Throughout most of human history, the most widely used defensive weapon has been the shield. Until the adoption of firearms, cultures around the world used shields fashioned from wood, fiber, metal and hides. A shield’s size depends on the types of weapons it is designed to defend against, whether it is to be used on horseback or foot, and how often and how far it must be carried.
Large and relatively flat, shields offer ideal surfaces for artistic expression and most are decorated. Round, oval, rectangular, or scalloped in shape, shields are often embellished with paint and sometimes hair or other materials. Shield designs might identify the bearer’s social or military group, display family connections, or signify rank. In some cases, a shield advertises one’s success as a warrior or invokes magical power.