One-sided war & self-healing scales

Eleanor Konik

Eleanor Konik

Professionally, I teach pre-teens about ancient civilizations. In my downtime, I enjoy combining storytelling with my love of sharing obscure history and science.


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.

Quick Facts

Optimized Protection

The Assyrians claimed to be the first to use β€˜β€˜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.

Uniform Animals

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.

One Sided

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.

Elite Exchanges

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.

πŸ“— If you found this interesting, you may also enjoy my previous newsletter about unexpected reasons for city walls & tips for breaking sieges.

πŸ’š If you learned something from this overview, consider signing up for a membership to support my work. It's only $2/mo and lets you access my complete archive of short stories β€” & the accompanying afterwords. This month's free sample is about temples as military bases & other violations of the sacred.

πŸ₯Š Do you have a favorite fact about armor or obscure methods of protection? Please reach out β€” I'd love to hear about it, either via email or in a comment where other readers can see.


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