Monday, January 4, 2010

Late Roman Shields

By the 5th century nearly all Roman shields appear to have been oval in shape. The earlier ones found at Dura Europos and seen in the mosaics at Piazza Armentaria seem to be a bit larger than the one I use. See also the Wikipedia article on Scutum Shields which I will quote here:

The 5th century writer Vegetius added that scuta helped in identification: "Lest the soldiers in the confusion of battle should be separated from their comrades, every cohort had its shields painted in a manner peculiar to itself. The name of each soldier was also written on his shield, together with the number of the cohort and century to which he belonged."

The surviving shields seem to include both plank and plywood examples with linen facings and rawhide edging. Unit insiginia like those depicted in the Notitia Dignitatum is painted on the front of the shield while the back is painted with more personalized depictions of saints, nude women, or other inspirational images along with floral and geometric design elements.

I have a photocopy of some shield images from the Dura Europos report in my collection if anyone would like to take a closer look. The full citation for that report is:

James, Simon (2004). Excavations at Dura-Europos 1928—1937. Final Report VII. The Arms and Armour and Other Military Equipment. London: British Museum Press. ISBN 0-7141-2248-3.


  1. There's a little chain link icon in your composition window you can use to make those links click-able. You can highlight text before entering the URL to make it just a normal highlighted word that folks can hit.