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I'm researching armor (from all time periods, though most of my reference is from the medieval era) and I found there's little reference for how soldiers traveled with shields. Some shields have a long strap (in addition to the straps used to hold the shield in battle) on their backside. I assume it was used to keep it on the wearer's person, but most of the shields I've looked at don't have this strap.

So, how were shields worn on soldiers' backs? Were soldiers able to sling a shield off their back with ease like they do in the movies?

Thank you for your time!

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Pictures would help. –  Mark C. Wallace May 13 at 10:52
    
I'd imagine the strap could be easily attached and removed because in actual combat a long strap would be a liability, easy for an opponent to grab a hold of... –  jwenting May 13 at 11:07

3 Answers 3

up vote 12 down vote accepted

The long strap you are referring to is called a "Guige" strap, and the original intention was likely not to allow the shield to be transported on one's back (although it would have been an added bonus) - the primary purpose was likely to distribute the weight of the shield during use. Given that a shield could weigh upwards of 5-10kg, being able to support the majority of the load on the shoulders would be a considerable advantage even with any loss of mobility.

For soldiers wielding spears, the guige also allowed a shield to be used in combat while freeing both hands for the shaft of the weapon. In addition, they were also used on horseback to either entirely support the shield to allow a free hand on the reins or again lighten the load enough to allow the shield hand to do so more effectively.

In fact, you can sometimes see how they were used in period art, such as this plate from the St.Etienne Bible for Cîteaux.

enter image description here

See Bronze Age Military Equipment by Dan Howard, Daily Life in the Middle Ages by Paul Newman, Hastings 1066: The Fall of Saxon England by Christopher Gravett.

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your pic fits right in with some of the battle descriptions in the norse sagas (e.g. saga of burnt njal) where a hero often fights two-handed with a spear but is able to manipulate his shield. If the shield was affixed by a strap running around the far shoulder (as your picture depicts), a simple twist of the shoulder or torso would help the fighter deflect a potentially fatal blow and launch a two-handed counterstrike. very illuminating picture! –  code4life May 20 at 3:11

There would usually be loops attached to the sheild to allow a strap to attached. You can wear the shield on your back using the strap or rope. Here is the reverse of one of the Behaim tournament shields:

enter image description here

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I wanted to comment, but an actual google search gave some sort of answer for me, maybe there will be better answers than mine, I see the practical side of the fastening problem. The handles are typically sort of "D" shaped where the straight side is the shield or some straps with two fixed points on the shield body having enough space between them for an arm or hand. The shape is ideal to apply independently from the shield any regular rope, leather strap to fasten it to your armour, or clothes and make it easily accessible.

Let's see some examples:

First picture is Arc d' Orange shield with handle. A strap would perfectly fit in, and could be used for fastening it to armour.

enter image description here

Second picture is a Viking shield replica. There you can see an applied strap for carrying/apply on the arm, but the handle here has enough space to put a rope or strap in it, so even without the applied strap, it would be easily attachable to anywhere.

enter image description here

If I was a dark age soldier and I would have to carry a shield without having a purposely attached fastener, I would use a rope, tie it into handle, if the shield is moving, make a triangles around the shield to make it stable, and fix it on myself, like a backpack, maybe there are better ideas, this is my first one to try. Here is the illustration I made in paint:

enter image description here

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don't just link to a site (or worse, a search result), but post actual answers. –  jwenting May 13 at 11:06
    
you are right, I will improve the answer by getting the images later in the day. –  CsBalazsHungary May 13 at 11:08

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