„Saddles, bridles and short-lasting shields used in their countries are made in Prague.“
Ibrahím ibn Jákub, 10th century
We are happy to present the reader with fresh information that has reached us from our German colleagues Erik Panknin and Reiner Liebentraut, namely details about the shield that was found in the Western Slavic hillfort of Lenzen (Brandenburg).
Before describing the object itself, it is necessary to indicate the current state of knowledge. The problem of the absence of shields in the archaeological material of the Slavic area is well known to researchers and reenactors. Researchers – we can mention Petr Luňák (2007) and Paweł M. Rudziński (2009) – collected a number of literary references, iconography and artifacts interpretable as shield fragments, which testify that the Slavs made and used shields. Since we are talking about a huge number of people who lived in a large area in different centuries, we cannot talk about a uniform design of shields. The catalog compiled by Rudziński clearly records at least 37 metal components, especially bosses, which point to the use of imported shields. This quantity is, of course, very small, which the above-mentioned researchers interpret as the fact that a typical Slavic shield had an organic construction and thus simply did not survive. While the construction remains unknown, the basic materials could be guessed at – wood, leather, bast, wicker and the like. It should be noted that reenactors usually use circular shields with a metal boss.
Hypothetical reconstruction of the Great Moravian shield based on the handle from Mikulčice.
Taken from Luňák 2007: obr 42.
Some researchers have believed for a long time that the key lies with the Polabian Slavs from today’s Germany. A possible wooden boss from Groß Raden is often mentioned (Schuldt 1985: 171–2), which could correspond to a 9th-century wooden boss placed on a shield from Tira Bog (Latvia). Specifically, the first shield from Tira Bog points to an interesting use of organic materials – apart from the wooden boss, the board is covered with untanned tared hide on both sides, while the space between the board and the hide is stuffed with grass or bast on the front side (Warming et al. 2020: 165). Based on this not-too-distant analogy, we are supported in the assumption that Slavic shields could have been made of organic materials. If you are interested in Slavic shields, you can read our summary Defining Slavic shields of 9th-11th century from 2023.
Possible wooden boss from Groß Raden. Taken from Schuldt 1985: 172.
The shield found in Lenzen house no. 8, which falls into settlement horizon 7, dated to the second half of the 11th century, enters this situation (Kennecke 2015: 91–2). The shield is not complete – it is a fragment of a slightly oval board that measures approximately 70 cm in diameter. The board is made of two-layer plywood, the layers of which have been glued together in such a way that the fibers are perpendicular to each other. Such laminated shields were known from Roman times, but early medieval evidence was almost lacking, unless we count the song of Waltharius (10th century), which speaks of three-layered and seven-layered shields (Dickinson – Härke 1992: 50). The closest analogy in this respect is the shield from Trondheim, which will be discussed later. The Lenzen find is all the more interesting if we realize that “two-layered plywood is impossible to produce without very effective glue and powerful pressure tools” (Dickinson – Härke 1992: 50). Another exceptional feature is the unusually reinforced edge. An area approx. 10 cm from the very edge is filled with at least six concentric circles of square holes. In the concentric circles between the holes, strips of plaited bast sewn with bast were placed. Roland Warzecha and Ingo Petri, who had the opportunity to examine the shield, are of the opinion that the woven material is grass, which was attached using willow bark. This structural feature corresponds well with Scandinavian shields, whose narrowed edges were sometimes reinforced with metal clamps, or with the already mentioned grass used as a covering layer. In the central part we also find six copper rivets with iron heads. The rivets are arranged in two triangles and two more square holes are placed nearby. It is believed that the rivets and holes were used to attach the handle. The analysis noted traces of red paint on the front side. The red color used on the shields can also be demonstrated in Scandinavian shields and may indicate a more expensive design. The boss is absent at the shield from Lenzen and it is not at all clear whether it was used. Today, the shield is kept in the Land Archaeological Museum of Brandenburg an der Havel (Landesmuseum Brandenburg).
Drawing of the shield from Lenzen. Taken from Kennecke 2015: 92; Abb. 63.
Photo of a shield from Lenzen. Photo courtesy of Erik Panknin.
Construction of edge shields using grass.
Taken from https://asmund-pgd.blogspot.cz/.
Unfinished reconstruction of the shield from Lenzen. Author: Roland Warzecha, Dimicator.
As an analogy of the shield from Lenzen, we can mention the finds from the Usadel cemetery (Mecklenburg-Strelitz). In graves 38, 100 and 119 there, fairly uniform and clearly recognizable remains of wood, leather and rivets were found, while in graves 83, 94 and 120 only fragments of wood and rivets were found, and the attribution to shields is problematic (Kennecke 2015: 92). In the Great Moravian area, we can consider at least three shields buried in rich graves in the Staré Město – Na Valách locality (Luňák 2007: 34–41), of which we only know that they were organic and contained partial metal components. Quite often they talk about a possible fragment of the shield from Mikulčice, which is, however, officially interpreted as the bottom of a barrel (Poláček et al. 2000: 252). If we leave the Slavic space, we can also mention another plywood shield found in Trondheim in 1973. It is a 1 m x 0.5 m oval shield covered in leather and dated to 1075-1175 (Nordeide 1989: Fig. 29). Another shield with a layered board construction is said to be a shield from a 10th-century chamber tomb from Kyiv, which had a metal boss and edge clamps (Borovskij et al. 1989).
Plywood oval shield from Trondheim. Photographs by Håkon Torstensen.
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Borovskij et al. 1989 = Боровский, Я. Е. – Калюк, А. П. – Архипова , Е. И. (1989). Археологические исследования в «Верхнем Киеве» в 1989 г. (ул. Большая Житомирская, 2; Стрелецкая, 4а, б) // НА ІА НАНУ. — 1989/28.
Dickinson, Tania – Härke, Heinrich (1992). Early Anglo-Saxon Shields, Society of Antiquaries Archaeologia 110, London.
Kennecke, Heike (2015). Burg Lenzen : Eine frühgeschichtliche Befestigung am westlichen Rand der slawischen Welt, Materialien zur Archäologie in Brandenburg 9, Rahden.
Luňák, Petr (2007). Slovanské štíty v archeologických nálezech na území ČR. Bakalářská práce, Masarykova Univerzita, Brno.
Poláček, Lumír et al. (2000). Holzfunde aus Mikulčice. In: Poláček, L. (ed.). Studien zum Burgwall von Mikulčice IV, Brno, s. 177–302.
Rudziński, Paweł M. (2009). Tarcza we wczesnośredniowiecznej Polsce na tle europejskim : od plemienia do państwa. In: Acta Militaria Mediaevalia, t. 5 (2009), s. 21–78.
Schuldt, Ewald (1985). Gross Raden. Ein slawischer Tempelort des 9.–10. Jahrhundert in Mecklenburg, Schwerin.
Warming, R. F. et al. (2020). Shields and hide. On the use of hide in Germanic shields of the Iron Age and Viking Age. In: Germania 97, 154-225.