Shields, a defensive weapon mentioned in the poem Beowulf, include a variety of compositions from wood to iron; and this is wholly in accord with archaeological finds. There are a considerable number of references to shields in the poem, making this topic a very relevant one to consider.
“Weapons could be heirlooms, and royal treasuries and armories still preserve arms and weapons from earlier days, so imagination in this area need not be confined to contemporary artifacts (304),” says Catherine M. Hills in “Beowulf and Archaeology.” Before turning to the archaeological evidence, let’s look at the Beowulf poem, where one finds copious references to shields. As Beowulf and his party approach the Danish land:
From high on a wall the Scylding watchman
whose duty it was to guard the sea-cliffs
saw glinting shield-bosses passed hand to hand
down the gangplank, an army’s war-gear (229-32)
The Scylding watchman is still talking:
Never more openly have warriors landed
when carrying shields, and you have no leave
from our men of battle, agreement with kinsmen (244-6)
Beowulf explains to the ship-guard:
We come with good heart to the land of the Danes,
to seek out your lord, the son of Healfdene,
shield of the people (267-9)
By the time the Geats arrived at Heorot, they were tired and had to sit down:
The sea-weary men set their broad shields,
spell-hardened rims, against the high wall,
eased down on benches (325-27)
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... – the Sutton Hoo ShipBurial.” In Beowulf: The Donaldson Translation, edited by Joseph F. Tuso. New York, W.W.Norton and Co.: 1975
Chickering, Howell D.. Beowulf A dual-Language Edition. New York: Anchor Books, 1977.
Clark, George. Beowulf. Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1990.
Cramp, Rosemary. “Beowulf and Archaeology.” In TheBeowulf Poet, edited by Donald K. Fry. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1968.
Hills, Catherine M. “Beowulf and Archaeology.” In A Beowulf Handbook, edited by Robert Bjork and John D. Niles. Lincoln, Nebraska: Uiversity of Nebraska Press, 1997.
“Shields.” The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed. New York: Columbia University Press, 2000. www.bartleby.com/65/.
Stanley, E.G.. “Beowulf.” In The Beowulf Reader, edited by Peter S. Baker. New York: Garland Publishing, 2000.
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