What Woods were Used for Shields in Iron Age Europe?
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What Woods were Used for Shields in Iron Age Europe?

two bundles of planks on a yellow plastic deck chair. One bundle is longer thin white planks, the other is shorter thicker red planks
16 linear feet of 5/16″ thick tilia Americana (left) and 9 linear feet of 2″ thick alnus rubra (right)

People often guess that particular kinds of wood were used for shields in ancient Europe, including hard, dense woods like oak and soft, brittle woods like pine. But did you know that we can just examine the objects they left behind and see what woods the ancients used? Or that ancient writers tell us which woods are best for making shields and why? This week, I will list the woods used in some surviving ancient shields and then quote those ancient writers.

Argive Shields (6)

  • Argive shield in Basel: willow strips “laminated and pegged together”
  • Argive shield from Bomarzo in the Museo Gregoriano: glued boards of poplar
  • Argive shield from Olynthos: genus unknown
  • Argive shield from Olympia: willow or poplar (all four Argive shields from Krentz, “A Cup by Douris,” pp. 193, 194; if you read Greek see also Stamatopoulou 2004)
  • Argive shield from Derveni grave A11: “diffuse porous hardwood, most likely willow” (δηλαδη πιθανοτατα ιτια): de Groote 2021 p. 18 n. 39
  • Argive shield from Derveni grave B: “diffuse porous hardwood, most likely willow” (δηλαδη πιθανοτατα ιτια) de Groote p. 18 n. 39; if you read Greek see also Stamatopoulou 2004: 205 n. 271, 213 δηλαδη πιθανοτατα ιτια

5 of 5 shields were made of poplar or willow (plus one shield of unidentified wood)

Roman and Other Barbarian Shields (16)

  • Dürrnberg bei Hallein (Austria) grave 373: board of alder (alnus): Egg, Goedecker-Ciolek, Schönfelder, and Zeller 2009: 87
  • Long shield from Rossatz near Krems (Austria): board of poplar wood (populus sp.): Hampl 1962: 164 (Prof. Dr. Elise Hofmann identified the wood)
  • 60 to 80 long shields from Hjortspring in Denmark: boards mostly of alder or linden wood: Egg, Goedecker-Ciolek, Schönfelder, and Zeller 2009: 87 n. 4 citing Rosenberg 1937: 107, Kaul 1988: 23 ff. (Kaul 1988: 26 says Selve skjoldpladerne er som regel udskåret af ét træstykke, i bløde træsorter som el, lind eller birk. “The shield plates themselves are usually carved of one piece of wood, in soft woods such as alder, linden or birch.” but cites no source) A later study (Crumlin-Pedersen and Trakedas 2003: 152) adds birch to the list of “light, soft wood” and cites Ransdborg 1995: 30 which just says “usually of light wood.” Rolf Warming cites Rosenberg 1937: 49 and Ilkjær 2002: 355 ff.
  • Three long shields from La Tène, Switzerland: one board or two or three glued boards. In 1998 Daniel Pillonel, dendrologist at the Office et Musée d’archéologie de Neuchâtel, identified the remains of this shield as alnus sp., the remains of the board of the second as quercus sp., and the remains of the third as a mix of alnus sp., quercus sp., and hêtre (beech, fagus sylvatica): Reginelli 1998 pp. 67-70 (objects MAR-LT-17938, MAR-LT-18649, and MAR-LT-17939). The excavator in 1912 identified the first shield as “probably oak” (Vouga 1912 p. 14) but I trust the specialist writing 90 years later over him!
  • The long Chertsey shield from Iron Age Britain, British Museum, museum number 1986,0901.1: all bronze with a core of ash wood in the handle https://www.britishmuseum.org/collection/object/H_1986-0901-1 or Stead 1991b: 6
  • Celtic or Roman shield from Kasr El Harit, Egypt: three-layer plywood, possibly birch, certainly a wood which is not native to Egypt: Kimmig 1940 p. 106 n. 3
  • Long shield from Alken Enge, Denmark (first century BCE? first century CE?): alder (alnus): Warming et al. 2016: 160
  • Long shield from Hunn, Norway (first century CE): linden (tilia): Warming et al. 2016: 160
  • Danum / Doncaster shield from Roman Britain: three-layer plywood of alder, oak, and alder: Buckland 1978 p. 251 right
  • Round shields from Nydam in Denmark (200-400 CE?): “The majority used alder, but spruce, aspen, lime, and oak were also employed.” Bishop and Coulston 2006: 217 citing Jørgensen et al. 2003: 268

Of these twelve shields or groups of shields, nine contained alder, linden, or poplar wood

  • Dura Europos round shields: glued boards of poplar wood (populus euphratica) or pine (pinus sp.) wood: James, Excavations at Dura-Europos, p. 160, Anne Gunnison, Irma Passeri, Erin Mysak, and Lisa Brody (2020) “16. Painted Roman Wood Shields from Dura-Europos.” In Marie Svoboda and Caroline R. Cartwright (eds.), Mummy Portraits of Roman Egypt: Emerging Research from the APPEAR Project https://www.getty.edu/publications/mummyportraits/part-two/16/
  • Dura Europos rectangular scutum : three-layer plywood of plane wood (planatus orientalis): James, Excavations at Dura-Europos, p. 163
  • Three Late Antique round shields from Egypt in Trier (4th-6th centuries CE?): cedar wood (Zedernholz): Goethert 1996: 115-124 as cited in Nabbefeld 2008 no. 3-5

These shields were probably made in Syria and Egypt using Roman traditions but local wood.

Shields from Yorkshire (46)

  • Shields in graves from Iron Age East Yorkshire: the sites are Rudston (R) and Garton Station (GS). Four shields from these cemeteries left traces of alnus sp., populus sp., or salix sp. (willow) on spearheads which had pierced them. One left traces of possibly betula sp (birch) on a spearhead, and one left traces of acer sp. (maple), prunus sp. (cherry), or tilia sp. (lime ie. linden) “although maple seems more likely.” Total six shields: Stead 1991a pp. 61-64
  • Shield with extensive bronze fittings from an Iron Age grave at Pocklington, Yorkshire: “Wood species identification was carried out following Schweingruber (1982) based on an examination of Scanning Electron Microscope (SEM) images taken by Mags Felter of YAT Conservation for the boards, and sampling of the remains of the spine for direct microscope observation. All of the samples (from the board and from the spine) proved to be ash, Fraxinus excelsior L.” (Giles and Hitckcock 2022: 111)
  • Possible shield from the Ferry Fryston chariot burial: alder wood in clamps from the rim (Boyle et al. 2007: 145)
  • Shields in graves in East Yorkshire, 400-700 CE: 11 alder (alnus, 37%), 11 willow (salix) or poplar (populus) (37%), 3 maple (acer, 10%), 2 birch (betula, 7%), 3 other (10%), total 30 shields: Dickinson and Härke 1992 pp. 48, 49
  • Shields from graves in West Heslerton, England (roughly 6th century CE): 2 willow or poplar, 3 linden, 1 maple (!), 1 lime or maple (!), 1 unknown, total 8 shields (Haughton and Powlesland vol. 1 p. 123)

29 of 46 shields are alder, poplar, or willow; 3 more are definitely linden.

Irish Shields (3)

  • Bronze Age round shield from Kiltubbrid or Annadale, Ireland (originally thought to be Iron Age but looks like the Clonbrin Shield which was carbon dated to the Bronze Age): excavator and two “vegetable physiologists” in 1861 believed it was probably alder: Wilde 1861 pp. 489, 490
  • Bronze Age round shield or shield-like object from Cloonlara, Ireland (also probably Bronze Age): said to be alder: Molloy 2009 p. 1055, Coles 1962: 180
  • Iron Age rectangular shield from Clonoura, County Tipperary: board of alder, handle of oak: Raftery 1994: 147

What Do Iron Age People Say?

Theophrastus, a contemporary of Aristotle, explained why Greek shield-makers chose the wood which they did:

The wood again of willow (ἰτέα) and grapevine (ἄμπελος) is tough; wherefore men make their shields of these woods; for they close up again after a blow; but that of the willow is lighter, since it is of less compact texture; wherefore they use this for choice.

Theophrastus, On Plants 5.3.6 (slightly altered Loeb translation)

Pliny the Elder had read Theophrastus (and had not talked to woodworkers like Theophrastus has) but he adds more details:

The coldest woods of all are those of the aquatic trees; but they are the most flexible also, and for that reason the best adapted for the construction of shields. On an incision being made in them, they will contract immediately, and so close up their wounds, at the same time rendering it more difficult for the iron to penetrate: in the number of these woods are vine (vitis), chastetree (vitex), willow (salix), linden (tilia), birch (betulla), elderberry (sabucus), and both kinds of poplar (populus).

Pliny, Natural History 16.77 Bostock/Riley, 16.96 Mayhoff

As you can see, the ancients did not commonly make shields from softwood (which to woodworkers means specifically “the wood of conifers” and not “wood which is soft”), and they only rarely used hard dense woods like oak, ash, and maple. People today who use these woods, or suggest that shields were of these woods, have different ideas of what makes a good shield than the ancients had. I see claims that Viking Age shields from the Baltic are often of softwood (eg. Warming et al. 2016: 161), and I wonder if that (or confusing the wood in the grip with the wood in the board) inspire people today who reproduce ancient shields in pine or oak. I also wonder if some of the samples of dense woods such as oak, beech, or ash were really samples of the shield handles which were sometimes made of thicker wood.

It is good to know that the wood marketed as poplar or yellow poplar in the USA and Canada is actually a kind of tulipwood (liriodendron tulipifera Wikipedia) and not a populus species. It is light and cheap but I don’t know if it has anything else in common with Old World poplar, and people who have used it to make shields have mixed experiences. Many people find it is brash (prone to breaking suddenly all the way through rather than splintering), but Paul Bardunias found that the tulipwood in his local hardware store closed up around weapons like willow. We can decide whether we think tulip poplar is a good material for shields, but we can’t know whether the ancients would have agreed, because they did not have any kind of liriodendron. True poplars in North America are called aspens and cottonwoods. It is also good to know that European lime or linden is a kind of tilia like American basswood and not related to the citrus tree with green fruit.

Summing Up

Which woods can we document in multiple sources (preferably both archaeological finds and the words of Theophrastus and Pliny)? Poplar (populus sp. not yellow or tulip poplar from the New World), willow (salix sp.), alder (alnus sp.), and linden (tilia sp.) are common in all the groups of shields above except the shields from Dura Europos where wood was scarce. (Roman Egypt imported linden wood for mummy masks, but the Euphrates has no water connection to Europe so it was expensive to sail timber to Syria and carry it across the desert to the Euphrates) Willow is recommended by Theophrastus, and willow, poplar and linden are recommended by Pliny the Elder.

European shields were traditionally composites of layers of gesso, bovine hide (either tanned or raw), cloth, felt, and wood. Although the total thickness of all the layers in a plank shield was only 3-6 mm at the edges and 6-12 mm in the centre, the composite construction makes composite shields tough and resistant to penetration. From the bog deposits in the Baltic Sea, we can see that many poor warriors made do with shields completely made of natural materials without expensive iron or bronze reinforcements. So a shield is much more than its wooden board. But if you want to understand traditional European shields, understanding the wood they used is a good first step. For example, if you just want something which moves like an ancient shield, a low-density wood such as pine or hemlock would be a better choice than a dense wood such as cherry or hickory.

Do any of my gentle readers know about the wood in shields in other regions such as China, South Asia, or West Africa? Let me know in the comments or by email.

Further Reading

  • Bishop, M.C. / Coulston, Jon C.N. (2006) Roman Military Equipment: From the Punic Wars to the Fall of Rome. Second edition (Oxbow Books: Oxford)
  • Boyle, A. / Evans, T. / O’Connor, S. / Spence, A. / Brennand, M. (2007) “Site D (Ferry Fryston) in the Iron Age and Romano-British periods,” in F. Brown et al., The Archaeology of the A1 (M) Darrington to Dishforth DBFO Road Scheme. Lancaster: Oxford Archaeology North, pp. 121–159 {as cited in Giles and Hitchcock 2022}
  • Brunaux, Jean-Louis, and André Rapin. Gournay II: Boucliers et Lances, Dépôts et Trophées (Paris: Éditions Errance, 1988)
  • Buckland, Paul (1978). “A First-Century Shield from Doncaster, Yorkshire.” Britannia, Vol. 9 pp. 247–269 https://doi.org/10.2307/525941
  • Coles, J.M. (1962) “European Bronze Age Shields,” Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society, Vol. xxviii (1962) pp. 156-190 https://doi.org/10.1017/S0079497X0001570X
  • Crumlin-Pedersen, Ole / Trakedas, Athena (eds.), Hjortspring: A Pre-Roman Iron-Age Warship in Context. Ships and Boats of the North, Volume 5 (The Viking Ship Museum: Roskilde, DK, 2003)
  • Dickinson, Tania Marguerite / Härke, Heinrich (1992) Early Anglo-Saxon Shields. Archaeologia Monograph 110 (The Society of Antiquaries of London: London) https://academia.edu/
  • Egg, Markus / Goedecker-Ciolek, Roswitha / Schönfelder, Martin / Zeller, Kurt W. (2009) “Ein eisenzeitlicher Prunkschild vom Dürrnberg bei Hallein, Land Salzburg,” Jahrbuch des Römisch-Germanischen Zentralmuseums 56 pp. 81-103 DOI: https://doi.org/10.11588/jrgzm.2009.1.16569
  • Giles, Melanie / Hitchcock, Matthew (2022) “The shield from The Mile chariot burial,” in Mark Stephens (ed.), Chariots, Swords and Spears: Iron Age Burials at the Foot of the East Yorkshire Wolds, Oxbow Books, Oxford, pp. 110-121 {this chapter has many contributors aside from the two authors} https://www.oxbowbooks.com/oxbow/chariots-swords-and-spears.html
  • Goethert, K.-P. (1996) “Neue römische Prunkschilde.” In M. Junkelmann, Reiter wie Statuen aus Erz (Mainz), 115-126
  • De Groote, Kevin Rowan (2021). “A Core Difference! The Varying Hoplite Shield Designs and their Effects on Economic Value, Performance and Combat Effectiveness,” International Journal of Military History and Historiography pp. 1-33 doi: https://doi.org/10.1163/24683302-bja10016
  • Hampl, F. (1962) “Ein keltisches Grab aus Rossatz bei Krems, NÖ.” Mitteilungen der Anthropologischen Gesellschaft in Wien 92, pp. 162-168
  • Christine Haughton and Dominic Powlesland, West Heslerton: The Anglian Cemetery, Volume 1 (The Landscape Research Centre: n.p., 1999)
  • Ilkjær, Jorgen (2002) Illerup Ådal 9-10: Die Schilde (Aarhus University Press, 2001) ISBN 9788788415117
  • James, Simon (2004) The Excavations at Dura-Europos 1928-1937, Final Report VII: The Arms and Armour and other Military Equipment (The British Museum Press: London, 2004/ reprinted Oxbow Books: Oxford, 2010)
  • Jørgensen, L. / Storgaard, B. / Gebaue Thomsen, L. (2003) The Spoils of Victory: The North in the Shadow of the Roman Empire (Copenhagen)
  • Kaul, Flemming (1988) Da våbnene tav: hjortspringfundet og dets baggrund (Nationalmuseet, København: Kobenhavn).
  • Kimmig, Wolfgang 1940. “Ein Keltenschild aus Ägypten.” Germania Bd. 24 Nr. 2, pp. 106-111 http://nbn-resolving.de/urn:nbn:de:bsz:16-ger-413717
  • Krentz, Peter (2010) “A Cup by Douris and the Battle of Marathon,” in Garrett G. Fagan and Matthew Trundle (eds.), New Perspectives on Ancient Warfare (Brill: Leiden, 2010) pp. 188-190
  • Sean Manning, “Wood,” Reenacting the Archaic and the Long Sixth Century (link)
  • Molloy, Barry (2009) “For Gods or men? A reappraisal of the function of European Bronze Age shields” Antiquity, Vol. 83 pp. 1052–1064
  • Nabbefeld, Ansgar (2008) Römische Schilde: Studien zu Funden und bildlichen Überlieferungen vom Ende der Republik bis in die späte Kaiserzeit. Kölner Studien zur Archäologie der römischen Provinzen, Bd. 10 (Rahden-im-Westfallen: Verlag Marie Leidorf, 2008) Review of Nabbefeld here
  • Raftery, Barry (1994) Pagan Celtic Ireland: The Enigma of the Irish Iron Age (Thames & Hudson: London and New York)
  • Reginelli, Gianna (1998) Le Mobilier en Bois du Site de La Tene. Mémoire de license, Université de Neuchâtel, Séminaire d’archéologie préhistorique, Octobre 1998 {identification of the wood species by Daniel Pillonel who was active around the year 2000}
  • Randsborg, Klavs (1995) Hjortspring: Warfare and Sacrifice in Early Europe (Aarhus University Press, Aarhus DK)
  • Rosenberg, Gustav Adolf Theodor (1937) Hjortspringfundet. Nordiske Fortidsminder 3,1 (København)
  • Stamatopoulou, Basilike G. (2004) Οπλον. Η Αργολικη Ασπιδα και η Τεχηολογια της (PhD thesis, Aristotle University Thessalonike) http://thesis.ekt.gr/thesisBookReader/id/20347#page/1/mode/2up
  • Stead, Ian M. (1991a) Iron Age Cemeteries in East Yorkshire: Excavations at Burton Fleming, Rudston, Garton-on-the-Wolds, and Kirkburn. English Heritage Archaeological Report, 22 (London: English Heritage in association with British Museum Press) https://doi.org/10.5284/1028203 ISBN 1-85074-351-7 pp. 61-64
  • Stead, Ian M. (1991b) “Many More Iron Age Shields from Britain.” The Antiquaries Journal, Vol. 71, pp. 1–35
  • Theune-Großkopf, Barbara ed. (2020) Mit Leier und Schwert: Das frühmittelalterliche “Sängergrab” von Trossingen. Archäologischen Landesmuseum Baden-Württemberg: Freidberg.
  • Vouga, Paul (1912) “La Tène: Quatrième Rapport. Fouilles de 1910 et 1911.” Musée neuchâtelois: recueil d’histoire nationale et d’archéologie, Année 1912 pp. 7-15 https://doc.rero.ch/record/12454
  • Vouga, Paul (1923) La Tène, Monographie de la station publiée au nom de la commission des fouilles de La Tène (Leipzig 1923) https://www.academia.edu/66964016/Paul_Vouga_La_T%C3%A8ne
  • Rolf Fabricius Warming, René Larsen, Dorte V. P. Sommer, Luise Ørsted Brandt, and Xenia Pauli Jensen, “Shields and hide – On the use of hide in Germanic shields of the Iron Age and Viking Age,” Bericht der Römisch-Germanischen Kommission Band 97 (2016) pp. 155-225 https://www.academia.edu/44259256/Shields_and_hide_On_the_use_of_hide_in_Germanic_shields_of_the_Iron_Age_and_Viking_Age
  • Wilde, William Robert (1861). “On an Ancient Irish Wooden Shield,” Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy, Vol. 8 pp. 487–493 and liv https://www.jstor.org/stable/20488869

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(scheduled 28 February 2022, updated 9 April 2022)

Edit 2022-05-07: removed reference to the Baltic since I do not have access to data on shields from there

Edit 2022-05-21: added data on West Heslerton

Edit 2022-12-28: added data from East Yorkshire

Edit 2023-01-23: added handle of Chertsey shield, added Reginelli’s data, added Kiltubbrid shield with a note that it looks a lot like the Clonbrin Shield which is usually called Bronze Age!

Edit 2023-01-29: added data on Hjortspring and Dürrnberg (thanks Ivor / Crispianus)

Edit 2023-01-30: added shield from Rossatz, added totals

Edit 2023-01-31: revised summary

Edit 2023-02-04: cited original Danish publications on Hjortspring, marked which publications I have not yet seen

Edit 2023-02-05: added shields from Derveni

Edit 2023-03-03: updated note on Hampl after obtaining a copy

Edit 2023-05-04: added shield from Clonoura, Ireland

Edit 2023-05-16: added Pocklington shield

Edit 2023-05-28: added Ferry Fryston shield

Edit 2023-06-23: added note that fittings from Ferry Fryston are not certainly from a shield, added shields from Nydam

Edit 2023-09-19: added shields in Trier

Edit 2023-10-22: added quote from Kaul 1988

Edit 2023-11-01: added Trossingen shield

Edit 2023-11-18: added full citation to Nabbefeld 2008

Edit 2023-11-20: added Warming et al. 2016

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14 thoughts on “What Woods were Used for Shields in Iron Age Europe?

  1. dearieme says:

    Elderberry? I’m astonished. Those weak trees that we vandalised as boys, that pulled apart so easily? Stone the crows.

    1. Sean says:

      I’ve never worked it myself (not sure it grows around the Salish Sea), but the Woodland Trust in the UK says its OK for whittling and carving https://www.woodlandtrust.org.uk/trees-woods-and-wildlife/british-trees/a-z-of-british-trees/elder/ Of course, sometimes Pliny didn’t know as much as he thought – he was a sedan-chair scholar not someone who went out and talked to working people. I think if you focus on woods which are light and flexible and don’t split and crack easily you will find something which the ancients would have approved of.

  2. dearieme says:

    “don’t split and crack easily”: the ‘green’ wood of elder does split and crack easily. Eight year old boys can pull young trees apart. (To our credit, part of the point was to stick bits of the tree in the ground in expectation that they’d take root and eventually flourish. To give them a good start in life we’d pee on the ground around them. It seemed to work.)

    I don’t know anything about the characteristics of properly dried out old wood from a mature elder. We have a dead elder in one of our garden hedges so I’ll keep an eye on it.

    Mind you, in our wine-making years we thoroughly enjoyed elderflower wine (white).

    Also elderberry wine (red) which we made from a mixture of elderberry juice and grape juice.

    Foraging for the flowers and fruit was all part of the fun.

    Now that we are older and less poor we’ve given up home-made wine but still enjoy elderflower cordial diluted with cold fizzy water. Simple joy on a hot day.

  3. Jaojao says:

    Interesting! As you say, they are rather different from common shield woods in pop culture

    1. Sean says:

      It seems to be a rule that if people can’t quote the inventory number or site report they are working from, their interpretations of ancient arms and armour are 50% to 100% overweight and move like beached whales instead of feeding hummingbirds. Both the companies in South Asia and L.K. Chen in Longquan, China find that the weight starts to drift up unless they watch the workers (Chen does, the South Asians mostly don’t).

  4. Pavel Vaverka says:

    Hi Sean, I hope You can do some impressive study about shields from the age of Tutankhamun till Late Antiquity?

    I didn’t find much about Western Africa https://www.reddit.com/r/ArmsandArmor/comments/eihfzm/ekpeke_wicker_shield_of_the_igbo_people_in_nigeria/ https://okwuid.com/2020/07/07/igbo-weapons/#jp-carousel-5505 One study, please read it carefully https://jambo.africa.kyoto-u.ac.jp/kiroku/asm_normal/abstracts/pdf/ASM%20%20Vol.8%20No.3%201988/Bala%20ACHI.pdf Ok I’m teasing You from page 149, but the whole article is interesting. I’m not an expert for the African pre-colonial warfare but I sense, there is a large potential for using parallels for Greeks and other old acquaintances…

    For the informations about shields from China, Southeast Asia I have to search my books. But I’m not sure, there will be exact archeological reports, maybe nothing more than educated guesses… I’ll let You know by email (along with my other news, book tips).

    1. Sean says:

      And there are often samples of 19th century African weapons in all kinds of different museums. Someone would just need the funds to have them looked over and X-rayed and photographed and so on.

    2. Sean says:

      I have a bibliography on shields from Tutankhamun to Late Antiquity, but I am not sure what I will do with it. Especially since I do not have access to the reports on the bog finds from the Baltic. I have several stalled writing projects which count on my CV, which blog posts do not.

  5. russell1200 says:

    I have a Tulip Poplar in my back yard. The flowers are way up high and hard to see: but they are tulip-like. It’s main relative that I know of is the Magnolia: another flowering tree. I read somewhere that the two of them are throwbacks to the original flowering trees.

    1. Sean says:

      I am told there is a liriodendron chinense native to Southeast Asia . I’d be interested to hear from an experienced shield-maker who has used both the traditional Old World woods and tulip poplar. It just seems like many people use tulipwood and tell themselves it is the best wood or a traditional wood and don’t know that the name is a ‘false friend.’

      Most people in the USA and Canada should be able to buy some red alder (alnus rubra), basswood (tilia americana), or black willow (salix nigra), and most people in Europe should be able to buy some linden (Tilia x europaea) – I chose the woods for my shields from that list. I will probably try Liriodendron tulipifera one day if I like making shields.

  6. Sedo says:

    Tulip poplars are a great example of the East Asia-Eastern North America ‘floristic disjunction’. East Asia (especially southern China) and eastern North America (especially the southern Appalachian mountains) have a number of similar plant genera that do not occur in between – they are the remnants of flora that was widespread in the northern hemisphere in the warmer parts of the Cenozoic, but were then separated by aridification and, eventually, the Pleistocene glaciations.


  7. B says:

    Thanks for this information, Sean. I’d like to commission a traditional hoplite aspis, but I’m having trouble sourcing white willow (salix alba) timber, from which, of all available varieties, I presume ancient European willow shields were made. It sounds like you’ve made or commissioned your own reproductions. I’d be happy to know any resources you’ve used in sourcing materials or hardware or craftsmen. Cheers!

    1. Sean says:

      Hi B, willow wood is hard to buy, I think its hard to machine and the main commercial use is cricket bats https://www.thegns.org/blog/princely-shields-part-2

      Of the two shields I am making, one is basswood (tilia americana, in-progress photo of the basswood shield here) and the other is red alder (alnnus rubra, in-progress photo of the alder shield here). I think linden, which is another tilia sp., is commercially available in central Europe. I think if you gave some milled timbers of any of the three to an ancient shieldmaker, they would probably have accepted them even if they were not their favourite quality of their favourite wood.

      For weapons tests you could try pestering university groundskeepers, botanical gardens, and local garden service companies for the next big chunk of willow they have to remove. Its easier to get enough wood to make one board to drop spears on (or whatever) than enough wood for a whole shield.

  8. What Woods Were Used for Shields in East Yorkshire? – Book and Sword says:

    […] writing a post with this very specific title because I have added some more archaeological sites to What Woods Were Used for Shields in Iron Age Europe? Most importantly, I added sites from the pre-Roman “Arras Culture” of the wolds of East […]

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