Hello, I was wondering if it would be possible for a man’s armor to weigh him down enough to cause him to drown? Like of he were on a ship and was wearing really heavy armor, and he fell off the ship would be be unable to float
The short answer seems to be: yes, though that’s not really a full answer.
Generally speaking, the position is you can’t swim in full plate, and this appears to be mostly true. The extra weight and lack of articulation mean it will be much harder for you to break surface. In deep water, for example during a naval engagement, this is likely a death sentence.
Worth noting that full plate, usually, only weighed around 70 pounds at the most. (Your average full plate combatant would be wearing around 50lbs of armor.) It was entirely possible for someone wearing this to recover after being knocked down, and while there is some impaired mobility, the wearer still has plenty of freedom to actually fight, and move around their environment. Heavy armor doesn’t mean you’re trapped like a bug, if you fall over.
The weight is a factor. Any extra weight will reduce buoyancy, and making swimming much more difficult. Plate armor is quite capable of weighing you down, to the point that it really is possible (if dangerous) to walk along the bottom, while wearing heavy armor.
I’m aware of testing in the last decade, where someone attempted to swim in armor, and the results were mixed. He could, barely, and was unable to break the surface from a depth of 12ft (roughly 4m). Now, it’s possible that someone who was fully accustomed to fighting in plate may do better, but you’re still looking at a situation where your combatant would lose energy much faster, may not be able to tread water, and if they sank, would probably die.
Plate armor also limits articulation. This isn’t to the extent that it will prevent someone to get back up if they fall, but, it does cause problems with swimming. It limits your range of motion, and slows everything down a little, which has a severely detrimental effect if you’re trying to keep your head above water. So, it’s possible to swim for short distances (though, I think all of the credible reports involve knights simply walking along the bottom, and climbing out.)
Though it’s not surprising, water is not good for armor, and salt water is particularly corrosive. Just sea spray alone would seriously rust up your character’s armor long before they saw combat. This is still an issue today, and part of why most navies used gold for their rank insignia. Gold does not corrode, meaning their insignia would survive sea conditions, where most metals would not.
The other thing is, until relatively recently, armor, beyond a breastplate, was pretty uncommon shipboard. They may have some armor, sealed away below decks, being maintained for when they made landfall, but they wouldn’t wear it, even in combat. Again, the exception may be a light breast plate, and helmet, but someone trudging around in full armor would be far less safe than someone in a shirt and coat.
Even if your character wears full armor when they’re on land, they’d probably store it below, while at sea, and carefully clean it at every opportunity.
Somewhat unrelated, but also worth knowing that, historically, it was a pain to transport horses by water. Historically, this was accomplished by placing the animal in a canvas sling, to support its weight, and prevent them from being injured by the movement of the boat (or ship), while at sea. Apparently, even under the best of circumstances, sea travel was extremely stressful for the horses, and the resulting mortality rate was high. While I don’t have any hard information, I can’t imagine that many of the animals would survive if the ship came under enemy fire.
Looping back, it’s not impossible for someone to swim with 50lbs of extra weight distributed across their body, but that will require they’re a strong swimmer. It’s not impossible for someone to swim with impaired range of motion, but that will require more energy. When you put these two things together, it’s probably not impossible for someone to swim in armor, but realistically, it’s not happening.
It’s also distinctly possible that your character wouldn’t know how to swim. Historically, particularly in the early modern period (so, during the golden age of piracy), it was surprisingly uncommon for sailors to actually learn how to swim. I’ve seen speculation for why this was the case. Some reasonable factors were that many sailors, particularly in the navies, were pressed into service, without much training beyond being able to do their assigned job. Other relevant factors include the lack of agility with helming a large sailing vessel, and as a result, if you went overboard you were doomed.
So, yes, going overboard in heavy armor would kill your character, but it’s highly unlikely they’d be in heavy armor to begin with, if they were operating aboard a ship.
Since someone will probably bring this up, if I skip over it: There’s also The Battle of Agincourt in 1415, where numerous French knights became mired in knee high mud and drowned in their armor. When you read full descriptions of the battle, it sounds like they were pressed under infantry who died on top of them, and then drowned, rather than it simply being their armor killed them. The major factor here was that combat was funneled into very tight choke points, and the mass of combatants simply piled on top of each other, like a heavily armed mosh pit from hell. As a result, any of the French fighters who fell (literally fell over, not killed), were trapped as bodies pressed in behind them, and couldn’t escape the mud.
Hi! What is the real meaning for a character like Cloud Strife to have a single shoulder armor? Is it to rest their sword on their shoulder only, in a safe manner? I have a OC child who wears a shoulder pad just for fun but I want to know if it serves a purpose for real. Thank you, love your blog!
The short answer is that it’s to make the character look cool. It’s primarily there to help differentiate his design. I’m not clear on exactly how much was intentional, but I suspect the art design for most of the FF7 characters was heavily influenced by hardware limitations. (I know this was a consideration in the earlier sprite based games.) Because the polygon budgets and texture resolutions were low, the hardware heavily favored bold aesthetic designs. Cloud wears one massive oversized pauldron, and has hair you can roast marshmallows on because it helps keep the character visually distinct.
So, with all that said, asymmetrical armor was a thing, sometimes. There’s two important considerations, cost, and what you need the armor for.
Cost is always relevant. Armor is expensive; regardless who is paying for it. Doesn’t matter if it’s a lone mercenary or adventurer, then they’re going to have to make some difficult choices on where they spend their money. Depending on the era, it’s entirely possible that even a professional soldier would have been responsible for purchasing and maintaining their own arms and armor. This could (and did) result in situations where someone had incomplete armor, because it’s all they could afford.
So, could you end up with a mercenary who had a single pauldron, and basically nothing else? Theoretically, yes. However, they’d be better off selling that, and getting some body armor instead. Though, if you had to pick one arm to over-armor, the left would be the better choice.
Depending on the statistics you look at, somewhere between 70% and 95% of the population is right handed. That means the vast majority of the foes you’d be facing on the battlefield would be far more likely to strike at your left arm and side. You’re more likely to take hits on that side (again, in a conventional combat environment), and as a result, it does make sense to add some extra armor on that side. That may simply mean a heavier pauldron, or just some extra weight in your gear. This wasn’t universal, and was rarely to the extent that you’d ignore one side entirely, but there is a little bit of logic behind these aesthetics. It’s also worth remembering, this is mostly a consideration after you’ve already got effective armor, and you’re thinking about adding some more. While there are reasons to put heavier armor on your left arm, that won’t do you any good if you’re run through, hence, the body armor suggestion earlier.
The most extreme example of asymmetrical armor is jousting gear. It’s probably better to think of jousting as a sport, rather than as combat. It was a competition, with strict rules, and supervision. The skills it used were based in combat, (specifically running down enemies with a couched lance) but, the two competitors in heavy plate with crowds cheering them on, was pure spectacle.
Jousting armor had enormously exaggerated protection on the left side. If you know what you’re looking for, jousting armor is instantly recognizable. In particular, the cuirass is often visibly asymmetric, sometimes with the left arm partially shielded, or fused directly into the cuirass above the elbow (technically, the term cuirass may be inaccurate in this specific example.) The helmet is sometimes asymmetric, again, favoring the left side, though this is less universal. In short, you’re looking at armor that expected the user to take a hard blow to the left side of their body, and wanted them to survive the experience.
I know we’ve said this before, but getting the right armor involves knowing exactly what you’ll be dealing with, and choosing accordingly. With that in mind, there was at least one situation where combatants intentionally went into combat with partial armor.
Roman gladiators had predesigned “uniforms,” that filled numerous distinct roles. As with Jousting, this was more of a sport, rather than true armor, but the goals were different. In particular, gladiatorial combat was interested in drawing blood, while simultaneously prolonging the spectacle. In these cases, armor that protected one (or both) arms, while leaving the torso unprotected was a pattern for many of the roles.
Worth remembering in this case, that both a gladiator’s weapons, and armor, were selected based on their roles, and they would be paired against opponents with roles that couldn’t easily counter them. In some ways it’s the opposite of what you’d normally look for in combat, but, the point was to create matchups that would be bloody without also being decisive.
There was a theme with the various roles. Gladiators were “playing the part” of various foreign civilizations that the Romans had already defeated. These caricatures would have been instantaneously recognizable to the crowds, much like how stereotypes in professional wrestling are instantly familiar (and, potentially offensive) to modern audiences. Although, significantly bloodier, professional wrestling is a good analogy to the Roman arena, so it might not be the best example of asymmetrical armor in combat, but it is another situation where this concept appears.
In general, when it comes to designing a character, overtly asymmetrical armor is often simply a method to make the character stand out. That’s what you see with Cloud. It’s not that there’s a specific tactical advantage, it’s there to mark him as your protagonist, and make his character model easier to identify at a glance.
How necessary is armor when using “blunt weapons”, not guns? It’s really hard to find reliable sources but I’m having trouble imagining a, let’s say, swordsman fighting without any type of armor just because it looks cool. Or just wearing a single piece of armor on their arm or shoulder for some purpose like they try to make it look. What if they get seriously injured righr after a match starts?
Then they become an important object lesson for why you should wear armor.
I understand the idea of skimping out on armor, specifically for the purpose of creating an aesthetically interesting character. But, there’s no practical application for this.
A character who can’t afford armor might be forced to go without, or scrounge what they could find, but, the armor you’re not wearing will not protect you from the injuries you suffer.
There are two important factors when choosing armor for a character: What can they obtain? And, what do they need it for?
As we’ve said before, armor is not universal. Different kinds of situations call for different types of armor. A character wandering around on horseback in an arid wasteland, scavenging ruins is not going to need, or want, the same armor as a raider wandering frozen tundra.
Just like with clothing, armor is about dressing appropriately. This means picking gear that will protect you from the threats you’ll face.
Within that context, asymmetric armor is a real possibility. If you’re going to be facing right handed combatants, it’s reasonable to further reinforce the armor on your left arm. That’s fine, and did happen. In extreme cases, you may wear armor on your left arm, and not armor your right arm. This isn’t usually a great idea, but it’s still there.
Also, heavy armor will wear you out faster. So, there are legitimate reasons for a character to run around in a padded armor or chain mail (over padded armor), without going to full plate (wearing that over the chain, and the padded under suit).
That said, someone who fought in heavy armor would train in it, and build up conditioning to take it into a fight. It’s exhausting, but that’s a reasonable tradeoff for the protection it provided.
Who your character is will control what armor they have access to. They may not have the money, or the ability, to buy the best gear. They may not even be able to buy good armor, depending on their setting, and whatever laws exist for them.
With that in mind, the two highest priorities are the torso and head. Doesn’t matter if it’s a breastplate, a chain shirt, or just a padded gambeson, taking blows to your vitals will end a fight. If your character has one piece of armor, it needs to be this.
Second priority is the helmet. Again, if your brain stops working, fight’s over. Depending on your priorities, this might edge out above the torso armor, but your skull is a smaller target to hit than your body. If you have two pieces of armor, follow up with a helmet.
I’m actually going to step back for a moment and point out; when it comes to safety gear, the helmet is more important. When you’re dealing with hitting pavement, or falling debris, protecting your head is more important. There are also some other edge cases where the helmet is more important than body protection, including in sports. However, when you’re outfitting a character for combat, you’ll want both.
After you have a chest piece and a helmet, then you can worry about other fun things like Boots, asymmetric pauldrons, gauntlets, bracers, a single fingerless glove, greaves, sabatons, whatever. Protecting the limbs is your first goal here, keeping those in functional shape after a stray hit. Then you can worry about reinforcing so that they can take intentional hits, depending on what threats your character will face. The scavenger above will get more value out of boots and sturdy gloves, while the raider would probably benefit more from bracers or full gauntlets.
Also, worth noting that a lot of those names I’m listing, come from specific eras. The sabaton is fifteenth century, the pauldron evolved from spaulders sometime around the fifteenth century, the gambeson is (roughly) thirteenth, and gradually transitioned into the arming doublet later. In some cases, the armor you might be thinking of wouldn’t even exist yet. It’s easy to point at “medieval armor,” and say that you want that, but armor has gone through significant technological advancement throughout history. So picking and choosing what you want can quickly result in an anachronistic mess.
Lumping armor into one “medieval” category does result in strange anachronisms, including armor types that never existed, or ones that were designed specifically to deal with threats which don’t exist in their new setting. A common example are fifteenth century variants of plate armor which were designed to deal with gunfire being dropped into high fantasy settings without firearms. Also, leather armor.
Leather can be a really nice material to use for components where you need flexibility, with a little bit of protection. Gloves or boots, for example. But, it doesn’t make for particularly good armor against armed opponents. It is a good option to dress a character in, if they’re spending most of their time away from civilization, and they need clothes that will survive years of wear and tear, but that’s not the same as armor.
I realize I haven’t even touched on the blunt weapons part of the question. The very short answer here is that, while some blunt weapons like maces and warhammers were designed as anti-armor options, you’re still better off being hit by one of those while wearing armor than not. Yes, taking a mace to the head while wearing armor will suck, but taking a mace to your skull without armor will just result in a smeary mess, and a corpse for someone to loot.
I’ve read your posts on female armor, and it really helped me with designing armor for my female superhero, but I have a concern: would wearing a flat breastplate inhibit a well-endowed woman? It almost seems like it would make it hard for her to breathe, especially if she’s bigger and taller than average (my character stands at 6′ 2″)
That… is an anime gag.
There are medical conditions which can cause this, but if there’s breathing issues then that’s a clothing issue and if the armor is causing you to be short of breath then… the armor is useless and not doing its job.
Corsets and any sort of binding that doesn’t allow the lungs/chest cavity/ribs/diaphragm to expand will cause shortness of breath in… either gender. It is historically more common in women because of, well, fashion. You didn’t need to be well-endowed to fall prey to the whale-bone corsets of the 18th century. (Which also led to miscarriages.)
The argument you’re referring to is one common among fanboys, primarily as a justification for boobplate and the fetishistic armor choices for female superheroes. For all it’s claims to realism, it has zero bearing on reality.
The weight of your boobs doesn’t make you short of breath or hamper your ability to breathe. It can, in some cases, be painful during high energy activities when they’re bouncing around but the solution is called a sports bra. (Besides, big boobs can disappear fast depending on the type of activity. You ever seen runners or professional female athletes in almost… well, anything? Muscle burns fat, and your chest muscles will start with your chest. No fat, they shrink.)
The Most Common Superpower joke is that women get to keep theirs and stay conventionally attractive when engaging in highly aerobic activity.
If we want to start with the issue in the presentation of female action heroes it begins here. (And that men, and some women, usually don’t understand how breasts work.) Or have this idea the issue has never been addressed because women don’t participate in sport activity anyway.
Breasts. Are. Just. There.
She’s a superhero. Her armor is custom designed. If whoever made her armor didn’t take into account the size of her chest or provide support then they are crappy at their job and armor design in general.
The issues we run into with armor is when it is either:
A) Not yours. Or..
B) One size fits all, but you’d still be able to function in it.
If you can’t move in the armor then that’s an issue that needs to be addressed at a design level but it’s not insurmountable. This is why armorers and tailors exist.
Besides, if the other option you’re considering is boob plate then that wouldn’t solve the issue. I guarantee boob plate is more uncomfortable, and will guide weapon points straight to your heart. This is an argument I’ve seen brought up a lot (by men) to justify the existence of boobplate or going without armor for “realism”. It is not only BS, it’s annoying. It ignores both reality (female combatants of history) and human ingenuity to prop up outdated sexism. It’s like they think female athletes never address the issues of their chest size. Well, I’m here to tell you: we already solved this one and it’s called a sports bra. In the real world, we get a bras that are designed to support the weight of our boobage during athletic activities.
Women can, however, STILL RUN without problems with a regular bra or even no support at all.
You, however, may want to address the underlying sexism nipping at your approach to this character. If you genuinely believe cramming big breasts into a tactical vest is going to cause breathing issues then you’ve got a lot of your own to work out. That is also the problem with sexism. The misinformation is so baked into every bit of common knowledge meant to justify a certain sexist approach then held up as realistic that most people never think about it.
Again, the kind of breathing issues we’re talking about come from corsets and not armor. A corset tightens your waist, and will result in issues because of the diaphram/stomach can’t expand. When performing aerobic exercise, you need your diaphragm (thus expanding your ribs) to breathe. The diaphragm allows more air to pass through your body, which means more oxygen in your blood being carried to your muscles. Without them, you’re stuck breathing entirely with your upper chest, and that will be a problem when engaging in athletic activity. If the expansion of the chest is also cut off, then… you’re really up a creek. This is what causes the fainting fits of the 18th century. Women wearing clothing that doesn’t allow them to draw enough oxygen into their bodies to keep their brains cognizant.
It’s also why you never want to bind your breasts with anything like Ace bandages because Ace bandages are designed to continually constrict around an injury and create pressure to halt the blood flow. They can tighten so much that they crack the breastbone or the ribcage, and that is what causes shortness of breath rather than the breasts themselves being bound.
You don’t get this problem if you bind with just cloth, but it’s also shit for support.
Breathing issues are a problem for men when they wear clothing styles that ensure their diaphragms can’t expand or just don’t breathe with their diaphragm when fighting.
If her armor causing shortness of breath then that’s not armor, it’s fetish gear. It may be great for a bondage session but it’s not meant to be worn combat. (And if what she’s wearing is causing shortness of breath anyway, then she just needs to stop wearing it. That’s still the fault of her clothing and not her breasts.)
Besides, a woman with large breasts would have issues finding bras that fit her anyway and would probably be specially ordering them. Most malls and sports stores have bras for A, B, C, and some D but not a lot. DD’s can have trouble finding comfortable breastwear, especially ones in the six foot range.
It’s not, for the same reason you don’t use it against human foes in The Witcher 3; the recovery time is too long, leaving the person doing the dodge vulnerable to follow up strikes. Something that is very easy for an attacker who is pressing their opponent.
It will also prove quickly exhausting. Ironically, one thing Dark Souls does very well is hammer home how tiring combat is. A character who goes in with a frenzied assault will tire themselves out quickly. Similarly, bouncing around like an acrobat will leave them exhausted and vulnerable.
I was going to say something about how stamina regenerates at an unreasonable rate in Dark Souls until I realized I was thinking of Dark Souls II′s stamina regeneration, which scaled with the character’s equip burden (a stat that tracked how heavy their gear was). (Incidentally, Bloodborne uses this same system even though equip burden is a hidden stat. I don’t think Dark Souls uses that, and I can’t remember if it was the case in Dark Souls III.) This isn’t a bad abstraction for the effect heavy gear can have on a fighter. In real combat, a heavily armored fighter will tire out, and potentially overheat, much faster than one in lighter gear.
It’s also worth remembering that with The Witcher 3, there’s actually two different dodges. The dodge roll which sends Geralt leaping out of the way, and a short range dodge with a fast recovery. It won’t get out of the way of a monster’s charge, but can be useful against human foes. These kinds of quick step evasions do have application in the real world. Being able to bounce out of reach of an opponent’s strike, and then come back in is a useful tactic, and usually worth the energy. Unfortunately, it also has some of the same issues as the dodge roll, an opponent who is pressing can continue to do so, forcing the defending combatant to continue falling back, but it can still prove useful in the right circumstances.
It’s probably worth mentioning, with The Witcher 3, CD Projekt Red was basing Geralt’s sword combat on a specific HEMA variant, and recording actual practitioners for the motion capture. It’s not one I’m familiar with, so I don’t know how authentic what you see in game is to the actual style. If, what you’ve seen there appeals to what you want for a character, I would strongly recommend taking a closer look at what the developers were pulling from, and looking around for any making of documentaries they produced.
I’m going to rearrange this a little. When you’re talking about any armor being good for its purposes, you’re talking about designs that will effectively resist the varieties of abuse most likely to be encountered in its intended role.
For combat armor, you’re talking about equipment that can withstand, at least, a couple solid hits from whatever weapons the enemies are using. Ideally, you want it to withstand a lot of solid hits, but nothing’s perfect, especially when bullets are involved.
When you’re talking about riots, the immediate threats are blunt force attacks, improvised weapons (tire irons, hammers, chairs, whatever the rioters could grab off the street quickly), and thrown projectiles (flaming or otherwise). It may also be a good idea to protect against weapons your own people will be using in the riot that have a good chance of affecting friendlies. So, chemical protection (usually a gas mask) and possibly some variety of ear protection (if you’re using sonic pacification weapons.) (And, yes, those do exist.)
You might see riot gear rated to take a couple bullets, but it’s not the norm. Sustained gunfire is fairly unlikely in a riot, so you’re not going to be designing gear on the off chance that a rioter might have a rifle.
There’s an element of abstraction here, but I’m going to run with it anyway: The more a piece of armor protects against, the heavier it gets. This isn’t 100% true, and new materials can significantly lighten the load, but the basic idea holds.
Extending the same abstraction a little, the heavier the armor, the more it covers, the more it will slow down the wearer and limit their mobility. Full riot gear aims to protect as much of the wearer as possible. I’m not sure exactly how heavy and bulky riot gear is, but weight and bulk are very real considerations. This is part of why riot armor is less likely to incorporate ceramic plates, or other methods, to deal with rifle fire. That’s not the threat it’s designed to deal with. Also, it would raise the cost of the gear. I can’t say exactly how much, I don’t know, but it means you’re better off gearing your forces to face the threats they’re most likely to face, rather than all possibilities.
Now, fair warning, it’s entirely likely there is riot armor out there, available for sale, that incorporates ceramic ablative plates or other means, to soak off a couple rifle rounds, you’re just not as likely to see it in the hands of a local police department.
When you’re in water, armor is a problem. This isn’t just riot gear, it’s any heavy clothing. Once it becomes waterlogged, it weighs you down. This massively increases the issues with mobility I mentioned earlier, and can easily create a situation where you cannot swim at all. So, no, in water, riot armor is potentially fatal to the wearer, particularly if they can’t get out of it or get to the surface quickly.
In answer (or more accurately “non-answer”) to your question on versatility: that’s more of a balancing act. Armor designed to offer more protection, against a larger range of threats will (usually) weigh and cost more. It depends on what your character’s organization can afford, paired with the specific kinds of situations they’ll be dealing with. If you’re asking about a character who’s operating in some kind of assault role, then riot gear is not the answer.
Also, in spite of it being used that way on TV and in films, riot armor is not something that will let you walk through a hail of bullets. To the best of my knowledge, there really isn’t anything like that you can wear. You can have that effect with vehicles, but it’s not quite the same thing.
Here’s a general rule: People in the past were ignorant about a lot of things, but they weren’t stupid. If they used something, chances are they had a good reason. There are exceptions, but plate armor is not one of them.
For a type of armor, no matter what it is, to be considered effective, it has to meet three criteria.
The three criteria are: Economic Efficiency, Protectiveness, and Mobility.
1. Is it Economically Efficient?
Because of the nature of society in the Middle Ages, what with equipment being largely bring-it-yourself when it came to anybody besides arrowfodder infantry who’d been given one week of training, economic efficiency was a problem for the first couple of decades after plate armor was introduced in France in the 1360s. It wasn’t easy to make, and there wasn’t really a ‘science’ to it yet, so only the wealthiest of French soldiers, meaning knights and above, had it; unless of course somebody stole it off a dead French noble. The Hundred Years War was in full swing at the time, and the French were losing badly to the English and their powerful longbows, so there were plenty of dead French nobles and knights to go around. That plate armor was not very economically efficient for you unless you were a rich man, though, it also was not exactly what we would call “full” plate armor.
Above: Early plate armor, like that used by knights and above during the later 1300s and early 1400s.
Above: Two examples of what most people mean when they say “full” plate armor, which would have been seen in the mid to late 1400s and early 1500s.
Disclaimer: These are just examples. No two suits of armor were the same because they weren’t mass-produced, and there was not really a year when everybody decided to all switch to the next evolution of plate armor. In fact it would not be improbably to see all three of these suits on the same battlefield, as expensive armor was often passed down from father to son and used for many decades.
Just like any new technology, however, as production methods improved, the product got cheaper.
Above: The Battle of Barnet, 1471, in which everybody had plate armor because it’s affordable by then.
So if we’re talking about the mid to late 1400s, which is when our modern image of the “knight in shining armor” sort of comes from, then yes, “full” plate armor is economically efficient. It still wasn’t cheap, but neither are modern day cars, and yet they’re everywhere. Also similar to cars, plate armor is durable enough to be passed down in families for generations, and after the Hundred Years War ended in 1453, there was a lot of used military equipment on sale for cheap.
2. Is it Protective?
This is a hard question to answer, particularly because no armor is perfect, and as soon as a new, seemingly ‘perfect’ type of armor appears, weapons and techniques adapt to kill the wearer anyway, and the other way around. Early plate armor was invented as a response to the extreme armor-piercing ability of the English longbow, the armor-piercing ability of a new kind of crossbow, and advancements in arrowhead technology.
Above: The old kind of arrowhead, ineffective against most armor.
Above: The new kind of arrowhead, very effective at piercing chainmaille and able to pierce plate armor if launched with enough power.
Above: An arrow shot from a “short” bow with the armor-piercing tip(I think it’s called a bodkin tip) piercing a shirt of chainmaille. However, the target likely would have survived since soldiers wore protective layers of padding underneath their armor, so if the arrow penetrated skin at all, it wasn’t deep. That’s Terry Jones in the background.
Above: A crossbow bolt with the armor piercing tip penetrating deep through the same shirt of chainmaille. The target would likely not survive.
Above: A crossbow bolt from the same crossbow glancing off a breastplate, demonstrating that it was in fact an improvement over wearing just chainmaille.
Unfortunately it didn’t help at all against the powerful English longbows at close range, but credit to the French for trying. It did at least help against weaker bows.
Now for melee weapons.
It didn’t take long for weapons to evolve to fight this new armor, but rarely was it by way of piercing through it. It was really more so that the same weapons were now being used in new ways to get around the armor.
Above: It’s a popular myth that Medieval swords were dull, but they still couldn’t cut through plate armor, nor could they thrust through it. Your weapon would break before the armor would. Most straight swords could, however, thrust through chainmaille and anything weaker.
There were three general answers to this problem:
1. Be more precise, and thrust through the weak points.
Above: The weak points of a suit of armor. Most of these points would have been covered by chainmaille, leather, thick cloth, or all three, but a sword can thrust through all three so it doesn’t matter.
To achieve the kind of thrusting accuracy needed to penetrate these small gaps, knights would often grip the blade of their sword with one hand and keep the other hand on the grip. This technique was called “half-swording”, and you could lose a finger if you don’t do it right, so don’t try it at home unless you have a thick leather glove to protect you, as most knights did, but it can also be done bare-handed.
Above: Examples of half-swording.
2.Just hit the armor so fucking hard that the force carries through and potentially breaks bones underneath.
Specialty weapons were made for this, but we’ll get to them in a minute. For now I’m still focusing on swords because I like how versatile the European longsword is.
Above: A longsword. They’re made for two-handed use, but they’re light enough to be used effectively in one hand if you’d like to have a shield or your other arm has been injured. Longswords are typically about 75% of the height of their wielders.
Assuming you’re holding the sword pointing towards the sky, the part just above the grip is called the crossguard, and the part just below the grip is called the pommel. If you hold the sword upside-down by the blade, using the same careful gripping techniques as with half-swording, you can strike with either the crossguard or the pommel, effectively turning the sword into a warhammer. This technique was called the Murder Stroke, and direct hits could easily dent plate armor, and leave the man inside bruised, concussed, or with a broken bone.
Above: The Murder Stroke as seen in a Medieval swordfighting manual.
Regular maces, hammers, and other blunt weapons were equally effective if you could get a hard enough hit in without leaving yourself open, but they all suffered from part of the plate armor’s intelligent design. Nearly every part of it was smooth and/or rounded, meaning that it’s very easy for blows to ‘slide’ off, which wastes a lot of their power. This makes it very hard to get a ‘direct’ hit.
Here come the specialized weapons to save the day.
Above: A lucerne, or claw hammer. It’s just one of the specialized weapons, but it encompasses all their shared traits so I’m going to only list it.
These could be one-handed, two-handed, or long polearms, but the general idea was the same. Either crack bones beneath armor with the left part, or penetrate plate armor with the right part. The left part has four ‘prongs’ so that it can ‘grip’ smooth plate armor and keep its force when it hits without glancing off. On the right side it as a super sturdy ‘pick’, which is about the only thing that can penetrate the plate armor itself. On top it has a sharp tip that’s useful for fighting more lightly armored opponents.
3. Force them to the ground and stab them through the visor with a dagger.
This one is pretty self-explanatory. Many conflicts between two armored knights would turn into a wrestling match. Whoever could get the other on the ground had a huge advantage, and could finish his opponent, or force him to surrender, with a dagger.
By now you might be thinking “Dang, full plate armor has a lot of weaknesses, so how can it be called good armor?”
The answer is because, like all armor is supposed to do, it minimizes your target area. If armor is such that your enemy either needs to risk cutting their fingers to target extremely small weak points, bring a specialized weapons designed specifically for your armor, or wrestle you to the ground to defeat you, that’s some damn good armor. So yes, it will protect you pretty well.
Above: The red areas represent the weak points of a man not wearing armor.
Also, before I move on to Mobility, I’m going to talk briefly about a pet-peeve of mine: Boob-plates.
If you’re writing a fantasy book, movie, or video game, and you want it to be realistically themed, don’t give the women boob-shaped armor. It wasn’t done historically even in the few cases when women wore plate armor, and that’s because it isn’t as protective as a smooth, rounded breastplate like you see men wearing. A hit with any weapon between the two ‘boobs’ will hit with its full force rather than glancing off, and that’ll hurt. If you’re not going for a realistic feel, then do whatever you want. Just my advice.
Above: Joan of Arc, wearing properly protective armor.
An exception to this is in ancient times. Female gladiators sometimes wore boob-shaped armor because that was for entertainment and nobody cared if they lived or died. Same with male gladiators. There was also armor shaped like male chests in ancient times, but because men are more flat-chested than women, this caused less of a problem. Smooth, rounded breastplates are still superior, though.
3. Does it allow the wearer to keep his or her freedom of movement?
Okay, I’ve been writing this for like four hours, so thankfully this is the simplest question to answer. There’s a modern myth that plate armor weighed like 700 lbs, and that knights could barely move in it at all, but that isn’t true. On a suit of plate armor from the mid to late 1400s or early 1500s, all the joints are hinged in such a way that they don’t impede your movement very much at all.
The whole suit, including every individual plate, the chainmaille underneath the plates, the thick cloth or leather underneath the chainmaille, and your clothes and underwear all together usually weighed about 45-55 lbs, and because the weight was distributed evenly across your whole body, you’d hardly feel the weight at all. Much heavier suits of armor that did effectively ‘lock’ the wearer in place did exist, but they never saw battlefield use. Instead, they were for showing off at parades and for jousting. Jousting armor was always heavier, thicker, and more stiffly jointed than battlefield armor because the knight only needed to move certain parts of his body, plus being thrown off a horse by a lance–even a wooden one that’s not meant to kill–has a very, very high risk of injury.
Here’s a bunch of .gifs of a guy demonstrating that you can move pretty freely in plate armor.
Above: Can you move in it? Yes.
Here are links to the videos that I made these .gifs from:
You’re written a very good article. I believe it deserves a full-length reply. As much as I enjoyed it, there are just a few corrections I’d like to make, and more than a couple clarifications.
First off, just to get it out of the way, I’ve never actually found any account of “arrowfodder infantry” being used historically by any medieval army in Europe. Generally speaking, you would want all your soldiers to be skilled, trained and properly equipped. No matter how much money you had, cost-effectiveness was always something to strive for, and having thousands of useless soldiers who can do nothing but take arrows and die is simply not worth it, especially since they will also be eating your food while they’re still alive. If you wanted to protect your army from enemy archers, you used armor, shields, fortifications and the terrain itself.
Now, about the introduction of plate armor. If we’re talking about what most people think when they hear the term, then yes, that shows up on the second half of the 14th century. Your first picture is a good example of this (that being said, that mail mantle is a much later piece, used here to imitate the mail aventail that would hang from the edges of the helmet). However, solid metal plates have been used as armor for hundreds of years before. Even if we ignore the entire Bronze Age, the Roman Empire and the concept of helmets, we still have to look back at least as far as the 13th century. Schinbalds were curved metal plates strapped on the lower legs to protect the shins. Poleyns were introduced shortly after to protect the knees.
Around the middle of that century, the coat of plates appeared. It was the first step in what could be considered plate armor. It consisted of slightly curved overlapping plates riveted to the inside of a leather or fabric garment shaped like a surcoat. The plates themselves mainly covered the torso and sides, and perhaps some of the back. Below is a drawing of a Teutonic Knight wearing armor of this type, from Osprey Publishing.
Later the structural garment would become shorter and in some cases include decorations of many kinds.
The coat of plates developed in two directions. In one case, the plates got progressively larger, eventually evolving into the globular breastplate we’re all familiar with. Below is a reproduction of a transitional model, somewhere between a mid-14th century coat of plates and an early breastplate. It was beautifully crafted by Piotr Feret.
The chains in models like this served to secure the sword, dagger, great helm and any other object the wearer wouldn’t want to drop and lose. Below we can see the plates before they were finished and riveted to the fabric facing.
Here we can clearly see the similarities between this type of armor and a breastplate. The large plate meant to cover the chest already has the beginnings of that characteristic globular shape meant to deflect blows. Of course, early versions of the globular breastplate were also covered in fabric or leather, which also served to attach it to the fauld or laminated skirt of plates that hanged from it. Below is a set of armor by renowned blacksmith Jeff Wasson featuring one of these pieces, based on historical examples from around the year 1380.
At this point it’s worth noting that breastplates, specifically the solid globular piece, only cover the area of the torso demarcated by the ribs. This is so that the wearer doesn’t lose any flexibility on their waist. The hips and abdomen were protected by the much more flexible fauld.
On the other side of the spectrum we have the coats of plates which eventually evolved into the bringandine. This was a set of much smaller overlapping plates attached to the inside of a vest-shaped garment, usually open at the front, narrower at the waist for purposes of mobility and weight distribution. Below is a model by Armour Services Historical.
This example has a wool facing and is decorated with brass rivets and a Cross of Saint George, characteristic of English soldiers who served in France. Below is a picture of the inside of a similar piece by the same maker, showing the multitude of plates.
The brigandine remained extremely popular all through the 15th century and even well into the sixteenth century, though of course styles changed with time. There even was a variant of it during the Renaissance called a jack of plates, in which the plates were sewn to the inside of a garment which was more similar to civilian clothing, though still unmistakably armor. These could be worn by virtually any kind of soldier, from infantry archers to mounted men-at-arms. They were considerably more comfortable than solid breastplates, and provided a similar level of protection. Solid breastplates did have one considerable advantage, their potential for heat-treating, which I will explain further on.
You say only the wealthiest and most French of individuals could afford “full plate” armor. I’m going to have to disagree with that. While it is true that the French were famous for being able to field large numbers of heavy cavalry and infantry, during most of the Hundred Years War their suits of armor were far from complete. They were very likely to trade the protection of some of the less essential elements of armor in exchange for comfort and mobility. For example, I can tell that the first picture you posted is most likely based on a French suit of armor because of the lack of fauld on that breastplate. On the other hand, English armor of the same period, particularly the early 15th century, was extremely protective, going as far as to cover even the inside of the upper arms. Below is a picture of such a suit of armor, from Osprey Publishing.
Of course, such a suit of armor would be extremely expensive, but this didn’t mean less wealthy soldiers had to rely solely on mail to protect themselves. Bringandines were relatively cheap, for example, and you could simply buy the elements of plate armor you considered more essential, perhaps even resorting to pieces of lesser quality to reduce the cost. Even in the late 15th century, when plate armor became more common, most soldiers were not wearing the full harness. Below is a harness from Best Armour, which could have been used by an infantryman in the middle of the 15th century.
Note how only the torso, head, shoulders, hips and upper arms are protected. The pieces hanging from the fauld, by the way, are called tassets, a common element of plate armor from the 15th century onward. The armor covering the face is called a bevor, attached to the gorget which covers the throat. It could be hinged down to allow easier vision and ventilation. Under the armor a soldier would of course also wear a padded jack and perhaps a pair of sleeves and a skirt of mail.
Also, while in theory you could take any kind of equipment from a fallen enemy or inherit it from a relative, when it comes to solid body defenses you’d ideally want to have them made specifically for you. This would absolutely ensure that it fits you properly, which is vital for having both protection and mobility.
Now, regarding how effective armor is and how it can be defeated. I’m not sure exactly why you think plate armor was created specifically to defeat the English longbow, or that there was such as thing as a new armor-piercing crossbow. Armor in general served and was constantly developed to protect against weapons of any kind, and the breastplate wasn’t any different. The English longbow was a very powerful and effective weapon, but it wasn’t some sort of alien and terrifying artifact for the people of continental Europe. Longbowmen were used as mercenaries by all nations in a multitude of conflicts.
Crossbows were also very common, and in fact ancient. Military crossbows may even predate military bows. If you’re referring to crossbows with steel prods, you have to keep in mind that crossbows in general were never a lot more powerful than bows. For example, a 350 pound crossbow would be roughly as powerful as an 80 pound longbow, which was the lower end of the military longbow power spectrum. This is because the draw length of a bow is much longer than that of a crossbow. Take diminishing returns into account and the most powerful crossbows wouldn’t really have been a lot more powerful than the most powerful longbows. The one huge advantage they did have, however, was that they were a lot easier to aim. You can wind a crossbow and have it ready to shoot for hours. You could position yourself behind a fortification or a large shield and patiently wait for your target to come into range, aim carefully, and shoot accurately. When you draw a longbow, you really only have a couple of seconds to aim, before you get exhausted from holding that string at full draw and have to release it. Expert weapon craftsman Leo Todeschini can probably explain it better. Below is a crossbow that wouldn’t be out of place in the late 15th century, by Leo Todeschini.
This decorated weapon would most likely be used for hunting, but a more simple version would be an excellent weapon of war. It uses a cranequin as a winding mechanism, and has 450 pounds of power in that steel bow.
Regarding arrowheads, you can’t really talk of old obsolete arrowheads and new revolutionary models. All of those existed roughly at the same time, and served different purposes. The long bodkin in fact can be traced all the way back to the Viking era, or perhaps even earlier. The broad cutting arrowheads with large barbs were mostly used for hunting, though of course they could be used very effectively against unarmored humans. The bodkin had an easier time penetrating mail, since its narrow profile could get between the links with much less resistance, though it would still have to penetrate the padded armor that was commonly worn underneath. You could also find less specialized arrowheads with narrow heads and small barbs, a compromise of the two other models. And of course there were numerous other types of arrowheads which I won’t go into here.
Now, how do arrows fare against steel breastplates? Well, a standard broad hunting arrowhead won’t do any good. A bodkin won’t be very effective either, the long point will bend before it penetrates. In any case, anything but an almost perpendicular hit would simply glance off the rounded surface, which is exactly the purpose of that shape. There was a type of heavy arrowhead, with a squared profile and a heavy body. It’s very commonly seen on crossbow bolts. Leo Todeschini has referred to it as a quarrel head. If any type of arrow has any chance of piercing plate armor it’s that one, though perhaps it’d have to be aimed at the thinnest plates. Of course, you could always hope that your arrows landed on the gaps of the armor, and take your chances at penetrating the mail and padding, or perhaps see if your bodkin can slip past the visor. Alternatively, you could choose to not aim directly at the knights or men-at-arms. Terry Jones said it himself. “Never mind the chivalry, kill the horses.”
Horses were a lot more difficult to armor than humans. Mail and padded armor existed, but they weren’t used very often, most likely because of how much they affected the horse’s body temperature as it galloped. Proper full plate armor for horses didn’t really appear until the end of the fifteenth century, and even then it was reserved for the heaviest cavalry. Usually horses would at most wear a chanfron, a simple piece of armor to protect the horse’s head. This piece went as far back as the Roman Empire. Below is a drawing of three German soldiers, from Osprey Publishing.
See how only parts of the horse are covered in steel plates, and the rest is either uncovered or protected by mail. Also, the mounted crossbowman at the back rides on an unarmored horse, as would most cavalrymen. Also note the infantryman wearing only a partial harness, including a style of brigandine reinforced by a placard, the lower portion of a late 15th century breastplate.
Now, there’s one vital element that can make a breastplate virtually impervious to all projectiles. This invisible ingredient is hardness. A skilled 15th century blacksmith could use his forge and a barrel of water to heat-treat a breastplate and turn it from a simple steel plate into a spring, perfect for resisting any blow that may strike it. This process was usually done on the breastplate and the helmet, which were also the thickest parts of the full plate harness. Thinner parts of the armor, like the sides of the visors, would be much easier to penetrate.
About longswords, it all seems very accurate and well researched. I just have two things to say. First, the longest longswords I’ve seen were about 50 inches long, while the shortest were a little over 40 inches. Second, you don’t really need leather gloves to do halfswording as long as you grip the blade firmly. The you will only get cut if you run your hand up or down the edge while putting pressure on it.
The weapon you showed in that picture, which many call Lucerne hammer (after the Swiss city of the same name) but can also be called by a multitude of other names, is a variant of the pollaxe (also called by many other names), a specialized weapon for armored combat. These were generally speaking about as tall as the wielder and had a combination of spikes, axes and hammers on top of a pole, and sometimes a simple spike at the bottom end. Nikolas Lloyd explains it more concisely than I ever could. Below is a reproduction of an English pollaxe by Josh Davis.
Of course, another anti-armor weapon worth considering was the gun. Handheld firearms have been around since the fourteenth century, and while they were extremely inaccurate, at close range or in volleys of fire they could be a threat to armored soldiers. A hardened breastplate could still deflect these shots, but if hit in the thinner parts of his armor a soldier would be in great trouble. Below is a reproduction of a hand gun from the early 15th century, by The Rifle Shoppe.
The rest of your article is fairly spot-on… except the bit about female gladiators, I don’t know where that came from. At least if we’re talking about Rome, we don’t have any evidence of female gladiators wearing any kind of torso protection. In addition, I would add perhaps ten or twenty pounds to your estimation of the weight of a full plate harness. I’d also like to point out that, as awesome as that portrait of Joan is, that armor belongs in the sixteenth century. Armor of her time would be more similar to the seventh image in my reply. Finally, just to be clear, regular cavalry armor would also be suitable for jousting, just not as specialized as actual jousting armor. And of course, the military exercises that eventually developed into the sport of jousting were in practice long before the development of plate armor.
Well, there is the myth that bamboo was used as armor in Japan. You’ll not the word “myth” there, actual feudal Japanese armor was made from varying combinations of leather and metal. So, that’s out.
Bamboo is used for the construction some styles of staves. It’s not armor, but you can make weapons out of the stuff, so at least there’s that. Then again, being able to make some varieties of weapons out of wood isn’t news.
Moving on, Balsa is not a good option. For those who’ve never worked with this stuff, Balsa is a very light wood. It’s used in architectural models, airplane toy kits, and to create breakaway furniture for film and TV.
If you’ve ever watched a movie where a character pulls the leg off a chair without much force, or shatters one against wall, the prop was probably made from balsa.
In addition to being a very light wood it’s quite fragile; which is what makes it ideal for stunt work. It’s also quite easy to work. You can easily cut this stuff to size with a pocket knife. If you’re making a trestle for your model railroad, or whittling pieces for a diorama, balsa isn’t a bad choice.
But, when you’re trying to stop an incoming attack, balsa is far less appealing.
The closest you’ll get to wooden armor in the real world were
shields. Interestingly, softwoods (such as pine or yew) actually made for better shields.
As I understand it, the reasoning is that softwoods better absorb force,
while hardwoods (such as oak) are more inclined to breaking. (Amusingly, Balsa is a
If you’re working with a fantasy setting, there’s no reason you couldn’t have some kind of cured light wood that can be used as the base for a practical armor. But, I’m not aware of any tree in the real world that would work.
From what I understand of medieval armor, the governing factor tended to be more, “what can you afford?” Not, “well, I need to wear light armor because I’m agile.” Even full plate allows a great deal of mobility. Being able to stand there and soak off the blows has never really been an effective approach to armor. A combatant that can’t get out of the way of a charging horse, or is incapable of pulling themselves off the ground is dead. At that point, the expense of their armor and training is wasted.
The costs involved also applied to outfitting troops. Archers weren’t likely to be given much (if any) armor, because they wouldn’t come under direct attack. Disposable infantry might not be equipped much better. Knights would get the best their lords could reasonably provide because they were a serious investment, and needed to be protected (to a degree).
I’m inclined to blame Tolkien and D&D for the cloth wearing wizards, leather clad rogues and rangers, and the chain and plate soldiers. It’s entirely possible there are prior examples. There is some logic to it, too, ignoring wizards for the moment.
Hunters living off the land would have access to leather, and could convert that into clothing which, if properly treated, would last much longer than fabric clothes. Note, I said leather clothing, not armor. If they wanted to make armor, they could do that with the leather they found from their kills, but, if they chose to do that would probably depend on what wildlife they had to deal with.
For thieves and assassins, plate or chain doesn’t make a lot of sense, simply because of the noise it will invariably make. But, at the same time, leather armor is an iffy expense, simply because any armor can make some noise, and can cause you to stand out from the general population (which can be fatal). If your character is some kind of commando in a fantasy setting (it would be anachronistic, but for the moment that doesn’t matter), leather might not be a bad choice. It would make less noise than heavy armor, while still providing some protection, if not much.
For heavy combatants, plate and chain made sense (sometimes), if they could get it. Unfortunately, actually obtaining the stuff was an expensive prospect. For someone who worked as a mercenary, the best armor they could get their hands on might be leather or chain.
In cases where someone had access to whatever armor they wanted, the decision of what armor to wear had more to do with what someone was expecting to face, and what they would have to do, not their approach to combat.
Armor was very uncomfortable for traveling long distances, this is still true. So even if someone had plate, they’d probably not want to wear it while wandering.
Leather made sense for the vikings. Because they were
frequently exposed to sea spray, which is corrosive to most metals. In
general this also made plate and chain less appealing for sailors.
So, yes, there are specific roles for armor, but it’s not about agility or tanking (which doesn’t really exist outside of MMOs). (The real world equivalent to MMO style tanks are skirmishers or pickets, which are deployed to screen incoming attackers, and keep them off the artillery, archers, or support forces.) It is about who you are, what you’re doing, and where you’re going to be fighting; not the kind of a fighter you are.
It depends on how much larger, but yes, there are reasons to have asymmetrical armor.
Asymmetrical armor frequently favors the left arm, because your opponent will (presumably) strike with their right hand. Since the left side will take more abuse, and because you’ll need slightly more freedom of motion with your right hand, over-armoring the left was a real practice.
Popular media tends to massively overplay this, with enormous pauldrons that no one could take into combat, but the basic idea is sound. Usually this would simply involve slightly longer plates that provided better protection to the armor’s joints at the cost of range of motion, but there was a lot of variation.
When dealing with firearms, this is a lot less important, but to a very limited degree, the same concept applies. In most stances your off shoulder will lead. Meaning it will be slightly more likely to take a bullet from someone firing in your general direction. Except, so far as I know, there’s no real modern examples. If I had to guess, I’d say it was because modern combat philosophy puts a premium on mobility over protection.