Amhara Shield, Ethiopia

, 19th-20th century

Hide, metal

Diam. 14 1/2 in. (Diam. 39.2 cm)


About this object

Shields can be found across the African continent in an impressive variety of materials, forms, and decorative motifs. They are often artistically remarkable, and held special social importance. Shields were used not just in warfare, where their markings differentiated participants and indicated military rank and social status, but also in training and rites of passage. The combination of shapes and motifs “related to their function as prestige objects, symbols of personal and tribal identification, and adjuncts to certain dances and ceremonies.” (Ginzberg: 152)

This shield is an outstanding example of the intricacy and attention to detail and aesthetics that many African shields display. Most are made of wood, wicker, or hide, or much more rarely of metal. East African shields were typically round in form and made from thick hide, as is this example; the addition of fine silver decoration was a unique development among Ethiopian royal courts (Royal Collection Trust). The example in the Bët-bi collection features pewter, a much less valuable metal than silver, but the decorative motifs nonetheless create a uniquely pleasing display. Such shields were often used on parade or by chiefs for prestige. The conical shape and exquisite metal enhancements are known particularly among the Amhara, a people indigenous to the northwest Highlands of Ethiopia.

Royal Collection Trust. “Shield 19th century.” Explore the collection. Accessed May 3, 2023.

Marc Ginzberg. African Forms. Milan, Italy: Skira, 2000: 152, 170.