North African Shield

Item TB01

This Item was Sold on 18 February 2008 for $249

Similar artifacts for sale are often found on the African Artifacts web page. 

Historical Pricing information for this item and similar artifacts can be found at: Historical Artifact Prices.

This artifact is an old fighting shield from North East Africa, possibly Ethiopia. This shield is large and circular and made out of a thick animal hide. The original owner told me that it was made out of rhino hide. Nearly identical shields have been sold with claims that the material was Elephant (ear), Hippopotamus, Rhinoceros or Water Buffalo. Diameter = 49.5 cm ; Weight = 1664 gm. This item is essentially complete and in excellent condition. There are a few pierced holes in the perimeter that could have missing decorative tassels or Lion's Main hair. There are a large number of incised grooves covering the entire outer surface, the detail of which is shown in the background of the photo below. The June 1925 National Geographic has a picture of a man holding a shield that looks very similar to this one. The caption says "The shield is of Rhinoceros hide and is a traditional emblem of rank". It appears to be an officer's shield from Abyssinia which is now part of Ethiopia. These shields typically sell for more than $500 in antiquity shops and art galleries.

Special note about this shield: The Ethiopians are not tribal but break down into social groups, the Amhara being the leaders and the Galla representing the populace. They are Muslims who fought the English and Italians for more than 50 years. The first great leader was the Mad Mathi, then the Mad Mullah in the teens and early 20's. The soldiers who carried these shields were known to the English as the Fuzzy Wuzzies because of their elaborate teased hair. They were fierce warriors and the only ones to break the square of the Royal Highlanders. That event and the circumstances surrounding it are the subject of a current movie "Three Feathers". Attachments of lion main were a symbol of bravery. This shield is easily datable to the the early 20th century and likely to the 19th.

The following descriptions (and photographs) are for nearly identical shields that were found on other web sites:

Description No. 1 - "I was told that this African War Shield was made from an elephant's ear. It measures approximately 22" round. Material is black with an impressed design in the hide. This is a heavy piece and has hardened very well with age." (note: This shield sold for $500.)

Description No. 2 - "Very Old African Rhinoceros Hide Shield - This is a shield in very nice condition. This is made out of rhinoceros hide probably pre World War 2. I have a June 1925 National Geographic , with a very clear picture of a man holding a shield that looks like its twin. The caption below the picture says "The shield is of rhinoceros hide and is a traditional emblem of rank". It appears to be an officer's shield from Abyssinia which is now Ethiopia." (note: This shield sold for $600.)

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