Full Version: Shield boss dating / typology
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I've never seen a typology for dating Roman shield bosses. It may well be that I'm just ignorant....but does one exist?


wow, that's a good question. I think I've come across one about 'germanic' bosses in the past, but I'm not sure about a 'Roman' one. (and can't remember where I found that one)
That would be interesting. I'm getting curious about how/when the trends went from the "barleycorn" of the old repbulic to round and squareish boss flanges in later times. I wonder what the percentage of those two would by expected. Seems like the default is round, usually with 4 rivets. I couldn't begin to know where to look for the data. My history books are not nearly specific enough for things like that. I'd love to be kept posted on the progress, though.
Never date your boss. Ever. :wink:
:!: :lol:
I haven't ever heard of a strict typology, but I think it is generally accepted that there is a recognised progression from barleycorn boss to butterfly boss, then to oval bosses with provision for a possible spina. Next would come oval bosses without provision for a spina and round bosses (the latter continuing throughout), followed by square flanged bosses, embossed round bosses and then inscribed bosses. After this I suspect it would be a bit vague. I appreciate that this is a bit simplistic and there would always be a degree of overlap.
I don't know if anyone has done any sort of more detailed typology.

Peronis may know more about this than me.

So given that, Crispvs, it would be reasonable for a 1st C BC/AD soldier to have a round boss flange, whether on a clipeus or scutum?
Well, it's hardly my area of specialisation, but I would guess that round bosses would be suitable for clipeii of the first century AD (although I am always very wary of dealing in full centuries rather than quarter centuries) but for the previous century I am not sure. I believe there might be some evidence for some Gallic and British shields having wooden bosses with a metal 'butterfly' much like the Roman version. I am led to believe that at the beginning of the first century BC a scutum might have had a barleycorn boss and spina, and that this may have been supplimented by the metal 'butterfly' (possibly adopted from Gallic or Celt-Iberian warrior). Over the course of the first century BC it may be that the 'butterfly' was widened until it completely surrounded the wooden boss or replaced it completely. Shields probably still had spinae at the time. By the early first century AD these oval bosses, often with open ends to accommodate spinae or re-inforcing bars, may have been standard (although the spina was probably far less common by then) and at some time during the first century AD the square flanged boss seems to have developed and become the normal type of boss for the curved scutum. Of course, this might still be too simplistic and there were probably significant exceptions to what I have suggested. Take a look at C. Valerivs Crispvs for example. He dates to sometime near the end of the first century AD I believe. Does his shield have a square boss or a butterfly boss? I am not sure myself. ... Itemid,94/

I hope this is of some help and I hope that it contains at least a shred of accuracy somewhere.

Robert-brilliant Big Grin

And in addition, Crispus, there's the issue of decoration and embossing. Does a decorated shield boss only come in later, and than fall away in the fourth century, or is it something that was also in the first century for those that could afford it?
Well, I am hardly in command of all of the evidence for shields, but I thought I recalled C. Valerius Crispvs having what looked like an embossed shield boss, although I can't see this in Gaham's drawing so I may be thinking of another stone. By the early second century AD decorated bosses seem to have been common. We have the two Lego VIII decorated bosses from the early second century and C. Castricius Victor appears to have an embossed boss (although it could be damage to the stone). Then there are a number of elaborately embossed bosses from other second century contexts (and I might be right in thinking that these also continue into the third century AD). Elaborate inscribed decoration also appears on second and third century AD bosses.

I am not sure about later bosses. Robert is probably better qualified to comment on them.

As to affordability, this is something I have problems with. I do not subscribe to the idea that Roman soldiers were equipped to the level that each individual was comfortable with or could afford. I feel rather that equipment was probably made in workshops with army contracts and supplied directly to units, which would then issue it to soldiers and make deductions from their pay to recoup the cost.
Further equipment would have been obtained during campaigns, as captured towns and cities were set to the task of making equipment for occupying armies, and many of these items would have ended up going back into unit stores later on.

To this we could almost certainly add a small percentage of privately purchased or commissioned equipment. The Terentius letters make it clear that people (at least those with existing military connections) could obtain military equipment privately so it seems likely that as well as workshops which worked according to army contracts there were probably other workshops which produced for what we might call an open market. How many soldiers felt the need to purchase new equipment is open to question and of those, how many needed to go outside their units' own stores is also open to question. Pliny the Elder suggests that soldiers were buying 'flashy' items of kit but many of these may have been made in their own unit workshops, as most forts show evidence workshops where casting and other metalworking activities.

There have also been suggestions that some soldiers may have added decoration to their equipment. Some items from Hod Hill have been suggested to be locally made additions for existing scabbards and the Herculaneum soldier's scabbard featured a metallic decoration which overlaid the original decoration, Further evidence that some soldiers upgraded their equipment comes in the form of a type 'B' dagger sheath plate from Mainz which is decorated on both sides, one being a slightly earlier style and the other being more 'up to date'.

It is also obvious that it would have been possible to replace a shield boss quite easily as the evidence points to their being attached with clenched nails rather then rivets. However, this may have been to allow bosses to be able to be removed from damaged shields and then attached to new shields. A reasonable number of surviving bosses do have names punched or inscribed into them but this does not have to mean that they were privately purchased, as this could have been done while a boss was already on a shield.

Does this help at all?

Quote:However, this may have been to allow bosses to be able to be removed from damaged shields and then attached to new shields.
I'm pretty sure this was the case. The wooden part of the shield was sure to get damaged by someone with a sharp, heavy thing trying to get past the shield to the guy behind it. There would be no reason to discard the boss unless it were cut through. A dent can be knocked out from the back side with a tool, probably without even removing it from the shield.

There's the case of the valiant injured centurion in Gallic Wars, whose scutum was marked by over 150 hits in one battle. I can imagine that shield being retired to the trophy room, and the soldier's being issued a new wood blank. Wasn't the Dura Europa scutum found without a boss?
Unless I am mistaken, all of them were, apart from the ones in the mine, where instead only the bosses themselves survived.

That would lend some credence to the bosses being removed whenever a shield was retired, wouldn't it?
Retrieving this old thread, i am just now making some research (doubts arise everywhere) about Republican bosses. Accepting the general cronology, we know that Roman shields were probably using butterfly umbos by the II century BC. There are examples that are clearly Roman in Spain (surely the umbos of La Almoina -1st half of I century BC-, probably La Azucarera -II century BC- and La Caridad, and maybe Le Corts de Ampurias and Castro de Alvarhellos). But... has ever been found an umbo clearly associated with Roman findings before the II century BC? Does someone know if there is any finding from the III century BC in the Italian peninsula? Has ever been found a butterfly umbo associated to Roman milites (non celtic) in Italy? I have read some umbos were found in Telamon, but i am not sure where i've read this!
Hello Eduardo!
that's a tough question…
Maybe the Telamone shield that you remember is one of 4 shields found in the “Genio Militare” depot in Talamone (Grosseto). There – in the XIX century - were found a depot of almost 40 ‘miniaturistic objects’, most of them are weapons and work-tools. The depot is dated 3rd – 2nd century BC (a Nauheim-type brooch fix the terminus post quem in the second half of the 2nd century BC).

Four little bronze shields appear: one oval, one ‘quadrangular/trapezoidal’ and two circular. All have the ‘spina’ and a circular one have also a butterfly umbo.
The two circular shields (cavalry shields ?) are similar to the one on the Lucius Aemilius Paullus monument and to the one represented on a silver Denarius of C. Servilius Vatia.

It is hardly to reconstruct the exact provenience of this objects or witch type of military equipment are represented, even if the presence of the roman ‘scutum’ and two ‘pila’ suggest the roman one…

Hope can be useful!
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