The Carolingians were the pre-eminent military power in the Western Europe after the fall of the Roman Empire. The military might of the Carolingians was based on the fact that their soldiers were very well-armed and carried high-quality weapons and armour.
A key part of a Carolingian soldier’s armour was the shield which was critically essential for use in the battlefield at a time when lances and spears were the foremost combat weapons. Acknowledging the significance of the availability of good shields for successful warfare, Carolingian rulers took special care to ensure that their soldiers were well-supplied with ample shields.
Shields were used by both the cavalrymen and infantrymen in a Carolingian army. This came to be due to the fact that Carolingian shields were very inexpensive and even common soldiers could easily afford them, using them for some basic defence on the battlefield. Compared to the Carolingian helmet, for instance, the Carolingian shield costs 1/6th of the helmet’s price. So while many footmen couldn’t afford helmets like the mounted warriors, they chose to own a shield.
Due to the widespread use of shield by all Carolingian troops, it became the most vital defensive armour for Carolingian armies. Consequently, Carolingian monarchs such as Charlemagne specifically ordered different monasteries to include a definite number of shields in their annual tribute to the crown.
Charlemagne also ordered the availability of shield-makers in all districts of his Empire. Later Carolingian monarchs went so far as to order the inclusion of shield-makers on military campaigns. This ensured that should the troops come in need of replacing their shields or using new shields, they would have shield-makers at hand to supply them new shields without any delays. On protracted military campaigns, such a measure was particularly useful.
Very few extant historical sources convey any information about the shape and size of Carolingian shields. According to these sources, the regular Carolingian shield was typically round and concave in shape, being as large as 0.8 meters in diameter.
An interesting feature of the round Carolingian shields was the use of a sugarloaf boss on the centre which served to deflect the blows of an opponent and also as a pointed weapon in its own might. It is important to note here that the design and shape of the Carolingian shields was significantly influenced by Anglo-Saxon and Viking shields.
Carolingian shields were usually constructed from wood with additional materials such as leather or metal to enhance the strength of the basic wood structure. In some cases, radial arcs were used on the front of the shield. These arcs were often pieces of metal strips which were used to significantly reinforce the wood base.
Some Carolingian shields also made use of metal rims running around the perimeter of the shields and fixed in place by rivets, making the shields stronger and more able to withstand blows from an opponent’s weapon. The backside of the Carolingian shields featured a fixed handle used as an arm-mount during combat and a strap which was used by the soldiers to carry the shield across their shoulders when not in use.