The ancient world had many impressive and powerful military innovations that still are
astounding today, however, something that is often forgotten is the brilliance of the shield.
Shields were used by almost every ancient civilization in every corner of the world. The
understanding of the shield was what made two of the greatest empires’ military so powerful and
effective. The Greek phalanx squads and the three line Roman legion truly understood the
concept of a great defence also being a great offence. Shields were prolific, versatile, required
little training to master and could be mass produced effectively. These attributes of the shield
made it the greatest military tool of the ancient world.
Shields were used by almost every culture in ancient civilization. The first use of the
shield can be traced back to the bronze age where it was used by the Sumerians. They used
the shield for defence against bronze daggers and arrows since at the time bronze swords did
not exist. After this first use, more and more civilizations put the shield in their arsenal. Another
notable civilization that used the shield was the Vikings, 45% of Viking graves excavated
contained their shields. Throughout the years many different kinds of shields were designed for 1
different reasons. Today, shields still see use in the form of riot gear or by counter terrorist
forces to block small fire arms.
A main factor that made shields so powerful was their versatility. Shields could be used
to defend the user from incoming attacks and this was what most shields were specifically
designed for. Shields could also be used to attack by bashing enemies leaving them
uncoordinated and open for other more lethal attacks. These two things make the shield useful
on the battlefield. The use of a shield could also be fine tuned for more specific roles - using
Kelly, Patrick. “The Shield: Its Use and Development.” MyArmoury.com, myarmoury.com/1
coordination and the right weapon any strategy could be achieved. This is seen to great effect
with the Greek phalanx. “The phalanx formation was a close-rank, dense grouping of warriors
armed with long spears and interlocking shields” . This combination of the long spears and the 2
interlocking shields made the phalanx amazing at advancing and slowly pushing into their
enemies. Once the phalanx reached their enemies they were used much like a battering ram to
break up the enemies front lines. This use of the shield in the phalanx is why Alexander the
Great was able to conquer so much land. Another of the most innovative and effective use of
the shield was the Roman testudo or tortoise formation. This formation was effective in siege
warfare. The way it worked was “soldiers on the front and sides of the formation would hold their
shields outward, while the remainder would overlap their shields above the heads of the
formation.” The testudo was another fine tuned use of the...