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Greek hoplite shields are diverse in construction, go read de Groote and Blythe and Stamatopoulou.

  • Blyth, Philip Henry (1982) “The Structure of a Hoplite Shield at the Museo Gregoriano Etrusco.” Bolletino dei Monumenti Musei e Gallerie Pontifice 3 pp. 5-21
  • Blyth, Philip Henry (1977) The Effectiveness of Greek Armour Against Arrows in the Persian War (490-479 B.C.): An Interdisciplinary Inquiry. PhD Thesis, University of Reading, January 1977.
  • 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:
  • Stamatopolou, Basilike G. (2004) Οπλον. Η Αργολικη Ασπιδα και η Τεχηολογια της (PhD thesis, Aristotle University Thessalonike)
  • Lee, John W.I. (2007) A Greek Army on the March: Soldiers and Survival in Xenophon’s Anabasis (Cambridge University Press: Cambridge) p. 111 has the best collection of evidence for the removable covers of Greek shields
  • Anacreon fr. 388, 401 West (sixth century BCE) “a hairless cowhide, the unwashed covering off a cheap shield”; “putting his arm once more through the Carian-made shield-grip (ochanon)”
Figure 6-2 from my forthcoming book from Franz Steiner Verlag. Some types of gerron (wicker shield) used in the Achaemenid empire in the time of Darius I and Xerxes. Top: peltē and wooden imitation of a sticks-and-leather shield from Tuekta in the Altai (different sections of ‘sticks’ are painted red, white, and black; similar shields appear in Neo-Assyrian art). Middle: rectangular wicker shields. Bottom: violin-shaped or figure-eight shields. Note that they are worn on the arm like a peltē or an Argive shield, not held in the fist like the Tuekta shield. Source: The J. Paul Getty Museum, Malibu CA, no. 83.AE.247 (digital image courtesy of the Getty’s Open Content Program), State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg, no. 2179/96 (photo by author); Gerhard 1847: Taf. CLXVI; western entrance of the Tachara of Darius (sketch by author), Persepolis; two reliefs on the Apadana, Persepolis (photo by author)

Crescent-shaped peltai shields came from Thrace but appear in the hands of assorted barbarians in Red Figure paintings. In the fourth century they appear on the Alexander Sarcophagus from Sidon. Aristotle defines them! In art some seem are smooth on both sides and others may have an exposed wicker backside.

black and white photo of a soldier with an axe and a shield shaped like a nearly-full moon
Detail of a Attic oinochoe (wine jug) in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, c. 440 BCE. Accession number 06.1021.189

Violin-shaped shields are the most common shields in the sculptures at Persepolis but never appear in paintings or art from the Aegean. Perhaps artists did not want viewers to read them as the Greek figure-eight or Dipylon shields. In later times they also show up on the coins of Achaemenid governors.

Rectangular sticks-and-leather shields survive from Central Asia and Dura Europos in Syria. These artifacts are a good match for some tall rectangular shields in Red Figure painting and sculptures from Persepolis. Don’t confuse them with the heavy siege shields made from bundles of reeds like a reed boat!

a terracotta fiture of a man with a shield on a horse
One of the medium-sized round shields on a figurine from Cyprus. British Museum, museum number 1876,0909.91 CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 license

Medium-sized circular shields without a rim or any notches. One group of these usually has a boss and comes from Cyprus:

See eg. V. Karageorghis, The coroplastic art of ancient Cyprus. IV. The Cypro-Archaic period small male figurines, Nicosia: Leventis Foundation, 1995

Altıkulaç Sarcophagus / Altıkulaç Lahiti Painted marble carved in low relief, 1st quarter 4th c. BCE Found in a circular corbel-vaulted tomb within the Çingenetepe tumulus, village of Altıkulaç, near Çan, eastern Troad. Attributed perhaps to an Anatolian dynast of Hellespontine Phrygia. The south, long face is decorated with two hunting scenes, stag to left and boar to right; the east, short face is decorated with a battle scene, depicting a mounted warrior spearing a fallen light-armed soldier. The other two sides are undecorated. Çanakkale Museum, Çanakkale, Turkey (Ministry of Culture; Ministry of Culture (Turkish); Jona Lendering).

Other pictures of circular shields are scattered in different places and periods:

  • Schmidt’s delegations 14 and 21 on the Apadana at Persepolis
  • PT 4 455 (used in 468/7 BCE). Where get a good picture? Compared to the body of the warrior holding it, it seems to be about 50 cm in diameter.
  • Altıkulaç Sarcophagus (c. 400-350 BCE?). Compared to the body holding it, it seems to be about 35 cm in diameter.
  • Kinch Tomb (c. 300-250 BCE?) Compared to the body of the warrior holding it it seems to be about 60 cm in diameter.
  • ?Red Figure vases? (collect a list) Paul Bardunias suggests but the style of the painting does not look like Classical Athenian painting to me. There is a lot of fake and over-restored ‘classical Greek art’

Medium-sized round domed shields also appear in sculptures and on coins from Thessaly, Macedonia, and Illyria: a good collection is Sławomir Sprawski, “Peltasts in Thessaly,” in Nicholas V. Sekunda and Bogdan Burliga (ed.), Iphicrates, Peltasts, and Lechaion (Gdansk, 2014) pp. 95-112 (thanks Joe Balmos). These all seem to be worn on the arm like a Greek hoplite shield, and are shallow enough that the warrior can hold two spears in the shield hand.

Xenophon’s Egyptian shields are only known through Greek writers since Egyptian art in this period rarely shows soldiers and most warriors lived in Lower Egypt where it is wet not Upper Egypt where there is lots of dry desert to dig tombs in (in Herodotus 7.89 Egyptian marines “carried hollow shields with broad rims” which do not sound the same). It is usually assumed that Xenophon’s Egyptian shields were large versions of the round-topped, straight-sided, flat-bottomed shields from Bronze Age Egyptian art. In art the shoulder-high shields are usually early but fashion may have changed after the last detailed pictures of soldiers at the end of the New Kingdom.

Black-Figure vase with an oval shield of Odysseus murdering the sleeping Thractians from Rhegium, Italy (ca. 540 BCE) (c/o David Harthen)

RlA s.v. “Schild”

We don’t know for sure which type of shield Herodotus’ Persians carried. See Achaemenid Shields are a Puzzle (2020).

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(created 23 June 2023)

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