Did all medieval soldiers have armor?

Armor was only used by knights. Although knights were the dominant force in most of these armies, they always had the support (and opposition) of foot soldiers, such as archers, pikemen, crossbowmen and gunmen. In Europe, plate armor peaked in the late 15th and early 16th centuries. Full armor, also known as a panoply, is therefore a characteristic of the late Middle Ages and the Renaissance.

Its popular association with the medieval knight is due to the armor specialized in jousts that was developed in the 16th century. What a lot of people forget to explain is why bullets become more powerful. Since the invention of the first bulletproof vests in the late 19th century, every generation of soldiers has used increasingly sophisticated protection. There has been a real arms race, in which every advance in body armor has required a more penetrating round to overcome it, before these more powerful cartridges are once again defeated by better body armor.

That said, some soldiers used armor during the First World War. German machine guns, in particular, had “lobster armor” that effectively stopped small arms fire, even if that meant they couldn't move. The United States also tried to develop bulletproof vests for its soldiers, but since the lighter models still weighed 40 pounds, they weren't widely adopted. English medieval knights wore metal armor made of iron or steel to protect themselves from archers and the long swords of their opponents.

Starting in the 9th century AD, chain mesh suits provided protection and freedom of movement until solid plate armor became more common in the 14th century AD. A crested helmet, a shield with a striking coat of arms and a horse with a livery completed an expensive outfit designed both to protect and to intimidate. Such was the fascinating effect of a fully clothed gentleman that armor continued to be used despite the arrival of gunpowder weapons and remained one of the nobility's favorite costumes when they posed for their oil portraits well into the modern era. Ancient Greek foot soldiers wore plate armor consisting of a breastplate, long greaves (armor for the leg below the knee) and a deep helmet, all made of bronze.

The Roman legionnaire wore a cylindrical breastplate made of four to seven horizontal steel rings with openings in the front and rear, where they were tied. The breastplate was folded into a piece of throat that, in turn, was flanked by several vertical rings that protected each shoulder. Pieces of armor from medieval times have been preserved and, in addition, historians rely on the descriptions of contemporary texts, illustrations and stone tombs of knights, which were often crowned by a life-size carving of the deceased (effigy) in battle attire. Today, he is a historical writer and researcher specializing in medieval and early modern history, based in Yorkshire, United Kingdom.

The helmets used in medieval tournaments were generally the most flamboyant and probably weren't used on the battlefield. Consequently, most of the exclans of the High Middle Ages were equipped with robust local fabrics (usually linen and wool) and equipped with a wooden shield, easily the most effective form of cheap medieval armor, which could defend its bearer from thigh to neck. Gothic armor, on the other hand, was sharp and angular, which created a narrow-waisted silhouette, and used a characteristic “stretch marks” technique to reinforce the plate. Maximilian I's field armor from the late 15th century is an example of archetypal medieval Gothic armor.

The cash-strapped knight could also rent armor or, in a push, win a suit by defeating an opponent in a medieval tournament or in the battle itself. Little by little, the number of plate components in medieval armor increased, protecting other areas of the body and excluding those of a cavalryman's horse. The breastplate represents the final stage of the plate armor tradition descending from the late Middle Ages. The first types of bulletproof vests recorded were inspired by the plate armor worn by medieval knights, and while it was good at protecting the bearer against sharp weapons, even the first musket bullets pierced them directly.

I suppose a soldier is more likely to wear mesh or padding outside of direct combat than the full plate, but that, in general, the decision to wear armor or not at a given time was independent of the specific type of armor. Other examples of transitional medieval armor are the “mesh splint”, which was created by reinforcing sturdy fabric or leather garments with steel bars or “splints”. Mesh armor expanded from the short-sleeved, waist-high Byrnie of the early Middle Ages to the long hauberk that covered the wearer from knee to wrist. At the end of the 14th century, medieval plate armor was being produced on a large scale for the first time since the Roman Empire.


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