Length: 77.700 cm
Room 50: Britain and Europe
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The Battersea Shield
Iron Age, 350-50 BC
Found in the River Thames at Battersea Bridge, London, England
A shield for show and sacrifice?
The Battersea shield was not made for serious warfare. It is too short to provide sensible protection. The thin metal sheet and the complicated decoration would be easily destroyed if the shield was hit by a sword or spear. Instead, it was probably made for flamboyant display. The highly polished bronze and glinting red glass would have made for a great spectacle. It was finally thrown or placed in the River Thames, where many weapons were offered as sacrifices in the Bronze Age and Iron Age.
Iron Age shields are not commonly found. Those shields excavated from Iron Age burials were made of wood, sometimes covered with leather. They have very few metal parts. The Battersea shield is not in fact a complete shield, but only the facing, a metal cover that was attached to the front of wooden shield. It is made from different parts of sheet bronze, held together with bronze rivets and enclosed in a binding strip. All the rivets are hidden by overlaps between different components where the panels and roundels were originally attached to the organic backing.
All of the decoration is concentrated in the three roundels. A high domed boss in the middle of the central roundel is over where the handle was underneath. The La Tène-style decoration is made using the repoussé technique, emphasized with engraving and stippling. The overall design is highlighted with twenty-seven framed studs of red enamel (opaque red glass) in four different sizes, the largest set at the centre of the boss.
I.M. Stead, The Battersea Shield (London, The British Museum Press, 1985)
S. James and V. Rigby, Britain and the Celtic Iron Ag (London, The British Museum Press, 1997)
R. Bradley, A passage of arms (Cambridge University Press, 1990)