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A shield bearer was usually a lightly armored soldier who often accompanied a soldier of a higher rank with a protective shield. Thus commanders were often protected by several shield bearers. Other examples are range weapon soldiers with shield bearers such as archers (Hittite chariot archers), Sparabaras, crossbowmen (pavise) or early gunners (Hussite Wars).
In the Greek army, shield bearers armed with swords fought alongside phalanxes to protect their unguarded right flank. Greek shield bearers were unarmored except for a helmet, and carried a shield and sword (or in some cases, a spear instead).
The Spartan hoplites developed larger hoplite shields when the Macedonian phalanx came up. A shield bearer carried it on the march. In combat he served among the light armed troops, usually as slinger.