The Royal Shield

The reconstructed shield in the British Museum (author’s photograph).

The British Museum’s superb reconstruction of the the shield uses the original great iron boss and surviving gilt bronze fittings on a replica body three feet in diameter made of leather-covered lime wood. Lime wood is the ideal wood for a shield – its softness means that it will absorb and deaden the shock of blows and yet it does not readily split.

Although the shield also shows close Scandinavian affinities, it is the most magnificent example of the characteristic Anglo-Saxon round shield, the basic design of which remained unchanged for centuries. Here we have a very high-quality item made from the proper materials as a working shield, yet its surface is adorned with some very delicate fittings of gilt-bronze, gold-foil, and garnet cloisonné. Even the domed iron boss, along with its flange and five rivets, is covered with designs of gilt-bronze, and its tip is enriched with a circular inlays with garnet cloisonné surrounded by little gilt-bronze animals with garnet eyes.

The circumference of the shield is edged by decorated gilt-bronze fittings. The front surface area of the round shield between the central boss and outer edge is adorned at twelve o’clock and six o’clock with horizontal strips which look like strengthening bars but are purely decorative as they are made of gold foil set on alder wood veneers. Most unusually, in the middle of the shortest of these (at six o’clock on the picture above) is a gilt bronze oath-ring of the kind more often found on certain sword-hilts. At three o’clock is the form of an eagle of gilt bronze and gold foil with garnet cloisonné inlays. At nine o’clock is a splendid six-winged dragon of decorated gilt bronze, with crystal and cloisonné inlays, which is one of the earliest surviving detailed representations of the Northern dragon.

The shield’s function seems therefore to be primarily ceremonial.

© Copyright Dr Sam Newton, Blotmonaþ AD 2000

 

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