "distal taper"---the board is thickest toward the center, immediately begins to thin out in all directions, and thinnest toward the rim. Thus the weight is centralised toward the hand. Modern repro shields without the "chamfering" handle significantly worse and "feel" heavier even when they are the same weight as a chamfered shield.

This distribution cuts out a lot of the "awkward" factor.
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PostPosted: Fri 18 Nov, 2005 5:27 am    Post subject: Re: shields         Reply with quote

Hank Reinhardt wrote:
But remeber that Roman helmets had a transverse bar across the helmet that could easily protect against a sword blow to the front of the skull. .


Just a point for clarification. The larger Roman shields, like the Fayum, are Republican. Smaller Roman shields show up during the imperial period.

Helmets in the early Republican period do not have a brow band or cross-bracing: we are talking about Italo-Corithian, Attic, maybe Pylos, maybe some Negau helms very early on, and later a Republican style Montefortino, looking much like your standard Celtic helm only sometimes with different cheekplates. No brow bands on those helms when the shield is at its largest. The Fayum is a late Republican shield.

You begin to see brow bands come in around the time of Caesar a a little bit before, and then much later the cross-bracing on some helms (I think just prior to the Dacian campaigns?). At that point in time, the shield is smaller than it was in earlier Republican times.
(a good reference on helms for Iron Age pre-Migration is Antike Helme published by the Mainz centralmuseum, 1988)

Matt or other Romano-philes can add or correct this if I am too far off base....


I don't know what that says one way or the other for theories of shield use, but that puts the archaeology in a better timeline.
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Matthew Amt




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PostPosted: Fri 18 Nov, 2005 10:58 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Right, as far as we can tell, the brow reinforment bar on the Roman helmet doesn't appear until the end of the Republic, about the time that the shorter rectangular scutum comes into use. It's tempting to associate the one with the other, but we really don't know enough about which came first or why. One could have occurred much earlier or later than the other.

General belief is that the crossed reinforcing bars were first retrofitted to helmets because of the damage done by the Dacian falx. These bars are then become a regular feature of new styles of helmets from all over the Empire--not just Dacia. (Same with other presumably falx-motivated items, such as greaves and segmented armguards.)

We know that even Republican shields varied in size because a legionary in the second century BC is punished for having one that is too large! (Was it Scipio who did the punishing?) Both the Dura scuta date to c. 250 AD, and the famous one is 41 inches tall while the other is only 37 inches tall. The Fayum shield is about 50 inches tall.

David, we're never sure just how far to trust Vegetius. He writes in the later Empire, and gives us an undiscriminated mix of current information, undocumented tidbits from before his time, and wishful thinking. So his mention of double-weight practice shields may be accurate and refer to a 30-pound shield, or it might only have been 20 or 25 pounds (rather than a 15-pound battle shield). A 3-pound practice sword is easier to believe. (Oh, and the plural of scutum is scuta! Gladius, gladii; galea, galeae, etc.)

Oh, Nate--I'm happy with the "common ancestor" idea for the scutum and the Celtic shield. But it just doesn't have the same impact when I'm dumping on the idea that "the Romans stole everything from the Celts", hee hee!

Valete,

Matthew
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PostPosted: Fri 18 Nov, 2005 1:57 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Matthew Amt wrote:
Right, as far as we can tell, the brow reinforment bar on the Roman helmet doesn't appear until the end of the Republic, about the time that the shorter rectangular scutum comes into use. It's tempting to associate the one with the other, but we really don't know enough about which came first or why. One could have occurred much earlier or later than the other.

General belief is that the crossed reinforcing bars were first retrofitted to helmets because of the damage done by the Dacian falx. These bars are then become a regular feature of new styles of helmets from all over the Empire--not just Dacia. (Same with other presumably falx-motivated items, such as greaves and segmented armguards.)


I'll never understand this. The Dacian campaign was 105-107 AD. The End of the Republic presumably occurred with the death of Caesar or even earlier (15th March 44 BC). So we have a century and a half between the end of the Republic and the Dacian campaign. If the reinforcing bar is evident on helmets at the end of the Republic then how can it possibly have anything to do with the Dacian falx?
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Geoff Wood




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PostPosted: Fri 18 Nov, 2005 2:23 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Dan Howard wrote:
Matthew Amt wrote:
Right, as far as we can tell, the brow reinforment bar on the Roman helmet doesn't appear until the end of the Republic, about the time that the shorter rectangular scutum comes into use. It's tempting to associate the one with the other, but we really don't know enough about which came first or why. One could have occurred much earlier or later than the other.

General belief is that the crossed reinforcing bars were first retrofitted to helmets because of the damage done by the Dacian falx. These bars are then become a regular feature of new styles of helmets from all over the Empire--not just Dacia. (Same with other presumably falx-motivated items, such as greaves and segmented armguards.)


I'll never understand this. The Dacian campaign was 105-107 AD. The End of the Republic presumably occurred with the death of Caesar or even earlier (15th March 44 BC). So we have a century and a half between the end of the Republic and the Dacian campaign. If the reinforcing bar is evident on helmets at the end of the Republic then how can it possibly have anything to do with the Dacian falx?


Aren't we talking about two different things here, the brow bar at the front (end of Republic) and the reinforcement over the crown of the helmet (reponse to Dacian campaign).?
Geoff
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Matthew Amt




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PostPosted: Sat 19 Nov, 2005 8:54 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Right, the single bar, which I refer to as the "brow reinforce", seems to show up about the time of Augustus, though it may be rather earlier (Caesar, etc.). It's what you see on all the usual Coolus and Gallic helmets. The CROSSED braces show up early 2nd century AD, e.g., Trajan's Column and the Adamklissi monument, and are the ones attributed to falx reaction. There are at least one or two surviving Imperial-Gallic helmets that have had these added as a "retrofit", with the original crest fittings either removed or the bars slapped on right over them. After that, helmets were made with the bars as a planned component, like the Italic G from Hebron, or the Thielenhofen infantry helmet (these date c. 130 to 150 AD.)

Interestingly, the single brow reinforce is often said to be a response to long Gallic cutting swords, which is odd if it only shows up AFTER the conquest of Gaul. But that's a pretty big "if". It might coincide with the shortening of the scutum from oval to rectangular, but again, we don't know. If the shield was actually shortened back in Marius' time (100 BC) and the brow reinforce wasn't introduced until Augustus, there's no connection. But if the brow reinforce if much earlier and the shortening of the scutum is much later, there's more reason to think "cause and effect". Not gonna let it keep me awake at night.

Valete,

Matthew
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