Back-—the back of the shield. Extant shields and pictorial evidence seem to suggest that most shields were probably not left with a plain wooden backing, but were rather covered over with canvas or felt. Often, the place where the back of the hand would rest was padded with a sort of cushion. In addition, religious or mystical inscriptions or symbols might have been upon the backs of some shields.
Shield Terms Glossary
What About the Other Shields?
Which Shield Should I Bear?
Boss-—the metal dome in the center of some shields which serves as a defense for the gripping hand. Many bosses’ back sides are integral with the shield’s grip. Early sagas and heroic poems describe shield bosses that were either decorated, lacquered or bejeweled.
Enarmes-—a set of straps on the back of the shield through which the bearer’s arm and hand are passed in order to hold the shield. Medieval shields generally have two or three enarmes, the last of which is gripped. Most extant medieval shields do not feature adjustable enarmes.
Face-—the front side of a shield. Shield faces could be plain wood, burnished metal, painted canvas, leather, or a combination of these. Earlier shields are often pictured as being decorated, although not in a recognizable “heraldic” manner. As demonstrated by the famous “Sutton Hoo” excavation, many early shield faces may have been decorated with metal ornamentation and designs nailed or riveted to the wood. Later shields—not surprisingly—played a key role in heraldic display, and would often therefore be decorated accordingly. The shield of Edward the Black Prince is covered with worked leather upon the face.
Guige-—a long strap attached to a shield for the purpose of slinging the shield over one’s shoulder or back. Used as both a carrying device and possibly as a system of stabilization to keep the weight from resting entirely upon the shield arm during combat.
Rim-—the edge of a shield. Rims could either be a tough rawhide edging, iron or steel, or left as bare wood. The advantage of bare wood seems to have been that an enemy’s weapon could momentarily stick—a potentially fatal moment for the attacker. On the other hand, a shield with a steel or iron rim would likely last longer, and might cause more damage to an enemy’s weapon overall.
Umbo-—another name for a shield boss.