Fantasy armor tends to be very flashy and imaginative. Since I've been working on a storyline involving a literal "cult of valor," it seemed like they should have some kind of distinctive armor. I went trawling through my notes to see what inspiration I could find.
- Pangolin scales are self-healing; all it takes is five minutes and some water, which is why their scales have been used to make armor coats for centuries.
- The armadillo, alligator, and leatherback sea turtle all have bony plates embedded in a soft shell, which makes their skin flexible while also offering protection.
- The first known chainmail was created in the 1st century BCE by the Celts.
- Heavy armor for horses (known as barding) didn't get developed until after the invention of the stirrup in the 4th century CE.
- In animals, defensive spines are usually only effective against one type of attacker. I somehow thought this sort of d&d-esque min/maxing would be a myth.
The Assyrians claimed to be the first to use ‘‘textile armors,’’ which were prepared from multiple layers of linen quilted as single armor. It was mostly used as protection against archers, while lamellar armor (basically plates joined by cords) was used against spears.
The Aztecs used jaguar skins as part of their "dress uniform", but their normal body armor was essentially an inch-thick cotton shirt with padded leggings and bracers made from cotton or leather. Sometimes the armor was reinforced with metals, leather, or wood. Mostly, their helmets were also cotton, but some were made of wood and shaped like animals.
It turns out that one-sided armor isn't a weird anachronistic fantasy art quirk. Warrior skeletons from the ancient world show battle injuries mostly on the left side of the body, dealt by right-handed opponents. Some warriors in antiquity (including women, according to The Amazons by Adrienne Mayor) really did wear armor that was heavier on one side of their bodies. They (and the Greeks) probably did not wear "glued linen armor," despite scholarly debates.
Ancient Chinese scale armor was made of 5,000+ small shield-shaped plates arranged in horizontal rows and sewn onto a backing. It was expensive and time-consuming to make, so only elites wore them, until large, powerful states emerged to sponsor the creation. Before then, they tended to be passed down to heirs instead of buried with their owners. What's particularly interesting is that some ancient examples offer proof of early technology transfers between Assyria and ancient China.
📗 If you found this interesting, you may also enjoy my previous newsletter about unexpected reasons for city walls & tips for breaking sieges.
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