What Were Shields Made Of In Ancient Rome

In the world of ancient Rome, it was standard for the wealthy classes to carry a shield as both a symbol of their status and as protection in battle. Shields were made from a variety of materials with some of the most common being wood, leather, Durah, and bronze.

Wood was the most abundant material available, making it relatively easy and inexpensive to craft. As such, many poorer citizens and lower-ranking soldiers were given wooden shields because they were the most practical option. Because of its softness, wooden shields could be light and maneuverable, however, the materials easily degraded over time and the shields were easily damaged.

Leather has often been favored by many civilizations, especially during a time of war, because of its strength and affordability. A leather shield was made using a frame of wood or metal and then the animal hide was layered and cemented or glued onto the frame. Like wood, leather could be relatively light, however, the leather-covered area may have been reinforced with metal or painted on with vivid colors. This provided an extra layer of protection against projectiles such as arrows, spears, and rocks.

Durah is an incredibly strong alloy of copper and tin which gives the metal an impressive durability. It was used to craft some of the best-known and iconic Roman shields, being most popular during Rome’s heyday. These shields could be extremely heavy and would be quite expensive, restricting their use among the lower classes. However, their strength and durability made them the ideal defense during battle.

Finally, bronze shields could be crafted for a more affordable cost than their durah counterparts. A layer of bronze would be poured onto a wooden frame, followed by a second layer. The first layer was thin and light, and the second layer was thick enough to provide proper protection. In addition to durability, bronze shields were typically adorned with intricate designs and symbols, making them much more aesthetically pleasing than the other materials.

Designs and Adornments

Ancient Roman shields were decorated in various ways depending on the status of their owner. Military shields were often adorned with the identifying emblem or crest of the unit they were serving. Wealthier Roman citizens would embellish their shields with patterns and designs of precious stones, ivory, and even gold. Such shields were presented to reward excellence in battle, making them highly valued. Roman shields also had a unique shape; they were often round, oval, or kite-shaped, and could range anywhere from about one to four feet in diameter.

Additionally, the center of the shield often featured a hand grip which was guarded by metal plates known as the bosses. This feature allowed for more maneuverability, enabling the shield to be rotated in a variety of directions to target the bearer’s opponent. Roman shields also featured curved edges on the top and bottom, allowing for a greater range of motion.

In ancient Rome, a soldier’s shield was not just a defensive tool but also an invaluable asset in battle. The material used was often an indication of the soldier’s rank and wealth, making it an important symbol of status.


In battle, the Roman shield was used to protect the soldier against various weapons such as swords, axes, and spears. The shield also provided the soldier with additional support, allowing them to move while protecting the lower body. The Romans were well aware of the need for mobility in battle and this was helped by the use of the shield. Additionally, the shield could be used as a weapon itself, either by being thrown at enemy combatants or thrust forward to create openings for attack.

The Roman shield was also essential for forming tight-knit troops on the battlefield. It was not uncommon for troops to link their shields together, forming a ‘tortoise’ formation which was a very effective defensive maneuver. This allowed them to stand side by side and form a wall of shields, providing protection from weapons and projectiles whilst the troops moved forward.


Shields were not always made of the same materials in Rome. It was common for different kinds of shields to be used in accordance with the battle situation. For example, a heavier shield of Durah or bronze would be employed during sieges, whereas a less bulky shield of leather or wood could be used in lighter skirmishes. In some cases, the shields could even be specially made out of a type of metal that was particularly hard to penetrate.

Roman shields also evolved over time in terms of design. While all shields had one fundamental purpose – to protect – Roman shields developed different shapes and sizes depending on the needs of the wearer. For instance, larger shields would be used by taller people, while smaller shields would be employed by those who needed greater mobility. In time, the Romans also began using shields with sharp edges and protruding points to make them more dangerous in combat.


Some of the most advanced Roman shields were crafted using metalworking techniques such as soldering, riveting, and etching. This allowed for a greater level of detail and precision, as metal parts could be easily mixed and matched. In some cases, even Greek-style metal ornamentation, such as overlapping and intertwining circles, would be added to each shield to give it individual flair. Furthermore, the use of metal would also strengthen the overall structure, making the shield stronger and more resistant to damage.

These advanced techniques were only available to the very wealthy population in Rome, as such shields were incredibly costly to produce. Nonethless, this method of metalworking was essential for creating some of the most sophisticated and impressive shields in the Roman period.


As history shows, the Roman shield was an integral part of warfare in the ancient world. Its various designs and materials served to empower its wielders and increase their chances of victory on the battlefield. Even today, the legacy of the Roman shield lives on, as it inspired the design of many modern shields and has been featured in both literature and popular culture.

Despite its long history, the use of shields is being phased out in modern warfare, with protective gear such as helmets and bulletproof vests being preferred over traditional shields. Nevertheless, the Roman shield remains an iconic part of history, with its elements inspiring armors, helmets, and other protective devices that are still used today.

Moshe Rideout is a professional writer and historian whose work focuses on the history of Ancient Rome. Moshe is passionate about understanding the complexity of the Roman Empire, from its architecture to its literature, political systems to social structures. He has a Bachelor's degree in classic studies from Rutgers University and is currently pursuing a PhD in classical archaeology at UMass Amherst. When he isn't researching or writing, he enjoys exploring ruins around Europe, drawing inspiration from his travels.

Leave a Comment