The history of armor making

Manufacturers of armor were highly valued in the past. Armor was not only the protection of the most valuable – human life – but also a reflection of its bearer’s wealth and social position. Therefore, all the achievements of the art and technology of the time were manifested on the combat armor. The armor manufacturers, who perfectly mastered their craft, enjoyed a prestigious social status. Any deviation or mistake could mean death. Each piece had to fulfill its purpose and had its meaning, so quality of the product was of utmost importance. 

The social position of the wearer of the armor was revealed mainly by the decorations and the method of finishing. The rank and file soldiers wore simple black armor, or roughly worked. The wealthy owned armor with polished surface and could, of course, afford rich decorations such as gilding, carving, engraving, etching, niello or enamel. These were often real works of art and the masters of this craft were the Germans and Italians. Both countries had their own specific types of armor. Armor made by the Germans was lighter with sharp shapes, allowing the wearer to move more flexibly. The Italians made more massive and heavier armor, but it was also very mobile.

Armor Trends

Armor, too, was subject to fashion and to the development of weapons, especially firearms. Armor makers tried to replicate civilian fashion, but had to preserve the original purpose. Every richer knight had his own outfit which was designed for a particular use. For example, ceremonial armor, tournament armor and, of course, field armor, intended for combat. As a member of a fencing group, I have participated in such events not only in Slovakia but also abroad.

Usage of Armor

A soldier often had to endure a whole day in his armor and often slept in it. A field armor set weighs about 18 to 30 kilograms. Tournament armor even up to 40 kg. The weight of the armor is spread over the whole body, so it isn’t that bad and is manageable. Chain mail, which was produced at the very beginning, is more uncomfortable. This armor looks lighter because it is made of metal wire, but the weight is concentrated only on the shoulders, which is much more demanding.

Development of Armor Manufacturing

If a piece of armor did not fulfil its purpose and did not provide sufficient protection, it was bound to be forgotten. A weapon that was stopped by any armor as well. Therefore, in addition to the combat on the battlefield, another fight was fought in parallel with a completely different character. The struggle of the arms manufacturers and the armorers, who were working hard to perfect their art. When a weapon manufacturer made a weapon that passed through armor, the armorers had to react immediately and make even better armor that would protect life better. With the advent of firearms, armor was also strengthened at the expense of weight. That resulted in abandoning of some parts in the following years. This struggle ended only with the invention of the percussive rifle in the 19th century, which could not be stopped by any combat clothing.

Quality Testing

Each piece of armor had to pass a quality test and it was reflected in its price. Before the armor could reach its future owner, it had to be tested before his eyes. Around 1500, in Italy, they began testing armor against shots from muskets and pistols. The armor was never strapped directly to the body. There had to be some space working as a suspension that helps with absorbing the energy of a bullet or a cutting weapon.

Several craftsmen, not just the plate makers, were involved in the production of combat armor. Individual iron plates were connected with studs and rivets (200 rivets or more were used for one armor). Therefore, other craftsmen also cooperated in the manufacturing.