Medieval Armor

The medieval soldier had a number of different options when it came to armor. Each type of armor offered different levels of protection and different problems. The type of armor a soldier usually came down to how much money he had and what type of fighter he was.

Medieval Armor Facts for Kids

  • The armor was made of metal to deflect weapons.
  • Knights often wore chainmail, a suit of linked metal rings.
  • Helmets protected the head and sometimes the face.
  • Shields were used for additional protection.
  • Plate armor was developed in the 13th century.
  • Jousting armor was heavier for safety in tournaments.
  • The armor was custom-made to fit the knight.
  • Suits of armor could weigh up to 60 pounds.
  • Knights wore a padded garment under armor for comfort.
  • Crests on helmets identified knights in battle.

Chain mail and plate armor

During the Middle Ages, medieval armor, specifically chain mail and plate armor, significantly impacted combat tactics. Chain mail, constructed from thousands of interweaved iron rings, was designed to shield the wearer from slashes, preventing swords or knives from penetrating the knight’s body.

However, it faltered against blunt force or piercing attacks, prompting the development of plate armor in the 13th century. Unlike chain mail, plate armor comprised large metal plates and was custom-fitted to the wearer’s body, offering better mobility and comfort during combat.

In addition, it effectively guarded against more direct attacks and often included a layer of chain mail underneath for enhanced protection. Therefore, the evolution from chain mail to plate armor represented a notable progression in medieval defensive technology.

Knightly tournaments

During the Middle Ages, knightly tournaments were a critical stage for knights to demonstrate their skill, power, and chivalrous behavior. The armor they donned, while providing protection, also symbolized their status and wealth, often being heavier and more ornate than their battle counterparts.

This was primarily because it was meticulously designed to endure the severe impacts of blunt weapons such as lances and maces, which were prevalent in these events to minimize fatal injuries. The armor often featured elaborate designs, displaying the wearer’s coat of arms as a testament to their noble lineage.

In a show of affluence and prestige, some knights had their armor made from precious metals like gold and silver.

Heraldry and coat of arms

During the Middle Ages, medieval armor served as a canvas for the intricate system of heraldry, expressing a knight’s lineage and allegiance through the use of family or liege emblems displayed on shields and surcoats.

This practice evolved into an elaborate system of identification and symbolism, where each coat of arms, with its unique blend of symbols, colors, and patterns, was not only shown on the shield but also embossed directly onto the armor. Serving both a practical purpose of distinguishing friends from foes on the battlefield, and a symbolic representation of the knight’s honor, heritage, and personal history, each element of the coat of arms held a specific meaning.

From the use of specific colors, known as ‘tinctures’, to the animals and objects, termed ‘charges’, and even the patterns and lines, referred to as ‘ordinaries’ and ‘sub-ordinaries’, every suit of armor transformed into a unique piece of art telling the story of its wearer through this rich language of symbols.

Armor smithing and metallurgy

During the Middle Ages, the critical trades of medieval armor smithing and metallurgy were carried out by highly skilled artisans known as armorsmiths. Their process began with the smelting of raw iron ore, which was then meticulously shaped and strengthened into steel via tempering.

This procedure of heating and cooling the metal was a delicate one, with the quality of the final armor product heavily hinging on the smith’s skill and precise control over the tempering process. The most coveted armors were those made from steel that was simultaneously hard and flexible, granting its wearer both protection and mobility. To bolster the armor’s resistance to piercing weapons, smiths often employed techniques such as chain-linking or layering.

Beyond its practical purpose, the armor also served as a canvas for armorsmiths to display their artistic prowess by incorporating intricate designs and symbols denoting the wearer’s rank, lineage, or affiliation. Consequently, the art of armor smithing during the Middle Ages was not only a reflection of the period’s scientific understanding of metallurgy but also a medium for artistic expression.

Jousting and combat techniques

Medieval armor was a crucial component of the Middle Ages combat techniques, especially in jousting events. The ‘Jousting Armor,’ a type specifically designed for these tournaments, was substantially denser and sturdier compared to the standard battlefield armor, crafted to endure the high-impact lance hits.

Integral components such as the helmet, or armet, were reinforced with an additional metal plate on the left side, the side prone to opponent attacks. Moreover, the shield was structured to shatter the adversary’s lance upon collision, minimizing the potential for severe injuries. In terms of hand-to-hand combat, the armor was brilliantly engineered to provide an equilibrium between protection and agility. The armor worn by knights boasted complex joint designs to enable flexible movement.

Additionally, chain mail was incorporated at the joint areas, enhancing both flexibility and protection. Interestingly enough, the refined craftsmanship of the armor dispels the common misconception that medieval knights were slow and encumbered; in fact, they were capable of running, jumping, and even horse mounting without any assistance.

Helmets and shields

During the brutal warfare of the Middle Ages, the survival of knights hinged greatly on their medieval armor, particularly their helmets and shields. The evolution of helmets, which were made of steel, notably improved the knights’ protection during battle.

Initial designs included the nasal helmet, which gave head coverage and had a protective band for the nose. Subsequent advancements led to the development of the great helm that provided full-face coverage, and later the 14th-century bascinet, which was equipped with a movable visor. Shields, fashioned from wood and overlaid with leather or metal, served not only as defensive tools but also as signs of status, their shape, size, and the coat of arms they bore, indicating a knight’s origin and rank.

Among the most common shield types were the kite shield, the heater shield, and the buckler, a small shield specifically designed for one-on-one combat.

Chivalry and knighthood

Medieval armor, a quintessential symbol of chivalry and knighthood, had a profound impact on the social dynamics and combat traditions during the Middle Ages. More than just a protective encasement, the armor personified a knight’s social status, honor, and dedication to the tenets of chivalry.

The often elaborate and detailed designs carved into the armor were symbolic of a knight’s genealogy, fidelity, and bravery. Crafted mostly from iron or steel, the creation of armor was a labor-intensive process that necessitated high levels of expertise, signifying a knight’s affluence and social prominence.

The ceremonial act of donning the armor, often requiring assistance, served to emphasize a knight’s commitment to uphold the chivalric principles of courage, justice, and readiness to assist those in need. Moreover, the physical strength and stamina required to bear the weight of the armor, which could surpass 60 pounds, highlighted the demanding physical requirements of being a knight.

Crusader knights

During the middle ages, Crusader knights were distinctively clad in a functional and symbolic suit of plate armor. This armor, composed of sizeable, meticulously shaped metal plates, was tailored to fit the knight’s body, providing optimal protection.

A solid steel helmet, often a great helm, enveloped the entire head with openings solely for the eyes and mouth. To augment protection against sharp weaponry, the knights donned chainmail underneath the plate armor, which comprised thousands of interconnected iron rings. A surcoat, typically white, adorned with a red cross, was also worn, signifying their Christian faith allegiance and their crusades association.

Despite the armor’s design allowing substantial freedom of movement and protection against contemporary weapons, it was considerably heavy, often tipping the scales at 60 pounds. The ability to endure such weight, therefore, was a testament to the Crusader knights’ remarkable strength and physical prowess.

Castles and fortifications

During the Middle Ages, medieval armor was pivotal in the fortification and protection of castles, the era’s primary defensive structures. Knights and soldiers who safeguarded these castles required robust and dependable armor, the design of which was often influenced by the castles’ architectural elements.

For instance, the clockwise construction of narrow spiral staircases in castles dictated the design of the shield, typically worn on the left arm to allow the defender to attack descending adversaries. The design of helmets and visors was also influenced by the castle architecture, specifically the narrow slits in the walls used by archers, offering protection while ensuring unobstructed vision.

Furthermore, castle defenses such as moats and drawbridges necessitated the development of heavier armor and weapons capable of overcoming these barriers. Thus, the evolution of medieval armor was deeply intertwined with the design and defensive characteristics of medieval castles.

Weapons of the Middle Ages

Medieval armor, meticulously designed and crafted, served as a crucial defense mechanism, countering the specific threats posed by Middle Age weaponry. The evolution of this armor was intrinsically linked to the advancements in weaponry.

For example, the advent of the crossbow, which could penetrate chain mail, necessitated the development of plate armor, which was more capable of deflecting or absorbing arrow impacts. Furthermore, the design and weight of the armor had to consider the threat of heavy blunt weapons such as maces or war hammers, which were designed to inflict damage through force, even if they couldn’t penetrate the armor.

Therefore, padding was often included underneath the armor’s metal exterior to mitigate the shock from such attacks. Thus, the simultaneous advancements in medieval armor and weaponry significantly influenced the strategies and outcomes of Middle Ages warfare.

Mail Armor

Mail armor is often mistakenly called chain mail. This term was never used in the Middle Ages and was actually first used by scholars to differentiate between the different types of armor.

Although a soldier wearing mail armor was protected from cuts and punctures, he was still in danger from blunt impacts. The actual blow from an opponent’s weapon could bruise the soldier or result in fractured bones. Maces and war hammers were particularly effective in delivering blunt trauma wounds to people wearing mail armor.

When wearing mail armor, the soldier would typically start with a padded undergarment and add a mail shirt on top of this. The mail shirt (called a hauberk) would extend to the knees and usually had a split in the middle to let the soldier ride a horse. The mail shirt’s arms usually extended to the elbow but some covered the whole arm. Some soldiers also wore mail helmets which were called coifs but most soldiers also used stronger helmets to protect themselves from head trauma.

A soldier could also wear chausses, which are mail leggings, and mitons, which are mail gloves. A number of knights would wear surcoats over their mail armor. This was just a cloth that protected the mail from the weather and was usually decorated with the knight’s coat of arms.

Making Mail Armor

To make mail armor, an armorer first had to make the wire used to make the rings. The metal was hammered into plates and then cut into thin slices. The thin slices were then pulled through a draw plate to get the correct size. The armorer could also melt the iron down to make a rod and then pull the rod through the draw plate.

Once the armorer had the wire made, he would then wrap the wire around a rod to make rings. The size of the rod used to make the rings depended on the size of the rings the armorer wanted to make. The smaller the rings, the more protection they offered but smaller rings also used more metal and cost more money.

Once the metal wire was wrapped around the rods, they were cut into individual rings. The rings would then be heated and pressed together. The ends would overlap one another and a hole would be added to the overlapping ends. This hole would be used to rivet the rings together to form the armor.

Another method to make the rings was to have a sheet of metal and punch out the rings as one piece.

The rings were typically attached in a four to one pattern. This meant that each ring was attached to four others. How much protection the mail gave the soldier depended on the material used to make the rings (iron, bronze or steel), the thickness of the rings, and how close the rings were to each other. How the rings are attached (riveted, butted, or welded) also affected armor protection.

Plate Armor

Full plate armor was expensive to make and typically only nobles had full suits of plate armor. A full plate of armor covered a knight’s whole body. The armor consisted of different parts, such as the cuirass to protect the chest, greaves to protect the legs, and gauntlets to protect the hands.

Many other soldiers would wear part plate armor and protect the rest of their bodies with different types of armor. For example, a soldier might wear a plate armor breastplate but wear leather greaves.

It was almost impossible to cut plate armor with a sword and it also provided good protection from spears or pikes. Although there was still some danger from blunt weapons (such as a mace or war hammer), plate armor still provided relatively good protection from these weapons.

A well-made suit of plate armor did not weigh that much and the wearer was still fairly mobile. A full suit of plate armor would weigh around twenty kilograms, which is less than what modern soldiers carry today. The weight of the armor was spread across the soldier’s body so he remained mobile and could even run or swim (with difficulty).

Making Plate Armor

Plate armor was much more difficult to make than mail armor and required a number of specialists. The iron would be heated up and then hammered into the correct shape. Molds or casts were used to hammer the iron into the correct shape. This hammering was usually done by an apprentice.

After the iron was shaped, the metal would be polished and dents removed. The metal would also be grinded down to the correct thickness. After this was completed, the pieces would be put together. Then padding and buckles would be added. This last step was the hardest and was typically done by the master armorer. Once the armor was assembled, it would be sent to an etcher, gilder, or painter if there were plans to decorate the armor.

Armor could be a medieval soldier’s best friend and the type of armor he had depended on a number of factors (such as money). Every soldier would want to wear as much protection as they could during a battle.