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Italian Half Armor



This shirt is made of tiny metal rings linked together. It protected a medieval warrior from cuts and gashes while also letting him move freely. Western Europe, Mail shirt, 15th century. The Metropolitan Museum of Art


A knight fought on horseback. He wore full armor that covered everything except his buttocks and the backs of his thighs—so he could sit on his horse. Germany, Armor, about 1520


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The many pieces of an armor each have a name. Click on the image for a labeled diagram of this half armor.


key idea
A soldier’s armor reflected the weapons he might meet with in battle.

A soldier’s armor had to shield him against his enemies’ weapons and still let him move freely enough to fight. In early medieval Europe, most soldiers wore mail shirts made of tiny interlocking metal rings. These flexible garments stopped the cutting blades of swords and battle-axes yet allowed a soldier move about easily.

However, as arms makers invented new weapons, armor changed. Blades had bounced off mail, but arrows shot from a crossbow could pierce a mail shirt, and a blow from a mace (a kind of club) could crush a soldier’s bones. So warriors started wearing solid metal plates over their mail shirts. By the 1300s, overlapping plates of armor covered nearly every part of a warrior’s body. A full armor weighed 45 to 55 pounds, about as much as a six-year-old child. Hinged joints made it surprisingly flexible—one famous knight could climb up the underside of a ladder while wearing his full armor.

Full armor worked best when the warrior was fighting on horseback. But changes in weapons during the 1400s made foot soldiers, or infantry, increasingly important. Because they needed to move quickly, foot soldiers typically wore a ”half armor” like this one, covering just their upper bodies. They would also have worn glovelike metal “gauntlets” to protect their hands.



 
   
February 2006