medieval armor inventions

Forging History: Legendary Medieval Armor Inventions

Medieval Armor: An Introduction

In the realm of medieval armor inventions, understanding the overview and evolution of medieval armor is essential. Medieval armor played a vital role in protecting warriors during battles and sieges. Let’s explore the overview and evolution of this fascinating aspect of medieval warfare.

Overview of Medieval Armor

Medieval armor refers to the protective gear worn by knights and soldiers during the Middle Ages. It encompassed a wide range of equipment, including helmets, body armor, shields, and weapons. The primary purpose of medieval armor was to safeguard the wearer from various types of attacks, such as slashes, stabs, and blunt force impacts.

The evolution of medieval armor occurred over centuries, with different types and designs emerging in response to changing warfare techniques and advancements in metalworking. The medieval period witnessed the development of various types of armor, each with its own unique characteristics and advantages.

Evolution of Medieval Armor

The evolution of medieval armor can be traced from the early use of chainmail to the dominance of plate armor. Chainmail, consisting of interwoven metal rings, emerged in Iron Age Central Europe and was later adopted by the Romans (The Collector). During the High Medieval era, chainmail expanded from short-sleeved waist-length byrnie to the full-length hauberk, providing extensive protection for the wearer.

Plate armor gained prominence by the end of the 14th century and revolutionized warfare. It was constructed from metal plates, offering superior protection compared to chainmail. The production of plate armor required division of labor, urbanization, and interconnected trade networks (The Collector). The advent of plate armor made heavily-armored mounted elites nearly invincible, rendering ordinary infantry weapons ineffective. This led to the development of specialized anti-armor pole weapons and longer, narrower swords. However, the introduction of gunpowder weapons eventually rendered plate armor obsolete.

Apart from chainmail and plate armor, medieval armor also included a category known as soft armor. Soft armor consisted of padded garments made of leather, fabric, quilting, or felt, providing a layer of protection against blows and impacts. Another form of armor was mail armor, which comprised interwoven iron or steel rings. Rigid armor, such as plate armor, was made of metal, wood, or other resilient materials, offering maximum protection to the wearer.

The overview and evolution of medieval armor demonstrate the ingenuity and adaptability of medieval craftsmen and their response to the changing needs of warfare. Medieval armor played a significant role in shaping the strategies and outcomes of battles during the Middle Ages, marking a remarkable era in the history of military inventions and innovations.

Types of Medieval Armor

Medieval armor played a crucial role in protecting warriors during the Middle Ages. Over time, various types of armor were developed, each offering different levels of protection and functionality. The three main categories of medieval armor are chainmail armor, plate armor, and soft armor.

Chainmail Armor

Chainmail armor, also known as mail armor, was widely used in the early medieval period. It consisted of interwoven rings of metal, providing a flexible yet strong defense against slashing weapons. Chainmail armor represented a significant investment of time, effort, and material wealth, making it a symbol of status and power. Only the wealthiest lords could afford to equip their retainers with suits of chainmail (The Collector).

As warfare evolved, so did the design of chainmail armor. In the High Medieval era, larger militaries and population booms allowed for the expansion of chainmail armor. From short-sleeved, waist-length byrnie, it developed into the full-length hauberk that covered the wearer from knee to wrist.

Plate Armor

Plate armor emerged as the dominant form of medieval armor by the end of the 14th century. It revolutionized warfare, making heavily-armored mounted elites nearly unstoppable. Plate armor consisted of metal plates that covered various parts of the body, offering superior protection compared to chainmail. The production of plate armor required significant division of labor, urbanization, and interconnected trade networks (The Collector).

The development of plate armor led to a shift in weaponry and tactics. Ordinary infantry weapons became ineffective against fully-armored knights, leading to the development of specialized anti-armor pole weapons and longer, narrower swords. However, plate armor eventually succumbed to the rise of gunpowder weapons, rendering it obsolete on the battlefield.

Soft Armor

Soft armor encompasses a range of protective garments worn underneath or in conjunction with other types of armor. It includes materials such as leather, fabric, quilting, felt, and padding. Soft armor offered additional protection against crushing blows and enhanced comfort for the wearer. Padded garments, known as gambesons, were often worn under chainmail or plate armor to provide extra cushioning and absorb impact (

Soft armor, mail armor, and rigid armor are the three main categories of medieval body armor. While chainmail and plate armor fall under rigid armor, soft armor refers to the use of materials like leather, fabric, and padding for protection. It provided a flexible and supportive layer that complemented the other types of armor worn by medieval warriors (

Understanding the different types of medieval armor allows us to appreciate the ingenuity and craftsmanship of the armorers of the Middle Ages. Chainmail, plate, and soft armor each had their unique characteristics and played a vital role in protecting warriors during a time of intense combat and warfare.

Components of Medieval Armor

Medieval armor consisted of various components designed to protect warriors during battle. These components included helmets, body armor, shields, and weapons.


Helmets were crucial for protecting the head and face of medieval warriors. They came in different styles and designs, each offering varying degrees of protection. One notable type of helmet used during the Middle Ages was the spangenhelm, which featured a conical shape and was commonly used in medieval Europe.

Helmets were typically made of metal and often included additional features such as visors, nasal guards, and cheek plates to provide enhanced protection. They were designed to withstand direct blows and projectile attacks, safeguarding the most vital part of a warrior’s body.

Body Armor

Body armor played a crucial role in protecting the torso, vital organs, and limbs of medieval warriors. Plate armor and chainmail were the two primary types of body armor used during this era.

Plate armor, also known as plate mail or plate harness, was made of metal plates that were articulated and interconnected. This armor provided comprehensive protection, covering the chest, back, arms, and legs. It offered excellent defense against sword strikes, arrows, and other weapons.

Chainmail armor, on the other hand, was made of interlinked metal rings forming a mesh-like structure. It was flexible and offered good protection against slashing attacks. Chainmail was commonly worn underneath plate armor or as standalone armor for lighter infantry.


Shields were an essential component of medieval armor, providing an additional layer of defense. They were typically made of wood or metal and were used to block and deflect incoming attacks. Shields were designed in various shapes and sizes, such as round, kite, or heater shields, to accommodate different combat styles and preferences.

Shield bosses, also known as umbos, were metal or wooden protrusions attached to the center of a shield. They provided additional reinforcement and protection to the shield, making it more resistant to blows and strikes (Source).


While not a direct component of armor, weapons were an integral part of a warrior’s equipment during the medieval period. Swords, axes, maces, and spears were among the most commonly used weapons. Swords, in particular, were versatile weapons that could be used in both offensive and defensive maneuvers. They were typically made of metal and featured a sharp blade for cutting and thrusting.

Rowel spurs were also commonly used by knights to control their horses during battle. These spurs had a wheel-like attachment with radiating points, known as rowels, which were used to prod or guide the horse.

The combination of these components made up the formidable armor of medieval warriors. Each component played a vital role in protecting the wearer and ensuring their survival on the battlefield.

Famous Medieval Armorers

During the medieval period, several skilled craftsmen excelled in the art of creating armor. These armorers played a significant role in shaping the development of medieval armor. Let’s explore three famous medieval armorers and their contributions to the field.

Filippo Negroli

Filippo Negroli was a renowned maker of arms and armor during the medieval period. Hailing from Milan, Italy, Negroli and his family were highly skilled in the art of armory. They produced exquisite armor for prominent patrons, including European nobility and royalty. Negroli’s craftsmanship was characterized by its intricate designs and attention to detail.

One notable example of Filippo Negroli’s work is the armor garniture attributed to King Henry VIII of England. Although it is uncertain if Negroli himself designed the armor, his influence is evident in the intricate etchings and decorative elements present on the piece (Metropolitan Museum of Art).

Hans Holbein the Younger

Hans Holbein the Younger, a German artist and painter, is renowned for his contributions to the field of art. However, he also had a significant impact on the creation of armor during the medieval period. Holbein’s artistic skills extended beyond painting, and he was known to design and decorate armor.

One notable example of Holbein’s involvement in armor design is the armor garniture attributed to King Henry VIII of England. While it is uncertain if Holbein himself physically crafted the armor, his artistic sensibilities are evident in the ornate and elaborate designs that adorn the piece.

Lorenz Helmschmid

Lorenz Helmschmid, a renowned armorer, made significant contributions to the art of armor-making during the European medieval period. Helmschmid hailed from Augsburg, Germany, and his family had a long tradition of armory. He was known for his ability to create functional and aesthetically pleasing armor.

Lorenz Helmschmid’s craftsmanship can be seen in various surviving pieces of armor. His works often feature intricate etchings, embossing, and decorative elements. Helmschmid’s attention to detail and dedication to his craft cemented his reputation as one of the notable armorers of his time.

These famous medieval armorers played a pivotal role in shaping the art of armor-making during the medieval period. Their contributions not only ensured the protection of knights and warriors but also elevated armor to the status of a highly coveted and admired form of art.

Significance of Medieval Armor

Medieval armor played a significant role in both warfare and society during the Middle Ages. Let’s explore the impact of medieval armor in these two areas.

Impact on Warfare

The invention and evolution of medieval armor brought about a revolution in warfare. Plate armor, in particular, revolutionized the battlefield, making heavily-armored mounted elites nearly unstoppable. Knights clad in full plate armor became formidable opponents, as ordinary infantry weapons proved ineffective against their protective gear. This led to the development of specialized anti-armor pole weapons and longer, narrower swords to penetrate the armor.

Chainmail armor was another significant invention that had a profound impact on medieval warfare. Consisting of interwoven rings of metal, chainmail provided a flexible yet strong defense against slashing weapons. It was the main armor worn by Europeans until the 14th century. Chainmail was often worn over padded garments known as gambesons, which provided additional protection from crushing blows (

The development of plate armor, made of thin plates worn beneath the gambeson, marked a major advancement in medieval warfare. Starting in the early 1200s, plate armor gradually appeared on different parts of the body, eventually covering the entire body. It offered superior protection compared to chainmail and soft armor. Gothic-style plate armor, developed in the early 15th century, represented the pinnacle of personal armor protection. These suits covered the wearer from head to toe, with only a slit for the eyes and small holes in the helmet for breathing. Even individual finger joints were crafted in the gloves of these advanced armor suits (

Social and Cultural Importance

Medieval armor held great social and cultural importance during the Middle Ages. Wearing armor was often associated with chivalry, knighthood, and the ideals of honor and bravery. Knights clad in shining armor became iconic figures in medieval society, representing the epitome of nobility and strength.

Armor also played a crucial role in tournaments and jousting, popular forms of entertainment and displays of martial skill. Knights would engage in mock battles and competitions, showcasing their prowess while clad in their splendid armor. These events were not only a source of entertainment but also served as a way to demonstrate social status and garner respect.

Furthermore, the creation and maintenance of armor gave rise to a specialized class of craftsmen known as armorers. These skilled artisans dedicated their lives to perfecting the art of armor-making. Famous medieval armorers such as Filippo Negroli, Hans Holbein the Younger, and Lorenz Helmschmid left a lasting legacy with their exceptional craftsmanship.

In conclusion, medieval armor had a profound impact on both warfare and society. It revolutionized the way wars were fought, providing unparalleled protection to knights on the battlefield. Armor also played a significant role in the social and cultural fabric of medieval society, symbolizing chivalry, honor, and the ideals of knighthood. The legacy of medieval armor continues to captivate our imagination and remind us of the rich history and heritage of the Middle Ages.

Innovations in Medieval Armor

Throughout the Middle Ages, several innovations in medieval armor helped enhance the protection and effectiveness of soldiers on the battlefield. Let’s explore some of these notable advancements.


The spangenhelm was a type of helmet commonly used in medieval Europe. It featured a skullcap made of several metal pieces held together by bands or strips, providing excellent head protection. The spangenhelm was an improvement over earlier helmet designs, as its construction allowed for better ventilation and reduced weight, making it more comfortable for the wearer. This innovation in helmet design greatly increased the safety and mobility of soldiers on the battlefield.

Shield Bosses

Shield bosses, also known as umbos, were another significant innovation in medieval armor. These protective metal discs were attached to the center of shields, reinforcing the shield’s structure and providing additional defense for the wielder. Shield bosses played a crucial role in deflecting blows and preventing the shield from collapsing under the impact of enemy weapons. By reinforcing shields, soldiers could better withstand attacks and maintain their defensive positions.

Curb Bit

The curb bit was a critical innovation in medieval armor, specifically in horsemanship and cavalry warfare. This type of bit consisted of a metal mouthpiece with shanks on either side, which applied pressure to the horse’s mouth and allowed the rider to control the horse’s movements more effectively. By utilizing the curb bit, knights and soldiers could steer their horses, stop them, and execute maneuvers with greater precision and control. This innovation significantly enhanced the effectiveness and coordination of mounted soldiers in battle.


Swords were a staple weapon in medieval Europe and underwent continuous refinement and improvement. Over the centuries, craftsmen developed various sword types, each with its distinctive features and purposes. Innovations in sword design included advancements in blade shape, hilt construction, and blade material. These improvements resulted in swords that were better balanced, more durable, and more effective in combat. The evolution of swords throughout the Middle Ages contributed to the development of sophisticated and versatile weapons for knights and warriors.

Rowel Spurs

Rowel spurs were another critical innovation in medieval armor, specifically in cavalry warfare. These spurs featured a small wheel or disc with radiating points, known as a rowel, attached to the spur’s shank. When the rider applied pressure to the horse’s sides with rowel spurs, the rowel rotated, causing the points to press against the horse’s flanks. This gentle pressure allowed the rider to guide and control the horse’s movements. Rowel spurs provided greater precision and finesse in directing horses, making them an indispensable tool for mounted knights and soldiers.

These innovations in medieval armor, such as the spangenhelm, shield bosses, curb bits, swords, and rowel spurs, revolutionized warfare during the Middle Ages. They improved the safety, mobility, and effectiveness of soldiers, allowing them to adapt to the evolving challenges of medieval combat. By continuously refining and innovating their armor and weaponry, medieval societies made significant strides in the development of military technology, shaping the course of history.

The End of an Era: Decline of Medieval Armor

As the Middle Ages progressed, the use of medieval armor began to decline due to the advent of new technologies and advancements in warfare. Two key factors contributed to the obsolescence of armor: the introduction of gunpowder and the legacy left behind by medieval armor.

Gunpowder and the Obsolescence of Armor

The development and utilization of gunpowder revolutionized warfare, rendering traditional medieval armor less effective on the battlefield. Plate armor, which had been the pinnacle of personal protection, became increasingly vulnerable to firearms. Ordinary infantry weapons, such as swords and axes, were no longer effective against fully-armored knights. This led to the development of specialized anti-armor pole weapons and longer, narrower swords.

The introduction of firearms, such as muskets and cannons, posed a significant threat to armored knights. The high-velocity projectiles fired by these weapons could penetrate or shatter plate armor, making heavily-armored mounted elites nearly unstoppable. The weight and cost of armor also became significant factors, as it was no longer practical to equip large numbers of soldiers with expensive suits of armor. As a result, armor gradually fell out of favor as a primary means of protection on the battlefield.

Legacy of Medieval Armor

Although medieval armor eventually became obsolete as a form of battlefield protection, its legacy continues to resonate in various aspects of history and culture. The craftsmanship and ingenuity involved in creating these intricate suits of armor are still admired today. Many surviving pieces of armor serve as valuable artifacts, providing insights into the technological advancements and artistic achievements of the Middle Ages.

The influence of medieval armor can also be seen in the development of military tactics and weaponry. The need to counter heavily-armored opponents led to the invention of new weapons and combat techniques. Specialized anti-armor pole weapons, such as halberds and war hammers, were designed to exploit the weaknesses in armor and disable armored opponents. The longer, narrower swords that emerged during this period were better suited for thrusting through gaps in armor.

Furthermore, the decline of medieval armor opened the door for new advancements in military technology. Without the need to invest heavily in armor, resources were redirected towards the development of firearms, artillery, and other forms of weaponry that would shape the future of warfare.

While the era of medieval armor eventually came to an end, its impact on warfare, technology, and culture cannot be understated. The legacy of medieval armor serves as a testament to the ingenuity and resourcefulness of the craftsmen and warriors of the Middle Ages.

Similar Posts