On January 18th 1935, Clark Hopkins, the field director at Dura-Europos, found three painted shields stacked on top of each other during an excavation. The shields, which date back to shortly before AD 256 and which were abandoned when Dura-Europos was sacked by the Sassanians, were in good condition with much of the painting still visible.
The city of Dura-Europos was located on the Euphrates and had a strategic importance due to its elevated position. The siege and subsequent capture of the city is known exclusively through archaeological evidence as there are no surviving written sources. The siege techniques used by the Sassanids at that time are often cited as the earliest example of chemical warfare (sulfur dioxide). The city was part of the Roman Empire since 165 AD and was located near the border with the Parthian Empire, and later the newly established Sassanid Empire. A garrison of soldiers, the Cohors XX Palmyrenorum and the Cohors II Ulpia equitata moved into the city and a large area was transformed into a military camp. The Sassanid king Shapur I. began a second campaign against the Roman Empire in 252 and plundered Antioch on the Orontes River, one of the most significant cities of the empire. Dura Europos also fell during the war, traditionally dated to 256, evidenced by a coin found on a soldier who died during the siege dated to that year.
The ancient shield has been beautifully restored in digital 3D using available data from the Yale University Art Gallery and Herbert J. Gute’s watercolor painting, “Wooden Shield Painted with Scenes from the Trojan War”. Though some parts of the shield were damaged and missing, particularly the lower left, these gaps were filled in using the existing figures to create a seamless recreation.
Image Left: Yale University Art Gallery
The Homeric shield is one of three oval painted shields that were discovered during the excavations of Dura-Europos. It is believed to depict two scenes from the Trojan War: the admission of the Trojan horse into Troy, and the subsequent sack of the city. It is considered a rare example of Roman painting on wood, and one of the very few Roman painted wooden shields to have survived from antiquity. Unfortunately, the shield has now deteriorated to a point where the detail is not discernible to the naked eye, due to the unintended adverse effects of a binding agent applied to the shield in the 1930s in the hopes of preserving the pigmentation.