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Hadrian Coffin
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PostPosted: Sat 09 May, 2009 9:28 pm    Post subject: Leather Armour: Viking/Medieval         Reply with quote

Hello,
Over the years that I have lurked and been on this site there have been numerous, often heated, discussions on the use of pre-12th century leather: armour, padding (gambeson/aketon), and clothing.
http://www.myArmoury.com/talk/viewtopic.php?p...ht=#151298
http://www.myArmoury.com/talk/viewtopic.php?t...highlight=
These topics have always ended rather indecisively. I have been traveling around and talking to different professors, curators, and archeologists; as well as examining different artifacts in museum store rooms, and private collections. Some of my findings have been very intriguing; almost “proof” of various forms of leather armour. I am writing an article on the use of pre-12th century leather armour, I figured I could give everyone here a chance to see some of my findings.

One of the biggest arguments against the use of a padded leather garment worn under maille is that there is no archeological evidence. There is. In the National Museum of Ireland, Dublin, there resides the remains of a c.1150-1190 quilted leather aketon* found at Cornmarket/Bridge St, Dublin (picture below).

In the Irish Tain Bo Cuailgne (10-11th century), Loeg, Cu Chulainn’s charioteer, is described wearing a deerskin tunic (inar), and mantle (bratt). Cu Chulainn is armoured thus:
“…twenty-seven tunics [cneslenti] worn next to his skin, waxed, board like, compact, which were bound with strings and ropes and thongs close to his fair skin…Over that outside he put his hero’s battle girdle [cathchriss] of hard leather, tough and tanned, made from the best part of seven ox-hides of yearlings, which covered him from the thin part of his side to the thick part of his arm-pit; he used to wear it to repel spears [gai] and points [rend] and darts [iaernn] and lances [sleg] and arrows [saiget], for they glanced from it as if they had struck against stone or rock or horn. Then he put on his apron [fuathbroic] of filmy silk with its border of variegated white gold, against the soft lower part of his body. Outside his apron of filmy silk he put on his dark apron [dond{f}uathbroic] of pliable brown leather made from the choicest part of four yearling ox-hides with his battle-girdle [cathchris] of cows’ skins about it.” (ibid., 11 2215ff)

In Germania (ch.17) Tacitus describes this:
“Tegumen omnibus sagum fibula aut, si desit, spina consertum: ceteraintecti totos dies iuxta focum atque ignem augunt. Locupletissimi veste disinguuntur, non fluitante, sicut Saramatae ac Parthi, sed stricta et singulos artus exprimente. Gerunt et ferarum pelles, proximi ripae neglegenter, ulteriores exquisisitius, ut quibus nullus per commercial cultus. Eligunt feras et detracta velmina spargunt maculis pellibusque beluarum, quas exterior Oceanus ataque ignotum mare gignit”
Which translates to…
“ The clothing for everyone is the cloak, which is fastened by brooch or failing that by thorn; they spend whole days at the fire by the hearth in nothing else. The greatest landowners are marked by clothes, not loose like the Sarmatians’ and Parthians’, but tight and shaping every limb. And they wear the skins of wild animals-- casually near the coasts, more carefully farther off as there is no trading culture. The animals are chosen, and the piebald coats are flayed and the skins of beasts which are born of the Outer Ocean and the unknown seas.”

In Vita Karoli (c.823-836 AD) Einhard writes:
“…and a jacket made of otter skin or ermine protected his shoulders and chest…”

If you find this interesting I do have others.
Best,
Hadrian

*aketon or gambeson (under maille)



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Dan Howard




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PostPosted: Sun 10 May, 2009 12:30 am    Post subject: Re: Leather Armour: Viking/Medieval         Reply with quote

Hadrian Coffin wrote:
Hello,
In the Irish Tain Bo Cuailgne (10-11th century), Loeg, Cu Chulainn’s charioteer, is described wearing a deerskin tunic (inar), and mantle (bratt). Cu Chulainn is armoured thus:
“…twenty-seven tunics [cneslenti] worn next to his skin, waxed, board like, compact, which were bound with strings and ropes and thongs close to his fair skin…Over that outside he put his hero’s battle girdle [cathchriss] of hard leather, tough and tanned, made from the best part of seven ox-hides of yearlings, which covered him from the thin part of his side to the thick part of his arm-pit; he used to wear it to repel spears [gai] and points [rend] and darts [iaernn] and lances [sleg] and arrows [saiget], for they glanced from it as if they had struck against stone or rock or horn. Then he put on his apron [fuathbroic] of filmy silk with its border of variegated white gold, against the soft lower part of his body. Outside his apron of filmy silk he put on his dark apron [dond{f}uathbroic] of pliable brown leather made from the choicest part of four yearling ox-hides with his battle-girdle [cathchris] of cows’ skins about it.” (ibid., 11 2215ff)


Cuchulain is said to be wearing 27 cneslenti. Old works translate this as "hide tunics" but modern scholars believe that the word is used to describe multiple layers of textiles - probably linen. The word "leinte" is a possible derivative of "linen". The passage cannot be used as an example of Irish leather armour except for his girdle [cathchriss] which I have trouble imagining how it was worn and how much of the body it covered. Has anyone attempted a reconstruction?

Quote:
In Germania (ch.17) Tacitus describes this:
“ The clothing for everyone is the cloak, which is fastened by brooch or failing that by thorn; they spend whole days at the fire by the hearth in nothing else. The greatest landowners are marked by clothes, not loose like the Sarmatians’ and Parthians’, but tight and shaping every limb. And they wear the skins of wild animals-- casually near the coasts, more carefully farther off as there is no trading culture. The animals are chosen, and the piebald coats are flayed and the skins of beasts which are born of the Outer Ocean and the unknown seas.”

So where is the armour here? Nobody has denied that hides and furs were worn as clothing.

Quote:
In Vita Karoli (c.823-836 AD) Einhard writes:
“…and a jacket made of otter skin or ermine protected his shoulders and chest…”

More clothing?

Quote:
If you find this interesting I do have others.

Still waiting for one.

The photo is interesting. It is too thin to be armour but it might have formed a cover for textile armour like that worn by Loeg, Cu Chulainn’s charioteer.


Last edited by Dan Howard on Sun 10 May, 2009 12:38 am; edited 2 times in total
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M. Eversberg II




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PostPosted: Sun 10 May, 2009 12:36 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Interesting finds. Congrats.

M.

EDIT: I'm with Matt here. Those are clothing, not dedicated armor.

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Neal Matheson




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PostPosted: Sun 10 May, 2009 1:42 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

John Major's description of wild scots, published 1521

From the middle of the thigh to the foot they have no covering for the leg, clothing themselves with a mantle instead of an upper garment and a shirt dyed with safforn. ... In time of war they cover their whole body with a shirt of mail of iron rings, and fight in that. The common people of the Highland (lit. 'wild') Scots rush into battle having their body clothed with a linen garment manifoldly sewed and painted or daubed with pitch, with a covering of deerskin."

in latin

A medio crure ad pedem caligas non habent, chlamyde pro veste superiore et camisia croco tincta. amiciuntur. ... Tempore belli loricam ex loris ferreis per totum corpus induunt et in illa pugnant. In panno lineo multipliciter intersuto et coerato aut picato cum cervinæ pellis coopertura vulgus sylvestrium Scotorum corpus tectum habens in prælium prosilit.
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Hadrian Coffin
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PostPosted: Sun 10 May, 2009 8:27 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Dan Howard Wrote:
Quote:
Cuchulain is said to be wearing 27 cneslenti. Old works translate this as "hide tunics" but modern scholars believe that the word is used to describe multiple layers of textiles - probably linen. The word "leinte" is a possible derivative of "linen". The passage cannot be used as an example of Irish leather armour except for his girdle [cathchriss] which I have trouble imagining how it was worn and how much of the body it covered. Has anyone attempted a reconstruction?


I do agree, the cneslenti are most likely linen. The point was not so much the cneslenti but the cathchriss, and the dondfuathbric. The girdle and dark apron are very clearly described as leather.

The other references are to clothing. My point in describing them was to show other clothing uses of leather. Many of the arguments against leather (on this site) are that it was some how "to expensive", "not available", etc.

The picture is of something akin to an aketon or gambeson worn under other metalic armour as padding. In close examination you can even see faint imprints reminiscent of maille. As for thickness I would hazard ~3-4oz.

Best
Hadrian Happy
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Elling Polden




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PostPosted: Sun 10 May, 2009 8:32 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

The dublin aketon is quite interesting. However, the lines of stitching shows that it has been the outer layer of a textile armour, which has since decomposed, leaving the hide facing (as hide preserves a lot better than textile...)
By 1150-90 textile armour is also well documented from writen and pictoral sources, but it is never the less very interesting to see a original.

As for the description of cuculain, there are a few things that are interesting. First, the base layer is still textile, with a leather facing. the other is the sheer expense of such an array; consuming the "coisiest bits" of 11 prime heads of cattle.
Of course the author is very keen to underline the magnificence of Cuculainn, and might exagerate a existing piece of protective gear, but it is still every bit as expensive as a mail coat, in those areas where such where available.

"this [fight] looks curious, almost like a game. See, they are looking around them before they fall, to find a dry spot to fall on, or they are falling on their shields. Can you see blood on their cloths and weapons? No. This must be trickery."
-Reidar Sendeman, from King Sverre's Saga, 1201
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Steven H




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PostPosted: Sun 10 May, 2009 10:23 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Hadrian Coffin wrote:

The other references are to clothing. My point in describing them was to show other clothing uses of leather. Many of the arguments against leather (on this site) are that it was some how "to expensive", "not available", etc.


But the hides here belong to "great landowners" and they are so expensive that if one doesn't live by the see they cannot easily be replaced. So they are tremendously expensive. And so is ermine.

All of the clothing described here is described to make it sound expensive and it belongs to rich lords. Right? These items are noteworthy specifically because they are so expensive that they are hard to get.

The catchchriss is interesting though and I'd love to see more about it.

Cheers,
Steven

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Hadrian Coffin
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PostPosted: Sun 10 May, 2009 10:55 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Hello again,
Another bit of leather...
Also found at Cornmarket/Bridge St, Dublin though quite a bit later 1250-1290. Leather garment with exact function or use unknown.

Best,
Hadrian



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Artis Aboltins




PostPosted: Sun 10 May, 2009 11:25 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

That one is interesting find for sure. Anything else known about this find?
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Gary Teuscher





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PostPosted: Sun 10 May, 2009 4:21 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

The Irish description is interesting. At least it describes a textile based armour, the many layers of linen are used often in other descriptions of a Gambeson or similar armour.

Would have been real interesting if he wore mail over this! Big Grin
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Elling Polden




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PostPosted: Tue 12 May, 2009 8:52 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Hadrian Coffin wrote:


The other references are to clothing. My point in describing them was to show other clothing uses of leather. Many of the arguments against leather (on this site) are that it was some how "to expensive", "not available", etc.


For my part at least the argument is not really cost, but cost efficiency. There was definitely hide and leather around, but it was expensive. So was linnen and other textiles.
But it appears that in most areas you would get better protection for your money by layering cloth, or making the uppgrade to mail.
The frequence of depictions of cloth armour would be a clear indication of this.

This does not automatically mean that leather or leather faced armour did exist. What it does mean, though, is that cloth, not leather, was the prime choise for armour in western europe, and that they where excetions rather than the norm.

In areas without sufficient trade economy to import mail and cloth in large quantities, locally produced leather might be a viable choice, at least in combination with cloth.

"this [fight] looks curious, almost like a game. See, they are looking around them before they fall, to find a dry spot to fall on, or they are falling on their shields. Can you see blood on their cloths and weapons? No. This must be trickery."
-Reidar Sendeman, from King Sverre's Saga, 1201
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Zach Gordon




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PostPosted: Wed 13 May, 2009 11:18 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Well it does seem leather armor existed, but maybe not the norm. What I think is weird is why does it matter if something was expensive. I mean, you see Bentlys and Ferraris and just cause they're expensive doesnt mean people dont drive them, or that they dont exsist. It seems to me that Mr. Coffin is trying to look at the existance of such armor academicly rather then from a re-enactment perspective. And If your portrayal is of a wealthy Jarl from Ireland then perhaps a leather tunic would be more then acceptable.
Just my opinion
Z
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Steven H




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PostPosted: Wed 13 May, 2009 1:13 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Zach Gordon wrote:
Well it does seem leather armor existed, but maybe not the norm. What I think is weird is why does it matter if something was expensive. I mean, you see Bentlys and Ferraris and just cause they're expensive doesnt mean people dont drive them, or that they dont exsist. It seems to me that Mr. Coffin is trying to look at the existance of such armor academicly rather then from a re-enactment perspective. And If your portrayal is of a wealthy Jarl from Ireland then perhaps a leather tunic would be more then acceptable.
Just my opinion
Z


The point is that if leather armour is expensive then metal armour makes more sense. Metal armour would have a similar cost but be far more effective as armour. One of the common arguments in favor of undocumented leather armour is that the leather is cheap. However it wasn't cheap so that argument fails.

Cheers,
Steven

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Dan Howard




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PostPosted: Wed 13 May, 2009 3:13 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Yep leather armour becomes more common the further east you travel. Cost and availability seems to be the dominant factor. Leather definitely was not cheap in western Europe.
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Hadrian Coffin
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PostPosted: Wed 13 May, 2009 3:25 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

The argument over cost is viable, but not definitive. Some leathers would have been much more expensive then others.
While metallic armour such as maille would in most cases be preferable, it was not always available. The Irish where often described as "naked", modern research suggests that the term "naked" was referring to a lack of metallic armour rather than literal nakedness. In a recent article by Dr. Andy Halpin (I believe it may have become a published book by now), it is argued that the Irish wore armour though generally of a non-metallic sort. The fact that maille was so rare in places like Ireland may have led to the development of alternative armours of leather, linen, or wool. Many writings of the era coincide with this theory. These alternative armours may have spread to Scandinavia and Europe through trade and plundering. The effectiveness of leather armour is, I believe, downplayed through the false testing of modern leathers with different tanning and manufacture. Here we sway into experimental archeology. Pieces like the Dublin gambeson and the writings of leather armour can (with proper resources) develop reasonable recreations. A single layer of vegetable tanned calfskin offers very little resistance to a pattern-welded sword blow, if however the leather is layered four or five times in alternating rows of linen over leather, leather over linen, glued with period appropriate wax and antler glue, and stitched with linen thread, the armour becomes very effective. Effective enough to bounce off an arrow shot from a 85 pound bow at fifteen yards.
Regards
Hadrian
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Steven H




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PostPosted: Wed 13 May, 2009 3:34 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Hadrian Coffin wrote:
, if however the leather is layered four or five times in alternating rows of linen over leather, leather over linen, glued with period appropriate wax and antler glue, and stitched with linen thread, the armour becomes very effective. Effective enough to bounce off an arrow shot from a 85 pound bow at fifteen yards.
Regards
Hadrian


Where is armour like this described?

Thanks,
Steven

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Hadrian Coffin
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PostPosted: Wed 13 May, 2009 6:30 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Steven H. wrote:
Quote:
Where is armour like this described?

Thanks,
Steven


This is speculation on a plausible manufacture of an inar, or a couton. It was done as an experimental test on the effectiveness of leather armour, various speculative forms where used. The results with this one where just much more spectacular. We used several forms either recreated from extant finds, or inferred from period artwork and/or descriptions. Each piece was manufactured using only period appropriate tools. The targets where modified based on the weapon used. Each weapon was also made using only period appropriate tools. For the impact weapons (arrows, javelins, spears, etc.) we used a foam layered target. First a control was done, for the archery tests this meant shooting the arrow against the target without any resistance, and using a pencil to mark the depth of penetration. The same arrow was then shot with the armour strapped against the target and the depth of penetration was re-marked.
Best,
Hadrian
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Steven H




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PostPosted: Wed 13 May, 2009 8:00 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Hadrian Coffin wrote:
Steven H. wrote:
Quote:
Where is armour like this described?

Thanks,
Steven


This is speculation on a plausible manufacture of an inar, or a couton. It was done as an experimental test on the effectiveness of leather armour, various speculative forms where used. The results with this one where just much more spectacular. We used several forms either recreated from extant finds, or inferred from period artwork and/or descriptions. Each piece was manufactured using only period appropriate tools. The targets where modified based on the weapon used. Each weapon was also made using only period appropriate tools. For the impact weapons (arrows, javelins, spears, etc.) we used a foam layered target. First a control was done, for the archery tests this meant shooting the arrow against the target without any resistance, and using a pencil to mark the depth of penetration. The same arrow was then shot with the armour strapped against the target and the depth of penetration was re-marked.
Best,
Hadrian


Thank you for the elaboration. Would you be willing to share more about this series of tests? Also, how did a simple layered linen or stuffed linen armour fare in these tests?

You did not, however, actually answer the question - what is the basis for this particular armour design? I am intrigued and the design seems counter-intuitive to me.

Cheers,
Steven

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Hadrian Coffin
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PostPosted: Wed 13 May, 2009 10:02 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Hi,
Unfortunately I can not explain every step in the tests as that would defeat the purpose of my article. However I can say this garment was designed from three examples: Cu Chulain's cneslenti (but alternating with leather instead of just rows of linen), a possible (though unlikely) manufacture of the Dublin gambeson, and the lewis chess men "berserker" tunic. This is obviously purely speculative but entirely plausible. The point of these experiments was to find a reasonably effective garment, of leather, made using only historical tools. This combined with artistic and archeological evidence is designed to help find the plausibility of a pre-12th century leather armour. This study is not designed to find the exact method of manufacture of any item so a re-enactor can have a historical copy, but to figure out various ways a cathchriss or couton may have been manufactured. It was designed as an experiment to further a hypothesis not prove a point. Wink
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Hadrian Coffin
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PostPosted: Wed 13 May, 2009 10:18 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Though I will say it does "prove" leather (or leather and linen as the case may be) can relatively easily be made into an effective armour; something that has been severely debated here.
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