According to the history stated in Wikipedia:

The oldest form of shield was a protection device designed to block attacks by hand weapons, such as swords, axes and maces, or ranged weapon sling-stones and arrows.

Does this mean that the swords (or other weapons) came first before the shield? However, I am also thinking that shields were also made to block attacks from wild animals, for example, not just from hand weapons.

Is there historical evidence indicating which came first?

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    Hmm, this is probably so far back in pre-history that you would have to find hypotheses from archaeological evidence. For what its worth, chimpanzees will use will use sticks and stones as offensive weapons (source: my two Jane Goodall books) but do not use shields because they are incapable of making them.
    – Mike
    Apr 2, 2014 at 1:40
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    A shield is necessary only to fend off against an attacking weapon. Logic would lead us to believe the attacking piece came first, which would only then necessitate the protection. Specifically WRT swords- well swords may have come after other attacking weapons, and therefore after shields.
    – Rajib
    Apr 2, 2014 at 2:57
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    I seriously doubt this can be answered.
    – jwenting
    Apr 2, 2014 at 10:55
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    Somehow I suspect shield evolved with the blunt weapons and sharp poles. I will try to find evidence when I go home. Apr 2, 2014 at 14:02
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    You could use a shield to scare off animals, and some people think homo sapiens were first scavengers before hunters. But you have to have a cutting instrument to make a shield, so the weapons absolutely came first. It could be the first use was to block attacks from animals while hunting though, not warfare. Most people think warfare didn't occur in most of the paleolithic period or it was very uncommon.
    – Razie Mah
    Apr 2, 2014 at 20:52

2 Answers 2


The shield came first. The sword is an invention of the bronze age, but the shield has been used to protect against many types of weapons by stone age (not primitive) peoples. It is still in use today by traditional societies. For example: See pics of an Australian aborigine and a Zulu warrior.

The shield is believe to have been invented in the late Neolithic Period. During the Neolithic, humans began invented more tools from wood, rather than only stone. An early shield would most likely be made from wood and humans would have co-invented it around the world at different times. Due to the fact that Australian Aborigines invented the shield, but not the bow, it is possible that it was invented around 10,000 BCE or before. The earliest cave drawings of organized warfare in Europe involve the use of formations and the bow, but not the shield. So, it is possible that the shield predates warfare, but it is unlikely. The Neolithic Period was a time when humans began animal husbandry and early agriculture. Soon population pressures led to warfare that is believed had not existed before this time. There was a huge increase in the manufacture of weapons, which can be seen in the archeological record. The invention of the shield is most likely a response to organized warfare and the invention of these weapons and was not used in earlier periods for another purpose, such as to a tool for protection while hunting. (Also when humans were hunter-gathers they would have had to carry the shield everywhere during their migrations.)

  • "The sword is an invention of the bronze age" Highly depends on your definition of sword. If it includes daggers, then it's most definitely a much earlier invention.
    – yannis
    Apr 2, 2014 at 10:35
  • @YannisRizos though for a dagger you'd not use a shield as defense which is rather slow but vambraces which you can move to block with faster.
    – jwenting
    Apr 2, 2014 at 10:53
  • @YannisRizos "Historically, the sword developed in the Bronze Age, evolving from the dagger" en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sword
    – Razie Mah
    Apr 2, 2014 at 11:32
  • @YannisRizos - Axes and clubs were far more common infantry weapons in the chalcolithic and early bronze age. Daggers are fairly useless in combat, due to the reach and momentum of the larger weapons - it wasn't until bronzeworking became advanced enough to support flexible and strong blades that the dagger was lengthened to the sword - and even then, transitional weapons like the khopesh came first. Apr 3, 2014 at 12:11
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    One clarification here: The Zulus were throughout their history an Iron Age people. They preferred fighting with spears to swords, but they were always iron-tipped.
    – T.E.D.
    Apr 3, 2014 at 13:27

The Stele of the Vultures shows Sumerian spearmen employing shields - it's from the middle of the third millennium BCE. While long bronze daggers are found in parts of Anatolia about this time, true bronze swords longer than 60cm and strong enough to be used for weapon-to-weapon combat, would take another thousand years to become prevalent as metalworking improved.

On the other hand (pdf):

Only one defensive weapon is known from the Neolithic, a wooden shield from a Late Neolithic Globular Amphora tumulus in Langeneichstädt, Kr. Querfurt, Germany (Vencl 1999, 66).

So, while there is strong evidence for bows, daggers, axes and clubs being widespread among the warrior classes during the neolithic, defensive weapons like shields are notable by their absence. So, weapons probably preceded the shield in warfare.

  • Of course weapons preceded the shield, he asked if swords did.
    – o0'.
    Apr 3, 2014 at 12:54
  • He asked if "swords (or other weapons)" preceded the shield.
    – Kobunite
    Apr 3, 2014 at 13:02

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