Military Medicine in Action

Prior to the Augustan age, there was no formal military medical apparatus.  (Byrne, 267) It was most likely that soldiers helped each other, providing basic first aid and field surgery.  Upper ranking officers might have brought along their own personal physicians, but they were not widely utilized by the rank and file.  There are references to the treatment of the sick and wounded, particularly that they were sent to the back of the company while they recovered, but there is no mention of care they might have received while falling back in the ranks.

If a soldier was wounded or sick enough to not be able to keep up with the army, they were often quartered in civilian homes to be cared for during their convalescence. (Byrne, 268) The ideal situation for a soldier in this condition would have been to enter the house of an upper class citizen, who had more comforts and likely employed a physician in-house.  Outside of Roman settlements, garrisons of wounded and sick soldiers would have been left behind with adequate supplies to see them through. (Wesseleigh, 2)

Eventually, medics were trained and assigned duties within the army.  There were three orders of medics – medicus ordinaries, medicus legionis and medicus cohortis. (Byrne, 269) The first order was a regular soldier who had extra medical training.  He would have fought alongside his comrades, and offered aid when needed.  The second was over the legion, and would likely have had some rank or additional standing outside of regular soldier.  The last rank was over the whole cohort, and likely remained in the rear of the company to care for the worst of the sick and wounded.  The medicus cohortis would likely have been in charge of the field hospital, or valetudinarium.


Physician treating a patient. Red-figure Attic aryballos.

Valetudinaria, also referred to as “flying military camps,” were first just a designated tent or group of tents and later became permanent buildings.  The buildings were built with great care, with sanitation being a first concern. (Wesseleigh, 4) On average, each hospital was built to accommodate up to 5% of the legion it served.  One can therefore assume that the aim of the hospital was not for long term convalescence, but for acute care following injury and treatment.  Archaeological evidence of the valetudinarium near Baden suggests a well equipped pharmacy and surgical theater, along with wards for the recovering soldiers. (Byrne, 271)


Roman latrine

To conclude, the military medical program was an orderly undertaking.  With clear denotations of duties, it helped the care of the sick and wounded to happen with little confusion or fuss. The last post will look at specific treatments used in military medicine, and examine some of the military health records that have been found.


Byrne, Eugene Hugh. “Medicine in the Roman Army.” The Classical Journal 5, no. 6 (1910): 267-72.

Wesselingh, Robb. “From Milites Medici to Army Medics – A Two Thousand Year Tradition of Military Medicine.” Journal of Military and Veteran’s Health 16, no. 4 (2018):1-5.

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The Basis for Military Medicine

The Greek tradition of medicine heavily influenced Roman medicine.  Members of the upper classes employed Greek or Hellenistic trained physicians to provide their households with care as needed.  Lower classes clung to the Roman traditions of paterfamilias or allowing the head of the household control over medical diagnoses and curatives.  Although they employed Greek physicians, it seems that overall, Romans preferred to appeal to the Gods first before seeking their care and treatment.  There was a healthy distrust of physicians, in general, especially among the lower classes.  (Scarborough, 297)

In order to appreciate the military’s medical organization, it is important to understand the regular Roman citizen would be treated by either the paterfamilias or sometimes a slave-physician.  Only the upper classes would have had access to a proper Greek physician. (Scarborough, 298) The types of treatments prescribed in a farming family would include cabbage in some form or other.  Cato the Elder, a staunch opponent of physicians, was the most well known promoter of the cabbage cure, which in his estimation could cure just about any ailment from constipation to deafness by preparing the cabbage in a specific way.  (Household Medicine)

The wealthier class would have had access to drugs sold by local chemists (pharmacists), such as opium, and a variety of herbs grown locally or imported from nearby regions.  Dioscorides’ work De Materia Medica was the most referred to volume on the subject of herbs and their medical uses.  No chemist would have been without that reference book. (Dioscorides, wiki)


Dioscorides, by Cami Isle

L0051528 Titlepage to 'Materia Medica'

L0051528 Titlepage to ‘Materia Medica’

Galen was the premier authority on anatomy and physiology up until the mid-1500’s.  Because Greek law outlawed the dissecting of human bodies, Galen used animals such as pigs and primates to understand the basics of anatomy.  Some of his theories were disproved later, but for the Romans, it was considered accurate enough.  Galen, himself, was the personal physician to Marcus Aurelius. (Galen, wiki)


Galen, by Cami Isle

Galen borrowed many ideas from Hippocrates, chiefly the theory of the four humors in the body – blood, yellow bile, black bile, and phlegm.  Hippocrates posited that illness occurred when these humors were out of balance.  Galen furthered the humors theory by adding personality types to the dominant humors – sanguine, choleric, melancholic, and phlegmatic.  Treatments for unbalanced humors included purging, sweating, and bloodletting.  (Galen, wiki)


Romans were well known for their public works projects.  Sanitation and clean water were the most prevalent features of most Roman cities.  The bath houses were well used by citizens, and facilitated the overall cleanliness of the people.  Fleas and lice were likely not as prevalent because of the bath houses, however depending on how often the bath house was cleaned, it may have contributed to the spreading of some viral and bacterial infections.

In summary, Romans were quite advanced in their society when it comes to health promoting practices.  They had access to clean water, had adequate sanitation overall, and medicine was available in the case of illness.  These general factors led to the promotion of a military medical apparatus that was superior to most others of the time.  The next blog will examine the specific medical organization within the military and how it changed over time.


“Pedanius Dioscorides.” Wikipedia. Accessed December 15, 2018.

“Galen.” Wikipedia. Accessed December 15, 2018.

“Household Medicine In Ancient Rome.” The British Medical Journal 1, no. 2140 (1902): 39-40.

Scarborough, John. “Romans and Physicians.” The Classical Journal 65, no. 7 (1970): 296-306.

=={{int:filedesc}}== {{Artwork |artist = |author = |title = Titlepage to ‘Materia Medica’ |description = Titlepage to ‘Materia Medica’ <p>Rare Books<br> Keywords: Materia Medica; Plants, Medicinal |date…


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Final Project: Mediocre Legionary

“…they all march without noise, and in a decent manner, and every one keeps his own rank, as if they were going to war. The footmen are armed with breastplates and head-pieces, and have swords on each side; but the sword which is upon their left side is much longer than the other, for that on the right side is not longer than a span…”

-Flavius Josephus

Side Note:

I originally intended to create more than one model soldier, and I wanted to represent different time periods and locations we have discussed (a Greek hoplite, an English longbowman, and a Persian soldier were in the works). However, I underestimated the amount of time it takes to create one with this level of detail and consideration to historical accuracy. Ultimately, I decided to go for quality over quantity, so my project will focus only on the Roman legionary.


Holding true to my blog username, I created a mediocre legionary. The body was made with a wood clothespin (the old kind that doesn’t have a spring) and a popsicle stick cut in half for arms. The finished model stands roughly 4 inches tall (5.5 with the pilum) and has weapons and armor that match as closely as I could to those carried by a typical legionnaire around the first century CE. I heavily based my model after what I observed in pictures of the Ermine Street Guard, because of their quantity of useful pictures and very high reputation for historical accuracy (“The Ermine Street Guard”). The main components of his outfit are the tunic, helmet, body armor, belt and boots, shield, sword and dagger, and javelin.



The typical legionary’s tunic would be made out of wool, and while it is uncertain which colors were used, red and white seem to be the most widely accepted. Interestingly, the only groups of people who exposed their knees in ancient Rome were soldiers and slaves (“Roman Arms and Armour”).

First, I had to create the soldier’s tunic. I used red cotton fabric that I had cut into rectangle. Folding it in half to maintain symmetry, I cut a hole for the head and arms and then sewed the seams along the sides to basically make a T-shirt.


Roman helmets were typically made out of iron, but other materials such as copper, brass, and bronze have been found to have also been used (“Roman Arms and Armour”). The Gallic design and craftsmanship were highly favored among soldiers; generally being preferred over the Italian models by the Roman army (Matyszak, 59). The average legionary would only have a plume on top of his helmet during special parading events, which I why I left it off (Matyszak, 59). Helmets, along with some other gear, have been found baring inscriptions with the name of its owner; a very interesting historical point as it shows the ownership of the helmet being passed from soldier to soldier within a unit. This also indicates personal, not military, ownership of some armor and equipment (Nicolay, 168).

The helmet was the most frustrating part to create, which is why I do not have any pictures of the process. I put a base piece of tin foil around the head and then glued the cheek pieces (which were paper rectangles wrapped in paper) to the sides of the face. I then made a tin foil ball to put on top of the head to give the helmet a round shape, and then covered that with another piece of tin foil to give it a smoother texture. Next, I  placed a semi-circle of paper wrapped tin foil on the back of the head to serve as the neck guard. I finished by adding the cross brace to the front and coloring the bottom with a yellow sharpie to simulate the embellishments of a real helmet.

Body Armor

Lorica segmentata was highly effective body armor used by the Roman army during the first century CE. It was flexible and lightweight, but also very difficult to maintain since the iron tended to corrode when exposed to water, sweat, or blood- things a soldier would frequently encounter (Matyszak, 56).

To start, I wrapped strips of paper with tin foil, as tin foil alone crumpled too easily, looked messy, and was not sturdy enough to support the weight of the armor. After measuring out the strips and wrapping them around the body, I glued them together trying to follow the look of the real armor as closely as possible. Once the structure was stabilized, I cut the armor down the middle (the short pieces were too difficult to manipulate) and secured them with glue. The lorica segmentata was finished with gold pieces of paper and embroidery floss resembling the various straps and fasteners that were used to attach the armor to the soldier.

Belt and Boots

The Roman legionary’s belt was generally made of leather and copper alloy plating that was embossed or adorned with tin wash or silver plating. It served both as protection from hits below the belt and as a convenient place to hold the sword and/ or dagger. Sometimes separate belts were worn so the sword was attached to one with the dagger on the other to more evenly distribute weight (“Roman Arms and Armour”).

Their boots/ sandals, also called caliga, were cut from a single piece of leather and closely resemble modern athletic shoes with how they optimize the weight distribution around the foot (“Roman Arms and Armour”). The bottoms the caliga featured sharp hobnails, which were useful for traction and combat (Matyszak, 53-54).


I created the belt with brown construction paper and used a silver marker to show the metal plates. The soles of the caliga were also made with the same paper and marker (this time used to represent hobnails), and the tops were made with embroidery floss.


The scutum was the most widely used shield by the Roman army during this time. It was a large, curved rectangle shape that was made from gluing three layers of wood together and covering them with leather and canvas and metal edging. It was normally generally red with yellow decorations of thunderbolts and eagle wings.  It was approximately 3.5 feet tall, 16 inches wide, and 5-6 millimeters thick. This was a highly effective shield as it was light enough to be carried by one arm, and large enough to cover the entire soldier, but was eventually replaced as their enemies’ weapons became strong enough to cut through it (“Scutum”). The curved shape of the shield enabled the Roman soldiers to create a testudo, or tortoise formation, which completely protected the soldiers and allowed them to use their spears through the gaps. The shield would also have a strap that allowed it be carried over the back while marching.

I created my shield by drawing and coloring the design on a piece of paper, gluing that to a thin piece of cardboard, gluing a piece of wood patterned paper on the other side, and curling it while still wet around a can. Then I added the tin foil embellishments to the front (the ball is a pom-pom covered in tin foil), the foil along the sides (colored with a yellow marker), and finished by gluing the wood sticks to the inside.

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Sword and Dagger

The sword carried by the Roman legionary, called a gladius, was a short blade (usually no more than 2 feet long) and was very popular during the time. The more general term for a sword, spatha, could also be used here, but it generally associated with a longer sword that became more popular in the 2nd and 3rd centuries. It was a highly effective weapon that was used by the Roman military for nearly 6 centuries (“Roman Military Personal Equipment”). As described by Flavius Josephus, Roman soldiers carried their longer sword on their left side (Josephus). This was a later trend, as legionnaires originally carried their gladius on their right, and only centurions and cavalrymen carried swords on their left; something the infantry eventually did as well (“Roman Arms and Armour”). The sword was often carried on the belt, but many of the reenactment photos I researched were shown with a cross-body strap supporting the heavier sword. The gladius was generally employed in a stabbing technique, and the shape of the sword required a twisting motion to be withdrawn (Matyszak, 62-63).

The soldier’s dagger, a pugio, was a leaf shaped blade, usually 7-12 inches long, and was most likely used as a sidearm (“Roman Military Personal Equipment”). Personal preference resulted in a variety of pugio, with some being more functional while others were elaborately sheathed with decorations and precious metals (“Roman Arms and Armour”).


My model’s gladius is shown in a sheath and was made from foam I’d colored brown with a marker and part of a toothpick used for a hilt. I wrapped a piece of tin foil around the middle to show what would actually be an embellished metal plate on the outside of the sheath. The pugio was made with the same method, but unsheathed and much shorter than the gladius.


The final weapon carried by the legionary was his pilum, or javelin. This was a very long and heavy weapon, spanning some 6 feet in length and weighing 4.5-9 pounds, sometimes with the addition of a lead ball for added weight (“Roman Military Personal Equipment”; Matyszak, 65). The shank was made of iron and the shaft was usually made with ash, or similar wood (Matyszak, 65). If thrown correctly, it could penetrate both the shield and armor of its target; but if it got stuck in the shield only, it would be very difficult to remove since the shank would bend and break off from the shaft on impact (“Roman Military Personal Equipment”). Unlike a traditional spear, the pilum was designed for only one use in battle (enemies could not reuse it against them) and was not able to function as some of the other tools, such as a walking stick or stretcher, that a typical spear could because of its points on both ends and fragile nature. Its heavy weight also made it cumbersome to carry on march (Matyszak, 64-66).

The pilum held by my model is a little on the short side, and does not have a pointed tip on the bottom because I may have glued it together the wrong way… My shaft is made of a kebab skewer, the shank is a toothpick wrapped in tin foil, and the base of the shank is tan paper.

Finished Product




Works Cited

“A Beginner’s Guide to Roman Arms and Armour.” Armamentarivem. Museum of Antiquities, 24 May 1997, Accessed 5 December 2018.

Dowson, Thomas. “Archaeology from Roman Corbridge Comes Alive at Chesters Roman Fort.” Archaeology Travel, Accessed 13 December 2018.

Flavius Josephus: The Jewish War. III.5-6, trans. William Whiston. “Internet Medieval Sourcebook”, Halsall, Paul, Fordham University, 4 November 2011, Accessed 13 December 2018.

MatthiasKabel. “File:Helmet typ Weissenau 01.jpg.” Wikipedia Commons, 23 June 2007. Accessed 14 December 2018.

Matyszak, Philip. Legionary The Roman Soldier’s (Unofficial) Manual. London, Thames & Hudson Ltd, 2009, pp. 52-66, 81-88, 137-146.

Nicolay, Johan. “Military Equipment and the Life Cycle of a Roman Soldier.” Armed Batavians: Use and Significance of Weaponry and Horse Gear from Non-Military Contexts in the Rhine Delta (50 BC to AD 450), Amsterdam University Press, Amsterdam, 2007, pp. 157–206. JSTOR, Accessed 13 December 2018.

The Ermine Street Guard. The Ermine Street Guard, Accessed 14 December 2018.

Wikipedia contributors. “Roman military personal equipment.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 13 Dec. 2018, Accessed 14 December 2018.

Wikipedia contributors. “Scutum (shield).” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 15 Nov. 2018, Accessed 14 December 2018.



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Final Project: Counter Weight Trebuchet


For my final project I decided that I wanted to build a trebuchet because when I originally took this course that was the sort of thing that I thought we were going to talk about. The trebuchet can be traced as far back as 300 B.C in Ancient China (Tarver 130). This form of trebuchet was what is known today as a traction trebuchet.

The traction trebuchet was similar to the more traditional counter weight trebuchet that most people think of but with the major difference being the method of swinging the arm. The traction trebuchet was typically consisted of a off set arm on an axel. The long end of the arm would have a sling that could hold the projectile to be thrown, with a large number of ropes tied to the other end. These ropes would be grabbed by the team of men once the siege engine had been aimed at its target. The men would then jump up, and pull the ropes down all at once, swinging the arm upwards and launching the payload towards the target. This would be the only version of the catapult to exist into 500 AD when the French would adopt it in large numbers (Traver 152). This trebuchet would continue to be used until 1216 during the Siege of Dover where the counter weight trebuchet was introduced to Europe.


A model of a Traction Trebuchet (Todd)

The counter weight trebuchet is the trebuchet most commonly thought of, depicted, and well known trebuchet. It’s construction was very similar to that of the counter weight trebuchet in terms of how the arm, payload, and method of propulsion were set up with the main difference being the mechanism to swing the arm. Where the traction trebuchet used ropes and a team of men to pull the weight down, the counter weight trebuchet simply had a large weight instead. The weight would constantly be on the ground unlike the traction trebuchet who had the ropes constantly on the raised side of the arm. The arm would then be lowered down using a system of pulleys to load the payload and prepare for firing. Upon pulling a levear the arm would swing and the payload would fire. The pulley system was based upon the trebuchet size with smaller ones using a hand crank while larger ones would require what was essentially a human sized hamster wheel. The counter weight trebuchet would generally replace the traction trebuchet until the popularization of the cannon and gunpowder which would be used to replace it.


A Model of a Counter Weight Trebuchet ( Akinom)

I decided to make my trebuchet using some methods that could have been used back in the day. Instead of building my trebuchet using nails, improved geometry, and today’s architecture tools to build it I decided to build one using woodworking techniques and to make it look similar to how they would have back in the day. I decided to use wooden dowels instead of nails by drilling holes into the wood and pushing wooden dowels through the holes too small for the dowels and cutting the dowels to size by hand after. The other method that I used was a woodworking technique called a rabbet join where you cut the wood to half length and stack them on top of one another before pinning them together.  Below are my pictures of in progress and some pictures that I made of the wood working techniques I used.



Alchin, Linda. “Trebuchet.” Life in the Middle Ages, 2017,

Chevedden, Paul E., et al. “The Trebuchet.” Scientific American, vol. 273, no. 1, 1995, pp. 66–71. JSTOR, JSTOR,

Tarver, W. T. S. “The Traction Trebuchet: A Reconstruction of an Early Medieval Siege Engine.” Technology and Culture, vol. 36, no. 1, 1995, pp. 136–167. JSTOR, JSTOR,

Chevedden, Paul E. “The Invention of the Counterweight Trebuchet: A Study in Cultural Diffusion.” Dumbarton Oaks Papers, vol. 54, 2000, pp. 71–116. JSTOR, JSTOR,

Todd, Gary Lee “Military Museum: Ancient Weapons.” Wikimedia Commons, September 30, 2008

Akinom, “Trebuchet at Caerlaverock Castle.” Wikimedia Commons, August 2007

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Final update – Bayeux Tapestry

Here is the final product! Thanks for a great semester everyone! (I am much better at hand sewing than machine sewing, so don’t judge my hem work.) My full blog post has already been posted.


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The Trebuchet in Medieval Warfare

by caltrop101

The Trebuchet: A General Idea

The concept of the trebuchet is a simple one, almost entirely based on simple machines. A sling is attached to one end of a lever, with force applied to the other end and a pivot in the middle. A lever allows forces to be multiplied by altering the distance that force is applied through, so a small force applied over a large distance can replace a large force. Alternatively, a large force applied through a small distance can be converted into a small force applied over a large distance. It is this latter case that a trebuchet makes use of, using a large force to move a small object through a large distance (and at high velocity).

Over Time

This general concept was consistent throughout the trebuchet’s history. The main point of development was the process by which the large force was applied to one end of the lever to produce the rapid motion of the other end. The most powerful version of this is the counterweight trebuchet, where potential energy is stored in a large mass, raised off the ground. When this mass is allowed to swing, its potential energy is transferred to the projectile as kinetic energy.

The original trebuchet was what is now known as the “traction trebuchet.” This trebuchet used people hanging from ropes as a counterweight. However, as there are only so many people you can fit under a trebuchet, this setup had natural limitations in the size and speed at which it could launch a projectile. By introducing a self-contained counterweight, significantly more force could be applied to the lever, at the sacrifice of some firing speed (it takes longer to reload a counterweight trebuchet than it does for a large group of people to stand up). This allowed for a more efficient system in several other ways, most notably positioning the projectile in the sling closer to the pivot for a more efficient motion, as well as other innovations such as the swinging counterweight.


A Byzantine Traction Trebuchet


A Mongol Counterweight Trebuchet. Note the hinged counterweight for greater efficiency.

Comparison: Catapults

In trying to understand the value of the trebuchet, it is helpful to compare it with another well-known siege weapon: the catapult. The primary goal of both is the same: to launch heavy and deadly projectiles at structures/troops or over fortifications. However, the similarities basically end there. While the trebuchet stores the projectile’s energy by means of raising a large mass, a catapult is powered by torsion—energy stored by the deforming of rigid objects. This is usually done in the form of bending wood, twisting ropes or sinews, or both.

There are some natural advantages to the trebuchet. It is much simpler, mechanically, making it far easier to build, and its motion puts much less strain on the pieces of the engine, allowing for larger amounts of energy to be stored than a catapult can handle, and, as a result, larger projectiles can be launched. It is also far less susceptible to rain, humidity, or damage to small elements of the system causing the whole thing to fly apart violently. There are a few downsides, of course, such as the size of the trebuchet making it an easier target, as well as its general immobility, but in warfare the amount of damage a trebuchet is capable of above and beyond what a catapult can achieve certainly makes up for it.

My Trebuchet

I tried to focus on what a full-scale trebuchet would need in building mine. The launch is controlled by a small “finger” at the end of the throwing arm, at an angle to the arm. When the sling reaches a certain angle with this finger, the finger will no longer be able to hold the sling, releasing the sling and its payload. The pully system (image 2 below) for drawing the arm back down would be attached to a team of horses on a real trebuchet, who would pull the arm down to where it could be locked into place (image 3), at which point they would be unhitched from the system, the sling would be loaded, and the trebuchet would fire.

Works Cited:

  • Chevedden, Paul E., Les Eigenbrod, Vernard Foley, and Werner Soedel. “The Trebuchet.” Scientific American273, no. 1 (1995): 66-71.
  • Hacker, Barton C. “Greek Catapults and Catapult Technology: Science, Technology, and War in the Ancient World.” Technology and Culture9, no. 1 (1968): 34-50. doi:10.2307/3102042.
  • Chevedden, Paul E. “The Invention of the Counterweight Trebuchet: A Study in Cultural Diffusion.” Dumbarton Oaks Papers54 (2000): 71-116. doi:10.2307/1291833.
  • Renatus, Publius F. V. De re militari. c. 400 A.D.
  • “The Lever.” Hyperphysics. (December 1, 2018).
  • “Trebuchet.” Wikipedia. (December 1, 2018).

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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.

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