Much of what we know about early principate scuta construction derives from the Dura Europos scutum. Although this
shield dates to the mid third century, it is not unreasonable to assume that the methods of construction mirror those of
• Height: 1.06 meters (42 inches)
• Width around the curve: 0.86 meters (34 inches)
• Thickness: 5-6 mm (about 1/4 inch)
• Chord: 0.66 meters (26 inches)
The chord dimension is somewhat suspect, particularly when one considers the state of the shield remains when
discovered. Converting the chord and arc length to a radius of curvature gives approximately 18 inches. Connolly describes
the shield's construction as three layers of birch strips of alternating horizontal and vertical orientation.
For the back bracing we have to refer to the Dura field reports. Thin wood strips formed a rectangular frame that is further
bisected at the horizontal and vertical midpoints by another pair of thin wooden strips.
The construction of the umbo hole and the handle differ from that of flat shields from the same period. On the flat shield the
umbo hole is typically cut with a central strip of wood left remaining. The Dura shield has a complete circular opening. To
quote the book by Simon James, "The central grip simply consisted of the thickening of the central portion of one of
reinforcing strips at the point where it crossed the central aperture".
The shield covering according to Connolly is linen over leather with a stitched-on rawhide rim. James argues that this is a
misreading of the field notes and the reality is leather over linen with a rawhide rim. Another fragment of a rectangular
shield from Dura Europos suggests that the fabric on the back may have been applied under the back bracing as opposed
to over it.
There has been considerable debate surrounding the colour of roman shields. The Dura scutum is red with decoration
applied in both yellow and white. Patterns appropriate to earlier periods come largely from sculptural evidence, such as
The Dura shield's boss did not survive, and only one rivet remains. Two square (domed) copper alloy bosses, one
complete from the river Tyne, and a second fragmentary example from Vindonissa, have radii of approximately 18 inches.
The rim could also be made from copper alloy. Examples found at Vindonissa clearly show thin strips of metal meant to
bend around the shield edge. Small semi-circular tabs were used to secure the rim to the shield, presumably with nails.
The reinforcement strips are not limited to wood. Shield braces of copper alloy have been found as well.
For a reproduction I used a curve radius of 18 inches and glued together two layers of 1/8 inch birch plywood as a substitute
for the layers of birch strips. Modern linen was applied. The back bracing mirrors that of the Dura shield.
Though influenced by the description of the Dura shield, my handle borrows from personal experience. The scutum is held
using an overhand grip with the left hand.
To make it more comfortable padding placed above the back of the hand makes all the world of difference. To
accommodate the padding I offset the handle horizontally by 1/4 inch behind the umbo hole. The handle itself is made from
a 1 inch by 3/4 inch piece of white oak glued and nailed to the central back bracing. Mark Morrow constructed 14 gauge
bosses measuring 12 inches square for me.
• Simon James, "Excavations at Dura-Europos The Arms and Armour"
• Peter Connolly, "Greece and Rome at War"
• M.C. Bishop, J.C.N. Coulston, "Roman Military Equipment"
• Michel Feugere, "Weapons of the Romans"
• Christoph Unz, Eckhard Deschler-Erb, "Katalog der Militaria aus Vindonissa"
• Goldsworthy, Adrian, Gilliver, Kate & Whitby, Steven, "Rome at War" (see page 114 for an excellent photograph of the
Kasr el-Harit shield); Osprey Publishing, Oxford; 2005.
• Goldsworthy, Adrian, "The Complete Roman Army" (see page 31 for an artist's rendering of shield construction);
Thames & Hudson, London; 2003.
|Legionary Scutum Fabrication