Dada a extensão deste artigo, achei por bem publicar as versões inglesa e portuguesa em separado. Para a versão portuguesa, cliquem aqui.
A symbol of both conflict and cultural exchange. Simple and plain, but also noble and ornamented. A piece of military equipment, a token of leisurely pursuits. The adarga is all of this, and much more. This article will take a long look at this unique 15th century Iberian shield.
Description and Origins
The adarga, whose name derives from the Arabic word daraq (meaning shield) , is a piece of equipment created by the Berbers, typical of the Maghreb and used extensively by them in Northern Africa and in the Iberian Peninsula. It is a light shield, ‘made out of cow, onager or antelope hide, not wood’ , unlike European shields; panels of hide which would then be glued together and stitched, and potentially hardened as well. The adarga features a rear handle with two small leather straps, to be grasped in one’s fist. The anchor points for these these straps to the body of the adarga are usually covered by decorative tassels and/or bosses.
Though the first peninsular daraq were circular , the shield we’d unequivocally come to call adarga seems to have been created sometime during the 13th century. Those first adargas were approximately heart-shaped, long and tapering towards the bottom. The first and best depictions of this type of adarga can be found in the Cantigas de Santa Maria of King Alfonso X of Castile, from the mid 1200s (see above). They include every typical element of the adarga: the shape, the decorative tassels and bosses, and the traditional colour scheme – whites and reds – with which the outer faces of the adargas were painted .
We don’t exactly know what prompted a change in the adarga’s shape, but somewhere in the beginning of the 14th century they became bi-oval, or bivalve , a morphology which they’d retain until they disappeared in the 18th century.
Along with the azagaia (light spear), the adarga was one of the trademark pieces of equipment of Moorish cavalry in the Iberian Peninsula, an integral part of the Iberian Muslim arsenal until the fall of the Nasrid kingdom of Granada in 1492. One of the oldest adargas (if not the oldest) that have survived up to the present day is a beautiful Nasrid adarga, probably taken as a war trophy after the conquest of Granada, which ended up at the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna. The back of the piece – visible only to the warrior holding it – is profusely decorated with the arabesques and geometric patterns so typical of Muslim art, coupled with an invocation of Allah running along the entire edge. This specimen goes a long way to show that, despite its outward simplicity, the Muslim adarga could in certain cases (and in certain classes) be a rich, highly decorated work of art , as much as any Christian shield or the era.
The Christian Adarga
It is difficult to pinpoint when the adarga was adopted by the Christian kingdoms. Judging by some contemporary iconography (see the example to the right), it seems more than fair to state that there was ‘an acculturation of the adarga in Christian military equipment, particularly from the end of the 14th century onwards’ [my translation] . It’s likely that this process began in the eastern side of the Peninsula – in areas of close contact with Granada – and spread west. Given that most of these adargas are included in depictions of saints, however, it’s hard to accurately gauge the use of adarga by the Christian kingdoms of the Peninsula. Who used them in that early stage, and how? Where were they made? Impossible to say, at this point. To see the adarga in use by the common soldiery, in Castilian and Aragonese art, we have to reach the middle of the century.
More flexible than its wooden counterpart, ‘the adarga was chosen, above all, because of how light and how easy to carry around it was, which allowed the infantry greater mobility without sacrificing defence. It is popular among the soldiers who use it and prefer it for being simple, effective and cheap’ [my translation] . In spite of the morphological similarity, Christian iconography suggests two minor changes to the Christian adarga. The first is a lack of decorative tassels/bosses – not total, but very frequent. The second, much more significant change is the way the adarga is held: along with the customary hand grip, plenty of 15th and 16th century show enlarged handles, wide enough to allow the adargas to be as braced much like wooden shields – with one strap fixed around the arm and another held by the hand; and padding for the forearm . We can see adargas being held in this fashion in the Portuguese painting Saint James fighting the Moors (to the right) or The Betrayal of Christ by Fernando Gallego (ca. 1460-1488). In the Resurrection of the eight-panel textile set known as the Sargas de Oña, from the monastery of San Salvador de Oña in Spain, we can even spot a completely novel, much more European way of holding the adarga, with the straps spaced apart along the shield’s vertical axis. What the adarga lost in freewheeling mobility (one of its greatest assets), it might’ve gained in stability.
This is the shape – without or without its adaptations – with which the adarga became the archetypal shield of the ginete (a light cavalry corps which had itself been adapted from Muslim cavalry in the Peninsula and North Africa). From altarpieces to murals to high reliefs in the Alhambra of Charles V, the adarga was enshrined as one of the most distinctive military symbols of 15th century Iberia.
The Arms of the ‘Other’
But the adarga is also a quintessential element in any depiction of Nasrid and Moorish soldiers. ‘These pieces, in the overwhelming majority of cases, serve as the principal means used by artists to draw a distinction between Christian and Muslim armies. For, if it is true that Moorish armies resort to other types of defences, these are not shown in iconographic sources. Only adargas are ever included, except for the paintings of the Conquest of Majorca and some characters from the Pastrana Tapestries’ [my translation] .
There is also a tendency, from the mid-15th century to the mid-16th century, to include adargas in portrayals of sleeping soldiers in the Resurrection of Christ or scenes of the lives of saints (see examples above). This tendency is present in Iberian and Flemish painting both. Apart from the aforementioned Verfremdungseffket, the adarga is employed as a visual sign of ‘exoticism’ or ‘archaism’, common to other foreign or obsolete pieces of equipment. This role might very well be connected with its Muslim origins: the adarga is the symbol of the ‘infidel’, of the ‘enemy of Christ’, and, therefore, applicable (along with other symbols) to the Romans in biblical scenes, or to the enemies of Christendom in general. To a trained observer, the adarga is a clear indicator of a character’s function/role in a scene.
It is important to note that, contrary to popular belief, the adarga was not totally unknown beyond the Pyrenees. Proof of that is its presence in foreign iconography , particularly Flemish  (not surprising given the commercial and cultural ties between Iberia and Burgundy). That having been said, as a piece of equipment in and of itself, the adarga seems to have been anything but popular outside the Iberian Peninsula.
“Proues cousas”? – The Adarga in Portugal
In Portugal, the adarga is a bit of a contradiction. It is peculiar to see how 15th century Portuguese chronicles refer to them – badly and poorly, both literally and figuratively. References to the adarga can be counted by the fingers of one’s hand: five instances in total, one in the Chronicle of D. João I and four in the Chronicle of Dom Duarte de Meneses . In one of these references, the adarga is part of a set of armaments discarded by the Moors, an ensemble of ‘proues cousas’ [poor things] , worthless weaponry. Paulo Agostinho makes use of this scarcity in references, and particular this last remark in particular, to affirm the ‘little worth that common adargas would have in the eyes of the Portuguese’ [my translation] . Similarly, in her study of the Pastrana Tapestries, Inês Araújo pointed out that ‘References to adarga in 15th century Portuguese chronicles are scarce (…) In the 1455 Letter of Quittance of Lisbon’s Royal Arsenal, too, there were no records of any adarga. Does this mean that the Portuguese army hardly used adargas?’ [my translation] 
An odd statement by Paulo Agostinho, an interesting question by Inês Araújo. The answer to both is suggested by other elements – iconography, on the one hand, and documentary sources, on the other. First, in addition to its strong presence in Castilian and Aragonese iconography, the adarga turns up in many of the scant few pieces of 15th and early 16th century Portuguese art which have survived to the present day – the Pastrana Tapestries, of course, but also the magnificent Santa Clara Triptych, the frescoes of Santa Marinha, or the Resurrection of Christ by Gregório Lopes. They appear in biblical settings, it is true, but they do so alongside regular European equipment – that is, without a pronounced Verfremdungseffekt, which suggests how commonplace they were in Portugal.
Perhaps more important than that, adargas turn up in municipal laws (e.g. an explicit mention in a municipal decree from Porto, from June 29, 1475 ) and local inventories of arms and armour (as is the case of the two adargas owned by inhabitants of the town of Redinha ca. 1545, listed in the Caderno das Armas que se acharam na villa da Redinha e seu termo ). The (admittedly fragmentary) picture painted by these elements indicates how common adargas were in Portuguese daily life – and, therefore, how common they were in the battlefield. Their absence in the 1455 Letter of Quittance may be due to another factor: however useful it might’ve been, the adarga meant for war was still a ‘proue cousa’ – an expendable, light, cheap piece of equipment, kept at home for any emergency – unlike regular shields and pavises, better stored in arsenals and armouries.
And speaking of shields: the adarga might also have influenced the old European shield, since the Tapestries show several heart-shaped shields, as well as a few adargas. A bizarre continuity, itself a potencial line of research.
And yet, in spite of all this, the adarga seems to have been completely discarded by the Portuguese in the mid-16th century. I have little in the way of an answer as to why. In Spain, it was kept in use for several centuries , mainly in the Spanish domains in the New World, where it became one of the customary accoutrements of Spanish light cavalry .
Apart from being used in war, the adarga was also employed in martial and equestrian games – the so-called jogos de canas or juegos de cañas  – from the 15th to the 18th centuries. This might be the reason why so many adargas still remain in Real Armería de Madrid. The canas, as they were known this side of the border, were a game of two teams, Christians against Moors, each appropriately dressed as such. Both teams, on horseback, would throw reed (canas) spears at their opponents, which would have to be deflected with the adarga . It was an extremely popular game in Portugal: ‘There were canas in D. Leonor’s wedding, in 1450, as well as in prince D. Afonso’s, in 1490; and in many other festivities’ .
The popularity of the canas ensured their survival well into the 18th century – and, by extension, that of the adarga. Though by that time Moorish costumes had been discarded, there are several adargas in the Museu dos Coches in Lisbon and in the Real Armería of Madrid which confirm how long-lived the adarga really was, practically unchanged since the 15th century.
The Adarga in Reenactment
Adargas are rather rare in reenactment – (proper) materials are expensive, particularly for Iberian reenactors. Which is why most attempts at creating them tend to make use of the same principles as modern shields – a plywood blank cut into shape and some leather around the edges to make the whole thing look plausible. This is, of course, completely and utterly wrong. An adarga is made of leather, and nothing else. Tampering with that fact destroys the way the object is supposed to behave, and its validity as a historical piece.
In creating proper adargas, particular attention must be given to the hides (not leather), to the shape and harness of the piece. In spite of its intended flexibility, an adarga isn’t supposed to look like it was made out of jelly, wobbling all over the place.
 According to Nickel, H. (2014). “About the Adarga: A shield of two faiths, three continents, four cultures and seven centuries”. In La Rocca, D. (Ed.). The Armorer’s Art: Essays in Honor of Stuart Pyhrr. Woonsocket: Mowbray Publishing, p. 13. There are other etymologycal roots to consider, all of them Arabic. See Agostinho, P. (2012). Vestidos para matar: o armamento de guerra na cronística portuguesa de quatrocentos. Coimbra: Imprensa da Universidade de Coimbra, p. 46.
 ‘Feito em pele de vaca, ónagro ou antílope, e não em madeira,’ in Araújo, I. (2012). As Tapeçarias de Pastrana – Uma Iconografia da Guerra. Lisboa: Faculdade de Letras da Universidade de Lisboa [Master’s Thesis], p. 116. I can’t help but point out the early 16th century iron adarga in New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art (29.158.583). We don’t exactly know what its origin or purpose was, but given its weight it would hardly have been usable in battle. Considering the remnants of fabric still attached to it, it is quite possible that it was a tournament or ceremonial adarga, a conclusion supported by Helmut Nickel’s article, amongst others.
 ‘This first adargas were circular, as we can see represented in some twelve century codex like the Biblia de León and the Beato de Gerona. During the thirteenth century the name is maintained but the shield loses its rounded shape and is made of two oval plates or ellipses with their longer sides overlapping, as represented in the Cantigas de Santa Maria ( 1281- 84 )’ in Salazar, T. (January 25 2006). “The Feather Adarga of Philip II and the Escorial Miter”. In Nuevo Mundo Mundos Nuevos [Online], Workshops. Retrieved from http://journals.openedition.org/nuevomundo/1468 ; DOI : 10.4000/nuevomundo.1468
 In addition to the brown or yellowish tones of the hides, typical Muslim adargas were ‘usually bleached white and occasionally stained red’ in Nickel, H. (2014), op. cit., p. 14. This consistent colour scheme was retained even in Christian depictions of the Grenadian equipment – as seen, for example, in Nicolás Francés’s Ecce Homo (ca. 1434).
 Soler del Campo, Á. (2000). “El Armamento Medival Islâmico en la Península Ibérica”. In Barroca, M. E Monteiro, J. (Coords.) (2000) Pera Guerrejar. Armamento Medieval no Espaço Português. Palmela: Câmara Municipal de Palmela, p. 30.
 Gomes Eanes de Zurara, the 15th century chronicler, tells us that, after a skirmish between D. Duarte de Meneses’ men and a few Moors, the Christian soldiers captured ‘XX horses with many valuable accoutrements: swords, terçados, saddles, bridles, adargas, garments, all of them special, for, apart from those who showed [their richness] from the outside, even the girths had silverwork in them‘ [my translation] (‘.xx. cauallos com outros muytos arreos de grande ualor .s. spadas, terçados, sellas, freos, dargas, roupas, todo cousas specyaaes, por que nom soomente em aquellas que parecyam de fora, mas ainda nos ferros das cilhas eram achados lauores de prata’), in Zurara, G. (2012). Crónica de D. Duarte de Meneses. Edições Vercial, p. 170.
 ‘ (…) uma aculturação da adarga no equipamento militar cristão, sobretudo, a partir de finais do século XIV,’ in Araújo, I. (2015). “Um imaginário bélico da baixa idade média: modelos de representação do guerreiro muçulmano na iconografia ibérica”. In Hamsa. Journal of Judaic and Islamic Studies, 2, p. 39. Retrieved from http://www.hamsa.cidehus.uevora.pt/hamsa_n2/publications_n2/03Imaginario_belico.pdf
 ‘(…) a eleição da adarga está ligada, sobretudo, ao seu peso ligeiro e fácil transporte, o que permitia à infantaria maior mobilidade mas sem prescindir de defesa. É popular entre os soldados que a usam e preferem, por ser simples, eficaz e pouco dispendiosa,’ in Araújo, I. (2012), op. cit., pp. 116-117.
 ‘Old habits die hard, though, and these adargas “taken over” by Christians have their handgrips spaced apart so that the fighter could slip his forearm at the wrist into the left loop and hold on to the one on the right with his fist. This way, by not grasping both loops together in the Moorish fashion, he achieved the Western time-honored “braced” position for the attack with couched lance, but gave up the flexibility the defense with an adarga would have offered. In the universal military mindset, tradition always wins over practicality,’ in Nickel, H. (2014), op. cit., p. 18. Regarding this, see also Fallows, N. (2010). Jousting in Medieval and Renaissance Iberia, p. 277-278.
 Araújo, I. (2015), op. cit., p. 39.
 Notably the picturesque adargas, painted with normal European charges and symbols, wielded by a few men-at-arms on a ship in the manuscript Conquête et conquerants des Iles Canarie, ca. 1405 (BL Egerton 2709). The French manuscript shows the 1402 expedition of Jean de Bettencourt, a Norman nobleman, to the Canary Islands. The Norman expedition stopped in Galicia and Cadiz on its way to the islands to resupply – and perhaps purchase some equipment, including a few adargas.
 The Flemish painter Hans Memling seems to have been particularly fascinated by adarga: it turns up in Scenes from the Passion of Christ (ca. 1470; Turin: Sabauda Gallery), Advent and Triumph of Christ (ca. 1480; Munich: Alte Pinakothek), Triptych of the Resurrection (ca. 1490; Paris: Musée du Louvre) and the Greverade Triptych (ca. 1491; Lübeck: St. Annen-Museum).
 Agostinho, P. (2012). Vestidos para matar: o armamento de guerra na cronística portuguesa de quatrocentos. Coimbra: Imprensa da Universidade de Coimbra, p. 46.
 Idem, ibidem, p. 48.
 Araújo, I. (2012), op. cit., p. 117.
 Barcareno, H. (1979). “A manutenção da ordem pública no Porto quatrocentista”. Em Revista de História, 02, 1979, p. 368. Retrieved from https://repositorio-aberto.up.pt/handle/10216/13186
 Duarte, L. (2000). “Armas de Guerra em Tempo de Paz”, in Barroca, M. J. e Monteiro, J. G. (Coords.) (2000). Pera Guerrejar – Armamento Medieval no Espaço Português. Palmela: Câmara Municipal de Palmela, pp. 189-190.
 According to the Diccionario de la lengua castellana of 1726: ‘A certain type of shield made of duplicate [layers of] hides, glued and stitched together, in an almost oval shape, and some heart-shaped: on the inside, it has two handles in the middle, the first one is for the left arm to enter through, and the second one is held by hand. They were used in the war against the Moors by soldiers with spear on horse. Even until recently this militia was preserved in Oran, Melilla and the coast of Granada, and today it is preserved in the Plaza de Ceuta, although in smaller numbers than before. The adarga was meant to ward off blows of the enemy’s spear. It is an Arabic term, and comes from the word Adarraq, which means holding a shield’ [my translation] (‘Cierto género de escudo compuesto de duplicados cueros, engrudados y cosidos unos con otros, de figura cuasi oval, y algunos de la de un corazón: por la parte interior tiene en el medio dos alas, la primera entra en el brazo izquierdo, y la segunda se empuña con la mano. Usábanlas antiguamente en la guerra contra los moros los soldados de a caballo de lanza. Y aún hasta poco a esta parte se conservaba esta milicia en Orán, Melilla y costa de Granada, y hoy día se conserva en la plaza de Ceuta, aunque en menor número que antes. Servía la adarga para guarecerse de los golpes de la lanza del enemigo. Es voz arábiga, y viene de la palabra Adarraq, que vale embrazar el escudo’). Retrieved from http://web.frl.es/DA.html
 ‘They were in America from the very first moment because of their light weight. However, it’s important to draw attention to its use in the 18th century as part of the prescribed equipment used by Mexican dragoon corps (…) The weaponry and composition of these [cavalry] corps had been fixed by two regulations of 1729 and 1772, in which the leather adarga was included as a defencive weapon.These adargas had undergone a substantial change, because they were smaller and flattened but maintained the original bibal form. The Spanish coat of arms filled most of their outer faces’ [my translation] (‘En América fueron utilizadas desde los primeros momentos porsu ligereza. Sin embargo es importante llamarla atención sobre su uso en el siglo XVIII como arma reglamentaria por los cuerpos de presidiaes mejicanos. (…) El armamento y composición de estos cuerpos había sido fijado por sendos reglamentos de 1729 y 1772 en los que se recurría a la adarga de cuero como arma defensiva. Estas adargas habían experimentado un cambio sustancial por ser más pequeñas y achatadas pero mantenían la forma bibalva original. En el exterior ostentaban el escudo de España cubriendo la mayor parte del campo’). In Soler del Campo, A. (2006). “Notas sobre las adargas de la Real Armería: de Al-Andalus a America”. In Al-Ândalus : espaço de mudança : balanço de 25 anos de história e arqueologia medievais : homenagem a Juan Zozaya Stabel-Hansen. Mértola : Campo Arqueológico de Mértola, p. 224.
 About the juego de cañas, see Hernan Chacón’s instructions, in excerpts taken from his Tratado de la cavalleria de la gineta (1551), in Fallows, N. (2010). Jousting in Medieval and Renaissance Iberia. Suffolk, United Kingdom: Boydell Press, pp. 503-508; and also Truan, J., Orthus, M. (2012). “El Juego de Cañas en España”. In Recorde: Revista de História do Esporte Artigo, 5 (1), pp. 1-23. I would point out I do not agree with the latter’s opinion regarding the origins of the cañas in the juegos troyanos. The gap between the supposed original sport and the medieval canas is far too big to be believable.
 ‘[Adargas] purposefully made for cañas must be big, hard from the middle to the top and soft from the middle downwards, so it can bend over the horse’s flanks. The handle in the middle must have two enarmes and a grip and an strap coming from the shoulder, with its buckle to shorten and lengthen it. They are made of cardboard and reeds, by way of edging, with which they’re decorated, and have to have twenty edges around outside, and they’re also covered [with hides?] twice. The adargas are painted gold, and silver on the inside; they look better like white steel…’ [my translation] (‘La más a propósito para cañas ha de ser grande, de medio arriba tiesa y de medio abajo blanda porque se pueda doblar sobre el anca del caballo. La embrazadura en medio de ella y ha de tener dos brazales y una manija y un fiador que venga desde el hombro como tahalí, con su hebilla para acortar y alargar. Se hacen de cartones y de junquillos, a modo de ribetes, de que se guarnecen y han de tener veinte bordes a la redonda por fuera de guarnición y también las suelen forrar de dos antes. Doran las adargas y las platean por dentro; parecen mejor de hierro blancas…’), in de Leguina, E. (1912). Glosario de voces de armería. Madrid: Librería de Felipe Rodríguez,. p. 46
 ‘Houve canas no casamento da D. Leonor, em 1450, como as houve no do príncipe D. Afonso, em 1490, e em muitas outras festividades,’ Oliveira Marques, A. (2010). A Sociedade Medieval Portuguesa – Aspectos do Quotidiano. Lisboa: Esfera dos Livros, p. 231.
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(ca. 1475). Assault on Asilah [wool and silk]. Tapestry. Pastrana: Parish Tapestry Museum. Retrieved from http://tapestries.flandesenhispania.org/index.php/Siege_of_Asilah_(Cerco_de_Arcila)
(ca. 1475). Disembarkation on Asilah [wool and silk]. Tapestry. Pastrana: Parish Tapestry Museum. Retrieved from http://tapestries.flandesenhispania.org/index.php/Disembarkation_in_Asilah_(Desembarco_en_Arcila)
(ca. 1475). Siege of Asilah [wool and silk]. Tapestry. Pastrana: Parish Tapestry Museum. Retrieved from http://tapestries.flandesenhispania.org/index.php/Assault_on_Asilah_(Asalto_de_Arcila)
(ca. 1475). The Taking of Tangier [wool and silk]. Tapestry. Pastrana: Parish Tapestry Museum. Retrieved from http://tapestries.flandesenhispania.org/index.php/The_taking_of_Tangier_(Toma_de_T%C3%A1nger)
Anonymous (end of the 15th century – beginning of the 16th century). Fresco in the church of Santa Marinha [fresco]. Vila Marim: Church of Santa Marinha
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Breviary of Martin of Aragon (ca. 1398-1403). Paris: Bibliothèque nationale de France, BNF Rothschild 2529.
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Master of the Cité des Dames (ca. 1405). Conquête et les conquérants des Iles Canaries. Oxford: Bodleian Library, Egerton 2709
Vergós, P. (ca. 1491-1492). Saint Stephen Altarpiece [tempera on wood]. Barcelona: Museo Nacional de Arte de Cataluña
My thanks to James Arlen Gillaspie, who kindly provided me with a copy of Helmut Nickel’s invaluable essay; to Santiago de la Peña Miravalles and Martim Gervais, whose keen interest in adargas helped stimulate my own research; and to Sueiro Seisdedos, for his fantastic work in reproducing these pieces.