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Medieval Armor

"They arrived with their mail shirts
Glittering, silver-shining links
Clanking an iron song as they came."

Beowulf, lines 321-323.

Much of what we associate as Medieval armor developed later in the age. In the early years of the Middle Ages, quilted coats or coats of leather often sufficed for armor. As warfare became more deadly, and the implements of war became more brutal, stronger protection was needed.


Medieval Armor




The Saxon shield was a small round shield. It was made of wood covered with leather and reinforced with a metal rim and bands. The Norman shield was shaped like a kite to cover a horseman's exposed side. These also were made of wood covered in leather with a metal trim. Bucklers were small shields designed to parry blows from an opponent. These were used by the infantry and were held by a handle located in the center of the back of the shield. In the twelfth century, shields were covered with heraldric symbols. Heraldry was a system of associating families with certain symbols. These were used extensively on shields and banners during battles.




Chainmail was one of the first types of strong armor used in the Middle Ages. Chainmail probably developed among the Celts and spread to other areas. Chainmail was a suit or shirt of links of metal connected together to form a protective barrier against many types of blows. The Saxons wore a "byrnie" which was a short sleeved, waist length mail shirt. The Normans wore a "hauberk" which was knee length and slit up the middle so that the skirt could hang down on both sides of the horse. Chainmail was also used on the head and even on horses.




Gauntlets were metal gloves designed to protect the hands of the warrior during combat. They could be used alone or with a suit of armor.




Before full-fledged suits of armor came into use, people used several pieces of armor instead. The breastplate (usually worn together with a backplate) was one such piece. It was made of metal and originated on the European continent. It covered only the chest while allowing the arms free movement. It was often used with chainmail underneath.




Helmets were an early necessity of the Medieval warrior. They originally covered only the top of the head with maybe a noseguard or cheek protectors protruding down. As time went on, helmets changed and were designed to cover the whole head, the whole face, and back of the neck.



Suits of Armor

The full body suit of armor developed on the European continent in the later part of the Middle Ages. They were designed to protect the entire body and were made of plates of metal as opposed to rings of metal. They were not always the easiest to move around in, but have become an enduring symbol of the Middle Ages, much like the castle.

Suits of Armor Suits of Armor Suits of Armor


©1998-2001 Jason J. Nugent
Created: May 4th, 1998
Last modified: February 4th, 2001