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Matt J.





Joined: 26 May 2010

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PostPosted: Wed 29 Aug, 2012 4:08 pm    Post subject: Leather Armour         Reply with quote

For a while, I had the idea leather armour in Europe was barely there, that it was fairly ineffective and expensive. I thought that leather lamellar armour which is popular in the middle-east is quite good, though.


Now, I've been told some interesting details about leather armour, which might or might not be true. Someone made up a sort of leather brigadine and boiled it in wax (boiled/lacquered leather?), and reckoned they couldn't cut it with any of their swords, and needed to use a ceramic knife. They reckoned leather armour was rather plentiful in Europe, especially in Eastern Europe.


I'm confused as to what to think now... could someone please set me straight?
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Matthew Amt




Location: Laurel, MD, USA
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PostPosted: Wed 29 Aug, 2012 8:04 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

What, 3 hours and no replies, yet? Are you guys just holding your breaths?

There have been a LOT of discussions about leather armor lately, but actually I'm not sure how much of it has focused on Eastern Europe. (That's not my area, and my eyes tend to glaze over a bit, I'm afraid!) It also helps a LOT to narrow down the timeframe, if possible. But I just did a search on "leather AND armor", and here's a few of the old discussions, which should help:

http://www.myArmoury.com/talk/viewtopic.php?t=16419

http://www.myArmoury.com/talk/viewtopic.php?t=12510

http://www.myArmoury.com/talk/viewtopic.php?t=18772

http://www.myArmoury.com/talk/viewtopic.php?t=7754

http://www.myArmoury.com/talk/viewtopic.php?t=16697

http://www.myArmoury.com/talk/viewtopic.php?t=15326

For Western/Northern Europe, hardened leather pieces start to show up in the 13th and 14th centuries, generally as plates worn over mail (just like the corresponding pieces in iron or steel). Before that, there is almost nothing! So I wouldn't say leather armor was ineffective, since it was worn by knights who could afford the best, but I would say it was generally the exception, at best.

I'll hold off on details for Eastern Europe, as I said! But I hope that gets things started.

Matthew


Edited to add one more link!
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Dan Howard




Location: Maitland, NSW, Australia
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PostPosted: Thu 30 Aug, 2012 4:10 am    Post subject: Re: Leather Armour         Reply with quote

Matt J. wrote:
Now, I've been told some interesting details about leather armour, which might or might not be true. Someone made up a sort of leather brigadine and boiled it in wax (boiled/lacquered leather?), and reckoned they couldn't cut it with any of their swords, and needed to use a ceramic knife. They reckoned leather armour was rather plentiful in Europe, especially in Eastern Europe.

Keep in mind that pretty much any armour will stop a one-handed sword cut - even a few layers of quilted cloth. The way to test armour is with points. Most of the people who have experimented with wax impregnation seem to think that the wax makes it easier for points to penetrate. Wax can be used as a water proofing agent but the leather shouldn't be saturated with it.
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Gary Teuscher





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PostPosted: Thu 30 Aug, 2012 10:20 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Quote:
Now, I've been told some interesting details about leather armour, which might or might not be true. Someone made up a sort of leather brigadine and boiled it in wax (boiled/lacquered leather?), and reckoned they couldn't cut it with any of their swords, and needed to use a ceramic knife. They reckoned leather armour was rather plentiful in Europe, especially in Eastern Europe.


Just a few things on this - a hardened leather garment like you mention would be very stiff, similar to plate, with all the problems plate has, meaning primarily spot protection. And wearing it over/under mail is an option, but you then have the worst qualities of both, weight of mail, stiffness of the leather.

And indeed it was probably not at all cheap. IIRC, the Buff leather coat worn in later years was more expensive than the plate cuirass used for equipping a solider.

My thoughts on another reason it was not as common as one might think - it's pricey of course. In additon, it's less effective and durable than metal.

So why spend similar money on a item which is less durable and lee protective?

On the pther hand we have the horse peoples, who used at least some leather lammelar. But they were animal-rich as pastoralists, and may have been metal-poor.
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Mart Shearer




Location: Jackson, MS, USA
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PostPosted: Thu 30 Aug, 2012 10:29 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Gary Teuscher wrote:
On the pther hand we have the horse peoples, who used at least some leather lammelar. But they were animal-rich as pastoralists, and may have been metal-poor.


There's a big cultural question:

Is leather armor more common in grazing, cattle-herding societies?

I suspect that's the case in Spain, Ireland, and the Wallachian plain.

Are slingers more common than archers in societies where sheep or alpaca are raised on mountains where stones are plentiful and wood is scarce?

ferrum ferro acuitur et homo exacuit faciem amici sui
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Gary Teuscher





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PostPosted: Thu 30 Aug, 2012 11:59 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Quote:
Is leather armor more common in grazing, cattle-herding societies?


That is so hard to say, as evidence of leather armour is rather sparce to begin with. Id guess yes, but it is a guess.

Quote:
I suspect that's the case in Spain, Ireland, and the Wallachian plain


The description of Cu Chulain from a10th century Irish writer goes into depth regarding leather armour (legendary figure but the description was likley based on practices from the time of the author IMO), that's the only one I know of.

And I might add, one should probably be leather rich AND metal poor, at least having limited acess to metal.
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Len Parker





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PostPosted: Fri 31 Jul, 2015 7:09 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

South American leather armour http://web.prm.ox.ac.uk/rpr/index.php/object-...p3982.html
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Philip Dyer





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PostPosted: Sat 01 Aug, 2015 9:17 am    Post subject: Re: Leather Armour         Reply with quote

Dan Howard wrote:
Matt J. wrote:
Now, I've been told some interesting details about leather armour, which might or might not be true. Someone made up a sort of leather brigadine and boiled it in wax (boiled/lacquered leather?), and reckoned they couldn't cut it with any of their swords, and needed to use a ceramic knife. They reckoned leather armour was rather plentiful in Europe, especially in Eastern Europe.

Keep in mind that pretty much any armour will stop a one-handed sword cut - even a few layers of quilted cloth. The way to test armour is with points. Most of the people who have experimented with wax impregnation seem to think that the wax makes it easier for points to penetrate. Wax can be used as a water proofing agent but the leather shouldn't be saturated with it.

Also to reinforce this point, you can see in several Northwest Medieval European manuscripts a clear pattern, point centric weapons just as spears, lances, crossbows, bows and arrows, pikes are the most common weapons depicted being used, thus more likeihood you are to be struck by them single or multiple times. Where is the logic in creating armor for something that is less likely to be deployed againist and statistically speaking, less likely to connect with your body in the first place? Even if leather was cheaper, if the threat it is good against dealing with weren't the norm, and the things is bad with dealing with were, then at best, you have wasted money, considering your skills prevent from being hit or at worst, you are dead.
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Dan Howard




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PostPosted: Sat 01 Aug, 2015 3:14 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Len Parker wrote:
South American leather armour http://web.prm.ox.ac.uk/rpr/index.php/object-...p3982.html

Here we have a proper example of leather armour. This is the kind of multi-layered construction that is required to enable leather to provide a decent defence. It is typical of museums like Pitt-Rivers that their long-winded text on the item managed to leave out all relevant information that might help us make a reconstruction. What is its weight? How thick is the construction? How has the leather been tanned? Is it really horse hide or is it just conjecture? Do the sleeves also consist of seven layers or are they lighter to make them more flexible?

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Henrik Zoltan Toth




Location: Hungary
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PostPosted: Sat 01 Aug, 2015 11:32 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

There is a description of the multiple layered leather kaftans used by the hungarians during the campaign against Naples in the mid 14th century in the Cronica Universale from the Villani brothers.
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Heath Barlin





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PostPosted: Sun 02 Aug, 2015 3:45 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

There is an interesting article in Why Leather? which was of an series of experiments using an arrow (substitute) against rawhide, boiled rawhide, leather, boiled leather etc.

From memory, the findings seemed to indicate that water boiled leather proved too brittle to be effective, wax boiled allowed the arrowhead to pierce more easily, plain rawhide was more effective than either, boiled rawhide was even more effective and faced (with a mix of ground rock) rawhide was more effective still.

That being said I am looking at an image from the 14th century (the Romance of Alexander one with the huge two-handed falchion) it there does appear to be leather (judging from the bright red colour) scales on his legs.

Are there any finds of leather scales from Europe? I'm interested as well.
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Len Parker





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PostPosted: Sun 02 Aug, 2015 8:23 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

The seven layers of leather caught my attention. I remember Cuchulain's battle girdle being made from the choice of seven ox-hides, and also Ajax's shield was seven layers of leather with bronze on top.

Another example of layered leather:
The Hon. Robert Curzon, writing in 1869, mentions a cuirass of three thicknesses of leather found in a stone coffin of the thirteenth century (*Arch. Journ. XXII, p. 6).
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Mikko Kuusirati




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PostPosted: Sun 02 Aug, 2015 8:45 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Len Parker wrote:
Another example of layered leather:
The Hon. Robert Curzon, writing in 1869, mentions a cuirass of three thicknesses of leather found in a stone coffin of the thirteenth century (*Arch. Journ. XXII, p. 6).

That sort of thing might well be the very origin of the word "cuirass", for that matter.

The subtle tongue, the sophist guile, they fail when the broadswords sing;
Rush in and die, dogs -- I was a man before I was a king.
-- R. E. Howard, The Road of Kings
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Dan Howard




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PostPosted: Sun 02 Aug, 2015 1:40 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

This is from the Chinese text The Chou Li

"The armorers (han jên) make the cuirasses (kia). Those made from the hide of the two-horned rhinoceros (si) consist of seven layers of hide; those made from the hide of the singlehorned rhinoceros (se) consist of six layers. Those made from a combination of both hides consist of five layers."

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Dan Howard




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PostPosted: Sun 02 Aug, 2015 2:29 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Heath Barlin wrote:
From memory, the findings seemed to indicate that water boiled leather proved too brittle to be effective.

Leather was never hardend by boiling. Boiling water destroys the leather and makes it too brittle. The water needs a lower temperature so the leather can harden more slowly. Traditionally it was hardened in hot (not boiling) water or in an oven. IMO a lot of historical leather armour was made from semi-tanned leather (rather than true rawhide), which is hard to find in today's market.

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Heath Barlin





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PostPosted: Sun 02 Aug, 2015 6:15 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Dan Howard wrote:
Heath Barlin wrote:
From memory, the findings seemed to indicate that water boiled leather proved too brittle to be effective.

Traditionally it was hardened in hot (not boiling) water or in an oven. IMO a lot of historical leather armour was made from semi-tanned leather (rather than true rawhide), which is hard to find in today's market.


Now that is interesting.

Does anyone know of any finds of leather scale armour from a European (particularly Western) context?

I've seen images in manuscripts but not any physical artefacts.
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Matthew Amt




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PostPosted: Mon 03 Aug, 2015 5:56 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Heath Barlin wrote:
Does anyone know of any finds of leather scale armour from a European (particularly Western) context?

I've seen images in manuscripts but not any physical artefacts.


None that I've ever heard of. I don't think there are even many surviving *metal* scale armor pieces from after the Roman era. It would be nice...

Matthew
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Heath Barlin





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PostPosted: Tue 04 Aug, 2015 2:44 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Thanks for that.

Are there any metal scales for reference?
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Dan Howard




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PostPosted: Tue 04 Aug, 2015 3:48 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

The only ones I know about that were found in western Europe date to the period when the Avars controlled the region. The armour seems to disappear when the Avars leave. These are all lamellar

Kertch (Crimea), Ukraine. Avarian, later 5th century. Currently held in State Historical Museum, Moscow.
Krefeld-Gellup, Germany. Grave 2589, Frankish, 6th century. Currently held in Landschaftsmuseums Burg-Linn, Krefeld Germany.
Castel Trosino, Italy. Tomb 119, Lombardic, early 7th century. Currently held in Museo dell’Alto Medioevo, Rome.
Niederstotzingen, Germany. Grave 12b/c, Alamannic, 7th century. Currently held in Württembergisches Landesmuseum, Stuttgart.

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Len Parker





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PostPosted: Tue 04 Aug, 2015 12:34 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

This is the only metal scale I've seen from medieval europe:
http://talbotsfineaccessories.com/cgi-bin/Str...mit=Search
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