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armour any form of covering employed to protect some or all of the body from physical assaults. Although armour has most commonly been worn by warriors and soldiers in military contexts, it has also been used by athletes in various forms of sport, and has more recently come to be employed by police officers when dealing with rioters, terrorists, and heavily armed offenders. The use and form of armour has been related both to the types of weapons employed by expected adversaries and to the techniques available for its manufacture, but wealth and the general availability of suitable materials have tended to play a greater role in determining whether and what quantity of armour is worn. Although some of its elements developed earlier in Mesopotamia, full body armour was apparently first used by Mycenaean Greek charioteers in the last few centuries of the Bronze Age. It only came into general use in regions of south-central Europe, south-west Asia, and northern Africa at the beginning of the Iron Age around 1150 bc, with a revolution in military tactics involving the use of a long, slashing sword.

Armour came to be made up of a number of distinct elements, protecting different parts of the body. The oldest and by far the most widespread element is the shield. Though they varied greatly in size and shape from one society to the next and over time in many individual societies, shields were normally constructed of wicker, wood, leather, or plywood covered with leather. In Latin Europe after c.1450 the use of a shield was largely abandoned, though a small, round form continued to be used by some infantry units into the seventeenth century. More recently, large, oblong shields have been adopted by riot police in several countries.

The shield differed from all of the later elements of armour in being held before the body like a weapon rather than worn on the body like a garment. The oldest type of body armour seems to have been the helmet, designed to deflect blows to the head. Though adopted for use in Mesopotamia in the third millennium bc, helmets were rare before the military revolution of the twelfth century bc. From that time onward, metal helmets were worn by soldiers, regardless of rank. Until approximately 1200 ad, most helmets were roughly hemispherical or conical, and some covered only the upper half of the head. Many helmets, however, had projections of plate covering the back of the neck, the cheeks, the nose, or (more rarely) the whole face, while others had some form of flexible curtain suspended from the lower rim, and sometimes joined at the front to form an aventail. Sometimes the projections were extended downwards to the point where they produced the nearly cylindrical form seen in the Corinthian helmet of the eighth century bc. The fully cylindrical form of helmet, or great helm, however — covering all of the neck as well as the head, and pierced only with slits for seeing and holes for breathing — was peculiar to Latin Christendom between c.1220 and c.1540. Like other forms of body armour, metal helmets were generally abandoned in Latin Europe around 1660, but were revived around 1810 for units of heavy cavalry and dragoons, and are still worn by such units on formal occasions. More utilitarian forms of helmet were adopted for military use during World War I, and are still worn in all armed forces today.

Helmets were normally worn along with some form of armour for the torso, often extended to cover at least the upper arms and thighs; armour for the lower arms, legs, hands, and feet was usually separate, and less commonly used. The most primitive armour for the torso was composed principally of a flexible continuous material, such as the layers of linen, glued together to form a relatively stiff material, that was standard in Greek armies from 600 to 200 bc. Torso armour could also consist of a fabric covered with small, flat pieces of metal: abutting hollow discs (ring armour), overlapping scales (scale armour), or lames (flat, narrow, rectangular metal plates roughly the size of playing cards) sewn or (in brigandine armour) riveted between the layers. Scale armour was the most successful form, and continued in use until 1100.

A second type of torso armour was composed of discontinuous fabric. It was made up entirely of small, connected pieces of metal or some other hard substance. Lamellar armour consisted of small narrow lames pierced at the top and bottom and tied together vertically with cords in many abutting or upwardly overlapping rows. Lamellar armour was common in most of the West, the Byzantine Empire, and much of Islam, from the early Iron Age to the fifteenth century, and continued in use in eastern Asia, especially Japan, until the nineteenth century. From about 200 bc, however, discontinuous-fabric armour increasingly took the superior form of small rings of iron wire interlinked on all sides to form the purely metallic fabric eventually called mail (not chain-mail). Invented by the Celts or Scyths of eastern Europe, this mail armour gradually displaced all other types in western Europe and was later worn under plate armour until about 1500. Mail armour for the torso typically took the form of a loose tunic whose lower hem fell somewhere between the hips and the knees. It might be sleeveless or have sleeves falling anywhere from the upper arm to the lower wrist; later versions often ended in mittens. By 1066 it also had a hood or coif of the same material, attached directly or (later) separate and worn over the tunic with a short cape covering the shoulders.

The oldest form of plate-armour for the body is known as curve-plate armour, as it was constructed mainly of large and strongly curved metal plates. The oldest subtype took the form of semi-cylindrical plates of various widths, constituting either tubular-plate armour — of the sort employed by charioteers in Mycenaean Greece — or banded armour — especially popular among the Parthians and the Romans of the early Empire. A second subtype of plate armour took the form of moulded-plate armour and came into general use at the beginning of the Iron Age around 1150 bc, but was at first largely restricted to armour for the lower leg, now called greaves. Around 800 bc a form of moulded armour for the body was adopted, consisting of two large plates abutting one another under the arms, and covering everything from the neck to the top of the hips. This combination of breastplate and backplate (now called a cuirass) was worn principally by princes and the higher officers of most armies from that time down to around 400 ad, and often took the form now called the muscled cuirass, which imitated the natural musculature of the torso. In the fourteenth century a new form of cuirass, unmuscled and bulbous, would be created by the armourers, in which large plates were sewn inside a fabric poncho in the fashion of brigandine armour. A fully articulated steel cuirass continued in use in heavy cavalry units until c.1660, and in many units until 1914. In the British army the steel cuirass was abandoned in 1660 but revived for élite cavalry units in 1817–21, and is still worn on parade today.

Armour for the lower legs was roughly coeval with that for the torso. Leg-armour was also made of the same variety of materials in the same variety of constructions, but was not nearly so general in its use. The moulded-plate greaves widely adopted in the twelfth century bc to protect the lower leg from swords continued to be worn by heavy infantrymen in Greek and Italian armies for about a millennium, but under the Roman Empire came to be restricted to centurions and higher officers. From the second century bc the Parthian heavy-cavalrymen or cataphracts — the first fully-armoured warriors in civilized history — wore full leggings of scale, mail, or banded armour that extended also over the feet. They were also the first to wear comparable armoured sleeves covering their arms to the wrist. Roman cataphracts wore similar armour from the second century ad, and transmitted the tradition of armouring arms and legs to the heaviest units of the Byzantine cavalry. By 1410, a fully-articulated, individually tailored, and stylistically uniform harness of moulded plate armour covered the whole body of every Latin knight. The gradual discontinuation of armour except for helmets and cuirasses after about 1600 was a result of the perfection of hand-held firearms, whose bullets could penetrate all but the thickest (and heaviest) armour.

Jonathan Boulton

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armour. There are relatively few surviving pieces of medieval date, so the study of armour is largely dependent on the evidence of monumental effigies, manuscript illuminations, and documentary sources such as accounts and inventories. Three periods of development have been identified. The first period, c.11th–13th cents., saw the predominance of mail. A knee-length mail hauberk, sometimes hooded, was worn over a padded garment (aketon). By the mid- to late 12th cent., a surcoat of linen was commonly worn over the hauberk. Helmets were at first conical with a descending plate to protect the nose, but developed into rounder, cylindrical forms with visors (the great helm). In the third period, from the late 14th to early 16th cents., full plate armour was worn, covering the trunk as well as the legs and arms. A padded coat (or arming doublet) would be worn under a solid breast- and backplate. Helmets came in many shapes, often protecting the whole head by means of a visor. It is a myth that this plate armour was heavy and that it limited a man's mobility. It was very well articulated, and often lighter than the mail hauberk. Even in this third period mail might still be worn to protect the groin and armpits. The second period links the first and the third but overlapped with both. It saw the development of the coat of plates, a cloth-covered body armour which was essentially a fabric garment reinforced internally with metal plates (subsequently called the brigandine). This might be worn with mail, and also with solid, and later articulated, plate protection on the arms, hands, legs, and feet. The great helm persisted but was giving way to the head-hugging bascinet, which sometimes had a visor. Changes in armour appeared gradually, and armies would have sported many different styles. Our picture of armour is too often derived from the top of the range—the most expensive, up-to-date apparel of the aristocratic and knightly classes. The rank and file continued to rely well into the later Middle Ages on mail shirts, reinforced cloth armours (brigandine and jak) and simpler headgear (sallets, kettle hats, etc.). Moreover, tournament armour can be misleading. Because of the desire to protect life in what was, after all, a sport, it tended to be heavier and more defensive than armour for war: visors, for instance, were de rigueur, whereas there is strong evidence that faces might be left uncovered in battle. The most expensive and most fashionable armours in the later Middle Ages came from northern Italy and southern Germany, each with a distinctive style. These armours were exported in large quantities. In 1512 for instance Henry VIII purchased 2,000 light armours (i.e. protecting the body and arms only) from Florence and a further 5,000 the following year from Milan. Generally speaking, however, the rank and file had to make do with locally produced, and probably often recycled, armour. Armours developed in tandem with weapons. Swords of the first period were long and weighty, designed to deliver a heavy blow capable of cutting through mail. As both the coat of plates and the fully articulated armour left certain body areas vulnerable, a thinner, lighter, sharply pointed sword was more appropriate, used in thrusting as well as cutting fashion. The move to plate left the shield largely redundant. Heraldic devices shifted from the surcoat to the material covering the plates, although armour of the third period was often decorated by etching and painting. Breastplates and helmets continued well into the age of artillery and survive today in ceremonial armours.

Anne Curry

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armour XIII. OF. armure, earlier armeüre :- L. armātūra ARMATURE.