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Medieval Shield – History & Types


Since the prehistoric ages, shields have been used to protect against attacks by swords, axes and maces, sling-stones, or arrows during warfare. Medieval Shields have been recorded consistently in the Medieval era with descriptions of the types of shields.

The Medieval shields were made in all shapes and sizes, tailored to their specific uses on the battlefield. The shields were generally made of wood, animal hide, woven reeds, poplar tree, lime, or other split-resistant timber. They were frequently covered with rawhide or leather and reinforced with a metal boss, rim, or banding.

History of Medieval Shield

The designs and uses of medieval shields can be traced back to ancient times when the Greeks used the shield known as the ‘Hoplon.’ Various innovative types of shields were made during the middle and late medieval ages, including the Mantlet shield, the Kite shield, the Heater shield, and others. 

A common design of medieval shields during the early medieval ages was a simple rounded shield design made of light and non-splitting wood. These kinds of shields did not have any coat of arms or any other identification. By the late medieval times, various medieval shield designs had become widespread. The designs of medieval shields were associated with certain qualities. Knights during medieval times used a wide range of medieval shield designs. A significant component of the design of medieval shields used by knights was the coat of arms which served as identification.

Types of Medieval Shield 

Viking Shields

Viking Shield
Viking Shield, by Kristrun Hansen, is licensed under CC0 1.0

The Vikings used large round wooden shields in battle, which also served the purpose of stretchers to carry the wounded off the battlefield. The Viking shield was usually 32-36 inches across and was held on the back, and an iron boss protected the hand. The shield boss is a domed circle of about 6 inches mounted on the front of the shield.

Bouche Shield

Bouche shield was used with a lance, usually while jousting. There is also a ridge in the middle of the shield, which deflects attacks from weapons away. It is characterized by a groove on the top of the front plate where the knight can rest his lance.

Buckler Shield

Buckler Shield
Buckler Shield, by Carlo Raso, is licensed free

The ‘Buckler shield’ is small and made of iron/metal. It is lightweight and has a round shape which is ideal for use during hand-to-hand combat. However, it is too small to block much of the body. Due to its small size, the Bucker Shield could easily be hung from the soldier’s belt. While it offered poor protection against missile weapons, it helped deflect an opponent’s blows. It was often combined with an arming sword, falchion, or dagger.

Heater Shield

Heater Shield
Heater Shield, by SkipsThomas, is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

The Heater shield is a medium-sized wooden or metal shield and a powerful shield from the medieval era that was mainly used by medieval swordsmen & knights. It had coats of arms or heraldry emblazed on the front to show who the holder was or whom he fought. It was lightweight compared to similar shields and easy to carry around on a horse and on-foot combat. As they were relatively inexpensive and easy to make, they were used by almost every social class.

Kite Shield

Kite Shields
Kite Shields, by Battlelight, is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

The Kite shield, also known as the tapering shield, is significantly larger than the Heater shield but similar in features. It was narrow but long and could cover a soldier from neck to ankle. The shield formed a kite shape and was made from wood or metal. However, unlike an actual kite, the shield’s top edge was rounded off rather than being pointed. Around the mid-twelfth century, traditional kite shields were replaced by a type in which the top was flat rather than rounded. This made it easier for a warrior to hold the shield upright without limiting his field of vision.

Pavise Shield

Pavise Shield
Pavise Shield, by Wolfgang Sauber, is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

The Pavise shield, also known as the Wall shield, is a large rectangular shield made from wood or metal and could protect the entire body of the holder. The Pavise Shield offered excellent protection to foot soldiers such as archers as they reloaded, rested, or regrouped. The large size of the Pavise served as protection for crossbowmen while loading and was used since the 14th century.

Targe Shield

The Targe Shield is round and medium-to-large in size, much like a larger version of the Buckler shield. The Targe shield commonly had studded nails punched decoratively into the front. It is traditionally linked to the Scottish highlanders, who defended themselves from attack, and was first used around the 15th century.

Targe Shield

Targe Shield
Targe Shield, by Kim Traynor, is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

The Targe Shield is round and medium-to-large in size, much like a larger version of the Buckler shield. It commonly had studded nails punched decoratively into the front. It is traditionally linked to the Scottish highlanders, who defended themselves from attack, and was first used around the 15th century.

Rondache Shield

Rondache Shield
Rondache Shield, by Thesupermat, is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

The Rondache Shield, also known as the roundel shield, is a medium-sized circular shield. It was built using various materials; the base layer was usually wood (short planks placed together) and metal. However, this shield could be embossed with leather, silver, gold, circular patterns of rope, or studded with nails. It was used around the 16th century.


A medieval shield was one of the most critical components of a medieval defensive armoury; thus, special attention was paid to it. Apart from providing protection, Medieval Shield was also a medium to display the army’s heraldry, and colours, rally troops, and stoke fear into their enemies. Medieval shields also played a significant part outside the war-torn fields as kings, barons, and nobles would boast their heraldic shields on walls, fireplaces, and halls in their great castles. They displayed their coat of arms in a military way for all to see. Many castles today have galleries dotted with ancient heraldic Medieval shields, allowing the practice of heraldry to continue even after 900 years.

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