Medieval Shield Symbols: Pictures Of A Thousand Words

In thinking about medieval armor and weapons, it all seems quite grand!  There were the helmets, the swords, and one of the most important pieces, the shield.  While these pieces provided excellent protection, they also carried much more significance than that.  As your curiosity may be sparked now, let’s lay out the facts here.

Medieval Shields:

The shields of the Middle Ages were more than just cool looking defense mechanisms; in them, a knight’s full identity was encompassed.  From their beliefs to their family name to their stories of bravery, these weapons spoke loud and proud!  Shields began in a very simple way with painted patterns that marked a knight’s clan or kingdom in the early Middle Ages.  As time progressed, shields added symbols and animals to their look, which communicated a knight’s beliefs and ventures.  Much could be inferred from examining a shield and it gave a knight’s opponent a little heads up on just who exactly their combatant was.

Crusader Lion Shield:

Crusader Lion Shield

When it came to shield symbols, there was a wide array in play.  Probably the most dominant symbol was the crucifix, which seemed logical as Christianity was at the center of medieval Europe.  Emerging from Roman Emperor Constantine’s implementation of the crucifix on his armies’ shields, this emblem was widespread and made appearances on such things as national flags and yes, you guessed it, knights’ shields!  Animals were also common insignia on shields.  These images had quite a range from fictional creatures, such as dragons, to strong beasts, like lions or bears, to horses.  These animals reflected a knight’s values, background, or ruler.

In addition to beliefs and values, shield symbols were indicative of social status and identity.  For example, a crown signified royalty.  Kings had the largest crown on their shield while nobles had a smaller version, and knights an even smaller one.  Shield emblems could also key people in to location.  Take the fleur-de-lis, for instance.  This small flower was a French royal symbol.  Another function shield symbols had were to showcase the family name.  Through the duration of a knight’s life, he would possess a shield as part of a coat of arms.  When he passed away, the next in line would take the shield and the emblem on it let people know what family he came from.  Color was also a factor in symbol meanings on medieval shields.

Black Prince Shield:

Black Prince Shield

So, the next time you see a medieval shield, know that there is more than meets the eye.  Every shield tells a story and an interesting one at that!  To view our collection of medieval shields, check out

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