Why wasn't plate armour introduced earlier in the medieval period?

Jan 2015
2,950
MD, USA
#12
There are several factors in my opinion.

1. No experience with it.
Germanic kingdoms have no tradition of having plate armor unlike the Greco-Romans and are still too impoverished to attempt to create new kind of armor.
Experience, yes--they already had mail and it worked and they were used to it. There was no incentive to create something they didn't feel they needed. But it wasn't about cost--if you can afford mail you can afford at least simple pieces of plate. It's almost as if *fashion* was a major factor, and it may well have been.

2. Price.
Plate armor require tailoring on the limb and torso which increase the price. Creating a full body plate armor is too expensive, even full body mail armor are non existent in early Medieval period.
With no full body armor, cutting method would be used on unprotected parts, getting cut on the upper arm when wearing sleeveless mail shirt or a cuirass have no difference. The enemy would just avoid the cuirass and cut where there is no armor
Again, I don't think cost was a big deal. BUT it is true that the first pieces of plate armor in the middle ages were simply strapped on over (or under) mail. There was no concept of plate armor *replacing* mail, or any attempt to make it cover as much as mail could. That didn't happen without a century of development of articulated joints. So yeah, anyone offered a breastplate and some limb pieces would point out all the gaps, and stick with his mail.

3. Durable and easy to repair.
The fight would be done in area with low manufacturing capability which is unlike the High Medieval and Late Medieval period in which cities are common throughout Europe and all would have the ability to repair plate armor.
It is easier to repair mail in German forest than bringing a furnace to reforge damages plates. Mail with holes is still more comfortable to wear than a dented cuirass.
I don't think so. Repairs are easier than manufacture, after all! Armored nobles didn't live in secluded towers surrounded by nothing but uninhabited forest, after all. They were the pinnacle of a full and complex society, with plenty of support behind them. So any culture that could make armor could fix it. And dents are very easy to hammer out! I've done it many times, even with nothing more sophisticated than a piece of wooden dowel. So even imported armor could be repaired with no problem.

4. No melee high impact weapon like lance or polehammer.
No need to protect against such blunt trauma and therefore no need to make deflective and rigid armor.
When heavy cavalry with couched lance start playing more role in the 11th century, we see Europeans quickly increase their armor.
Yeah, no argument with that.

Matthew
 

sparky

Ad Honorem
Jan 2017
4,815
Sydney
#13
"It's almost as if *fashion* was a major factor, and it may well have been. "
I just had this vision
a guy turning up with breast plate armor and all the others mail covered knights laughing their heads off
cracking jokes at him
 
Likes: Spike117
Jun 2019
29
Southeast Asia
#14
I think the real problem is that we are comparing later European plate armor and thinking that those are what the Germanic tribes would create if they can.

Experience, yes--they already had mail and it worked and they were used to it. There was no incentive to create something they didn't feel they needed. But it wasn't about cost--if you can afford mail you can afford at least simple pieces of plate. It's almost as if *fashion* was a major factor, and it may well have been.
Even if it was not cost, creating high quality metal with consistency and mass producing them need blast furnace.

Again, I don't think cost was a big deal. BUT it is true that the first pieces of plate armor in the middle ages were simply strapped on over (or under) mail. There was no concept of plate armor *replacing* mail, or any attempt to make it cover as much as mail could. That didn't happen without a century of development of articulated joints. So yeah, anyone offered a breastplate and some limb pieces would point out all the gaps, and stick with his mail.
I didn't say that plate alone is costly, I am saying that tailoring the plate for different people is what would make it expensive. Full body plate armor is only worn from 1350 to 1550 for all soldiers at the most generous estimate. It is expensive for the more developed states of Renaissance Europe, that when army size increase full body plate armor quickly disappear for normal soldier in just the space of a century, it would be even more expensive for Early Medieval states.

Standard plate armor coverage rarely cover as much as 12th-13th century mail suit, it just mean that the armor coverage is maximized for area that would face the most attack.

Plates are worn on top of mail meaning that plate have a certain protective property that simply cannot be replicated with mail, if they are willing to spend money for two types of armor at once. We even have examples of stiff leather armor used as vambrace, meaning the rigid property of such armor are something that mail alone cannot provide.

European plate already articulated joints since the very first example of articulated plate armor, after all that is what make the European plate armor unique in having separate joint armor. In fact, joint armor appear first before the armor for the limb.

This is an example from the last 20 years of the 13th century, probably 1289, from Italy.

Armor Europe 13th century 1289 Italy early articulated plate armor 2.jpg

Armor Europe 13th century 1289 Italy Guglielmo Berardi da Narbona 2.jpg

One of the earliest full plate armor is from 1323-1326 France.

Armor Europe 14th century 1323-1326 France BNF Latin 10483 Breviarium ad usum fratrum Predicat...jpg

Armor Europe 14th century 1323-1326 France BNF Latin 10483 Breviarium ad usum fratrum Predicat...jpg

I don't think so. Repairs are easier than manufacture, after all! Armored nobles didn't live in secluded towers surrounded by nothing but uninhabited forest, after all. They were the pinnacle of a full and complex society, with plenty of support behind them. So any culture that could make armor could fix it. And dents are very easy to hammer out! I've done it many times, even with nothing more sophisticated than a piece of wooden dowel. So even imported armor could be repaired with no problem.
With what I mean repair on the field is not during High or Late Middle Age, but during the Early Middle Age. Solid plate armor surfaces are easier to fix than things like sliding river which is when damaged could hinder movement. Repairing solid plate armor by cold hammering it is still not as good as putting new ring on a hole in a mail shirt or sewing a new plate in a lamellar armor.

European forces of the Early Middle Age ironically fight on a larger area than High and Late Medieval forces. Bringing a roll of wire is certainly better than having to bring furnaces with you when travelling through enemy areas with few or no town.

Mail is very suitable for the condition of the Early Medieval period.

1. Protect against cut and moderate thrust. With no dedicated archer army, mail is already enough to protect against cuts and stab from period weapon, while the shield could be used to parry thrusts from spear or cut to the lower body. When the area have a lot of archery with power bow, lamellar is the preferred armor as we see in Central Asia.

2. It need low maintenance as it clean itself when the ring rub against each other. It is also durable as there is no organic connecting material that could disintegrate.



Plate armor would be the response to couched lance, angling a cuirass is unneeded against arm powered thrusting weapon. Such cuirass only appear in Europe because the lance is extremely developed with knights training with it as their main weapon. European lance are also made to be weighted at the back to make it longer than other lances around the world, I have seen lances with ribs which would increase its stiffness to resist breaking. Arrete increasing the power of the already powerful lance strike.
 
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sparky

Ad Honorem
Jan 2017
4,815
Sydney
#15
limb plate armor was not necessarily covering all around
in the case of arms and legs only the outside was plate tied with straps
it was lighter , protected long bones from breaking ( which mail doesn't )
and was more comfortable than gambeson
I find significant that the switch to plate coincided with the crusades
fighting with gambeson in the Palestinian summer would lead to heatstroke
 
Jan 2015
2,950
MD, USA
#16
I think the real problem is that we are comparing later European plate armor and thinking that those are what the Germanic tribes would create if they can.
To some degree, yes! It's a pitfall to be wary of, certainly.

Even if it was not cost, creating high quality metal with consistency and mass producing them need blast furnace.
But you don't need high-quality metal! The Romans (and their contemporaries) made plenty of iron armor without blast furnaces. All you need is a smelter and a forge, which had existed since the Bronze Age. LOTS of surviving medieval armor is plain iron, right through the Renaissance, though certainly more of the higher-end stuff is steel.

Plates are worn on top mail meaning that plate have a certain protective property that simply cannot be replicated with mail, if they are willing to spend money for two types of armor at once. They could create plated mail armor for the limbs like what the Japanese use, but they didn't. We even have examples of leather armor stiffened and used as vambrace, meaning the rigid property of such armor are really sought out.
Agreed!

European plate already articulated joints since the very first example of articulated plate armor, after all that is what make the European plate armor unique in having separate joint armor. In fact, joint armor appear first before the armor for the limb.
Ah, sorry, by "articulation" I meant the more complex method of joining major plates by 2 or 3 smaller lames with sliding rivets, etc. Not just having the larger plates strapped on next to each other.

With what I mean repair on the field is not during High or Late Middle Age, but during the Early Middle Age.

European forces of the Early Middle Age ironically fight on a larger area than High and Late Medieval forces. Bringing a roll of wire is certainly better than having to bring furnaces with you.
Nah, all you need for most repairs is a toolbox. If you seriously do need heat, any village will have a blacksmith. Or bring your own smith, either with a simple portable forge, or even a set of bellows and some bricks, he can set up a forge on the ground and have hot metal in about 20 minutes. Though I agree that mail is not hard to fix!

Mail is very suitable for the condition of the Early Medieval period.

1. Protect against cut and moderate thrust. With no dedicated archer army, mail is already enough to protect against cuts and stab from period weapon, while the shield could be used to parry thrusts from spear or cut to the lower body. When the area have a lot of archery with power bow, lamellar is the preferred armor as we see in Central Asia.

2. It need low maintenance as it clean itself when the ring rub against each other. It is also durable as there is no organic connecting material that could disintegrate.
Oh, mail was certainly good enough for them, or they wouldn't have used it! It's even better against thrusts and arrows than you seem to think it is, as well. Great stuff! And one fascinating thing about mail is that there is no modern substitute for it--butchers' gloves and shark suits are still made of mail.

Matthew
 
Jun 2019
29
Southeast Asia
#17
But you don't need high-quality metal! The Romans (and their contemporaries) made plenty of iron armor without blast furnaces. All you need is a smelter and a forge, which had existed since the Bronze Age. LOTS of surviving medieval armor is plain iron, right through the Renaissance, though certainly more of the higher-end stuff is steel.
The thing is increasing thickness in armor made of plates give predictable results against mist attack. With all else being equal, a 2 mm brigandine is more protective than a 1 mm one. A lamellar of 1 mm would probably the same resistance as 1 mm brigandine.

However "increasing thickness" in mail is not so easy.

Increasing thickness of the wire would give even more protection against cutting than what is already needed, however the rivet would always be a weakpoint.

Making the weave denser have a limit which could reduce mail flexibility.

Even heat treatment may not be easy or as useful as it is with plate.
The wire should be soft when mail is first made. After that how do we harden it without making the ring stick to each other?
Even after being tempered, it would mean they would be more brittle than the original soft iron wire used before heat treatment which mean the ring would be more likely to break than a softer ring which would just bend.

All of these still did not resolve the problem of mail being too flexible to protect against blunt trauma.


Ah, sorry, by "articulation" I meant the more complex method of joining major plates by 2 or 3 smaller lames with sliding rivets, etc. Not just having the larger plates strapped on next to each other.
The area not covered by mail is already hard to attack even without shield.

Also it is very possible to make rigid or flexible armor that cover the whole body without using mail at all, however most of those are outside the time period set by the OP or not European.


Oh, mail was certainly good enough for them, or they wouldn't have used it! It's even better against thrusts and arrows than you seem to think it is, as well. Great stuff! And one fascinating thing about mail is that there is no modern substitute for it--butchers' gloves and shark suits are still made of mail.
Mail is very streamlined with smoother surface thanother flexible armor and is metal connected which make it more sanitary.

The real question is why plated mail took so long to be popular? And why it was very rarely used in Europe?
 
Sep 2017
738
United States
#18
A factor to consider is that this isn't like modern military technology where the newest rifle can be prototyped, tested, modified, and begin replacing whatever model came before it. Change in all areas of technology and society was incredibly slow compared to the lightning speed that the modern world changes.

There wasn't a centralized corps of scientists and armorers at a king's disposal with the sole purpose of testing and creating new weapons and armor. AFAIK, being in that industry (smithing and whatnot) was generally hereditary or guild-based, meaning the craft was kept local and tight-knit. So there wasn't a way for a new development to enter the scene on a large scale. If you found a new way of making better armor, you wouldn't want to share your secret and lose your advantage. And even if you did want to share, it's not like you're going to do a YouTube video on how to do it in an age where the fastest information traveled was a man on horseback.

This also ties in with the factor that there wasn't necessarily a reason. Sure, better weapons and armor are always preferred. But if your warriors have been using mail for as long as they can remember, and it has been working absolutely fine, there is no incentive to get creative. In fact, for many armorers, dinking around experimenting was probably a waste of time and money to just doing their job the tried and true way. And as for the warriors using the mail, if the mail is working fine for them, they aren't going to think "well what if I had something marginally better?".

It isn't until weapons and tactics in the High Medieval advanced enough that a broader reaction was made; even then, by our standards, change was slow. A rifleman from 1900 compared to a soldier from 2000 is so behind; a footman from 1200 isn't fundamentally different than a footman from 1300.

That's not to say that maybe some experiments were made that archaeology and history has lost. It's possible some noble in 600 A.D. Germany had a piece of plate strapped across his chest. But overall, the shift was very slow.
 
Jan 2015
2,950
MD, USA
#19
VERY nicely put, Spike!


The thing is increasing thickness in armor made of plates give predictable results against mist attack. With all else being equal, a 2 mm brigandine is more protective than a 1 mm one. A lamellar of 1 mm would probably the same resistance as 1 mm brigandine.
Sure, I get that, but if 1mm or even less was clearly doing the job, there was no perceived need for anything thicker.

However "increasing thickness" in mail is not so easy.

Increasing thickness of the wire would give even more protection against cutting than what is already needed, however the rivet would always be a weakpoint.

Making the weave denser have a limit which could reduce mail flexibility.
Well, we know mail varied quite a bit in any era, in terms of ring size and wire thickness. Certainly it was not all identical in protection, weight, flexibility, etc. And from what I've heard about modern weapon tests, the rings do not usually break at the rivet, so it doesn't seem to be that much of a weak point. (Assuming the riveting is done properly!!)

Even heat treatment may not be easy or as useful as it is with plate.
The wire should be soft when mail is first made. After that how do we harden it without making the ring stick to each other?
Even after being tempered, it would mean they would be more brittle than the original soft iron wire used before heat treatment which mean the ring would be more likely to break than a softer ring which would just bend.
Sure, I get that, too, BUT hardening does not always mean more brittleness, or not enough to make a difference. Just using steel wire instead of iron was an improvement, though iron was certainly tough and malleable and served very well.

All of these still did not resolve the problem of mail being too flexible to protect against blunt trauma.
Though that was clearly not seen as a "problem" for the first thousand years or more. Especially since the SHIELD was the main defense. There simply were not enough weapons capable of dealing enough blunt trauma to make mail any kind of "disadvantage" on the battlefield. Open wounds were FAR more of a threat due to the danger of infection (as well as that whole "dying of blood loss" thing, ha!).

The real question is why plated mail took so long to be popular? And why it was very rarely used in Europe?
Well, yah, kind of as we've been saying, yes?

Matthew
 
Jun 2019
29
Southeast Asia
#20
When I mean plated mail, I mean armor like the one the Ottoman used, not European plate armor.

It would be simple to cut sword blanks and connect them with mail, yet plated mail only start to appear in 14th-15th century.

Plated mail is quicker to made than normal mail, while having some rigid property of plate.



Do anyone feel that European start the change to its iconic full body coverage in the late 900s? I mean they start to make integrate mail hoods, which is never used before.
In the Bayeux Tapestry, we start seeing some full body mail armor.