Although the kite shield was a key part of the early medieval warrior’s equipment, only two examples of the type survive. Keith Dowen, Royal Armouries’ Assistant Curator of Arms and Armour, will examine their design and construction as well as the circumstances of their discovery.
Depictions of the early medieval knight, from the Bayeux Tapestry to the silver screen, present the elongated kite shield as an intrinsic and iconic part of a warrior’s equipment. However, while swords, spearheads and armour from the period can be found in various collections including the Royal Armouries, for many years it appeared that no examples of kite shields survived. During archaeological excavations in the Polish city of Szczecin in 2000, however, two extraordinary finds came to light. In different parts of the old stronghold, archaeologists unearthed the partial remains of two kite shields. Possibly connected to the Danish attacks of the late 12th century, these shields are the only known examples of their type to have survived. They are therefore invaluable to our understanding not just of the development of protective technology, but warfare in the early Middle Ages more generally. This lecture will discuss the circumstances of the discovery of these shields, and examine various aspects of their design and construction through detailed analysis and comparison to other shields from England and Scandinavia. This will show that far from being decorative or ceremonial objects, as has previously been suggested, there can be little doubt that the shields from Szczecin were fully functional battlefield pieces.