Shield of hoplon type

Greek
Archaic Period
550–500 B.C.


Catalogue Raisonné

Sculpture in Stone and Bronze (MFA), no. 118.

Dimensions

Overall: 11.5 x 81.5 cm (4 1/2 x 32 1/16in.) Thickness of bronze sheeting: 0.5 mm in average

Accession Number

1971.285

Medium or Technique

Bronze

On View

Gallery 212A-B

Collections

The Ancient World

Classifications

Armor

The primary materials that make up a Greek shield (aspis) are perishable and often do not survive. This bronze sheeting would have covered a wooden (probably poplar or willow) core, reconstructed here, that consisted of wooden laths with the grain oriented horizontally. The bronze layer is quite thin. Other examples only measure .5 mm thick.
A very thin layer of leather would have coated the inside wooden surface of a shield, along with a central bronze arm strap (porpax), which partially survives, and bronze attachment hardware, which would have held leather straps for the hand-hold (antilabe) or for hanging. The two straps allow the soldier to hold a heavier shield (without knowing the thickness of the wood, the best estimate is 15-17 pounds), but it is less maneuverable than a single strap shield. The most important bronze element of a hoplite shield is the rim (itys), which was attached separately and bound the exterior layer to the core. It is decorated with a complex guilloche pattern (relief hammered onto it using a die) and a row of dots (relief added with an impression roller). Perhaps the points of encrustation at the center of the shield are the remains of the attachments for a blazon or boss.

The shield band is decorated with figural reliefs on either side of the opening for the arm. The most legible shows a large seated male nude holding his hand to his forehead and a clothed woman reaching her arms out to him. This most likely represents Achilles met by his mother Thetis, and although it doesn’t precisely match a scene in the Illiad, it could engage with Homeric multiforms.His gesture represents mourning; it was typical of women originally but Achilles adopts it when weeping over Briseis or Patroclus.
The other two narrative scenes depict a figure holding two circular objects and a combat scene. Parallels can be found on the shield bands from Olympia and Delphi, and the former may depict Theseus and Ariadne with lyre and wreath It is not likely that one program following the life of Achilles decorated the whole band, as all of the complete bands have variable subjects throughout.

Provenance

By 1971: with Münzen und Medaillen, A.G., Malzgasse 25, Basel, Switzerland (according to the firm's invoice of April 25, 1971: purchased from a private person in Switzerland); purchased by MFA from Münzen und Medaillen, A.G., September 15, 1971

Credit Line

Helen and Alice Colburn Fund