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and Clipeum (ἀσπίς, σάκος).


The large shield used by the Greeks and the Romans, originally of circular shape, said to have been first used by Proetus and Acrisius of Argos (Pausan. ii. 25.6); and therefore called clipeus Argolicus According to other accounts, however, it was derived from the Egyptians (Herod.iv. 180).

One of the earliest extant representations of Greek shields is to be found in the engraving on a sword-blade found at Mycenae, representing a combat between men and lions (Helbig, Homerische Epos, p. 232). It will be seen that some of the men carry shields resembling a scutum, others shields which recall the shape of the Boeotian shield, and that each form covers about three quarters of the person, and is partly supported by a strap passing round the shoulders.

Early Representation of Greek Shields. (Helbig.)

The heroes of the Iliad carry a shield which is round (iii. 347) and large enough to cover the whole man (ἀμφιβρότη, ποδηνεκής). It is composed by sewing together circular pieces of untanned ox-hide, varying in number. These are strengthened on both sides by plates of bronze, the outer hides and plates being of smaller diameter, so that on the edge of the shield both hide and metal are thinnest ( Il. xx. 275).

Sarpedon's shield is forged of plates of bronze, to which ox-hides are attached on the inside by golden rods or bolts (ῥάβδοι) running all round the circle. Ten circles of bronze run round Agamemnon's shield. Achilles' shield is composed entirely of metal in five plates—two of bronze, two of tin, and a central one of gold. The structure is bound together by a metal rim (ἄντυξ), which in Achilles' shield is triple. At the centre of the shield is a metal boss (ὀμφαλός). Agamemnon's shield is studded with twenty bosses of tin and a central one of cyanus ( Il. xi. 34).

When not in use the shield was suspended by the τελαμών, which passed around the breast, the shield hanging at the back. (See Balteus.) The practice of decorating the shield had commenced in the Homeric Age ( Il. xi. 36).

In later times the shields were smaller, usually covering the warrior from the neck to the knees only. Besides the circular or Argive shield, we frequently find mentioned one of an oval shape with a strong rim and apertures in the middle of

Greek Shield. (Tischbein.)

each side (Eurip. Phoeniss. 1386). This is known as the Boeotian shield.

The shield was at last formed entirely of brass (πάγχαλκος), and a sort of apron, probably of leather or some thick material, was sometimes attached to it, especially when one did not wear greaves to protect his legs. The simplest arrangement to hold the shield consisted of two metal handles, one to pass the arm through and one to grasp with the hand; but the more elaborate arrangement is shown in the illustration from a terra-cotta vase published by Tischbein (iv. tab. 20). In it the broad band that runs across the shield like the diameter of a circle is of metal, the thong about the edge of the rim of leather (πόρπαξ).

At the close of a war it was customary for the Greeks to suspend their shields in the temples, when the πόρπακες were taken off, in order to render them unserviceable in case of any sudden or popular outbreak. Sometimes shields were kept in a case (σάγμα), (Aristoph. Ach. 574).

The ἀσπίς was the characteristic defensive weapon (ὅπλον) of the heavy-armed infantry (ὁπλῖται) during the historical times of Greece, and is opposed to the lighter πέλτη and γέρρον; hence we find the word ἀσπίς used to signify a body of ὁπλῖται (Xen. Anab. i. 7.10). It was distinctively a Greek shield, and thus none of the Eastern peoples who served under Xerxes (Herod.vii. 61 foll.) were armed with it.

The Roman clipeus is seen in the accompanying illustration from the Column of Trajan. According

Clipeus, Roman Shield. (Column of Trajan.)

to Livy (i. 43), when the census was instituted by Servius Tullius, the first class only used the clipeus, and the second were armed with the scutum (q. v.); but after the Roman soldier received pay, the clipeus was discontinued altogether for the Sabine scutum (Liv.viii. 8; cf. ix. 19; Plut. Rom. 21; Eclog. xxiii. 3, who asserts that the original form of the Roman shield was square, and that it was subsequently changed for that of the Tyrrhenians, which was round).

The emblazoning of shields with devices (σήματα, σημεῖα) was said to be derived from the Carians (Herod.i. 171). The bearings on the shields of the heroes before Thebes, as described by Aeschylus in the Seven against Thebes, exhibit the development of devices in post-Homeric times. Some shields, like Agamemnon's, bear subjects designed to strike terror; to that of Tydeus bronze bells are attached with the same object. Other subjects are purely mythological or indicate the owner's ancestry. This custom of emblazoning shields is illustrated on a very beautiful gem from the antique, in which the figure of Victory is represented inscribing upon a clipeus the name or merits of some deceased hero.

From the historians we find that while an individual sometimes attracted attention by an unusual device, cities made use of some common symbol for their shields which might be easily recognizable by their friends: thus the Lacedaemonians used Λ, the Sicyonians Σ, the Thebans Heracles's club—a practice of which the enemy sometimes took a treacherous advantage (Xen. Hell. iv. 4, 10; vii. 5.20; Pausan. iv. 58, 5).

Each Roman soldier also had his own name and a mark indicating his cohort inscribed upon his shield, in order that he might readily find his own when the order was given to unpile arms (Veget. ii. 17), and sometimes the name of the commander under whom he fought (Bell. Alex. 58).

Victorious armies sometimes dedicated their own shields or an engraved shield of gold as an offering in a temple (Herod.i. 92). For decorative purposes, shields in metal or marble were often suspended from the roofs of porticoes or in the atria of private houses. See M. Albert in the Revue Archéologique (1881).


Clipeus is also the name of a contrivance for regulating the temperature of the vapour-bath. See Balneae.

hide References (14 total)
  • Cross-references from this page (14):
    • Herodotus, Histories, 1.171
    • Herodotus, Histories, 1.92
    • Herodotus, Histories, 4.180
    • Herodotus, Histories, 7.61
    • Homer, Iliad, 11.34
    • Homer, Iliad, 11.36
    • Homer, Iliad, 20.275
    • Xenophon, Anabasis, 1.7.10
    • Xenophon, Hellenica, 4.4.10
    • Xenophon, Hellenica, 7.5.20
    • Aristophanes, Acharnians, 574
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 8, 8
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 1, 43
    • Plutarch, Romulus, 21
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