Asking this for a more realistic view for ''rising of the shield hero' and possible uses in future writings. A shield is not a weapon, it is basically armor, that's why heavy armored knights rarely used shield and that's why hoplites didn't wear armor on their torso and upper legs, because the shield was just enough to cover almost the entire body.

When compared to body armor shields have advantages and also disadvantages, they are usually too heavy to be held on one arm by the average unfit person and soldiers were trained for tactics on how to kill and how to stay alive, not for strength but this had the advantages of lower cost when compared to armor and the ability to be moved around.

But so far I can't find a possible, hypothetical real life situation where wielding nothing but a shield as weapon is a good strategy.

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    $\begingroup$ At the risk of sounding glib given the millennia of human warfare it seems if the shield was an effective weapon then there would be plenty of historical evidence of them being used that way. But that's not to say you could not contrive a way it might be done that would be entertaining. $\endgroup$ – dhinson919 Jan 9 at 14:55
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    $\begingroup$ Let's mention Jon Snow vs Ramsay Bolton showdown in season 6 of Game of Thrones. $\endgroup$ – Alexander Jan 9 at 17:33
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    $\begingroup$ Also see: Shield Knight from the popular game Shovel Knight, or google "greatshield build dark souls" and see how they tackle the problem. In both games, they're best coupled with another person who can attack from behind the person who is a dedicated guard. $\endgroup$ – Erin B Jan 9 at 21:50
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    $\begingroup$ A shield is only "basically armor" in Hollywood. In actual combat, it was just as much a weapon as whatever you were holding in your other hand. $\endgroup$ – Mark Jan 9 at 22:33

11 Answers 11


Contrary to a lot of people's belief, shields were used as both an offensive and defensive weapon.

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Shield attack video

However your problem is reach and penetration. You can bash an unarmored opponent with a shield fairly effectively or just barge into them with it. However a sword or mace will have more reach and penetrating power than your shield, and a spear or pole arm will be massively more.

There's a reason shield-only fighting was never really a thing. You want your weapon to have some combination of reach, speed, precision and penetrating power. Shields are not good at many of those things.

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    $\begingroup$ Shadiversity.... ^^ $\endgroup$ – nijineko Jan 9 at 16:58
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    $\begingroup$ A hit from a Spartan shield would send you flying, crush bone, and pretty much kill you in a single blow. It's a giant blunt object that is durable, and frequently has a small edge to focus the impact. So I agree completely, a shield is also a weapon, sometimes an extremely effective one. $\endgroup$ – Trevor D Jan 9 at 17:46
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    $\begingroup$ Don't get me wrong i agree that shields are great weapons, I'm only stating a combination of different weapons is much more efficient. $\endgroup$ – GaboSampaio Jan 9 at 18:01
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    $\begingroup$ @GaboSampaio It's a gamble on the spear user, thrust and risk hitting the shield, or wait for the shield barer to run you over with the shield. A spear was a great weapon for getting over a shield, so it is an appropriate comparison. $\endgroup$ – Trevor D Jan 9 at 18:01
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    $\begingroup$ @GaboSampaio Your objections are covered explicitly in the last two paragraphs. I really have no idea why you're repeating their content in comments. But your objections do not change the historicity of offensive shield use. Even if it's less than ideal, combat is a messy business full of unexpected situations. $\endgroup$ – jpmc26 Jan 9 at 23:05

While this might sound offensive (believe me, it's not), try watching the Marvel movies that feature Captain America:

  • Captain America: The First Avenger
  • The Avengers
  • Captain America: The Winter Soldier
  • The Avengers: Age of Ultron
  • Captain America: Civil War
  • The Avengers: Infinity War

I love watching his action scenes. They're actually quite creative as to what one can do with a shield. Of course we're both talking about an indestructible shield and basically a super human - but this is fiction. Why not, right?

Here's a link to a 12 minute video that shows him in action.

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    $\begingroup$ This answer may be improved by adding links to videos of some of the fight scenes. What you're referencing is helpful, but "try watching 12 hours of movies" isn't quite so helpful. $\endgroup$ – scohe001 Jan 9 at 16:42
  • $\begingroup$ You're absolutely right. Sorry about that. I don't have the time to look for that now 'cause I'm at work. But I'll edit this to make it even better. Thanks for the suggestion. $\endgroup$ – Magus Jan 9 at 16:55
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    $\begingroup$ His shield is also somehow a combination of a Frisbee and a boomerang. Very unrealistic :) $\endgroup$ – Trevor D Jan 9 at 17:49
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    $\begingroup$ As long as we're on the topic of movie fiction, have a look at some of the "frisbee battles" from the (original) Tron movie (represantative clip). $\endgroup$ – KlaymenDK Jan 9 at 18:49
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    $\begingroup$ Tron is truly awesome - and a great reference to have here. You also reminded me of the clash between Achiles and Hector in Troy. Achiles uses the shield in a very amazing way in that fight clip $\endgroup$ – Magus Jan 9 at 19:11

I've seen others comment on how the shield was used as an effective secondary weapon (and it was and would still be). However, since the question is "how can shield only combat be a good idea?" - I will add some real-life historical examples of how people tried (and in one case kinda succeeded) in using the "shield" as both weapon and defense:

Lantern Shields

These we know were real and actually used in at least one duel/street fight, in standard sword/buckler style, and are described as shields whose light was cast only forwards by their being made with an iron plate on that side towards the holders, so that their bodies remained in darkness, had not only the advantage of seeing him when he could not see them, but also dazzled and offended his eyes with the many near lights, which made him mistake those objects that dimly he discerned.

However, there are some weird combinations of these that not only had a place for a lantern but were covered in blades:

sword, gauntlet, lantern, and shield

The above is a real piece from the 16th century, currently at the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna

Sword Shields

Yeah, why use a sword and shield when you can have both in one convenient package:

target with extendable sword yes the blade is extendable. yes, this means that the weapon in assasin's creed actually has some basis in reality

Gun Shield

Okay, there was a point in history where it seemed like they were trying to put a gun in everything. The odd part is though this one "failed" as a hand-held weapon (it honestly can work but I'd hate to try and aim it) - it did have some success as mounted anti-personnel weapons on ships and was a precursor to some modern riot shields and our modern mounted gun shields:

gun shield

Italy, circa 1540 - Higgins Armory Museum

To add to the idea of gun shields, though modern versions are more a shield with a gun mounted behind it. At least one science fiction show, about a mad man in a blue box, has thought of how it could be adapted in the future to actually be more like its 15-16th century ancestor:

Dr.Who Gun Shield

It's all about the combinations

This is certainly stretching the idea of "shield only combat" but all of these are first and foremost shields. So if we allow an extending of the idea of shield only combat to include combination weapons (and use a little hand-waving to bypass the flaws) - its certainly possible.

  • $\begingroup$ +1 for Tom Baker. $\endgroup$ – dhinson919 Jan 11 at 13:20
  • $\begingroup$ @dhinson919 if anyone was going to figure out a way to make a shield a weapon - it would have to be that Doctor :) $\endgroup$ – JGreenwell Jan 11 at 13:28

Less-lethal combat

A shield isn't just armour. The shield boss is a big lump of metal that can be used for bludgeoning. It's also for shoving while in a shield wall.

Your primary use would be riot and general crowd control, rather than combat. Situations where you don't actually want a bloodbath.

  • $\begingroup$ He asked for a realistic view. Is there historical evidence that shields have been used in combat for bludgeoning? $\endgroup$ – dhinson919 Jan 9 at 14:56
  • $\begingroup$ @dhinson919, it's a standard use of a buckler $\endgroup$ – Separatrix Jan 9 at 15:03
  • $\begingroup$ Bucklers are for "shield only" combat? $\endgroup$ – dhinson919 Jan 9 at 15:08
  • $\begingroup$ @dhinson919, a buckler is a small shield. I'm not sure what you're getting at here. $\endgroup$ – Separatrix Jan 9 at 15:19
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    $\begingroup$ I think you're adding in more qualifications than necessary here. The answer is clear enough about what a Shield only Combat style would be used for. Other answers already point out the Shield + Bash, Attack, Slam as being used. If you're suggesting this answer should provide an effective shield fighting style (on par with weapon + shield or weapon fighting style) simply put that won't happen as there's no historical context for that (other answers show this). However, Shield Walls have been and are still used in the applications provided. And believe me, there's plenty of shield bashes there. $\endgroup$ – GuidingOlive Jan 9 at 19:38

Unlike in Holywood movies, melee weapons break when they get banged against other weapons and shields. Fight a long enough battle and you will be left without a weapon, not due to choice but because that's the reality of combat.

Until you can get a weapon from someone else who's out of combat, you will probably have only a shield. If you happen to face an enemy in such a situation, you have no other option but to use the shield.

Here is an example of how to use a shield as a weapon, taken from a famous TV show (warning graphic violence):

Tyrion is my second favorite character, right after Arya

  • $\begingroup$ makes sense enough. $\endgroup$ – Hedwiros Jan 9 at 16:06

Additionally to Tim B.'s very good answer about 'usual' and JGreenwell's covering of 'not-so-usual' shields there is a third category: duel shields!.

They were made for and used as weapons in duels and a form of martial arts was formed around their usage.

On the other hand there was also a wide variety of weapons (mostly daggers) for the explicit purpose of parrying attacks.

In other words: What is a "shield" and what is a "weapon" strongly depends on the context.

I think it certainly is possible to design combat around shields. But keep in mind that the "weapon + shield" combat or the "weapon + defensive weapon" or even a "one weapons suits it all" approach is the result of centuries of developement. Many lost their lives trying something new...

Thanks to JGreenwell! for posting this link: dueling shield manual

It gives a great insight in how dueling shields were used.

  • $\begingroup$ gah! I was looking for those as part of my answer but just couldn't find them (duel shields kept giving me bucklers) - props for that but I did, finally, find a translated copy of one of the manuscripts which started this strange tourney art <- if your interested or want to add it to post $\endgroup$ – JGreenwell Jan 11 at 1:18
  • $\begingroup$ @JGreenwell : Thank you very much! My search for "duel shields" yielded only the pictures and videos I posted above but not the manual I was looking for. You found exactly what I had searched for. I added it to my answer, thanks for posting it! $\endgroup$ – Patric Hartmann Jan 11 at 8:47

You mean like dual-wielding shield? Or One Shield only?

Long Story short: Not realy.

There is no place in history evidencing dual wielding shield or shield only warfare. Someone with a sword (wich wasn't as used as one might think) spears were the most efficient and used weapon, cheaper, VERY effective, you would kill someone with a shield before the shield wilder could even reach you, yeah he may be able to defend against your spear, but for how long? Most people would have a buckler instead of a big shield, than buckler and sword, would be good for moving around on a daily bases.

Of course people would use shields for battles but that'd have their main weapon a side arm, very important people would have a shield bearer, POSSIBLY those shield bearers would use only shields for battles. But a sword and shield would be way more effective, a chair and a shield would be effective, a stone would be used in battle.

There is a reason we have swords, shields, spears in most cultures.

  • $\begingroup$ Spears did not guarantee you could kill someone with a shield, getting around a shield is hard with a spear at distance, and a shield wielder does not stay far away they close the distance, the spear wielder really only gets one shot. Which as why shield and spear together were used as often as sword and shield. $\endgroup$ – John Jan 10 at 16:51

Shield only, single combat? No, that's like playing a life-gaining deck in MTG: there's no way for you to win except by concession of your opponent; lame.

As part of a phalanx it makes perfect sense. First rank shields, second rank swords, third rank spears.

Spears poke anyone too close. Get closer and the shields part so the swords can cut you down. Re-close shield wall. All advance one step. Repeat.

To see this in action go watch the first battle (~45min) in the movie 300. Those shields are too small; imagine them full body size and you probably would need to use both hands. You'd likely have at least a dagger, but your only job is to literally hold the line. If you go down, so do the two others behind you.

  • $\begingroup$ Actually I won quite a few times in magic the gathering with life gaining decks when I used to play it. $\endgroup$ – Hedwiros Jan 9 at 19:26
  • $\begingroup$ @Hedwiros - Because they ran out of cards, or you cast a 20p fireball? $\endgroup$ – Mazura Jan 9 at 19:28

I don't know of any historical combat scenarios, but this is Worldbuilding, so:

Shield-only combat facilitates nonlethal combat, which could be used for ceremonious combat, such as challenges for leadership, et cetera. I imagine also it could be similar to types of wrestling, where the shields are used to knock opponents off their feet. It could be useful, as others have mentioned, when there is no other option in real combat. And using only a shield does allow one to carry a second shield for extra defense. Or both hands to increase movement potential.

Possibly, the wielder believes lethal force is immoral and as such only uses the weapon of defense. Also possible would be that the shield needs two hands to operate.

  • $\begingroup$ A ceremonial combat between two people competing for a prestigious title, lets say like a paladins shield bearer, a kings "high defender" or some other ceremonial defensive title. They are to utilize the tool of their desired position. $\endgroup$ – Sonvar Jan 10 at 5:13
  • $\begingroup$ Shield-only combat allows nonlethal combat I disagree - pretty much anything used as a weapon can kill. If you instead mean that using a shield makes non-lethal combat possible, then consider that people fight with real swords to this day without dying. It's called fencing. So any weapon can also be used non-lethally (or rather less-lethaly). $\endgroup$ – vlaz Jan 10 at 8:22
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    $\begingroup$ Not to forget that some shields were explicitely made to kill (cf. the video linked in my answer and here: youtube.com/watch?v=z9VG4ClQcJk&feature=youtu.be&t=107 ). Whether or not combat ends lethally almost entirely depends on the combattants (accidents can also happen). $\endgroup$ – Patric Hartmann Jan 10 at 11:02
  • $\begingroup$ Fine, @vlaz, but it sure is harder to accidentally kill someone with a shield than with other weapons. It seems rather intuitive to me that it would be better to use sheilds for non-lethal combat than swords. $\endgroup$ – user45266 Jan 10 at 18:20
  • $\begingroup$ @user45266 or box. Or wrestle. Or sumo. Or fence. Or play laser tag. We have lots of alternatives to using shields IRL. The fact that we are not using shields in formal nonlethal fights goes to show that it's not a preferred implement of choice. Your words make it seem like shields are either the only way to do that or that shields can never kill. Both of these are wrong as we can observe in the real world where we have shields. And this is what I disagreed with. $\endgroup$ – vlaz Jan 10 at 20:39

It appears from your question, you are focusing on only single combat even if those singles are in a group. Carrying only a shield or only a weapon was a strong tactic of groups, but is single combat, one usually held one of each for good reason.

While it is possible and is historically proven by several answers here, it is ill advised. If you lose your shield due to damage or disarming, you've lost both your offense and defense.

Back in the day, there wasn't a Stack Exchange so folks had to try to build the one-offs in the hope of gaining an advantage or at least providing a distraction with the novelty.


Using a shield VS a two handed weapon is a trade off between better reach and offence, and more balanced offence/defence.

Your shield-hero could be someone who cares mainly about defence. Huge, pavise-like shields that an ally could hide behind too might develop in an open world that favours ranged encounters, where you can probably see the enemy long before getting the chance to get in mêlée range; in which case missile protection is your biggest concern.

Their offensive capability, then, would rely on moving in a testudo-like formation to advance under fire. If/when they get close, these are going to be your biggest strongest troops so would likely be able to push back enemy lines, or force a breach.

Either way you'd require a counterpart troop, either a shooter or long-pointy-stick-stabber. While your shield-warriors are great at protection, they would lack the actual damage output capability to be effective alone.

Brave are those who charge to the fore with their fortress shields, claiming ground in enemy range.

Strong are those who push back the tide of flesh.

Revered are those who make the ultimate sacrifice, holding until death so that many can flee


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