Selecting the Right
Armor / Armor Resources
There are several types of armor made from a variety of materials.
Because of the healthy historical re-creation community that
flourishes across the world, there is a wealth of information on how
to make your own armor as well as any number of modern armorers who
serve a variety of armoring needs from pure costume to pure history.
Armor in the medieval era was made chiefly of iron, steel or
leather. Bronze and brass found use as trims for different pieces of
armor, and certain types of horn were used in some armors as well.
The armor types examined in this article will generally be made from
one or more of these materials.
Because of the needs of some re-creation groups, aluminum has seen
fairly widespread use as a cheap, light alternative to steel or iron
in armor. Although this is a creative and useful solution to the
problem of mobility, it does not accurately reflect the conditions
under which armor would have been worn in the Middle Ages. Aluminum -
although a commonly existing element in nature - was unknown as
a metal in the Middle Ages and was not available in processed form
until several centuries later. Therefore aluminum armor is not allowed for use in the
Mercenaries Medieval Combat Guild and will not be discussed in terms
Each type of armor will be analyzed according to the following
categories: Peak Area of Use, Most Often Used In (pieces of armor),
Pro/Con, including amount of noise one makes while running in armor.
Please note that when judging the “Peak Era of Use” in the
analysis of each type of armor, the earliest date considered will be
800 A.D., as that is the earliest date in the scope of the MMCG’s
Leather was a cheap and relatively easily accessible material to
obtain during the Middle Ages. Although rarely used for clothing, it
found use in certain types of armor. Most purely leather armor would
have been worn early in the Middle Ages, although leather continued
to see use as a foundational material for other types of armor even
into the Late Middle Ages.
There has been much debate concerning a type of armor called cuir
boilli, which is a type of leather armor boiled in wax until
reaching a tough, wood-like consistency. This material holds up well
under bludgeoning strikes, but can actually be easier to cut through
with a sharpened blade than softer leather that has not been treated
It is fairly certain, though, that medieval warriors sometimes went
to battle in a type of boiled leather armor - whether that leather
had been treated in wax or not. Decorated leather defenses - especially
cuisses and greaves - can be seen depicted in effigy on knights’
tombs as late as the early 13th century.
Peak Era of Use: 800 - 1100 A.D.
Most Often Used In: Bracers, cuisses, greaves.
Pros: Relatively cheap and easy to work with. Easily
decorated. Light and mobile. Quiet.
Cons: Only good for certain pieces of armor. Does not protect
especially well. Susceptible to damage by weather and age (i.e.,
warping, cracking). Commercially available leather armor is usually
very heavily influenced by fantasy designs.
Ring armor is essentially leather with heavy metal rings (usually
steel or iron) sewn directly onto it. This provides slightly more
protection than just leather. However, there is no direct evidence of
ring-armor being worn at any point in history in Europe (although
there have been finds of Asian ring-armor). European iconographic
evidence seems to suggest the existence of such defenses, however.
This type of armor might have been worn in the Early and High Middle
Ages, and may even have seen use by poorer soldiers in the Late
Peak Era of Use: 900 - 1150 A.D. (?)
Most Often Used In: Bracers and cuirass.
Pros: Still fairly cheap, and easy to make with basic
leatherworking skills. Light and mobile, and better protection than
plain leather. Quiet.
Cons: Still only useful for certain pieces of armor. Not very
good against percussive or crushing blows. Commercially available
pieces often influenced by fantasy elements.
Scale armor is usually made of a leather backing with scales of a
rigid material either sewn or riveted onto it. This rigid material
can be boiled leather, horn, or metal (steel, iron, brass, bronze).
Scale armor is usually made in overlapping rows with the scales
attached at the top of the row and hanging down.
This type of armor is depicted often in artwork of the Early Middle
Ages, and then seems to suffer a fairly sharp drop in popularity as
mail grows more widespread and accessible.
The term “mail” was often used in early history to merely denote “armor.”
So occasionally, terms like “scale mail” will be found. However, the
correct term is simply Scale Armor, or "Leaf Armor."
Peak Era of Use: 800 - 1150 A.D.
Most Often Used In: Cuirass, bracers, greaves, tassets.
Pros: Protects well against slashes and mildly well against
crushes. Medium weight. Not terribly difficult to make with basic
leather and metalworking skills.
Cons: Distribution of weight is generally in one place, making
the armor seem heavier. Difficult to maintain in case of damage. Only
useful for certain pieces of armor. Difficult to find commercially.
Also sometimes called a Jack, Brigandine is made of small steel or
iron plates sandwiched between layers of leather or canvas and
riveted in place. It was a popular defense on its own for less
wealthy soldiers and as a second layer over mail for richer knights.
This type of armor sees fairly widespread use in the High Middle
Ages, and slowly tapering off (although not disappearing completely)
in the Late Middle Ages.
What many role playing games refer to as "studded leather"
armor is likely a confused interpretation of medieval artwork that
depicted Brigandines (as the only visible metal part of the armor is
the rivet structure holding the plates underneath in place).
Most of what is known about this type of armor is taken from either
iconographic sources, or - like the Coat of Plates - from a mass
grave site near Wisby largely excavated between 1928 - 1930, and full
of remains from a battle fought in 1361.
Peak Era of Use: 1150 - 1400 A.D.
Most Often Used In: Cuirass, cuisses, gorget.
Pros: Protects well against slashes and moderately against
crushes. Medium weight, but fairly evenly distributed. Not terribly
difficult to make with basic leather and metalworking skills. Easily
Cons: Moderately expensive. Only good for defending relatively
large areas. Not especially useful for arms or shins. Does not
breathe very well. Can be moderately loud.
Coat of Plates
This armor is constructed in the same manner as a brigandine (steel
or iron sandwiched between layers of leather and canvas). It differs
in that the plates are substantially larger in a Coat of Plates - usually
running the width of the torso. This type of armor was fairly
widespread in the Late Middle Ages. Most of our knowledge of Coats of
Plates - which come in many different patterns - is taken from finds
at the site of the Battle of Wisby.
Peak Era of Use: 1300 - 1500 A.D.
Most Often Used In: Cuirass (exclusively)
Pros: Protects well against cuts, thrusts and crushes. Medium
weight, fairly well distributed. Simple to make with basic leather
and metalworking skills. Fairly widely commercially available.
Cons: Moderately expensive. Not very flexible. Only used for
cuirass. Does not breathe very well. Can be moderately to very loud.
Splinted armor is another leather/plate hybrid. In this case, the
leather is only used as a backing as opposed to being constructed in
a sandwich manner. Plates are long narrow strips (or splints) riveted
onto to the leather backing so that they are exposed. This type of
armor predates either of the other leather/plate hybrids, and saw use
in the Early Middle Ages and partially in the High Middle Ages.
Peak Era of Use: 900 - 1100 A.D.
Most Often Used In: Bracers, greaves.
Pros: Cheap and easy to make. Offers good protection again
cuts and mild protection against crushes. Fairly light. Quiet.
Cons: Not useful for protecting large areas (torso, thighs).
Not widely commercially available.
Lamellar armor is similar to scale armor. It is usually made of
small, thin scales of metal, horn or boiled leather. However, instead
of lacing directly to a leather backing, the scales in lamellar armor
usually lace to each other. Also, their alignment is usually
bottom-to-top patterning in rows instead of scale armor’s
While lamellar armor was much more widespread in the East (China,
Mongolia, Japan), it did see use in Europe during the Early and High
Middle Ages - predominantly in areas close to Middle-Eastern
influence (Byzantine Empire, Italy).
Peak Era of Use: 1000 - 1250 A.D.
Most Often Used In: Cuirass, bracers, cuisses, greaves.
Pros: Excellent defense against cuts and thrusts. Decent
protection from crushes.
Cons: Moderately heavy. Loud. Difficult to make. Not widely
commercially available. Hot.
Often mistakenly called by the Victorian-invented name “chain-mail,”
mail armor was far and away the most popular and widespread type of
armor used during the Middle Ages. Made of interlocking steel or iron
rings riveted closed, mail is flexible and tough. It was used nonstop
from the height of the Roman Empire until the end of the Renaissance,
reaching its peak in use during the High Middle Ages.
Peak Era of Use: 950 - 1300 A.D.
Most Often Used In: Hauberk, gauntlets, chausses, coif.
Pros: Flexible. Simple to make. Widely commercially available.
Offers good protection against cuts. Accurate for every time period
in the MMCG.
Cons: Moderately heavy, and bad distribution of weight. Poor
defense against thrusts and crushes. Loud. Moderately expensive. In
fact, most commercially available mail is either quite expensive or
not riveted (and even most riveted mail for sale is not the same as
historical riveted mail).
Often associated with the “knight in shining armor,” plate armor is
the strongest type of armor that was worn in the Middle Ages. It was
formed of iron or steel plates that fit together by a system of
rivets and straps. It could be simple nearly to the point of crude,
or ornate to the point of florid. It was sometimes painted in order
to keep rust from forming. Nearly all helmets were made of plate.
As with “scale mail” the term “plate mail” has appeared in
role-playing games and has worked its way into the popular lexicon of
medieval fantasy enthusiasts. However, the proper term is simply “plate
armor.” (See Scale Armor).
Peak Era of Use: 1350 - 1500 A.D.
Most Often Used In: Everything. Especially helmets.
Pros: Excellent protection against everything. Widely
commercially available. Good distribution of weight, even though it
Cons: Hot. Unbelievably Loud. Expensive. Heavy, even with good
distribution of weight. Poorly fitted plate armor can be difficult to
move in. Difficult to make without advanced knowledge of
metalworking. Commercially available plate armor varies hugely
in its authenticity and quality.
Continue to Selecting the Right
Armor / Armor Resources