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Roman Shields

There were many kinds of Roman shields used by legionaries (soldiers). Earlier on they were oval and flat, but at the time of the invasion of Britain (AD43) most were rectangular and curved, like part of a cylinder. This shield is called a scutum. Auxiliary soldiers had a different shaped shield (see below).

The shields were mostly made of wood - a few layers glued together to make the curved shape. Some extra strips of wood were glued on the back for more strength. The shield was then covered in leather and a sheet of linen cloth added to the front. Designs were usually painted onto the front.

There were many designs, but one of the most famous is the eagle's wings and lightning bolt. The eagle was the symbol of the Roman army, and the lightning bolt was the symbol of Jupiter, the king of the gods (Jupiter was the Roman version of the Greek god Zeus, who threw thunderbolts from the sky).

Only one scutum in good condition has ever been found, at Dura Europos, a Roman fort in Syria. You can see it on the right. It has pictures of an eagle, a lion, and winged gods. It was made in the 200s AD. Lower down this page you can see some modern copies of Roman shields.

Shield boss

 

In battle the shield was held with the arm straight, holding a grip in the middle. The grip was across a hole cut from the middle of the shield. This hole was protected by a metal boss, a hemisphere of iron with an iron plate around it. The soldier could push this boss into his enemy to knock him off balance. On the Dura Europos shield the boss has been lost. Above you can see another boss found in Britain, made of bronze and decorated.

Auxiliary Shields

Legionary soldiers had to be Roman citizens. However, men living in land ruled by the Romans could also join the army, even if they were not citizens. They were called auxiliary soldiers, and their gear was different. They often wore chain mail armour and used flat, oval shields. No complete auxiliary shield has been found but we know what they looked like from stone carvings (see below).

Auxiliary soldier

 

  

The Tortoise

  

The shield could also be used in a special formation called a testudo (tortoise). The soldiers formed a complete shell to cover themselves, with the shields held overhead as well as in front and on the sides. This was so they could attack a city's walls and be protected from missiles like arrows. Below is a carving showing the testudo.

  

  

Reenactor with scutum and pilum (javelin)

  

Replicas of Roman Shields

 

Replica with wings and thunderbolt

  

The back of a replica shield, showing the wooden strips which reinforce the shield. Sheepskin was used above the handle to make the grip more comfortable. The rim was protected either with strips of bronze or with leather.

 

Replica with a laurel wreath

  


Auxiliary reenactors
 

A carving showing a lightning bolt pattern on a shield.

Praetorian guards with oval shields.

They have an eagle's wings and lightning bolt design.


Auxiliary soldier