Armour: chain/mail vs scale vs lamellar vs plate

Oct 2011
140
Croatia
#1
What are reasons for usage of different types of armour?

As I understand it, mail armour was popular because it is simple to make: it does not require advanced metalurgy, just a bunch of people making wire and then links. It is also easy to maintain - it is self-cleaning, basically - and repair, as well as easy to adjust to wearer simply by adding or taking out links. However, it is tiring to wear - most of the weight is at shoulders, unless distributed through usage of belts (Byzantines used breast belts in addition to waist belt), whereas plate armour distributes weight all over the body.

Mass production of plate armour requires blast furnace and water-powered trip hammer. Large plates are very difficult to make, with precision work required to create plates that are of roughly equalized thickness and material quality. Most types of plate armour also have to be custom-fit for the wearer, and this is another impediment to mass production. Munition armour is the exception, but it has its own limitations.

Scale and lamellar armour and coat-of-plates are in-between. Small scales require less skill to make than large plates (such as breastplate), and armour can also be adjusted by taking out or adding rows of scales. However, due to larger size of scales, such adjustments are necessarily rougher than with mail armour. Depending on how stiff the armour is, weight may or may not be only on shoulders.

Thoughts?
 
Aug 2014
4,343
Australia
#2
Mail was the most successful and versatile type of amour ever invented that saw use by virtually every metal-using culture on the planet for the best part of two thousand years. Even when plate was mass-produced, mail was still preferred in many circumstances.
 
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Oct 2011
140
Croatia
#3
Mail was the most successful and versatile type of amour ever invented that saw use by virtually every metal-using culture on the planet for the best part of two thousand years. Even when plate was mass-produced, mail was still preferred in many circumstances.
Yes, I know. For example, while lorica segmentata might be iconic Roman armour, even during heyday mail was actually dominant armour type. As I recall, that had to do with ease of maintenance. So what do you think was more important with respect to mail: ease of maintenance, or ease of production, relative to plate armour? As I recall, plate armour only displaced mail armour in Europe once firearms entered widespread usage; but in other areas, mail still dominated. That being said, wasn't bamboo "plate" armour widespread in Japan during some periods?
 
Jan 2015
2,878
MD, USA
#4
Yes, I know. For example, while lorica segmentata might be iconic Roman armour, even during heyday mail was actually dominant armour type. As I recall, that had to do with ease of maintenance.
Well, we don't really know that. The whole question of "WHY" for Roman armor transitions (as with so many other bits of history!) is highly debatable simply because the ancients fail to tell us *why* they did something. Mail was obviously popular with the Romans, and was in use for a couple centuries before the segmentata showed up. Just WHY the segmentata showed up and became so popular, we can't really say. It might have been cheaper to produce, but that's a dangerous equation since it was a slave economy, plus we are still arguing about details of metallurgy and production of plate versus mail. It's also hard for *us* to imagine a "cheap" armor being so covered with decorative brass doodads, but that may be just our problem!

Also, our conception of which troops used more segmentata versus more mail is based largely on artwork such as Trajan's Column, so we have this idea that ONLY legionaries wore segmentata while auxiliaries used mail, and THEN we build up complex ideas of functionality, mobility, utility for particular tactics, etc., all of which may be complete modern bunk. We don't know WHY--we should leave WHY alone!

That said, the disappearance of segmentata seems to correspond with the establishment of central armor factories, and the current theory is that mail lent itself better to centralized production than segmentata did.

So what do you think was more important with respect to mail: ease of maintenance, or ease of production, relative to plate armour?
It depends on who you ask! The soldier wants something light and comfortable and easy to take care of. The officer wants something that needs lots of cleaning, to keep the soldier busy. The aristocrat wants the best protection in the latest fashion, and doesn't give a damn about cleaning or maintenance OR cost because he's got servants and bankers to take care of those. The manufacturer wants to cut as many corners as he can while still staying in business. Personally, I doubt maintenance was ever a major factor, since you had to take care of everything in your life in any case.

As I recall, plate armour only displaced mail armour in Europe once firearms entered widespread usage; but in other areas, mail still dominated.
Plate armor was becoming common well before firearms were a significant force. And right into the 17th century, some experts were still recommending mail over munition plate armor, which tended to be crappy and uncomfortable.

There are hundreds of discussions of armor types! None of them get entirely solved, because there are too many variables and too many unknowns!

Matthew
 
Jan 2019
106
Southeast Asia
#6
Mail:

+ Good:

1. Resistant against cut and thrust.
2. Probably the best armor to cover all parts of the body as it can be tailored to follow the body closely because of its small component size.
3. Best durability and lifetime compared to most other armor since it is metal linked with metal and can be repaired easily unlike solid plate. It can be used for generations as long as the ring did not stick to each other with rust.
4. Completely flexible and the armor type that hinder movement the least (if weight distribution is ignored).
5. Easy to combine with other armor, examples include plated mail, mail worn beneath lamellar, concealable mail under cloth, mail covering gaps in plate and so on.
6. Concealability
7. Only require hot working during wire pulling. The process to make mail could be done without furnace.


- Bad
1. Fully flexible, so blunt force trauma would be felt by the wearer more than other more rigid armor.
2. Very time consuming to make.
3. Its design may make it impossible to cause attack to get deflected as a thrust would stuck to a ring.
4. (Uncertain) Hardening did not have the same advantage it did to mail as other armor, a harder mail is more brittle and could break from a strike while a softer ring would bend against a strike, but softer rings could be easier to penetrate with thrusting weapons. As such, I don't know how it could be treated to resist bullets, we have modern test and accounts where lamellar armor and plate could resist bullets, but mail was never recorded to resist firearm bullets.
5. (Not so important) Cannot be made without metal.
6. Weight distribution is bad without proper shaping or belt.
7. Require high quality metal with few or no slag to produce.
 
Jan 2019
106
Southeast Asia
#7
Scale:

+ Good

1. Simple to make. It is one of the first metal armor type made in history.
2. Layering of the scale provide double thickness of the scale plate.
3. Easy to repair without furnace or metal tool (when the plates are sewn to backing, not riveted).


- Bad

1. Scale could move aside or upward when facing a thrust from a certain direction, making the thrust penetrate the backing.
2. Loud as the scales would hit each other when the wearer walk.
3. Lifetime depend on the durability of the backing, not only the plates

There are designs of scale which help reduce these problems.

One would be to fasten of the bottom and side of the scales to the backing or other scale to prevent the scales from moving sideward or upward.

The other is to point the scales upward and fasten it like the first method.
 
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Jan 2019
106
Southeast Asia
#8
Lamellar:

+ Good

1. Did not require backing like scale armor.
2. Could be deflective depending on the overlap of the plates.
3. (Uncertain) a loose lacing could allow arrow point to push a layer of plates, thus wasting its energy instead of penetrating it. Example: Japanese armor like the O-yoroi.
4. Different plate size for different part of the body for different purpose and protection.
5. Could be repaired easily with spare lamellae and laces without hot working or metal tools, unlike mail and plate.


- Bad

1. The lacing could get cut, damaging the armor without having to damage the metal.
2. The lacing could get soaked when entering water, making it heavier.
3. The lacing could be dirty and house insects when not cleaned properly.
4. Lifetime depend on the durability of the lace, not only the plates.


The problem with lacing getting cut could be prevented by using lacing methods that hide the laces behind the plates.

The solution to getting wet from rain is to wear a surcoat over the armor.
 
Jan 2019
106
Southeast Asia
#9
Plate (Medieval and Early Modern Europe)

+ Good

1. Best weight to protection ratio depending on metal quality.
2. Could be made into rigid deflective shapes not possible with more flexible type of armor.
3. Very good at dispersing impact over large area.
4. Mostly metal connecting component means high durability. Few non-metallic component like straps used to fasten the armor.
5. Good weight distribution.


- Bad

1. Hard to repair on the field when damaged.
2. Must be tailored for proper weight distribution, which also mean that an armor cannot be comfortably worn by other person.
3. Improper smithing and low quality metal could create area with higher slag or thinner parts which would be weak spots on the plate which is harder to control than armor with smaller metal pieces.
 
#10
There is no reason someone couldn't wear multiple types of armor, and not all armor is made of metal.

Here is a depiction of the styles of weapons and armor in use during the 100 years war. Notice how all the soldiers are wearing cloth armor. The lucky man in blue has some bits of plate covering his arms and calves which were likely scavenged from another battle.
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