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Jojo Zerach





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PostPosted: Sat 12 May, 2012 12:46 pm    Post subject: Why was limb armour so scarce in the ancient world?         Reply with quote

Why did armies in ancient times not seem to bother with much limb protection? Was it because of the heavy reliance on shield walls in the ancient world?
(I know there are some exceptions to this, like the Roman manica,)
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Joshua McGee





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PostPosted: Sat 12 May, 2012 1:33 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

It is my understanding that various cultures throughout various ancient time periods did employ limb armor. It certainly wasn't what you could call "ignored" in ancient times. Greek hoplites, and many others, wore greaves, for instance. Mycenaean soldiers may have employed a full arm on their right arms, similar to a manica . Many ancient Asian armours had arm and leg defences. These are just a few examples, but various limb defences were used throughout antiquity, both "soft" and "rigid" armour types. Not all ancient societies' militaries were based on shield wall type formations, either.

As to why a particular group, soldier, or formation did not use limb defenses in ancient times, it all boils down to money, technology, climate, mobility, and social norms.
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Ryan S.





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PostPosted: Sat 12 May, 2012 3:21 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I think the limbs were the part most often left unprotected, even in modern times.
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Dan Howard




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PostPosted: Sat 12 May, 2012 3:37 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I can think of a few reasons.

The left arm had a shield so that limb was already protected.

Weapons are hard to wield without carefully fitted arm armour.

It is very difficult to march with leg armour.

Even today only the head and body is armoured so there is nothing strange about that in the past

The most common threat was from spears and arrows. A puncture wound in the arm or leg is not worth the inconvenience of encumbering it with armour.
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Matthew Amt




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PostPosted: Sat 12 May, 2012 4:19 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I'd say it's mostly because of the shield, plus most of the other answers above. One thing to be careful about though, is thinking in terms of what is *not* armored. "No armor" was the *rule*, so anything added to that was gravy. Helmets first, of course, and then the body. Leg armor typically got more attention if the shield was shorter, like the Greek aspis. Arms were the bottom of the list, and in some cases the right arm was armored but the left was not (being behind the shield, of course).

Naturally we tend to think about early Imperial Roman legionaries and Classical hoplites in muscled cuirasses when we talk about "ancient", but again, be careful! Hoplites were indeed pretty well-equipped in comparison to other cultures, but were probably at their heaviest in the late Archaic era (just before the Persian Wars). By the Hellenistic era, plenty of Greek-style troops just had shields and helmets. Romans also had a much larger than average spread of armor, but all through their history there were unarmored legionaries. At first this was a wealth thing, only the upper classes having full body armor, but even when armor was "issued", during the Empire, we have good evidence that not all troops wore it. Yet at the same time there are depictions of legionaries with long shirts of mail, greaves, and segmented armguards. So it varied! Just remember that the vast majority of the rest of Europe and the Mediterranean world was mostly unarmored--"shield and spear" was the "default".

Matthew
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Nat Lamb




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PostPosted: Sat 12 May, 2012 6:20 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Another idea, and this is not based on anything other than wild guessing, is perhaps it is something to do with the sorts of weapons such troops tended to face, which from my limited understanding tended to be some variation on the spear. A spear thrust to the torso is going to be fatal in pretty quick order, so it makes sense that you would try very hard to armour that area. A spear thrust to a limb, while painful, and almost certainly debilitating, is nowhere near as likely to be fatal, and with treatment may well be fully recoverable from. This could account for limb armour not being given the same priority as torso armour.
I also seem to remember that things like the roman manica were introduced specifically in response to opposing troops armed with things like falcate, which would seem perfectly capable of lopping off a limb or damaging it in a way that would be immediately life threatening.

/edit
I just noticed that Dan Howard had already said something similar, but far more succinctly.


Last edited by Nat Lamb on Sun 13 May, 2012 7:51 pm; edited 1 time in total
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Matthew Amt




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PostPosted: Sun 13 May, 2012 11:56 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Nat Lamb wrote:
Another idea, and this is not based on anything other than wild guessing, is perhaps it is something to do with the sorts of weapons such troops tended to face, which from my limited understanding tended to be some variation on the spear. A spear thrust to the torso is going to be fatal in pretty quick order, so it makes sense that you would try very hard to armour that area. A spear thrust to a limb, while painful, and almost certainly debilitating, is nowhere near as likely to be fatal, and with treatment may well be fully recoverable from. This could account for limb armour not being given the same priority as torso armour.


True to a certain extent, but remember that without knowledge of antibiotics, ANY open would could become infected and be fatal.

Quote:
I also seem to remember that things like the roman manica were introduced specifically in response to opposing troops armed with things like falcate, which would seem perfectly capable of lopping off a limb or damaging it in a way that would be immediately life threatening.


The use of the manica as a specific response to the Dacian falx has NOT been proven. The manica is found in places like Britain and Spain, and cross-braced helmets are known from Syria and other places, whereas the falx only shows up in Dacia (Romania). There is even a theory that the falx was used as a specific response to the heavily-armored legionaries! Not sure that's the case, since the Romans DO seem to have associated that weapon in general with Dacia, but it's an interesting theory.

Matthew
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Ryan S.





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PostPosted: Sun 13 May, 2012 12:44 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Also, I think the head and torso can handle the weight better. In addition, limbs are very agile, which means both they can evade better and can be restricted more by armor. Also, a weapon can provide a sort of defense for the arm(s), and the legs are protected by distance.
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Elling Polden




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PostPosted: Sun 13 May, 2012 3:42 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

As a general trend, full body armour is first worn by cavalry. A horseman is exposed to attacks from all directions, and has little opportunity to dodge. He is also more likely to actually fight with a sword, since he will be in a loose melee with other horsemen, and needs the flexibility.

A shield and spear infantryman will generally be exposed to spear thrusts to the head and shoulders, especially if all goes well and the formation holds. The chances that he will end up doing any actual fighting with his sword is limited.
Thus the armour is there to save him if he screws up, rather than allow him to ignore danger.

Personally, based on my own experiences with sword and shield facing longswords, the notion of Falx is a very fearsome weapon sounds less than credible. It might be scary, but rushing a legionary with a short two handed weapon is a quick way to die.
Chances that the legionary comes home and tells stories of your cracy killer weapon that almost spilt his shield in two are high, however.
(With the fact that the attacker struck once, got his weapon stuck, and died horribly becoming secondary to how scary it was.)
Also, if it was any good, the romans would have stolen the design for their own use. Which they did with everything else that was actually efficient.

"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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R Lister




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PostPosted: Mon 14 May, 2012 2:42 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Is there also an argument for cost vs Reward.

Making effective and cost effective limb armour is hard, I think. Look at the transition armours, of splint armour. Compared to the norman chain suit, then to the saxon chain shirt. They suits get bigger as resources get better, and the population gets bigger. The resources that can be brought to equip the warrior get bigger. Metal armour get thinner and stronger, there for lighter, allowing for more movement, plus the cost in real terms goes down. Metal in the 4th century was probably more expensive in real terms than metal in the 14th. So if there was limb armour then it would have been maybe the equilivent of a ferrari in the 4th century but by the 14th it was a very old ford fiesta, with miss matched doors.

Only the richest could afford the limb armour, and be able to move in it, as they could afford the horses to carry them arround, where as metal became cheeper more people could afford it.

this all discounts other forms of armour.


lots of love


Rich
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Randall Moffett




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PostPosted: Mon 14 May, 2012 5:39 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

My guess as to why in ancient cultures head and torso were key in part deals with the shield but also starting with what was vital to protect. Even if you risk infection with other injuries damage to the head and torso can become much more serious in and of themselves, secondary infections or not. As well economics likely was part of this as well. Rome for example in the Imperial era had either a provision of arms and armour or allowance for it.


Dan,

Actually some groups are more or less fully armoured in this time. You can see some of the extra parts here. Some friends of mine seem to have different opinions about what was what worked for them on wearing more or less. I cannot help but think in a large and well organized military like that of the US if this type of picking and choosing goes on in ancient armies something like it must have existed.

http://www.blackhawk.com/catalog/Accessories,84.htm

RPM
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Elling Polden




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PostPosted: Mon 14 May, 2012 7:39 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

The low priority of limb armour is due to more factors than just economics.
The prime example is the roman mail shirts, that have short or no sleeves, but a double layer of mail on the shoulders. Mail which could just as well have served as sleeves.

"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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Randall Moffett




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PostPosted: Mon 14 May, 2012 12:48 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Never said it was just economics. I just think that there is a probable corralation.

RPm
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Jojo Zerach





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PostPosted: Mon 14 May, 2012 1:19 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

R Lister wrote:
Is there also an argument for cost vs Reward.

Making effective and cost effective limb armour is hard, I think. Look at the transition armours, of splint armour. Compared to the norman chain suit, then to the saxon chain shirt. They suits get bigger as resources get better, and the population gets bigger. The resources that can be brought to equip the warrior get bigger. Metal armour get thinner and stronger, there for lighter, allowing for more movement, plus the cost in real terms goes down. Metal in the 4th century was probably more expensive in real terms than metal in the 14th. So if there was limb armour then it would have been maybe the equilivent of a ferrari in the 4th century but by the 14th it was a very old ford fiesta, with miss matched doors.

Only the richest could afford the limb armour, and be able to move in it, as they could afford the horses to carry them arround, where as metal became cheeper more people could afford it.

this all discounts other forms of armour.


lots of love


Rich


I don't think it is necessarily more difficult to make than body armour of the same period.
Norman mail had sleeves, while Roman mail didn't, even through the Romans probably had more resources at their disposal. So I don't think economics were the major influence.
(During the transitional period, plate armour for the limbs appears around the same time, if not before, splinted armour.)
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Graham Shearlaw





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PostPosted: Mon 14 May, 2012 1:59 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Head armor was of uttermost importance look at the finds from The battle of Towton and The Battle of Visby
both show that blows to the head where used as the finishing blow.

Chest armor did much the same for the chest, given the chest has a horrible outcome for deep wounds.

Roman mail shirts,often have a double layer of mail on the shoulders because the shoulders chach any blows comeing down off the helmet.
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Dan Howard




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PostPosted: Mon 14 May, 2012 2:18 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

We have no idea why Romans had shoulder doubling. My guess is that they were simply following the Greek fashion. IMO additional shoulder protection was not a consideration.
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