The Shield (Scutum)
Please note: this material has been copied from the Legio XX (Virginia, USA) website. Their invaluable information has served our hobby for many years. Thank you, Matt.
There are many options for scutum size, shape, and materials. The common shape in the mid-first century seems to have been rectangular, but the curve-sided "Augustan" style (right) is still seen on Trajan's Column. The height ranges from 37" to 42", about from the shoulders to the top of the knee, and the width is 24" to 33". The corners are typically rounded, but square corners are easier for a leather rim or a rimless shield. Click on the images at left and right for larger views. (Photo at left copyright Jane Walker.)
The scutum was originally constructed of three layers of thin strips of wood (such as birch or oak), glued together at right angles to each other to form a curved piece of plywood 1/4" to 3/8" thick. While this method is certainly the most authentic option, we usually use two layers of 1/8" luan plywood glued together in a curve. Bendable birch plywood is very easy to work with though more expensive, and even plywood wall paneling has been used (but sand off the glossy finish before gluing!). The local Home Depot or lumber store may have "door skins" which are 30"x80" sheets of 1/8" luan plywood--perfect for one scutum.
Ordinary carpenter's glue works fine. Liquid hide glue may be a little more authentic, and should work as well.
There are several ways to curve the wood. The layers can be glued together (dry, without soaking) and then tied around a large tree, 55-gallon drum, or water heater with ropes or strap clamps until the glue is dry. A length of 2x2 or 2x4 along each long edge, between the ropes and the shield wood, will help prevent a wavy edge. Alternatively, a press can be constructed for holding the glued layers in the proper curve. Click here for the Scutum Press. In either case, the grain of the wood should be vertical, to avoid cracking. Once the glue is dry, trim the edges and corners to the desired shape.
The central HOLE is actually a pair of semicircles c. 3/4" apart, the horizontal space between them forming the HANDGRIP. The holes are c. 2-1/2" in radius, and are most easily cut with a hand-held jigsaw. The grip is then thickened by adding the central back bracing strip (see below) of wood or steel. Wood strips should be glued in place (held with clamps until dry), and can be reinforced with rivets or clenched nails. Drill holes first, put the nails through from the front, and clench securely at back (be sure these nails will not interfere with those that will secure the boss); or clip them off and peen them over a metal washer like a rivet. A steel strip would be riveted in place. Nail or rivet heads can be left exposed on the front of the shield, or covered by the covering and/or the boss. The grip can be rounded somewhat for comfort, and/or wrapped with leather or cord.
The grip is held overhand, like a suitcase handle. This allows the shoulder to be braced against it, and allows the shield to be carried for long periods without tiring.
Either wood 1/2" to 3/4" wide, c. 1/4" thick, flat or half-round; or steel strip c. 1/8" thick. Arrangement shown at right, 3" to 4" in from edges. Horizontal braces can be bent to fit, or cut to match curve. Screen molding, 3/4" wide, is perfect and easy to use, and can be soaked and curved for horizontal braces (some molding is flexible enough to bend without soaking).
There are additional pictures of the backs of scuta in the books by Connolly and Simkins (see the Bibliography).
At right, a detail of the handle of a completed shield. The rivets securing the boss and their washers are visible, the two in the middle securing loops and rings for the carrying strap. In this case, there is a single round hole, and the handle has been cut from hardwood to match the curve of the shield, being made thicker in the middle (such as the handle on a bow). Making two semicircular holes creates an integral handle which is simpler, stronger, and more authentic.
COVER the front and back, with leather, rawhide, linen, felt, canvas, etc. We typically use leather on the front and fabric on the back. The fiber content of any fabric used is not vital, but plywood must be completely covered. Leather should be max. 3 oz. thickness, top grain and vegetable-tanned or rawhide (chrome-tanned or waxed leathers may be difficult to paint). Glue coverings on with hide or wood glue--spread it with a spackling knife or piece of cardboard. (Hint: spread glue on one half of the shield and smooth the fabric or leather down neatly, then apply glue to the other half and repeat.) If two or more pieces of leather are used, seams can be covered by applied arrows or spines, but a neat seam in a leather facing is not very visible. When covering the back with fabric over the bracing, there are going to be some puckers. Old linen tablecloths have worked very well, but nothing is likely to glue down tightly into all the corners and crannies. For a neater finish you could cover the shield blank first and then put the bracing on; the Dura Europas scutum definitely had the covering over the braces, though.
A thin facing of rawhide (goat, for example) is probably the most accurate facing. The rawhide must be soaked in water to soften it before applying, then smoothed over the shield and very thoroughly fastened down to keep it smooth and prevent shrinkage as it dries. Avoid stretching it too much, as this can warp or even break the wood! Here are some tips: http://www.romanarmy.com/rat/viewtopic.php?t=21503
PAINT the front and back RED. (Alteratively the facing may be dyed red before gluing it to the wood.) According to Holger Ratsdorf of HReplikate, the Dura Europas shields and others were painted with casein, a milk derivative. Casein paints such as Shiva brand should be available in an art supply store in small tubes. Larger quantities, in powder form to be mixed with water, can be obtained from the Old-Fashioned Milk Paint Company, http://www.milkpaint.com/. Wings and vertical spines should be yellow or golden, outlined in black; lightning bolts and arrows are white with black or blue outlines. Trace the emblem using the Legion's stencil (Click here for Emblem Patterns). Arrange the emblem while double-checking angles and alignments--point the lightning bolts towards the corners, then fit the wings into place. Trace the outer shapes lightly with pencil, then repeat for each quarter, making sure you get it more or less symmetrical. Paint in the basic colors, using more than one coat if necessary. It is very helpful to do the wings and spines in white first, as an undercoat, so that the yellow will cover better. Outlines and details are best done last, using a small brush.
Old-Fashioned Milk Paint Company's "Salem Red" is now the standard color for the backgrounds of our shields, but "Barn Red" or other brands or variations are certainly permissable (such as the Real Milk Paint Company, http://www.realmilkpaint.com). That is the most convenient source for the larger amounts of paint needed for the red, while it may be more convenient to buy small tubes of white, yellow, and black casein paint from an art supply store. Artist & Craftsman Supply company, http://artistcraftsman.com/, carries both the Old-Fahioned Milk Paint and the Shiva casein paints, making a very convenient source for online shopping.
Note that water and rain will cause spotting on casein painted surfaces, a chalky white effect. To prevent this, a coating of wax is recommended. Regular bees wax can be melted (using a double-boiler method) and and brushed on, or "Sno-Seal" wax coating can simply be spread on by hand. In either case, use a hair dryer or heat gun to melt the wax evenly over the surface and help it soak in. Sno-Seal is basically bees wax with an emulsifier, and is available from camping and sport supply stores.
Neatsfoot oil or boiled linseed oil (the latter optionally mixed 50/50 with turpentine) can also be used to coat the casein painted shield instead of wax. Neither should cause any significant discoloration of the white or yellow paint, but they do not seem to be as effective in preventing water stains. It is possible that several good coats would be more effective, but our experiments have not yet gotten to that stage.
Shields which are already painted with modern paints do NOT need to be repainted! Milk or casein paints are supposed to be applied to a porous surface, so if you wish to repaint a latex-painted shield, first apply a primer coat of "Extra-Bond" or similar product, as sold by milk paint companies. All NEW shields made for Legio XX use must be painted with milk and casein paints.
The various parts of the emblem may optionally be linen or thin leather, either dyed with painted details, or entirely painted, and sewn to the facing before it is glued to the shield. They can even be thin brass, with the white parts either tinned or made of thin steel (click here for photo); nail on with brass escutcheon pins after the covering is in place. (Beware! A metal emblem can be a real maintenance problem!)
Obviously, if you are not an active member of Legio XX, you can use a different color scheme, or use elements of our emblem to make a different design. Ours is one of the many designs shown on Trajan's Column, since it is not known what emblem the original Legio XX used. Many reenactors make the wings much larger than shown in Roman artwork, crowding the other design elements out of place.
RIM--Most popular is a brass rim. Originally it was decorative rather than heavy and protective, c. .015" thick. Corners can be made from 6" lengths of 1/2" to 3/4" tube--mark a 12" length of tube to be bent and cut into 2 corner pieces, but don't cut in half until after it is bent. (The 12" lengths of K&S brand hobby brass tube are best for this; the longer tubes available from other metal dealers are too thick to bend to a tight corner.) Anneal the section where the bends will be, pack the tube with sand (tape the ends shut), and bend one-third to halfway with a spring-type pipe-bender. Remove from the bender, dump the sand, re-anneal, and repeat the packing and bending until it reaches a right angle. Once both bends are done, cut the tube in two at the center mark. Now on each corner cut a strip about 1/2" wide out of the inside of the curve with Dremel tool or snips (this will remove most of the puckers), leaving the full circumference for about 3/4" at each end to form the nailing tabs. File the cut edges and flatten the edges a little bit if necessary, and trim the tabs to shape. Finally, pickle the brass in vinegar and water (50/50) for a few minutes, rinse clean, dry thoroughly, and buff or polish to a bright finish. Once all four corners are done, decide where each one will go and put them in place. (Don't worry too much if they don't all match!) The corner of the scutum may need to be trimmed to match the bend of the rim corner piece. Nail the rim corners on with brass escutcheon pins or similar steel brads, clenched at back, or use flat headed rivets.
For the top and bottom use either a single piece of tube, or several pieces (with small overlaps for security) if necessary. The longer lengths of heavy-walled tubing from Online Metals or other dealers are good for the top and bottom, and do not need to be annealed or packed with sand before bending.
Once the corners and top and bottom are done, the sides are easy, using .015" brass sheet. Measure the distance between the corner pieces and determine how far apart the tabs will be (4" to 6"). The width including the tabs will be 2" at most. (Make a paper mockup if you are not sure.) Each side can be done in several pieces with overlaps, if only small sheets of brass are available, or get a 6"x100" roll of .015" Shim brass from one of the dealers on the Suppliers page. Draw and cut out the pieces with snips, and file. The strips can be bent into shape by hand, even directly onto the shield edge, without annealing. They will have a tendency to twist and curve outwards somewhat, and will have to be forced into place as you nail or rivet them in place. The sides can also be made from tube like the top and bottom.
There is an excellent tutorial on Scutum Edging from Legio VI Victrix here: http://www.florentius.com/scutumedging.htm
If you doubt your ability to do a nice job on a brass rim, use leather or rawhide--1-1/2" to 2" wide strips STITCHED on. Start by gluing the strips in place, clamping with spring-type clothes pins and wood or cardboard shims. Cut the corner pieces to match the curve and avoid puckering at the front, or for square corners simply cut 45 degree "mitres" at front and back. Then use a 1/16" drill bit to drill the stitching holes, 1/4" to 1/2" apart, 1/4" to 1/2" in from edge. Use heavy linen thread to do a running stitch or double-stitch, all the way around. (This sounds laborious but is much quicker and easier than a brass rim!) The leather rim can be painted or dyed, red, black, or yellow.
Another option is a rimless shield--make the front covering large enough to fold over the edge to the back, and glue or stitch in place. Fabric edges should be turned neatly under at back. One advantage of a rimless shield is that a leather or metal rim can be added in the future, if desired.
At right, detail of rim corners, from the back. Click on image for a larger view. Note tabs on brass rim with clenched nails. These can also be peened like rivets.
The leather facing of a "rimless" shield is also shown, stitched with 3/8" stitches. A regular leather rim will also look like this.
BOSS: 18 to 12-ga. brass or steel, 4-1/2" to 5" diameter dome on rectangular base from 8" square to 10"x11". (If the scutum is to be used for any sort of staged or competitive combat, the boss will need to be thicker than 18-gauge.) To make a boss: Cut a 5" diameter hole in 2 or 3 scraps of thick plywood and glue/screw together, or a piece of 2x8 lumber, or gouge a hole into the end of a stump or large log. Dish the metal into the hole with a large ball-peen hammer. Start at the center and work outwards in a slow spiral, then repeat until dome is at least 1-1/2" deep. The metal can be annealed for easier working. Dishing may also be done into a sandbag (old blue jeans leg filled with sand and tied at both ends), or directly into the ground. After dishing, rest the dome on a large hammerhead or similar object (inside the boss) and go over the outside with a small hammer to plannish (smooth) out the dents. The edges of the base will stay straighter if dishing is done before the base is curved to match the shield. Finish by sanding with finer and finer sandpaper, and buffing for brass or bronze. The boss may have punched, engraved, or inlaid decoration, and may be tinned or silvered. (Click here for more hints on metalworking.)
Rivet the boss in place with 4 to 8 steel or brass nails or carriage bolts, using square washers or nuts at the back. (Do not use hex nuts or hex bolts!) Some filing or sanding may be needed to keep the head from looking too modern. Cut off any excess bolt shank and peen down over the nut like a rivet. Line up the holes carefully to go through the back bracing--this will reinforce the handle.
Optional corner "L"s on the shield's face--Brass or steel c. .015" thick, 4"x4", 3/4" wide. They are aligned with the corners of the back bracing and are riveted on with brass or steel nails, 3 or 5 each. (Lightning bolts may be shortened to fit.)
Optional carrying strap--heavy leather 1-1/4" to 2" wide. Secure ends to boss rivets or directly to grip. The exact form and use of a carrying strap is debated--modern experiments are contradictory! Fayum shield had iron rings on the back, and an iron shield handle from Newstead has loops, possibly for strap attachments.
Republican oval scuta, 2nd to 1st century BC. Matthew Amt's at left, based on the Fayum scutum but it came out too squarish (and apparently a little narrow). Mike Cope's at right, made by Tom Kolb, much nicer shape and leather covered, with steel boss by Stallari Armory. (These 2 photos by Marsh Wise.)
Roger Moskey's parma, made by Tom Kolb, carried by standard bearers and musicians. These are seen on Trajan's Column and later artwork, though shields used by standard bearers in the first century may more often have been larger ovals more like an auxiliary shield.
Polybius' description, mid-2nd century BC: Curved, layered wood, covered with leather and linen. Top and bottom rimmed with metal, iron boss. Four feet tall, 2-1/2 feet wide (in the early oval shape).
Fayum shield, 1st cent. BC: Curved oval, 52"x25". Three layers of birch strips, totalling c. 1/2" thick at the middle, c. 3/8" at the edges. Wooden "spine" boss, horizontal handgrip. Front and back covered with felt which is folded over the edges and stitched through the wood. Weight, 22 pounds.
Dura Europas Scutum, c. 250 AD: Curved rectangle c. 41"x33", quite deep, with square corners. Three layers of wood strips totalling 1/4" thick overall. Wood back bracing, "half-round", middle horizontal brace thickened to form grip. Front and back covered with thin leather, and front has additional layer of fabric between leather and wood. Leather or hide rim stitched on. Whole shield painted red, and front heavily decorated with intricate painted designs and figures. Boss missing, but had rectangular base. Total weight c. 12 pounds.
A second scutum from Dura Europas, less well-preserved, is 37"x25".
Doncaster shield, 1st century AD: Apparently flat rectangle with slightly convex top and bottom edges, roughly 2'x4'. Three layers of oak and elder, covered with hide. Bronze boss with round flange, iron handle wrapped with leather, possibly vertical rather than horizontal. Weight 20+ pounds. For a drawing of the metallic remains, http://www.vicus.org.uk/images/bits%20from%20the%20doncaster%20shield.gif. A reconstruction which might be somewhat imaginative, http://www.vicus.org.uk/images/doncaster%20reconstruction.gif.
Tyne Boss, 1st cent. AD: Brass; hemispherical dome on rectangular base 10"x10-1/2", curved to radius of c. 18". Decorated with punched and engraved designs. Iron bosses of same shape also known.
Brass rim pieces, found on numerous 1st cent. sites: thin metal (less than 1/32"), so purpose was cosmetic rather than defensive. Dimensions show that the scutum edge was c. 1/4" thick.
Oval shield covers from Valkenburg indicate shield sizes of about 42"x23", plus fragments showing widths of 23" and 16"! The Caerleon shield cover (second century AD) was for an oval shield as large as 45"x26". It is not known if these shields were flat or curved.
Other finds: Thin metal stars, moons, lightning bolts; thin cast bronze motifs with flat backs and rivet holes; fragments of leather from shield facings or covers with stitch holes in decorative patterns.
There are numerous depictions of the scutum from the 1st century, but some details are still unclear. It is most often rectangular, but sometimes has curved sides. Sometimes corner "L"s are visible: those and other features could have been applied or painted. From the few colored illustrations that survive, it seems that shields were often red.