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A pavise (or pavis, pabys, or pavesen, all of them words stemming from the name of the city of Pavia, in Italy) is a large convex shield of European origin used to protect the entire body. The pavise was also made in a smaller version for hand-to-hand combat and for wearing on the back of men-at-arms. It is characterized by its prominent central ridge. The concept of using a shield to cover an archer dates to at least to the writing of Homer's Iliad, where Ajax uses his shield to cover his half-brother Teucer, an archer, while he would "peer round" and shoot arrows.
The pavise was primarily used by archers and crossbowmen in the medieval period, particularly during sieges. It was carried by a pavisier, usually an archer, or, especially for the larger ones, by a groom. The pavise was held in place by the pavisier or sometimes deployed in the ground with a spike attached to the bottom. While reloading their weapons, crossbowmen would crouch behind them to shelter against incoming missile attacks.
Pavises were often painted with the coat of arms of the town where they were made, and sometimes stored in the town arsenal for when the town came under attack. Religious icons such as St. Barbara and St. George were featured on the front of pavises. Even the Hussite chalice was featured on pavises during the Hussite Wars. Most pavises were covered in a coarse, carpet base like canvas, before being painted with oil and egg-based paints. Only 200 or so exist today but many were present in the period.
A related term, pavisade or pavesade, refers to a decorative row of shields or a band of canvas hung around a sailing vessel to prevent an opponent from observing the activities of those on board and to discourage boarding.
- Cf. Book VIII
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- 15th Century Pavises (myArmoury.com forum topic)
- The Shield: An Abridged History of its Use and Development (myArmoury.com article)
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