Soldiers in Western Europe had been using shield in battlefield combat as early as the period of antiquity. This tradition continued into the medieval period where shields remained a vital part of the soldiers’ defence during combat.
The shields used by soldiers in different centuries of medieval Europe reflected the prevalent military needs and trends of the period. For instance, while the earlier shields used by medieval soldiers were larger in size, they had grown short by the 12th century.
Specialised shields such as large, fixable shields used by archers also became popular in the medieval period. Wood was the most common material used in the construction of soldiers’ shields especially because wood was inexpensive to use and soldiers typically came of humble origins, so they could easily afford such shields.
A pavise was a special type of shield which was used by crossbowmen during the medieval period. Crossbowmen typically required some time to reload their weapon after discharging it and they sought refuge behind a pavise while reloading the weapon.
This type of shield had a convex design and was fairly large in size so that a crossbowman could easily crouch behind it and be safe from an incoming volley of arrows. A notable feature of the pavise was that it could adjusted and set up on rough ground with the help of an attached spike, eliminating the need for a soldier to support it with one arm.
A Targe was a popular type of shield used by the infantry soldiers from 13th to 16th centuries. The earliest use of a targe shield by infantry soldiers can be traced back to medieval Spain. The overall design of the shield was such that it was easy for an infantry soldier to carry it while being of such a make that it could withstand an opponent’s weapon effectively.
The basic design comprised of a large concave shape which was either made from iron or wood reinforced with iron plates. The inside of a targe included two enarmes, one fixed as a hand-grip and the other adjustable so that it could be conveniently attached along the forearm. Apart from the Iberian Peninsula, the targe also remained a popular type of shield in late medieval Scotland.
The Heater shield was a type of shield that came to be used by medieval soldiers from 12th century onwards. The shield was popular among all parts of medieval society, and soldiers especially preferred it for its light-weight and sturdy design combined with a highly inexpensive construction.
The basic design of a heater shield resembled the typical escutcheon of heraldry. The shield itself was made from wood in the case of inexpensive models, or from iron or other metals. The small size of the shield made it easy to carry and swing. It also came with an additional strap which allowed the user of the shield to sling it over the back when not using it.
Soldiers in the early medieval period typically referred to such warriors who fought on foot, typically of common origins. By the late medieval period, specialised types of soldiers such as archers and crossbowmen had become a regular part of battlefield combat. Shields used by soldiers during the medieval period reflected this evolution directly.