Why didn't the Ancient Chinese use plate armor like the Greeks, Romans, Europeans?

Dec 2013
29
Mars
#1
Why didn't the Ancient Chinese use plate armor like the Greeks, Romans, Europeans?

In the Warring States for example, the Chinese relied on lacquered leather lamellar armor. Why didnt they use bronze or metal breastplates like the Greeks? And later on, the Chinese used mail, but why didnt they use heavy plate armor? Was it because Chinese horses werent as large and powerful as European horses?
 

Mrbsct

Ad Honorem
Jul 2013
2,611
USA
#2
Cost. Making a full plate is expensive. Remember, Plate Cuirass isn't just a plate. Its folded to make it as light as possible and to be symmetrical to a human torso, it needs to be symmetric to deflect a blow(a flat plate get dented). The Chinese relied on high numbers peasant armies. Greek use of plate armour is limmited since Hoplites had to buy their own equipment. By the Hellenistic time the Linothorax was common.

The Romans never used plate armour besides officers. Chaimail or Scale was used by the average soldier. The Lorica Segmentata is simply lamminated Steel/Iron armour.
 
Feb 2011
6,231
#4
Full plate armor isn't exactly user friendly if not custom fitted to the wearer. For example, imagine trying to see through the eye slits of a helmet when those eye slits are too high or too low or too far apart. Armies in which individuals were expected to buy their own equipment can have plate armor for the high income earners. In China the government provided the equipment, so mass production is necessary. Lamellar, chain, and brigandine would be relatively closer to a "fit for all sizes" type. Combined with the fact that these types of armor comparatively did not require much in terms of skilled metalworking, and can be produced both cheaper and faster, it is then no wonder that they were chosen for mass production.

A simple breastplate on the other hand might be a more challenging question, as both ancient Korea and Japan once had bronze breastplate or breastplate-like armor. Their production died out early with the onset of massed armies, but when Western plate armor was introduced to Asia, Japan once again adopted the breastplate alongside local armor. China and Korea did not. I venture to say it probably had something to do with Japanese samurai supplying their own armor.
 
Last edited:
Feb 2011
1,595
#5
Didn't high income earners fight in the Chinese army or did they let others fight for them?

Anyway, the use of plate armour did only really spread on the battlefield after crossbows had developed more penetrating power. It was part of an arms race between projectile weapons and armour. These cocking mechanisms were AFAIK unknown in China (and elsewhere), where the hand-held crossbow continued to be spanned manually and was less powerful.
 
Last edited:
Feb 2011
6,231
#6
That's misleading, as a winched crossbow with three times the draw weight but only a third of the powerstroke compared to a handheld crossbow would only be able to fire the same bolt at around the same velocity, all else being equal.

The most common type of Han crossbow was 387 lbs in draw weight, while the heaviest medieval crossbow found up to date is 1200 lbs in draw weight, owned by Payne Gallway. Such a crossbow is so heavy that only very strong men could use it as a handheld crossbow, while for average men it must be used with some sort of prop.

So the average Han crossbow is around 1/3 to 1/4 the draw strength of the top-tier medieval crossbow. However, the Han crossbow had a much longer powerstroke, and powerstroke is just as important in contributing to projectile power as draw weight, in which projectile power = power stroke * draw weight. Draw weight increases the power stored in the prod/string, but the powerstroke increases the ratio of power that can be transferred from the crossbow prod/string to the bolt. A Han crossbow had a powerstroke more or less the same as that of a bow. The medieval crossbow had a powerstroke of ~5.5-6 inches, around three times less than that of a bow. Ergo a Han crossbow of 387 lbs in draw weight is equivalent to a medieval crossbow of around 1000 lbs in draw weight. Gallway's 1200 lb crossbow, due to its large size, had a powerstroke of 7 inches. So a typical Han crossbow would be around 70% of the power of the strongest Medieval crossbow found up to date. The heaviest Han handheld crossbow would be 516 lbs in draw weight. Though less than half the draw weight of the heavy crossbow of Payne Gallway, it also has more than twice the powerstroke, making the two comparable in power.

The above is the medieval European crossbow while the below is the ancient Chinese one, with a much longer draw length/powerstroke:



I will say that by the time plate armor came to its own in Europe, crossbow technology fell significantly in China, perhaps due to Mongol rule who viewed it as a threat.
 
Feb 2011
1,595
#7
That's misleading, as a winched crossbow with three times the draw weight but only a third of the powerstroke compared to a handheld crossbow would only be able to fire the same bolt at around the same velocity, all else being equal.
Power stroke? You mean the rate of fire. This is the normal trade-off. Crossbows weren't anyway made for high rates of fires. These mechanized crossbow had a greater range and more lethal penetrating power at close distances. This in turn led to the adoption of better armour.

China did not know mechanized hand-held crossbows, hence there was no incentive to improve armour.
 
Feb 2011
6,231
#8
Powerstroke is NOT rate of fire, I don't see how you got that. If you read anything about what I just posted, then even if you didn't know what powerstroke is, you would AT LEAST know that it wasn't rate of fire. Heck, even if you DIDN'T read anything but merely glanced at the picture I provided, you would receive a huge hint that powerstroke is not rate of fire. Please go look it up. Powerstroke contributes just as much to projectile power as draw weight.
 
Last edited:
Feb 2011
6,231
#10
Just look it up online, it's not as if it's hidden information. Powerstroke is the draw length - brace height. If you don't know what they are either, go look it up. Again, it's not hidden information.
 

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