Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Arms and Armor - A Quick Primer

Armor is a must for any fantasy writer.  If you’re gonna have swords and arrows and other sharp, pointy objects aimed at your characters, it pretty much goes without saying that you’re gonna want some armor to fend them off!  Of course, you don’t want too much fending off.  If your fantasy book doesn’t bleed, or at least produce a little ichor from icky, dark creatures beyond the ken of men and elves, what’s the point?

No, really?

But which armor to go with?  Well, if you’re looking for realism in your faux-Medieval setting (and who isn’t?), then first you should figure out if you’re going to adhere to a time period.  Yes, there are actually time periods during the Middle Ages.  It wasn’t just one big muddle of knights and peasants and horses.  The Middle Ages spanned roughly a thousand years, and folk weren’t sitting around waiting to get the Black Plague or misname a war.  Following is a wonderful image that shows the evolution of armor from about 650 CE to 1675 CE.

Note how the post-Roman armor doesn’t change significantly until the image of 1050.  That’s five hundred years until mail started to lengthen and cover more than just the vital bits.  Apparently, prior to this time, folk didn’t mind their arms and legs being hacked at by the bad guys.  This image, however, doesn’t tell the whole story.  Armor was part of a full-package arms race, that included an evolution of weapons.  Check out the following:

This is quite lovely because you can see that each adaptation of armor and weapons was an answer to how each was being deployed on the battlefield, and the answer came in the form or variations on the theme.  As metalcraft became more refined, and thus more in demand, swords and shields and armor also shifted as the needs required.  Note how the sword of the 1100s if vastly different from the sword of the 1400s.  This was a direct result of the advances in armor.

This happens until the late 1500s when armor practically cocoons the wearer, and then someone comes along and introduces firearms, rendering most armor ineffective.

Stupid guns anyhow!


  1. Thank you for the nice article and sharing the illustrations.

    1. No problem. Thank you for reading!