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Gavin Kisebach




Location: Lacey, Wa US
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PostPosted: Sun 19 Apr, 2009 11:38 am    Post subject: Were bracers only for archery?         Reply with quote

Hello everyone,

I.m sure everyone is familiar with the leather bracers worn by fantasists and, Renaissance fair goers, and so on. They seem wildly popular as basic "medievalish" equipment, and they are sold so widely that one might assume (and apparently many people do assume) that they were worn by just about everyone, and by some all the time.

But I've rarely seen bracers in any historical art; not even on archers, whom I would fully expect it. I've got a lot of art images archived on my computer and only one contains anything like the ubiquitous leather bracer, but it's not even medieval (see below)

My question is two part then.

First, how widely (if at all) bracers were used, and for what purpose? were they used by archers? blacksmiths? pig herders?

Second, where did the notion come from that they were a standard item of dress from Rome to the enlightenment? Is this a misconception of some Hollywood costumer that stuck, or yet another misguided assumption of Victorian medieval history?



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Matthew Amt




Location: Laurel, MD, USA
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PostPosted: Sun 19 Apr, 2009 5:05 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I think you have hit the nail on the head--the ubiquitous bracer is essentially a Hollywoodism. Now in all fairness it *might* have been invented in Victorian times (a look at a few illustrations from that era would probably give an answer), but movie makers seem to have this strict taboo against showing a bare male wrist in any ancient or medieval setting. Roman movies seem to favor tarnished brass. I really can't come up with a rational explanation! But you're absolutely right, there is virtually no evidence for the wearing of such things, especially off the battlefield. Mind you, bronze forearm guards were definitely known in the Bronze Age and early Iron Age, but really seem to have disappeared by 500 BC. They are basically unknown in the Roman Republic and Classical Greece.

It's bizarre. We have to put up with movie after movie supposedly set in the Roman world, with clothing that bears less and less relation to anything worn back then, because movie makers and costumers have to fulfill their "vision" and do something "original". At the same time they have a frantic need to shock the audience. And yet they would never dare make an ancient movie without those bracers!! Not for originality, not for shock value, and certainly not for history's sake....

Oh, well!

Matthew
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Nat Lamb




Location: Melbourne, Australia
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PostPosted: Sun 19 Apr, 2009 6:26 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Weren't they relitively common Viking equipment? I will admit I am no expert (hell, not even a novice) in Viking armouring techniques, but I see them all the time at group re-enacting events on the arms of Viking and Varangian re-enactors. I had always just assumed they knew what they were on about.
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Sam Gordon Campbell




Location: Australia.
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PostPosted: Sun 19 Apr, 2009 6:43 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I agree with Matthew, it is probably a HollyWood-ism with regards to later periods. Then again, one might say that it's a sort of pseudo- historical fashion, like wearing a gorget all the time Laughing Out Loud
And for re-enactment purposes, well, safety take priority over historical accuracy any day, as it should.

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Colt Reeves





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PostPosted: Sun 19 Apr, 2009 10:33 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Nat, I've been looking up Viking gear and haven't seen any evidence to suggest Vikings wore bracers. The wealthy Viking in their hayday looks to have worn maile brynja (there is a debate as to the length of the sleeves, with the majority saying they came down to the elbow) with a helmet atop (which varied in construction, one-piece/spangen, with spectacles, maile aventail, etc). Later on they think they started to pack on the maile, with full sleeves and leggings. There was also a find somewhere where they came across some lamellar, and some picture they found where they can make out what looks like some sort of greaves, but neither would be common.

See here for some general info:
http://www.regia.org/spear.htm
http://www.hurstwic.org/index.html
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Lukasz Papaj




Location: Malbork, Poland
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PostPosted: Mon 20 Apr, 2009 3:13 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Ok, remember one thing- archer's bracer has a very specific function(s)
1. Protect the forearm of archer from string impact
2. Protect the string from wear if rest of clothing is rough (think mail)

Now a bracer does not need to be full cuff - actually (as far as i know) small piece of hard material , like bone, inch by 3 inches, would usually do the trick. As for placement - it goes near widening of forearm, never at wrist. Form my experience (admittedly with bows not exceeding #50) winter clothing makes quite good protection, especially that with right form/pose string impacting is more an accident than usual thing (nevertheless, nasty one if taken on bare skin)

Another thing would be something called "karwasz" that was often worn with mail or other armour as a protection from cuts.
Example from XVII century:
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Gavin Kisebach




Location: Lacey, Wa US
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PostPosted: Tue 21 Apr, 2009 3:22 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Lukasz, those particular pieces I would call bazubands, though they go by many names. I wouldn't throw them in the same pile with the bracers that I'm describing for two reasons. First, they're closer to vambraces than the leather cuffs that Holywood loves so much, and second, because they are part of an overall panoply.

Google bracers and you'll see what I mean; they're wildly popular. I can't think of a reason to wear big leather cuffs, unless you thought your wrists were in constant jeopardy. I suppose I could see a tradesman wearing them for protection, but as far as I know there's just no evidence of it. They just seem to appear sometime in the 20th century.

There are only two kinds of scholars; those who love ideas and those who hate them. ~ Emile Chartier
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Robert Subiaga Jr.





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PostPosted: Tue 21 Apr, 2009 10:26 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Actually, Gavin, though you are almost certainly right in pointing out Hollywood using bracers in countless settings where they are highly suspect, they definitely predate the 20th century. What are being worn as leather "bracers" actually are ubiquitous in "cowboy" culture--Anglo-American and Latin, going back to at least the late 18th century; their purpose is varied, but most of all it seems as a protection against rope burn.

Many of the "cowboy" accoutrements are themselves adaptations in turn of what was brought over by the middle- and lower-class Spanish men-at-arms who found or sought fortunes in the conquests. Unfortunately, how much further back the tool goes is uncertain. Many things common to those classes have little or no records other than offhand mentions written record or by oral tradition. Some form of the Spanish bullfight, for instance, almost certainly goes at east as far back as the 12th or 13th century--but "lotsa luck" finding artifacts or an artistic representation.

I guess he bottom line is the understanding that anything a reasonable human being might figure out is plausible--if used for a purpose for which it functions. Leather-only bracers are pretty low in usefulness as defense against cuts and blows, but might make sense for an archer, a light horseman/herder, or anyone else dealing with friction burns.

This is probably just a case of what actually was historical and useful in one context "looking cool" becoming fashion for our depiction of another. (But even that isn't unknown in real history--look at all the Classical-loving Renaissance folk who resurrected parts of armor styles from Greece and Rome.)

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U. M. Tønner




Location: Denmark
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PostPosted: Tue 21 Apr, 2009 12:00 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Nat Lamb wrote:
Weren't they relitively common Viking equipment? I will admit I am no expert (hell, not even a novice) in Viking armouring techniques, but I see them all the time at group re-enacting events on the arms of Viking and Varangian re-enactors. I had always just assumed they knew what they were on about.


Afaik they weren't really used that much (if at all) by vikings, and neither was combat gloves/gauntlets, But in my Viking reenactment group (and many others I know off) we have chosen to make them mandatory as a safety precaution and then let the historical actuality slide a bit, so that people will be usable again after the battle.
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Nathan Gilleland





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PostPosted: Tue 21 Apr, 2009 12:26 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I think that bracers, as worn by renn faire goers, are primarily a demand and cheap remedy. After looking at several pairs that I have, it would take hardly any material and less effort to produce something that creates a "different" look.

It's the same with accents. You don't have to have a true irish, Scottish, German, etc. accent at a Renn Faire. You just have to sound "different", and people believe that you have an accent!

It's a sad fact, but, it is a cheap solution that provides people with something to make them feel more "in period." I wouldn't say that they are historical, but I wouldn't chastise anyone who wears them either.

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Nat Lamb




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PostPosted: Tue 21 Apr, 2009 4:51 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

U. M. Tønner wrote:

Afaik they weren't really used that much (if at all) by vikings, and neither was combat gloves/gauntlets, But in my Viking reenactment group (and many others I know off) we have chosen to make them mandatory as a safety precaution and then let the historical actuality slide a bit, so that people will be usable again after the battle.

Ok, that makes a lot of sense, I just made the assumption since these guys can often be heard criticising someone else because there hand woven fabric tunic is the wrong twill patern.
But as someone else said, "Safety First" is a very fine clarion call for combat bassed re-enactors.
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Neal Matheson




Location: sussex UK
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PostPosted: Tue 21 Apr, 2009 11:07 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Bracers exist from the mary rose

http://www.britishmuseum.org/explore/highligh...racer.aspx

and are mentioned in toxophilus (1544)


Phi.: Things belonging to shooting, what be they?
Tox.: All things be outward; and some be instruments for every sere archer to bring with him, proper for his own use:
others be general to every man, as the place and time serveth.
Phi.: Which be instruments?
Tox.: Bracer, shooting glove, string, bow, and shaft.

The archers on the Luttrell Psalter (circa 1320) are wearing some kind of forearm protection too.

How commonly used bracers were is debatable, longbows are braced quite low so chances of hitting your arm are higher. If warbows were of 150 pounds draw weight they may well have done more than hurt if they hit the archers arm. [/b]
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Luka Borscak




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PostPosted: Wed 22 Apr, 2009 1:04 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I have done some archery and I know how painful it is when string catches you on a 28lb bow. I don't want to imagine it with 150lb bow. But it was mostly in the beginning. After some time it happens very rarely. But with a longbow once would be enough to mess up you hand for ever. My friend's arm got quite bloody after a few such mistakes with 28lb bow. He wore the bracer but the string still managed to hit him. Eek!
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Glennan Carnie




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PostPosted: Wed 22 Apr, 2009 1:15 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Luka Borscak wrote:
I have done some archery and I know how painful it is when string catches you on a 28lb bow. I don't want to imagine it with 150lb bow. But it was mostly in the beginning. After some time it happens very rarely. But with a longbow once would be enough to mess up you hand for ever. My friend's arm got quite bloody after a few such mistakes with 28lb bow. He wore the bracer but the string still managed to hit him. Eek!


I wouldn't over-dramatise this.

My regular shooting bow is about 140lb at full draw. Yes, it hurts if you hit your arm (even through a horn bracer) and, yes, it hurts (a LOT) if you catch the side of your face when you loose. But it hardly "messes up your hand forever". You'll get a nice bruise for a few days, that's all.
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Luka Borscak




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PostPosted: Wed 22 Apr, 2009 1:17 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Glennan Carnie wrote:
Luka Borscak wrote:
I have done some archery and I know how painful it is when string catches you on a 28lb bow. I don't want to imagine it with 150lb bow. But it was mostly in the beginning. After some time it happens very rarely. But with a longbow once would be enough to mess up you hand for ever. My friend's arm got quite bloody after a few such mistakes with 28lb bow. He wore the bracer but the string still managed to hit him. Eek!


I wouldn't over-dramatise this.

My regular shooting bow is about 140lb at full draw. Yes, it hurts if you hit your arm (even through a horn bracer) and, yes, it hurts (a LOT) if you catch the side of your face when you loose. But it hardly "messes up your hand forever". You'll get a nice bruise for a few days, that's all.


I really thought it would do more than that. But I bow to the more experienced. Wink
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Gavin Kisebach




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PostPosted: Wed 22 Apr, 2009 2:00 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

So thus far I can reasonably see bracers used for archery (which is no surprise) and hypothetically introduced to the new world via Spanish gauchos, possibly for protection from rope.
There are only two kinds of scholars; those who love ideas and those who hate them. ~ Emile Chartier
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Jean Thibodeau




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PostPosted: Wed 22 Apr, 2009 7:23 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

In large part it does seem like it's a Hollywood thing and they look cool but if bracers where not used during long periods of time it must have been because the need for them wasn't perceived as essential ?

Later on during plate armour periods full arm protection when in full armour may have influenced the use of just forearm armour when lightly armoured ?

Fighting techniques with the shield or a buckler may have made bracers seem superfluous until styles changed to make forearm or hand armour a good idea: In many ways a gauntlet does the same job if the cuff is long.

One thing though is that speed being more prized than the extra protection ? A heavy bracer slowing one down. Question

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Lukasz Papaj




Location: Malbork, Poland
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PostPosted: Wed 22 Apr, 2009 12:31 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

i would like to point out "bracer" seems to be quite large group of garments. It seems to me that we are talking about at least two distinct "pieces":
One is archer's bracer, that covers the inside of upper part of forearm and do not form full cuff around arm(at least it should be in bows I'm using that is fieldbows/recurves, never have been shooting a longbow, but guess even them respect the "hand with extended thumb" brace height rule). That "bracer" could be of leather but horn is often found (it could be just a small plate that secured endangered area)

Second is "cowboy" one that covers wrist area from rope burns.

The "hollywood" bracers seem to be a marriage of both.

Now what comes to my mind is that something that resembles the "hollywood" bracers could be found on Japanese armour suits :

But again the wrist area seems rather unprotected, probably for allowing full manoeuvrability , also- no protection inside, so not an archer's bracer. Suit from Hirado castle, or so description says

As for Hollywood: latest take on Hooded Man Happy
[Rantmode] shooting a bow without even a finger tab ? poor guy. And that thing he holds looks suspiciously like flatbow on that photo.[/Rantmode] Happy
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Gavin Kisebach




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PostPosted: Wed 22 Apr, 2009 4:52 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Let me add a couple of examples for clarity. I'm not concerned with vambraces, bazubands, or arm cannons as part of a warrior's panoply; I'm specifically addressiing the perception that bracers were simply worn as day to day garb.

I especially like the half naked pseudo-Scot with bracers. He's medievalish.



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Nat Lamb




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PostPosted: Wed 22 Apr, 2009 5:00 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Errr, "Scottish Guy" is not attempting to be medeaval, he is on his way to a rave as a menber of the new "International Villiage People".
The wrist bands help when busting out shapes to a thumping track.
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