Shield (Ger. Schild), a piece of defensive armor, which before the invention of gunpowder was in almost universal use, but is now employed chiefly by barbarous races. It was sometimes called also buckler and target. The shield of the ancients from the earliest times was a framework of twisted osiers or light wood, over which one or more thicknesses of ox hide and sometimes ornamental or defensive metal work were fastened; and those described by Homer covered the body from the face to the knee. Shields were carried on the left arm, and were of various shapes and sizes. The shield called by the Romans clipeus was large and round, having sometimes a projection in the centre of the exterior, called the umbo, which frequently terminated in a spike. The scutum of the Roman legionary soldiers was oblong and rectangular, and was generally 4 ft. high by 2 1/2 ft. wide. The parma, a smaller round framework of iron covered with hides, was used by light troops; the pelta, which was lighter still and sometimes elliptical, but oftener truncated at the top with one or more semicircular indentations, was introduced among the Greeks by Iphicrates, and the troops armed with it were called peltastoe.
The cetra was a small round target, borne by many ancient races, and probably identical with that formerly used by the Scottish high-landers. In time of peace the Greeks hung their shields in the temples, removing the handles to render them unserviceable in case of a popular outbreak. The Roman soldiers inscribed their names upon their shields, and men of family emblazoned them with devices illustrating the heroic feats of their ancestors, and sometimes with their own portraits, a practice to which may be ascribed the modern use of armorial bearings. To lose a shield in battle, or to return without it, was a mark of cowardice. In the middle ages the knights and men-at-arms, being clothed in complete mail, had less need of a shield, and it fell into gradual disuse. The Norman shield until the middle of the 12th century was long and of the form called kite or pear-shaped; but subsequently it became smaller, and as a vehicle for bearing heraldic devices assumed a variety of shapes which have been preserved to the present day. (See Armor, and Heraldry).
Fig. 1. - 1. Scutum, from Trajan's Column. 2. Clipeus, from a Greek Vase.
Fig. 2. - 1, 2. Amazons with the Pelta, from a marble bass relief. 3. Parma, from a terra cotta bass relief.