Oh for the good old days! Or not?

Andrej Abplanalp

Andrej Abplanalp

Historian and communications chief of the Swiss National Museum.

Some people insist that everything was better in the good old days. And it is true that this battle shield–the oldest of its kind that survives–was once resplendent with bright colours. Analysis has shown that what we see as a greyish green today was a vibrant blue 800 years ago, and that the dull-coloured lion used to be covered with shiny silver leaf. The shield belonged to the noble house of Brienz, which had feudal rights on the route to the Gotthard in what is today the canton of Uri. When its owner, the knight Arnold von Brienz, died in 1225, the shield was hung above his last restingplace as a memorial to the deceased, and thus the valuable artefact was preserved for posterity.

The notches, holes, and gashes in the shield bear witness to the brutal reality of medieval battlefields.

Battle shield, c. 1200, from the woman's convent of Seedorf. Photos: Swiss National Museum

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