Ninth Century Shields from Tira Bog, Latvia

Peter Beatson - NVG Miklagard

Shield 1 from hoard deposited in Tira peat bog, Liepaisk region, Latvia. Left - the artefact. Right - a reconstruction. From Yrtan (1961).

Shield 1 - Dated to the ninth century by associated artefacts, this near intact shield is constructed of six spruce or fir planks (Yrtan 1961). The shield’s diameter is 85.5 cm, the thickness of the planks is 0.6 cm. It is covered on both front and rear faces with leather, with pressed grass laid beneath, probably for shock-absorbing purposes. The leather is fixed somehow [1] at the edge - in the reconstruction the rim appears to be whipped over with (?leather) lace.

Interestingly, the boss of Tira shield 1 is made of wood, though identical in size and hemispherical shape to local iron examples (Yrtan 1961) [2]. The boss is 13.1 by 10.5 cm, and it covers an opening in the board 11.5 cm wide. It was held on by 14 nails (which did not survive). The grip, for which no details are provided, appears to be lashed on in the reconstruction.

Marks of blows on the leather face and the boss suggest that the shield was used in combat.

Shield 2 - Most of a single middle plank of a second round shield was also discovered at Tira. It is from a conifer species, 68 x 11.8 x 1.4 cm. A quadrangular opening for the hand is located (presumably) in the original centre of the board, allowing the width of the entire shield to be estimated at 73 cm. Interestingly, the board is curved, possibly for a convex shield (Yrtan 1961).


[1] The Russian term can mean ‘nailed’, as well as ‘sewn’. PB.

[2] Another wooden boss of cruder form was discovered at the Slavic settlement of Groß Raden, in northern Germany (Schuldt 1985).


SCHULDT, E. (1985). 'Groß Raden: Ein slawischer Tempelort des 9./10. Jahrhunderts in Mecklenburg'. Schriften zur Ur- und Frühgeschichte 39. Akademie der Wissenschaften der DDR Zentralinstitut für alte Geschichte und Archäologie: Berlin.

YRTAN, V.A. (1961). 'Drevnie shchity na territorii Latviiskoe SSR'. Sovietskaia Arkheologii 1961(1), p.216-224.