body armour

Body armour was the manufactured use of various materials to provide rigid and dense protection layer to an individual's body surface in combat. As such it could be improvised or designed, partial or fully covering, from light-weight to one that is extremely heavy in weight.

Body armour was in use from ancient times as hardened leather which included lighter weight armour for theatre armour and official costume purposes, slightly heavier weight leather intended to be worn by light infantry or light cavalry, water or wax hardened for weapons combat, or full armour grade leather (sole bend leathers), or "curbouille" leather hardened by boiling water or beeswax. Lamellar leather armour was made from 200-300 small hardened individual leather plates linked together.

The lighter-weight metal body armour evolved into the chainmail coif or interlocked metal rings. Chainmail shirts were often worn in conjunction with padded clothing to provide formidable personal defence in combat. The medieval riveted chainmail hauberk with a full sleeve was in common use in Asia and medieval Europe after the 12th Century.

Although sometimes used as a form of ceremonial dress, body armour reached its greatest sophistication in Western Europe during the Middle Ages with the designs of the plate armour, its components acquiring their own unique terminology, and becoming symbols of status. Perhaps the most highly artistic version of body armour are the kikou sets used by the Japanese samurai utilising of iron, leather, wood, silk, brass and other materials to provide in many ways a more superior body armour to the European contemporary versions.

The body armour was also adapted to display of heraldry as means of visual recognition of troops on the battlefield, becoming the predecessor of military uniforms. The last and enduring vestige of the body armour is the combat helmet.

The use of body armour largely lapsed after the introduction of modern firearms in the middle of the 19th century, and was completely discontinued after the First World War when some types of infantry wore rudimentary versions of body armour, often manufactured at the front line.

Body armour is retained in units with a ceremonial role such as the Blues and Royals which still wear the cuirass which has undergone only a relatively minor change from its 14th century design.

One notable difference between body armour and the ballistic vests worn during and since the Second World War has been the need to offer flexibility to the wearer who is usually an infantryman, something more reminiscent of the Japanese preference for a more flexible style of body armour than the typical European one-piece breastplate design. The nature of ballistic vests is also substantially different in that they can be put on by the wearer, where as even the rudimentary cuirass requires assistance to put on, and can not be easily removed by a wounded wearer.

See also

  • Making Period Leather Armour

Citations and notes


  • Ffoulkes, Charles, Armourer & His Craft: From XIth to the XVIth Century, Ayer Publishing, 1967
  • Friday, Karl F., Samurai, Warfare and the State in Early Medieval Japan, Warfare and History, Routledge, 2004

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