Diameter: 56.000 cm
Collected by Sir Richard Rivington Holmes
Africa, Oceania, Americas
Hide shield with velvet and silverwork, with a lion's mane pendant
From Ethiopia, Africa, mid-19th century AD
A mark of the distinction and courage of the owner
Within the Christian empire of northern and central Ethiopia, shields and their elaborate decorations were marks of the distinction and courage of their owners. Following the unification of the empire in the mid-nineteenth century, the Emperor of Ethiopia would give the Rases (governors) of certain regions shields covered in velvet and silver decorations in recognition of their honour in battle.
Increased trade with Europe, India and China at this time meant that luxury materials became much more easily available. Silver and, in the late nineteenth century, gold, were much favoured by governors and chiefs; the precious metals denoted their status and pride as a warrior. Lion's manes were the main forms of shield attachments. Several pieces, sewn together, covered the central section of the shield and were suspended below the shield's rim.
A warrior's shield was always covered in a red cotton cloth on the march. During an important discussion a young boy would hold his master's unveiled shield behind him; the richness of its decoration would add weight to his argument by reminding the other person of his status.
C.J. Spring, African arms and armour (London, The British Museum Press, 1993)