armour parts

Armour Parts in the Middle Age: A Detailed Guide

The Middle Ages was a period of massive socio-political change, but perhaps one of its most enduring images is that of the armoured knight. Behind this iconic figure lies a complex system of protection, developed meticulously over the centuries. This article will delve into the nuances of armour parts, their evolution, and their crucial role in shaping history.

Understanding Armor Parts

Before we dissect the various armour parts, it’s essential to understand what precisely armour is. Simply put, armour is a protective covering used to prevent damage from being inflicted by weaponry. In the Middle Ages, the effectiveness of armour was a decisive factor in battles, leading to its continuous evolution and sophistication.

The Anatomy of Armor

The anatomy of armour from the Middle Ages is a fascinating study in both design and utility. Here, we break down the key armour parts, describing their function and design.

  • Helmet: The helmet was critical in protecting the wearer’s head and face. There were various styles, including the Bascinet, Great Helm, and Armet, each offering varying degrees of protection and visibility.
  • Cuirass: This covered the torso and consisted of a breastplate and backplate. It provided essential protection to the heart and other vital organs.
  • Pauldrons: These shoulder protectors often came attached with smaller plates, known as besagues, to guard the armpit area, a known weak point in the armour.
  • Gambeson: Worn underneath the metal armor, this padded garment offered additional protection and comfort.
  • Gauntlets: These protected the hands and wrists, essential for wielding weapons effectively.
  • Greaves and Sabatons: Covering the lower legs and feet, these armour parts were vital for a knight’s mobility and protection in close combat.

Evolution of Armor Parts

The evolution of armour parts throughout the Middle Ages is a testament to the era’s technological and strategic advancements.

Early Middle Ages: Armour began as chainmail, a flexible but heavy garment made of interlocked metal rings. The Norman helmet, with its nasal bar, was also common.

High Middle Ages: Plate armour started to supplement chainmail for better protection. Helmets like the Great Helm offered superior protection but limited visibility and ventilation.

Late Middle Ages: Full plate armour became the standard. Improved crafting techniques allowed for more sophisticated designs, like articulated joints. Helmets like the Armet provided excellent protection while also offering better visibility and breathability.

This is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the depth and breadth of Middle Age armour parts. With each piece carrying a story of technological progression and adaptation, the world of Medieval armour is an open book awaiting curious minds.

Head Protection: Helmets and Visors

The most crucial part of the body to protect during warfare is arguably the head, where a severe blow can prove instantly fatal. Throughout the Middle Ages, the design and structure of helmets and visors evolved significantly, always striving for the optimal balance between maximum protection and usability.

Types of Helmets

During the Middle Ages, various types of helmets emerged, each reflecting the specific needs and technologies of the time.

  • Spangenhelm: Used during the Early Middle Ages, the Spangenhelm was composed of several metal strips (spangen) riveted to metal plates. This design allowed a degree of flexibility and was generally worn over a chainmail coif.
  • Great Helm (or Heaume): With the advent of the High Middle Ages came the Great Helm. This was a flat-topped cylinder of steel that completely enclosed the head. While it offered excellent protection, its heavy weight and limited ventilation made it less than ideal for extended combat.
  • Bascinet: The Bascinet, popular during the 14th century, was lighter and more comfortable than the Great Helm. It had a pointed top to deflect blows and could be worn with a variety of visors for face protection.
  • Armet: A significant leap forward in the Late Middle Ages was the Armet, a helmet that fully enclosed the head but was considerably lighter and more compact than previous designs. The Armet had hinged sides, making it easier to put on and take off.

Visors and Face Protection

Visors were integral to medieval helmets, offering face protection while also allowing visibility and airflow. Their designs evolved alongside the helmets they were attached to.

  • Nasal Helm: The nasal helm had a simple piece of metal projecting down over the face to protect the nose, hence the name. This allowed for good visibility and breathability but left the rest of the face vulnerable.
  • Visored Bascinet: The visors for the Bascinet helmet offered more complete protection. The most common was the “Hounskull” or “Pig-faced” visor, which was pointed to deflect blows and had small slits for visibility.
  • Visored Armet: The Armet’s visor was a marvel of engineering. It fit flush with the rest of the helmet and could slide up into the helmet when not in use. This allowed for better visibility and ventilation when needed, without sacrificing protection.

The development of helmets and visors throughout the Middle Ages reflects a continual quest for better protection, visibility, and comfort. The resulting innovations not only impacted the outcomes of battles, but also shaped the iconic image of the medieval knight that we hold today.

Upper Body Protection: Chest Armor

The upper body, housing vital organs like the heart and lungs, was a crucial area for protection in the Middle Ages. Knights relied on complex, meticulously designed armor parts to guard against potentially deadly blows. Here, we explore these essential components of medieval chest armor.

Breastplates and Cuirasses

Breastplates and cuirasses are types of chest armor that protected the wearer’s torso from the front. Their development and sophistication grew as blacksmithing skills improved during the Middle Ages.

  • Chainmail Hauberk: In the Early Middle Ages, warriors primarily wore chainmail hauberks that covered the torso and extended down the arms and legs. While offering flexibility and reasonable protection against cuts, they were less effective against piercing attacks.
  • Breastplate: By the High Middle Ages, the breastplate – a single piece of metal molded to the wearer’s chest – began to supplement or even replace the chainmail for better protection. Initially, these were worn over the hauberk but later incorporated into the cuirass.
  • Cuirass: The cuirass, consisting of both the breastplate and backplate, became commonplace by the Late Middle Ages. It was often fluted for added strength and to deflect blows. The design of cuirasses became increasingly sophisticated, with articulated lames (individual pieces of metal) allowing for greater movement.

Backplates and Tassets

While the front of the torso was a likely target in battle, protecting the back was equally crucial. Similarly, the lower abdomen and upper legs needed defending, leading to the development of backplates and tassets.

  • Backplate: The backplate, paired with the breastplate to form a cuirass, protected the wearer’s back and spine. Backplates were usually simpler in design than breastplates but were vital in guarding against surprise attacks from behind.
  • Faulds and Tassets: The Faulds were metal strips attached to the bottom of the cuirass to protect the waist and hips. Tassets, attached to the Faulds, extended this protection to the upper legs. These pieces were usually articulated to allow the knight to move and ride a horse comfortably.

The evolution of chest armor in the Middle Ages exemplifies the balance between protection and mobility that armorers strived for. As warfare tactics and weaponry evolved, so too did the defenses, leading to the impressive and sophisticated armor we associate with knights of old.

Limb Protection: Arm and Leg Armor

In the chaos of medieval warfare, not only was protecting the core body vital, but also securing the limbs. Arms were crucial for wielding weapons and shields, while legs were indispensable for mobility on foot and horseback. Consequently, arm and leg armor evolved into complex systems to provide maximum protection while maintaining movement flexibility.

Arm Protection

Protecting the arms, without compromising mobility, presented a challenge to medieval armorers. The solution was a series of interconnected components:

  • Pauldrons: These large, curved plates covered the shoulders and often extended down the upper arms. The design helped deflect blows away from the body.
  • Rerebraces and Vambraces: The upper arms were protected by rerebraces, while the lower arms were shielded by vambraces. These components were typically made from one or more pieces of hardened leather or metal.
  • Gauntlets: Gauntlets, made of leather and metal, covered the hands and wrists. The intricate design of articulated plates allowed knights to grip their weapons effectively while offering protection.

Leg Protection

Like arms, legs needed to be well-protected but also free to move. The resulting armor parts were marvels of medieval design:

  • Cuisses, Poleyns, and Greaves: The upper legs were protected by cuisses, the knees by poleyns (often including a rondel for side protection), and the lower legs by greaves. These pieces were typically made from shaped metal plates, and designed to overlap for comprehensive coverage.
  • Sabatons: The feet were covered by sabatons, armored shoes made of riveted metal plates. These often had a pointed toe, which was more a fashion statement than a functional requirement.

The design of arm and leg armor in the Middle Ages showcased the era’s ingenuity. In the relentless pursuit of protection and mobility, armorers created systems that are still admired today for their balance of aesthetics, functionality, and craftsmanship.

Additional Armor Accessories

While the main body armor provided significant protection, knights often employed additional accessories for added defense and identification. Shields and bucklers were crucial in deflecting blows, while helm crests and plumes served a dual purpose in identification and aesthetics.

Shields and Bucklers

Shields and bucklers played a vital role in the knight’s defense system, serving as active protection devices that could be maneuvered to block incoming attacks.

  • Shields: Early in the Middle Ages, shields were often large and kite-shaped, offering protection to the body’s upper half. Later, as body armor improved, shields became smaller and more compact. The heater shield, with its characteristic shape, is one of the most iconic medieval shields.
  • Bucklers: A buckler is a small, round shield that can be used in one hand. It was often used in conjunction with a sword for offense and defense, particularly in one-on-one combat. Its compact size allowed for agile maneuvering.

Helm Crests and Plumes

Helm crests and plumes served less practical purposes, being more about identification and showing off the knight’s coat of arms.

  • Helm Crests: Crests were often made of lightweight material like leather or boiled wool shaped and painted into various forms like animals, crosses, or even more abstract designs. These helped identify the knight, especially important in mass battles or tournaments.
  • Plumes: Plumes or feathers were also often added to the helmet for identification or aesthetic purposes. The color, size, and arrangement of the plumes could signify different things, from the knight’s family to his rank or affiliation.


The Middle Ages were a time of intense warfare and rapid technological advancement in arms and armor. From the chainmail of the early Middle Ages to the intricate full plate armor of the late period, the evolution of armor parts demonstrates the era’s ingenious solutions to the dual demands of protection and mobility.

Every piece, from breastplates to gauntlets, from pauldrons to sabatons, played its part in this remarkable system of defense. Even shields, bucklers, and the ornamental crests and plumes had their roles in the theatre of war. Understanding these armor parts offers a glimpse into the realities of medieval warfare and the daily lives of the knights who staked their lives on their effectiveness. It’s a testament to the human spirit of survival, innovation, and artistry, etched in steel and history.