On the battlefield, the weapons you employ are only one part of the equation for success.
The human body is so easy to pierce, slash, bludgeon and burn that organized warfare is basically impossible if you do not have the right protective gear.
This is why suits of armor came into existence. Warriors in the medieval period protected themselves with a range of armor types that we’ll cover now.
1. Boiled Leather Armor
For knights with limited resources, boiled leather armor was a useful method of protection in the medieval era. Leather was readily available, relatively inexpensive when compared to metal forms of armor.
Wearing boiled leather armor keeps a fighter safe from all sorts of offensive maneuvers from piercing and slashing motions or even bludgeoning the opponent.
However, a problem with boiled leather armor is the fact that it will wear out when you have gone through multiple battles.
When metal armor of chain mail and plates came into play, the use of boiled leather decreased.
2. Breastplate Armor
During the late medieval period, you would often see knights donning breastplate armor. It’s a smart move, since the breastplate will protect many vital organs.
Protection of the upper torso guards the heart and lungs and more armor plating in a second piece extending to the lower torso keeps the stomach, guts, spleen, liver and kidneys safe from harm as well.
Overlapping the two pieces of breastplate armor gave knights more flexibility as well as the added protection.
While breastplate armor would save your life in battle, a drawback was that when fighting in warm weather, the armor would heat you up, making it harder to stay on the offensive.
3. Brigandine Armor
Brigandine armor is constructed from heavy leather or cloth to which steel plates are riveted. Wearing brigandine armor protected knights against all types of piercing and thrusting actions.
A defect in this type of armor’s design is how it failed to protect the user’s body in various corners where the metal didn’t provide coverage.
So, if you were an experienced opponent and knew about the problems of brigandine armor, you could slash your way through the defense.
But for those knights who were unable to obtain full coverage, brigandine armor was a suitable option.
Fashioned out of wool or linen and stuffed with easily obtainable horsehair or common cloth, the gambeson was a type of armor that took the form of a jacket.
Because it was so inexpensive to come by, people of modest means could afford to wear a gambeson and fight amongst other soldiers in the medieval epoch.
Later, when warriors had increasingly come to rely on actual metal armor made of mail and plates, the use of gambesons changed.
People started wearing the gambeson as an undergarment below more protective metal armor, providing an extra measure of support against thrusts and strikes.
5. Horse Armor
Keeping your horse safe and alive was a high concern for knights in the medieval times. Therefore, an industry grew to create special armor for horses. It’s interesting to know that knights called their horses “destriers.”
Protecting the flanks and breast of the horse was a bard, initially made of just cloth or leather. Of critical importance was the chamfron, which is armor protecting the horse’s head.
To safeguard the horse’s rear, a crupper was used. Armor plating over the horse’s chest is referred to as peytral.
You would see horses wearing a large covering of cloth and leather called a trapper.
6. Lamellar Armor
Lamellar armor gets its name from the small plates (or “platelets”) made of bronze that comprise it. The little plates were tied together in horizontal fashion.
If you couldn’t access any mail armor, lamellar armor would give you a measure of security. When not made of bronze, lamellar armor used in the medieval era was formed out of iron or to a less protective degree, rawhide leather.
Some knights wore lamellar armor whose plates were made from horns or bones.
If you could afford metal armor, you would typically avoid using the lamellar version.
7. Mail Armor
Medieval armor is known as “mail” armor when it is created using pieces of iron.
Famous users of mail armor include the Knights Templar, who were able to withstand warriors when fighting in Jerusalem, since the middle eastern soldiers were using inferior iron as compared to the European combatants.
When you think of a knight wearing protective gear, mail armor is undoubtedly the image that comes to mind. It’s an iconic image from the medieval period.
8. Plated Mail Armor
Plated mail armor was the precursor to mail armor proper. It began with regular chainmail, and in the area covering the knight’s torso, the manufacturer would place metal iron plates.
In general it would offer you protection on the battlefield, but it still left the wearer vulnerable to attacks made with thrusting moves.
Therefore, historians consider plated mail armor to be a kind of transitional armor in the medieval period. It was implemented for a short period before the advent of the High Middle Ages.
9. Scale Armor
Scale armor was an interesting form of protection for knights of the medieval period. It was produced using a number of raw materials, including bones, seeds, horns, boiled leather, standard leather, rawhide leather as well as iron and bronze.
Because of the wide range of substances used in scale armor, it would be difficult to predict how well it would keep you safe, as each kind would offer different levels of protection.
Still, horns, metal and treated leather would keep you from succumbing to a vital blow, so the use of this kind of armor proved to be a lifesaver in battle.
10. Shell Armor
Taking a tip from creatures that have shells to protect them, shell armor was a type of armor that mostly saw battle in warriors in South East Asia, as shells are more commonly harvested and used by island peoples.
They would collect shells from clams, turtles and tortoises and then form them into a protective suit of armor. As is the case with certain types of plate armor, shell armor does not do well when the attacker is using a bludgeon.
However, strong shells will look weird and unnerve your enemy while offering a barrier against slashes, pierces and hard thrusting during battle in the medieval period.
We’ve certainly come a long way since the times of medieval armor, and when you think of what those warriors had to rely on compared to our modern versions of protective gear, such as bulletproof vests, you can only marvel at their accomplishments in the face of savage battles.
image credit: Livrustkammaren (The Royal Armoury) / Erik Lernestål / CC BY-SA / Public domain