Jan 19, 2019

World of armor design

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The initial idea was to write about medieval knights and the way that their “clumsy” suit of armor works. I will definitely talk more on this topic in future articles.

One of the reasons why this article finally appeared – is a personal bias towards old times. In my childhood, the look of ancient warriors was always connected with something epic.

I bought plastic soldiers and reconstruct unknown battles, watched different films like Dragonheart which was a good fantasy movie with a talking dragon played by Sean Connery. I would read different novels about knights and browsed for hours German encyclopedias dedicated to armor and weapons. I played video games created by Bioware, Bethesda, Firefly, and other talented teams. As you see more than enough reasons to look closer at the development of armor.

First look

When I started preparations I realized how different was from reality the armor production and usage of it compared to a common appearance in media. For a big part of an audience, the equipment of soldiers in the movie remains no more than just a decoration that helps recognize a period. However, we shouldn’t blame the main characters for going on battles with the uncovered head because it’s important for a film director to help viewers to identify main heroes in a screenplay.

At the same time, we as designers feel that there is more to explore than just an aesthetic side. We’d like to have deeper knowledge about the subject to understand what kind of design tasks armorers solved with their creations.

When I dug deeper into the subject, I got completely lost in the number of facts and details that exist behind these pieces of leather and metal. People who constructed armor were great designers. They worked on protection keeping in mind the physical strength of a person, war conditions, weapons of an expected enemy, and make them not only functional, but even elegant. One of the examples is the Maximilian armor which has a lot of fluting to provide extensive protection for soldiers. Also, it reflects the fashion style of its age with lots of cloth layers in a garment.

Maximilian armor at its finest. In this beautiful painting made by Sir John Everett Millais, we can observe Joan of Arc wearing full plate armor. What is interesting about this painting, even counting the number of details described, it’s not historically accurate. Joan of Arc lived and fought in the middle of the fifteenth century. While Maximilian armor was invented about sixty years later after her death.

The armor was so solid that could protect a knight from arquebus shots. When we look at the variety of armors it’s hard to figure out how exactly these pieces of chain and plates functioned. The reasons and facts standing behind the design decisions remain unclear.

Historical reenactors spend years studying old manuscripts to understand how it worked and got a more precise context of its usage. The main point – the design for military purposes must be efficient.

Any kind of miscalculation may have a severe impact like wounds or death of a human. Here, we can remember the importance of appropriate UI design in aircraft cockpit when designing decisions without deliberate testing would become a disaster for hundreds of people. The essential part of an understanding of the way that armor works are conditions and environment.

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Maximilian armor at its finest

Military equipment of modern soldier can weigh up to twenty-five kilograms while the suit of armor of the fifteenth century wasn’t heavier. Each of them created to protect a soldier, while a particular age and weapons dictated different goals for manufacturers to solve.

A modern soldier from special forces and his ancestor in full plate Gothic armor. The first masters of armor design appeared a long time ago. So, we will track the conditions and specifics of different periods to understand the context.

Methods of war were changing as tactics and technologies of manufacturing armor and weapons got more and more advanced. We begin our journey from ancient Greece. Not only did Greek civilization bring the ideal of beauty to the whole world, and the greatest philosophers, mathematicians, sculptors. Because of endless civil strife and conflicts with neighbors, they had to defend themselves. To survive people of Greece invented their own ways to protect their land.

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A modern soldier from special forces and his ancestor in full plate Gothic armor

Hoplite, Hoplon, and Hellenes

The history of Greece is a vast topic, and we will focus our attention on one particular period from 500-450 years b.c. To give you a background of equipment of soldiers we will discuss separate parts of armor and how it was produced.

It’s interesting though that Greek people never named Greek themselves. It was an insulting name given by Etruscan people due to the sound of Greek speech for their ears. Greeks called themselves Hellenes. Greece in that period wasn’t one big country with a centralized government. Instead, there were scattered cities across islands called polices. It means that each police had its own code of laws, government, and money. When we talk about the Greek society of that age we need to consider that there were no people who spent entire life on training and preparation for battles except Sparta. It was indeed a military camp in the size of a city.

One distinct city-state even prosperous simply couldn’t afford to spend money on supplying a regular army. People who earned enough bought the armor for their own money. It’s also the explanation of a different look of armors depending on the city where it comes from.

There were a lot of conflicts different in size and impact. To see more clearly the ingenuity of Greek commanders we will consider the First Persian invasion and one of the crucial battles between Greece and the Persian empire – “Battle of Marathon”.

If we look closer at the map, and resources available for the Persian army compare to Greece it gets harder to figure out how this small scattered on islands country resisted in front of a huge, organized empire. The borders of the empire exceeded five million square kilometers. While Greece occupied circa one hundred and eighty thousand square kilometers.

Athenians were alone with approximately ten thousand men standing in front of the empire’s army with cavalry, archers, swordsmen and one hundred thousand oarsmen remaining in reserve.

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The crests on helmets served as a mark to highlight the commander for the rest of soldiers

The whole Athenian army was represented by one type of soldier – hoplite. It was heavily armed infantry armed with a spear and small sword xiphos as a last chance weapon.

Their panoply consisted of:

— a closed heavy helmet that protected almost the whole face of a soldier;

— muscled cuirass made of bronze or lighter material;

— big wooden shield strengthened by bronze sheet, 90 cm in diameter, called Aspis;

— the protection of thighs and greaves to protect legs.

The first thing that might come to our mind after looking at their armor. Is this helmet was so convenient? Certainly not, it was frequently used by artists in their creations, but for warriors, it wasn’t the best option.

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The crests on helmets served as a mark to highlight the commander for the rest of soldiers

As an every armor piece, it has gone through several improvements. The earlier version of this helmet was heavier and significantly restricted the vision of a soldier on a battlefield. The positive side was better protection of a face.

On the left variation of the helmet from Athens with an engraved symbol of Athena. On the right helmet from Arcadia city-state. Its name helmet got from the name of the police where it was first discovered – Corinth. Originally a Corinthian helmet was produced from a single piece of bronze. Later it will consist of several parts.

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On the left variation of the helmet from Athens with engraved symbol of Athena. On the right helmet from Arcadia city-state..

Concerning the weight of a helmet, I’ve found evidence of two and a half kilograms and even five. Probably it was a parade helmet. Moreover, it’s hard to name precise weight because original helmets are partially destroyed by corrosion. What is interesting about this helmet is older versions of it were created without holes for ears. The hearing of orders from the commander was muffled for soldiers.

In later versions, we see that helmet acquired holes for ears and then it will widen the space around eyes. Because of the clear view of a battlefield is more important than anything else. With the further development of this idea, Greeks invented more open types of helmets.

One of the examples of evolution is the Chalcidian helmet.

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Helmets with fixed and removable cheek guards

These helmets also were made of bronze. Due to making them more open, the weight was reduced to around one kilogram. We don’t observe any restriction for eyes, nose defense became shorter. Appeared additional protection for a neck. The protection on both sides of the face with cheek plates.

The Phrygian helmet is another direction of evolvement for the Corinthian helmet.

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Great reconstruction of the Phrygian helmet

We observe that the view is even better than in the Chalcidian helmet. The cheekpieces were extended to protect the lower part of the face by compromising face protection near eyes. We can imagine that the look of such warriors intimidated the enemy. As for the strange popping crest, we have two points to consider. First, the shape of the skull is curved that makes the directed blow weaker that makes the weapon slide down. The second point is the shape echoes the cap of Attis Phrygian god of vegetation.

Moving to shields now. The main technological achievement of shields is the way that a soldier can hold them.

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Accurately depicted by artist so-called Argive grip on inner side of the shield.

Accurately depicted by artist so-called Argive grip on the inner side of the shield. The shield is the most important piece of armor and the heaviest one, five to seven kilograms. Due to their curved shape and chain around the perimeter of the shield, it can be carried on a shoulder. While most of the shields had only one handle in the center of the construction. In Aspis, the inner part has the strap in the center and grip near the edge. This design allowed hoplite to hold it more tightly, thus the formation could sustain better in front of the attack of enemies and keep the order in ranks.

The shields were decorated with vibrant pictures. Since each city was an independent player on a map, some people asked artists to paint a shield with a coat of arms of their family or the symbol of the police.

And finally the cuirass. The popular statement that bronze cuirasses were heavy isn’t that solid as it seems to be. The cuirass was solid enough to protect the soldier and thin enough to fight and cover long distances. It was a true masterpiece of the blacksmith and no wonder that it costs a fortune to order one.

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While hoplites who faced Persians wore the lighter version of the cuirass, the more common appearance is one wearing armor made of bronze. The popularity of bronze was dictated by the technology level. While 1085 degrees is the melting temperature of copper. Most of the weapons and armor were produced by pouring melted bronze into specific forms.

Instead of a bronze cuirass, hoplites could also wear linothorax. It was made out of many layers of linen or leather glued together.

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Spartans wearing linothorax

Since the lighter type of cuirass was produced from an organic material there are no samples survived until nowadays. We left only to discuss the hypothesis of how good it worked for them. Counting the point that it was lighter, more flexible and didn’t heat as much as a piece of bronze we can state that hoplites benefit from using it.

Wearing bronze armor and armed with spears, Greek people were ready for battle. Persians were so confident in their victory that they brought marble on their ships for building the monument to immortalize their triumph.

And a little spoiler – they were a bit too confident counting what happened after. The next time, we will talk more about who was the enemy and what kind of armor they had compared to Greek warriors.

If you like this article please let me know about it, and don’t forget to share it with others. I also invite you to read our review of “Getting Real”, a great book written by guys who created Basecamp and another article of design in the real world, and also our list of reasons why hackathons are great.

Kudos to Sasha, Anya, Andrey who helped to make this article better.

Source of Pictures :

Rome total war II


Source of materials:


metatron channel

knyght errant channel


LindyBeige channel

schola gladiatoria channel

History TV channel