Author Archives: wingedhussar420

Changes In Shields Over Time

Shields are an important part of many soldiers’ equipment. Throughout the medieval period shields had many changes. The following will talk about why and how these changes happened. The earliest shield to be discussed will be the Greek hoplon. These were around a meter in diameter, made of hard wood, and were very heavy. They used 2 straps on the back to help distribute the weight of the shield. Later the Roman scutum was created. It was a tall rectangular shape, about shoulder to knee in height. This shield was even heavier than the hoplons but provided more protection because of its increased size. The Romans stand close together and create a wall of shields that allowed very little to penetrate . It protected the wielder’s legs meaning the Romans didn’t need to wear leg protecting greaves. Despite having larger and heavier shields the Romans had the fastest armies because they didn’t need leg protection. Around this same time, barbarians would usually have round shields similar to the hoplon. In fact, throughout most of the medieval period round shields were being used by many groups of people. A likely cause of round shields being a permanent shield type is circles are a very easy shape to make.


Roman shields and a demonstration of how they could overlap.

As time progressed the tall Roman scutum became less common. The next shield to replace it was the kite shield. It’s shaped like an upside-down teardrop and doesn’t weigh as much as the rectangular shield. Its pointed bottom allowed it to be stuck into the ground and stay put. When multiple of these are planted overlapping, it creates a wall that can stand by itself. This proves effective against charging cavalry that can’t jump over it and don’t have reason to hit the wall. Kite shields also can be effective at protecting a horse while on horseback. The long bottom provides a little protection for the horse. As armor for horses improved as well as leg protection for soldiers, tall shields became less useful. They shrank over time to become lighter and more maneuverable. The shorter shield is a heater shield, named after the shape of a clothes iron. These shields were much lighter and had straps on the back that would distribute the weight across the entire arm rather than just at the wrist like most other shields. Some shields even had a large strap that could be used to carry the shield on the back while not in use. Both kite and heater shields were used by cavalry.

As time continued and armor became more common, shields became smaller and lighter. The larger shields were being used for mostly tournaments and had a notch on the right side to rest a lance. Eventually the circular buckler became the most common shield. They were very small, about a foot in diameter, and often made of metal. They were very effective in smaller battles such as a duel or attacking another ship if you were a pirate. Bucklers could be used in many ways in a duel such as deflecting the opponent’s attack, pinning the opponent’s sword arm against them, or hiding one’s hand from the opponent making it harder to predict the next move. The pictures below show a examples of how they were used. A daring soldier could even try blocking an arrow flying straight towards them.

The buckler remained in use even after gunpowder for duels and some variations of fencing. Today, the only shield commonly used is the riot shield. It is very similar to the Roman scutum in both design and use. The most notable difference is it is held more like the heater shield with equal weight distribution.


Clemonts, J. (2002). The Sword & Buckler Tradition. Retrieved from Arma:

Devries, K., & Smith, R. D. (2012). Medieval Military Technology. North York: University of Toronto Press .

Manuscript illustration of two men fencing with sword and buckler. From the ‘Tower Fechtbuch’. German, late 13th century. (n.d.). Retrieved from Wikimedia Commons:

Roman Shield (Scutum). June 17, 2005. From user MatthiasKabel. Retrieved from Wikimedia Commons:

Richardson, T. (2011). Armour in England, 1325–99. Journal of Medieval History, 304-320.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Bayeux Tapestry #66 – Where The Normans And English Both Fell


The Bayeux Tapestry tells the story of William the Conqueror and how he became king of England. The previous king, Edward the confessor, had no heir and therefore had to give the throne to another man. William of Normandy claimed Edward promised the throne to him, but Harold became king anyway. William then invaded England and warred with Harold. William was victorious and became king, Harold was killed. The Tapestry was created shortly after to retell the story. (Gale)


In this segment the English are standing at the top of a hill attacking the mounted Normans. The Latin at the top translates to “here fell both the English and the French simultaneously in battle.”

The segment above tells us the English were not weak. They were strong enough to fight back against the Normans. It also tells us that the Normans did not easily win. It was not an effortless victory. This scene is likely accurate because it portrays both sides as losing. If the Tapestry was created entirely to paint William and his men as incredible heroes, it would not likely show when they died. It’s also possible this section could have been paying respects to the men who fell in battle.

Using the tapestry as a historical source

There’s a theory about the tapestry where bishop Odo of Bayeux ordered the tapestry’s creation to put in his cathedral around its dedication time. Some other bishops are not included in the tapestry even though we know of their existence. This would make it more difficult to trust the tapestry as a reliable source. (Gameson)

The tapestry portrays Harold as a good man. He saves some men, but he breaks an oath he made and because of that a war begins. It’s possible the tapestry could have been made to warn people of breaking oaths. It could contain inaccuracies to make the story work better for this. Multiple sources contained information to support this theory.

One feature of the tapestry that helps with its reliability is the writing explaining what is going on. It gives accurate descriptions of the events that take place meaning historians don’t have to interoperate each scene themselves. John Anderson wrote an article explaining how he uses the text on the tapestry while teaching Latin. He compares the modern language to the tapestry and uses it as a source to learn words and grammar from the past. He talks about the excitement it brings to students and would make the class more interesting and engaging. (Anderson)


While the tapestry might not contain information we can trust to be completely accurate, there is a lot we can learn from it. The tapestry is one of the best sources we have that shows kite shields in action. The words on the tapestry can provide great information, even if it’s not entirely true. We can learn the overall story from the events of the tapestry, but it shouldn’t be considered 100% true.


Wilson, D. M. (1985). The Bayeux Tapestry.

William I, King of England. (2018). In P. Lagasse, & Columbia University, The Columbia encyclopedia (8th ed.). New York, NY: Columbia   University Press. Retrieved from

Gale R. Owen-Crocker (2012) Hunger for England: Ambition and Appetite in the Bayeux Tapestry, English Studies, 93:5, 539-548, DOI:   10.1080/0013838X.2012.698531

Gameson, Richard. “The English Historical Review.” The English Historical Review, vol. 121, no. 494, 2006, pp. 1517–1518. JSTOR, JSTOR,

Anderson, John D. “The Bayeux Tapestry: A 900-Year-Old Latin Cartoon.” The Classical Journal, vol. 81, no. 3, 1986, pp. 253–257. JSTOR,   JSTOR,

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized