Plate armor

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Gothic plate armor from the late Middle Ages

As Platemail or plate Harnisch an existing from anatomically shaped metal plates armor designated. It is a form of protective clothing that is used in combat e.g. B. to protect against stabbing weapons. Plate armor, which protected a large part of the body, appeared in Western Europe towards the end of the 14th century and was used well into the 17th century. They were constantly evolving, the Platemail there is seen not. While the most important parts of such armor usually consisted of only one or a few steel plates, certain parts of the body had to be protected by numerous metal rails (attachments) or by chain mesh in order to guarantee the wearer the greatest possible mobility.

First plate armor


Hoplite with helmet, breastplate and greaves

Metal plates, which were hung over the chest, were probably first used as body protection. As pectorals , they can still be found in the legion of the early Roman Republic. But already in the Bronze Age , plate armor that enveloped the body emerged, especially in the Greek culture. A Mycenaean bell armor from the 14th century BC came to Dendra . To light, which is extremely bulky and heavy (see Dendra armor ). Since the end of the 8th century BC The Greeks used short breastplates, often designed as muscle armor , with greaves to protect the lower legs and a helmet . In this way the heavy Greek infantry , made up of the hoplites , protected themselves . The bronze armor of the hoplites - called Panhoplia - could weigh over 30 kg and offered the armored body parts excellent protection against most of the close and long-range weapons in use at the time .

Breastplates made of bronze and iron were also in use with the Romans until the fall of the Roman Empire , for which splints were sometimes worn for the forearms and lower legs. In the 2nd century BC BC - possibly even earlier - the Celts developed the chain mail , which in the same century was also used in the Roman army as Lorica Hamata and became the most important type of armor for the legionaries . The plate armor subsequently lost its importance and was only worn by senior officers . From the 1st to the 3rd century, chain armor was temporarily displaced by rail armor, the Lorica Segmentata , only the cavalry kept chain mail because of the greater freedom of movement. In late antiquity, however, rail armor was given up again by the infantry in favor of chain mail, presumably because the latter was easier to maintain. Parallel to this, the scale armor, known in modern times as Lorica Squamata , was in constant use , especially among cavalrymen .

middle Ages

After the fall of the Roman Empire, chain mail was the preferred protection of the wealthiest warriors and the nobility for a long time in the early Middle Ages . In the High Middle Ages , chain armor appeared again, which enveloped almost the entire body. A quilted doublet was worn underneath it (French gambeson or aketon ) because chain armor alone provided little protection from the force of cutting weapons. Other types of metal armor used at this time were scale armor and, less often, lamellar armor .

Before the massive impact of a lance , and especially before the 11th century in Europe emerging crossbow a chain armor offered sufficient protection. The longbow also reduced the protective value of chain armor considerably, so that it was necessary to develop a more massive type of armor. As early as the late 12th century, people apparently switched to protecting the breast with metal plates.

In the 13th century there was a gradual development towards plate armor, which was made by the armorer . First the limbs were protected with metal plates. Around the middle of the 13th century, the knees were protected by plates ( knee tile ), and the elbows were added around 1260 ( Mäusel ). Towards the end of the 13th century, the shins were occasionally protected by metal plates that were worn over or possibly under the chain armor. At the same time, the gloves were also reinforced with metal plates, but this was still very rare. At the end of the 13th century, the first clasps of harness appeared, also known as plate skirt . A plate skirt consisted of several rectangular metal plates that were riveted both vertically and horizontally to the inside of a fabric or leather garment.

Iron shoes appeared around 1320 , and bracers became common in the 1320s . Since the 1330s, the calves were also protected by metal plates. Protection for the hands was improved in the middle of the 14th century with finger gloves made entirely of plates. Around 1370 the breastplate (chest piece) finally gained acceptance. A few years later, the armor hook attached to the breastplate on which the lance could be propped became common. The former pot helmet was replaced by the basin hood , which was originally worn under the bucket helmet . These were first turned into a full-fledged helmet with the folding visor and later with the stake-out visor . The most common form of visor, which was reminiscent of a dog's snout, was called a doggugel .

The mostly noble porters were now protected by a full armor, which consisted of several dozen metal plates, which were flexibly connected to one another by numerous straps, rivets and hinges. With the increasing completion of the plate armor, the shield , which is mandatory for chain mail, became smaller and smaller, until it was finally abandoned entirely. In order to protect the armpits and genital area, chain mail was either worn under the plate armor or chain braid was attached to the quilted doublet. In addition, one attached to protect the armpits metal disks at the arms ( besagew ) partial enlarged to an attached to the chest protector plate against the shoulder and Lanzenarm ( lancing armpit ).

The plate armor is a European peculiarity. The Turks, Persians and Indians also began to use full plate armor and attached larger metal plates to their chain armor to protect their torso and limbs. But only in Europe was it made of armor that protected the whole body with metal plates. However, many knights and other nobles could not afford armor made of plates and therefore only protected themselves with chain mesh.

Components and manufacture of plate armor

Properties of plate armor

Contrary to popular belief, it was possible to walk in full armor suitable for battle ( field armor ), to lie down, to get up again and even to get on a horse without assistance. A late Middle / Early Modern full Harnisch weighed an average of 20 to 30 kilograms. The weight of the custom-made armor was very evenly distributed over the body. Today's soldier with full equipment often carries heavier weight on his body. In addition, the nobles have been accustomed to wearing armor since childhood. Plate armor was forged for the later Roman-German Emperor Charles V at the age of twelve, using a doublet and trousers as a template for the armorer. The bizarre thing about it was that he rarely wore his children's armor because it took so long to make his very first record, which was suitable for him at the age of five, that he had already outgrown it. The slab, thus never completely finished, can be viewed in the court, hunting and armory in the Neue Burg in Vienna .

The biggest problem with plate armor was by no means the weight, but the heat development. For example, the Duke of York is said to have died of a heart attack in the Battle of Azincourt in 1415 , which resulted from the extreme heat in his armor. Another problem was rust, which arose particularly in high humidity. To protect plate armor from rusting, it was customary to blacken or otherwise dye it.

The armourers had to have a good knowledge of the human musculoskeletal system in order to be able to make armor as flexible as possible. A harness of King Henry VIII that has survived to this day completely envelops its wearer, but is extremely mobile, which is why it was studied in detail by NASA in the 1960s in order to provide impetus for the construction of an effective space suit.


The high level of protection offered by historical plate armor has now been proven by experimental archeology and tests. As concrete tests with simulated blades on modern equivalents of historical materials show, one needs 200 J of energy to notch a 1.9 mm thick and 150 HV hard iron plate. The historical hardness of the plates was mostly between 200 and 300HV (but breastplates are also known to have a hardness of up to 600HV), the carbon content usually fluctuated between 0.1 and 0.4% and their average thickness was found in the range between 1.0 and 1.5 mm - this made the plate armor practically impenetrable for any type of cut or cut. The only way to defeat such armor was to stab (especially in the gaps in the hinges) or to hit sensitive parts of the body such as the head or chest.

Since the plate armor itself offered the best possible protection against cutting weapons, swords of the XV-XVIII types became popular with the development of this type of armor in the second half of the 14th century . In duels or duels, the plate armor was usually pierced at its weakest points by daggers, polearms, drilling and stabbing swords, with the so-called half sword techniques (or “ short sword for combat ”) being used in the fencing books . By grasping the sword in the middle of the blade, lever and thrusting techniques were used that disarmed an opponent in plate armor, brought them to the ground, forced them to surrender or (often fatally) injured them. The stitch-optimized swords of the 15th – 16th centuries Century had a moderate sharpness in the middle of the blade, or even a ricasso , so that there were no cuts if the weapon was used properly. Wrestling was the most important tactic in duels against warriors in plate armor. Mostly it came down to the end that the fight when fixed by wrestling techniques on the ground enemies with the disc dagger was terminated.

Apart from specialized armor combat swords , the most effective and popular weapons were the murder ax or the war hammer , which enjoyed great popularity in armored combat - the point was either to pierce the plate armor at its weakest point, or to puncture the opponent with one blow Missing contusions ( concussion , broken ribs ) without having to destroy the armor yourself. The popular image of denting plate armor with a blunt weapon and winning through “knockout” or “breaking up” the armor through brutal violence contradicts contemporary sources and must be viewed as a fantasy product of modernity. The forces that are required to destroy those iron plates by deforming or cutting are far beyond the physical capabilities of humans and cannot be applied without mechanical-hydraulic devices.

Components of the plate armor

German plate armor from the time of Maximilian I (16th century) Description of the picture :
A) Helmet: a crown piece of the helmet bell , b visor , c chin point , d throat piece , e neck visor , f neck collar
B) curb : g chest (piece) , q armor hook for inserting the lance, h back (piece) , i belly hoop with leg pockets u. Buttocks tire , k front u. Rear flights , l spring pins to hold the front u. Armpits connecting rear
flights , m breakable edges or collars
C) n arm material : upper and Forearm bracers , o elbow tiles consisting of the mice and the whole or half shells, p fingered gloves or Henzen
D) legwear: r thigh pieces , s knee humps , t leg tubes , u iron shoe
E) v armored apron (succinctorium or the lower part of the chain mail ).

A full plate armor in its highest development, reached at the beginning of the 16th century, consisted of the following parts ( see picture ):

  • Helmet with neck mountains (collar part), visor and neck screen
  • Breastplate with plate apron made of several metal hoops and leg pockets ( tassettes )
  • Back part with one rigid or more movable seat tire
  • Arm tiles made from mouse and shell
  • Floating discs to protect the armpits
  • Armpits to which break edges could be attached to protect the shoulder area
  • Upper arm and forearm tubes, which together with the gauntlets (called " Henze " as mittens ), the elbow tiles, form the armor
  • The sling (to protect the thighs), knee tiles, leg tubes (for the lower legs) and the iron shoes (stretcher feet, beaked shoes, loafers , cow mouths , duckbilled shoes and knee boots ) together form the legwear
  • Brayette to protect the genitals

The neck, initially only by the far out-reaching aventail covered, now protected the connected to the helmet gorget . Above this, the throat piece or gurgle plate formed from several overlapping cross bars, and laterally the armpit pieces (often provided with upsetting or crushing edges) were connected to the front and rear rounded plates as special protection, the front and rear flights. Since the right front flight for inserting the lance was a little shorter, the armpit was protected by a round plate with a pointed spike, the hover disk. The bracers consisted of the upper and lower arm tools (arm tubes) and the movable arm or elbow tiles or mice connecting them. The hands were protected by iron gloves, gantelets (if not fingered, called henzen). The chest and back of the armor, on which there were mostly hooks for placing the lances, were connected by straps and probably consisted of a movably overlapping rail drawer, which was called Krebs because of its composition. Others only call the leg brackets, which are assembled in the same way, crabs. They were fastened with straps to the belly apron, also called body and rear tires, which fell from the armor on both sides over the loins and also consisted of movable cross rails. The genitals were protected by a pubic capsule , either from one piece or from mesh. The covering of the legs (leg equipment) was divided into three main parts: the sling for the thighs, the knee humps, knee tiles (genouilliére) or capsules and the leg tubes (greaves, leg peaks) for the lower legs. Because that were iron shoes fixed to that used with long beak (Crackowes), since about 1490 were blunt forward ( Kuhmäuler , Bearclaw ).

Forging plate armor

Original armor from Götz von Berlichingen .
Hornberg Castle Museum

The manufacturers of plate armor were in Germany Plattner called and were in guilds organized. The armourers usually bought the steel plates needed to make armor from large blacksmiths.

The armorer first determined the body measurements of his customer. If a customer could not appear in person, he would at least send the armorer some clothes. According to the measurements, the armorer drew a pattern on the steel plates and removed the marked part with chisels and metal scissors. The panels were then heated and roughly hammered into the desired shape. The precision work was carried out by the plumber and his employees on various anvils with small hammers. They kept glowing out the plates, but most of the work was done on the cooled metal. Once all of the armor was finished, it was checked whether they all fit together and rework was carried out. Locksmiths attached rivets , leather straps, and hinges to the panels. The panels were then polished on leather-covered wooden disks and, if necessary, decorated. In addition, the armor could dye the armor black , which also served as rust protection . For this purpose, oil mixtures were burned into the plates. A blue coloration was also possible by quenching heated plates in cold water and then restarting them. Armor intended for the common infantry was simply painted over with paint. As a final step, the armor had the armor upholstered with a lining made of wool or plant fibers, which was covered with linen , cloth or silk.

Half armor with proof of fire

High-quality plate armor was tested against crossbow bolts in the 15th century and against arquebuses and pistol shots in the 16th and 17th centuries . When the bolt or the bullet ricocheted off the breastplate, it was marked with the inspection stamp of the corresponding armorer's guild, which usually referred to the guild's hometown. Only a few pieces of armor could be successfully tested against musket shots. In the 19th century, the cuirass was also tested for fire. The production of a custom-made harness usually took several months. The cost of plate armor could be enormous. As a rule, they cost at least as much as a craftsman at the time earned over several years. Since the early 16th century there was mass production of armor , which was significantly cheaper than the forged armor custom-made for the nobility. On the other hand, they were often more bulky and offered less protection. (In 1512, Henry VIII ordered 2,000 armor of this kind for his infantry, which were forged in Florence.)

Series production was carried out here, with which several masters were employed. Molds of different sizes were made, and the iron was pressed into the mold by means of a counterpart while it was warm, now called a die .

Production centers

As early as the early 15th century, northern Italy and southern Germany became leaders in the production of harnesses. Italian armaments had been exported across Europe since the late 13th century. Important centers of harness production in Italy were Milan , Brescia , Florence , Genoa , Venice , Modena and Rome , with the Milanese blacksmiths being the leaders. The most important production centers on German soil were Augsburg , Landshut and Nuremberg . The court forge in Innsbruck , which Maximilian I brought into being in 1504, also achieved an outstanding position . Smaller centers existed in Cologne , Ulm , Vienna , Magdeburg and Lübeck .

In other countries, too, large armaments smiths sprang up, mostly run by Italian or German masters. Based on Maximilian, Henry VIII of England set up a royal forge in Greenwich in 1515 , in which mainly Germans and Dutch were active. The Scottish kings also had their own blacksmiths. Jacob IV had his armor made in Edinburgh from 1502 , his successor Jacob V opened another court smithy in Holyrood in 1531 . French armor was mainly made in Paris , but also in Saint-Quentin , Tours and Rouen . Milanese blacksmiths were employed in the armory in Lyon . Eastern European armaments mostly came from Krakow .

Types of plate armor

As early as the 15th century, different types of plate armor were emerging that were designed for a specific purpose. The armor used by the heavy cavalry for use in battle was called field armor or field curtain. For the fight on foot, the fighters wore a foot curtain. Various types of field and foot curtains existed, and tournament and parade armor were also produced, which were mostly unsuitable for war use. Battle horses could also be protected by plate armor since the late 14th century.

Tournament harness

In the 15th century, plate armor that was specially made for use in tournaments appeared . For the fight on horseback, the so-called gouache was used, which could weigh over 40 kilograms. It restricted mobility and field of vision of the wearer much more than was the case with a field curtain. The helmet of a gourd alone could weigh more than 10 kilograms and often had a side flap to provide fresh air in the helmet between the individual passes. The shoulder and chest area on the left side of the body was particularly well protected in this type of armor, which is why most of the piercing gowns have a clear asymmetry. From 1490, specialized plate armor was also introduced for the tournament. Some equestrian armor was not only suitable for battle, but also for horse shows. In addition, there were foot tournament armor called Kempfkürisse. The arming hook was dispensed with for the Kempf kürissen, since the lance was not used in the foot tournament. Kempf kürisse were mostly symmetrical and essentially resembled a complete foot keriss. At the end of the 16th century tournaments went out of fashion among the European nobility, which led to the cessation of the production of tournament armor.

Parade armor

Parade armor

Particularly wealthy nobles had lavishly decorated armor made, which could be many times more expensive than an ordinary field armor. The etchings and stitches on these splendid armor often came from famous artists of the time. Motifs from Roman and Greek antiquity as well as biblical scenes were particularly popular. This armor was mostly used for representative purposes, but some of them could also be worn in combat. The so-called puffed and slotted armor, which was made until around 1530, was a special phenomenon. This grotesque Platemail collected the clothing of mercenaries to and therefore possessed huge arm parts and Indicated slots. Such armor is also known as costume armor. Often these costume armors were accompanied by extremely grotesque face helmets. Instead of a visor, these helmets had a grimacing face with only very small eye holes and breathing slits.

Harness sets

At the beginning of the 16th century it became fashionable to have a whole set of harnesses made. This could consist of over a hundred individual parts, which could be put together to make field, foot or tournament armor as required. Among other things, it was possible to choose between various tournament helmets and reinforcement plates for the breastplate. The set was usually named after its most important decorative element, such as the eagle set forged in 1547, which consists of 87 individual parts. It can be used to put together three different tournament and five different field armor.

16th century horse and field armor in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City

Half and three quarter armor

A half armor is a plate armor in which the leg armor is completely missing. This was often the best protection a common foot soldier could afford. Simple half-armor sets were made in large quantities and were not nearly as elaborately forged as the custom-made armor sets for the nobility. Most of the infantry were equipped with a kind of armored armor ( brigantine ) or a similarly cheap armor. In the 16th century it became common for infantry officers to wear a half armor. Some aristocrats had a particularly elaborately crafted half armor forged as a splendid armor. In addition, a half armor could be put together from a harness set, which was mostly used as a foot curtain.

The three-quarter armor was missing the lower leg, so that it only reached up to the knees. Instead of leg tubes for the lower legs and iron shoes, heavy leather boots were worn, and many riders did without iron gloves. In the middle of the 16th century, the three-quarter harness became popular among light lancers and cuirassiers, while many heavy lancers continued to wear a full cuirass. In the late 16th century, the riflemen on horseback, i.e. the cuirassiers and arquebusier riders, began to protect themselves with a harness. It was a three-quarter armor without arming hooks, which combined leg pockets and sling into long laps, which could consist of over 14 plates and were usually completed with knee tiles. The laps were tied to the legs at knee height. Trotting armor was used until the middle of the 17th century and was also used by infantry officers.

Horse armor

In the 14th century there was a move to protect battle horses with plate armor, as horses were extremely important in warfare at the time and were often targeted in battle. A horse armor weighed almost as much as a full armor for a person, i.e. about 20 to 30 kilograms. It covered most of the horse's body except for the legs. There are also supposed to have been horse harnesses with fully movable leg parts, but this has not yet been proven. Horse armor could be lavishly decorated, mostly in line with the style of the rider's armor.

Stylistic development of the plate armor

Gothic plate armor

It is noticeable that the bronze breastplates of the Greeks and later also the Romans were influenced by the art of the time - the muscles of the wearer were reshaped on the surface of the armor ( muscle armor ), which was often strongly idealized. Similar tendencies can also be observed in Greek and Roman sculpture.

When the first full armor appeared at the end of the 14th century, they initially looked quite rough and angular. So it is not surprising that the first breastplates were known as “ chest breasts ” in the German-speaking world . These early breastplates tapered abruptly towards the waist, which was considered fashionable in late 14th century Europe. As early as the first half of the 15th century, plate armor with rounded shapes began to appear in Italy. The Italian harnesses were usually more asymmetrical than those made in Germany. Their massive appearance was characteristic.

In the second half of the 15th century, the so-called Gothic armament style (based on the Gothic art epoch ) emerged, which was particularly prevalent in Germany. The Gothic armor was quite slim and filigree. The chest part was shifted and the iron shoes with their long, detachable tips mimicked the beak shoes customary at the time . The streamlined sallet completed the armor. As a result of the Renaissance , armors that were significantly rounder and more corporeal than those of the late Gothic became popular.

Armor in the Neue Burg in Vienna. In the foreground you can see two Gothic armor with pointed shoes and sallets . The rider wears the armor of Maximilian I.

At the beginning of the 16th century, the grooved armor became very popular, which was grooved almost on its entire surface, which looked very decorative. Iron shoes with a particularly wide point were also worn. They were modeled on the "cow's mouth shoes" of that time, which were very popular at the time. The production of Riefel armor was so expensive that it was completely discontinued as early as 1540. In the same century civilian clothing was copied again and again by adding a so-called goose belly to breastplates. The barrel skirt attached to the breastplate was also an iron replica of a piece of clothing customary at the time. The barrel skirt was primarily worn at the foot tournament. So that you could ride with these barrel skirts, these skirts were provided with removable openings in the front and back, which were precisely adapted to the sitting position on horseback.

The influence of the Renaissance is particularly evident in the pompous armor of the 16th century, which were often modeled on ancient armor and on which scenes from Greek and Roman history or mythology were depicted. Such armor was mainly made in Italy, where it was known as "all'antica" or "alla romana". Some parade armor was provided with a breastplate on which the human abdominal and chest muscles were modeled after an ancient model. This style was known in Italy as "all'eroica".

Towards the end of the 16th century, the beginning of the Baroque artistic era also made itself felt in the plate armor. Strong light-dark contrasts and sweeping shapes became very popular. In the course of the 17th century, most armor became more and more simple and functional, until it was almost completely out of use. The last armor suitable for the field no longer imitated civilian fashion, and their blackening, intended to protect against rust, is the only decorative element to be discerned.


  • Stephen Bull: An Historical Guide to Arms & Armor. Facts on File, New York 1991. ISBN 0-8160-2620-3 .
  • Arnold Hagemann: The Greek Metal Armor , BoD - Books on Demand, 2013, ISBN 978-3-95580-403-9 .
  • Marcus Junkelmann : The Legions of Augustus. The Roman soldier in the archaeological experiment. 9th edition. Zabern, Mainz 2003. ISBN 3-8053-0886-8 . P. 165 ff.
  • Andreas Schlunk, Robert Giersch: The knights. History - culture - everyday life. Theiss, Stuttgart 2003. ISBN 3-8062-1791-2
  • George Cameron Stone : A Glossary of the Construction, Decoration and Use of Arms and Armor. Dover Publ., Mineola NY 1999. ISBN 0-486-40726-8
  • Gerhard Quaas (Ed.): Iron clothes. Armorer work from three centuries from the collection of the German Historical Museum. Exhibition of the German Historical Museum in the Zeughaus Berlin, March 12th - July 6th 1992. Building blocks. Vol. 7. Berlin 1992.

Web links

Commons : Plate Armor  - collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. ^ A b Arnold Hagemann: The Greek metal armor
  2. Marcus Junkelmann : The Legions of Augustus
  3. ^ Alan Williams: The Knight and the Blast Furnace, © 2003 Brill Verlag p. 927 ff
  4. ^ Alan Williams: The Knight and the Blast Furnace, © 2003 Brill Verlag
  6. Cod. 44A8, pp. 71v – 72r
  7. ^ Hans Talhoffer: Old armature and ring art, 1459
  8. Mertein Hündsfelder: Fencing apprenticeship with the short sword
This article was added to the list of excellent articles on July 3, 2004 in this version .