Celtic Shields

Like the Romans, and most ancient warriors, the Celts used shields in battle. These were usually oval, as the photo on the right shows (this is the back of a shield), but they could be rectangular, circular, or hexagonal.

On the front was a boss - a metal cup to protect the hand behind, which was holding the handle. The shields were made of wood (often oak) and stood about 1.1m high. They were about 1.2cm thick in the centre, and overall weighed about 6kg. They were covered with leather (or felt), as bare wood would splinter when struck with a weapon.

The shields were usually decorated with various designs, which can be seen on stone carvings and other pictures (see bottom of the page).

The Battersea shield

The most famous Celtic shield is the Battersea shield, found in the River Thames at Battersea. Sometimes objects like shields and swords were thrown into rivers as offerings to a god. The Battersea shield is an amazing work of art, the most famous piece of Celtic art ever found in Britain. It is made of bronze and enamel (coloured glass). Originally it had a wooden back, but only the bronze is left now. However, it is too small (77cm high), fragile, and expensive, to have ever been used in battle, and was most probably just an offering.

The same goes probably for another famous shield, the Witham shield. Another wonderful piece of Celtic art can be seen in the Wandsworth shield boss, which has lost the wooden main part of the shield, but is a beautiful set of swirling shapes whose meaning we can only guess at - leaves? bird's heads?


The Witham shield


Close up on the boss of the Witham shield


The Wandsworth shield boss

Celtic bronze statue of a French warrior (a Gaul) with shield


Relief on a Roman Arch showing Celtic shields and their patterns


Roman carving showing a naked Celtic warrior and his hexagonal shield.