THE BATTERSEA SHIELD
London, Bronze, first century bc
This is one of the most celebrated examples of metalwork from Iron Age Britian. Constructed from four pieces of bronze attached to a wooden base and would originally have been gilded. This has now vanished, but the pieces of red glass decorating the studs and the finely hatched metal swastikas give us some idea of the dazzling impression it must once have made. In true Celtic fashion, the curvilinear design appears abstract but hints of figuration can soon be detected. The spirals connecting the three roundels, for example, have been interpreted as bulls or oxen with elaborate curved horns.
Magnicient though it is, the shield would not have been sturdy enough for battle, and the luxurious design confirms that its true purpose was ceremonial. The fact that it was recovered from the Thames also suggests that it was used as a votive offering, to placate local deities. Similar items have been retrieved from the river.