leather armour for poorer Vikes/Saxons

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torvikbloodynine
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leather armour for poorer Vikes/Saxons

Postby torvikbloodynine » Tue Oct 06, 2009 3:29 pm

Folks,
Does anyone have any historical references with regard to leather gambesons, jerkins, armour? It seems strange that warriors who couldn't afford mail would not go for readily available material like hide or leather to aid their protection? Most "experts" say " none have been found" but that's not surprising is it. Some argue that padded gambesons worn under mail might not have been used either.
If you know, please let me know!



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Postby Medicus Matt » Tue Oct 06, 2009 3:39 pm

Start here...http://livinghistory.co.uk/forums/viewtopic.php?t=13160

Unfortunately, the previous discussion listed in Malvoisin's post on that thread has been lost in the 'Great Mistake'...

Have a look here as well....
http://www.myarmoury.com/talk/viewtopic.php?t=8426&view=next for the pictures of the infamous 12th century 'leather gambeson' from Dublin.


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Re: leather armour for poorer Vikes/Saxons

Postby hermann » Tue Oct 06, 2009 3:47 pm

torvikbloodynine wrote:Folks,
? Most "experts" say " none have been found" but that's not surprising is it. !

Don't understand what you mean by this. There has been an incredible amount of leather finds from the Anglo Scandanavian period, including possible workshops eg
http://www.amazon.co.uk/Leather-Leather ... 1902771362
http://www.eng-h.gov.uk/archcom/project ... c2017b.htm

http://www.ncte.ie/viking/dubarch.htm
http://www.museum.ie/en/news/press-rele ... 0787fe958e

When it comes to leather we are not dealing with an insubstantial evidence base.



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Re: leather armour for poorer Vikes/Saxons

Postby Medicus Matt » Tue Oct 06, 2009 3:59 pm

torvikbloodynine wrote:Folks,
Does anyone have any historical references with regard to leather gambesons, jerkins, armour? It seems strange that warriors who couldn't afford mail would not go for readily available material like hide or leather to aid their protection?



But how many of these 'poorer Vikes/Saxons' would be 'warriors'?

Full time warriors weren't poor and would have been equipped by whoever it was that they fought for. If he was wealthy enough to have men who did nothing productive hanging about the place, he was wealthy enough to equip them properly.

torvikbloodynine wrote:Some argue that padded gambesons worn under mail might not have been used either.


And the problem with that is?
You need 'something' under mail but it doesn't need to be a specially constructed, padded garment. A few thick wool tunics would help absorb the force of impact.


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Postby Trading-Dragon » Tue Oct 06, 2009 7:08 pm

On a rather similar note, I've found a lovely way to make some suitable padding:

Make 2 wool tunics and make them a size too big. Then use one as lining for the other.

Wash the whole thing in warm, soapy water, stirring and agitating it slightly so it shrinks A LITTLE (don't overdo it here or you'll ruin it!).

This felts everything up nicely.

What you end up with is a thick, shaggy felt tunic that is just superb for wearing under maille. Very much like what the Romans had. And still does not look out of place if you just wear it as a warm layer in the evening.
Just don't go showing it off. It's one of those things that are 'plausible' but probably not 'authentic'.

I make late medieval arming clothes to a rather similar method, I just tailor everything a bit more closely and give it arming points.


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Postby WorkMonkey » Tue Oct 06, 2009 8:01 pm

I don't see why a poorer warrior would need or have armour? It's still an expense he can't afford when it's not going to get used much, and a leather jerkin on its own isn't really going to save your life so seems pointless. That much leather is still going to be expensive for not a great deal of defensive value.


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Postby Benedict » Wed Oct 07, 2009 1:26 pm

If we're short on archaeological finds of leather or padded armour from the A-S period, we're also lacking in depictions. I'm not good on Old English, but I'm not aware of an OE word meaning 'leather/padded' armour (I'd be very interested to hear if there is one). The one I have come across is later Icelandic 'panzar' (used for akheton/gambeson), but that really means 'armour'.

We do have a reasonable amount of leather preserved at various sites (York, Dublin come to mind) and armour doesn't feature. In the OE 'Colloquies' of Aelfric and Aelfric Bata a leatherworker appears and lists all the different things he makes, but I'm pretty sure that armour doesn't appear (assuming that 'gloves' aren't padded for safety :) ).

Yes, 'absence of evidence is not evidence of absence' (which all early medievalists should say three times before getting out of bed), but the evidence *is* distinctly not there, and arguments about what they might have done really aren't very convincing.

As others have said, the concept of the "poor warrior" is something of a contradiction (like "sympathetic traffic warden", "understanding tax officer" etc). Fighting men were, by definition, somewhere on the spectrum of the aristocracy, ie by birth/self-aggrandisement had good diet, good health, and people to do the manual labour so they could concentrate on hunting, exercise, weapons practice and telling others what to do.

Certainly from the end of the ninth century (and probably long before), warriors were expected to muster with a high minimum level of equipment - sword, helmet, horse, spare/pack horse, shield(s), spear(s) and money. The same requirements are found through the tenth and eleventh centuries in 'heriot' payments, and it is likely that 'heriot' continued to be paid in kind at least to the Conquest. What isn't clear is how many men the heriot was expected to supply - a king's thegn owing two swords, two helmets, four horses, four shields and four spears might mean two properly armed men and spare (breakable) arms, or two fully armed men and two rear rankers/attendants/grooms/light infantry.

Mail shirts were certainly widespread from c.1000, and probably for some time before - at least for the elites equipped with sword, helmet and horse. Interestingly, the poem of the 'Battle of Maldon' refers to vikings wearing maille, but not the English; there is debate about whether Ealdorman Byrhtnoth wore a hauberk or had valuable arm-rings. However, by c.1000 the will of Bishop Aelfwold of Crediton disposes of half a dozen mail shirts in his heriot and to thegns in his household. It's possible that there was a major re-armament effort in the early eleventh century, prompted by the repeated viking raids under Aethelred (for example every 8 hides supplying a mail shirt and helmet for a fleet in 1008).

The whole subject of heriot and armour is discussed in several excellent articles by Nicholas Brooks, collected in 'Communities and Warfare 400-1400'. Well worth a read.

Thinking of the technology itself (and bearing in mind discussions of leather vs metal armour on the 1100-1500 forum), it is striking that mail shirts remained the primary form of armour from c.500-c.1400 (please quibble dates round the edges). During that time the medieval West came into plenty of contact with leather and metal scale/lamellar armour (through the Roman empire, its Byzantine successors and the Islamic world) and chose not to adopt it. Padded armour does seem to have been embraced at some indefinite point before the mid-twelfth century, quite possibly from Byzantine/Arab usage. Later on, when solid armour came back into vogue, 'pairs of plates' and 'coats of plates' may have started with hardened leather, but very rapidly progressed to using steel. Yes, leather was known as a possible armour material, but I can only conclude that it was consciously rejected for something considered better.

I do wonder if there is any significance in the preferred ways of fighting in the east and the west. The east made extensive use of archery (mobile horse archery and static 'shower shooting') in both Roman/Byzantine and Islamic armies; a hard surface (hardened leather/metal) with padding was good protection against arrows. By contrast, shooting wasn't particularly important in the early medieval west. Showers of javelins/spears before charging, but not really massed archery. With a lot of slashing weapons, maille offered appropriate protection. Spears would aim at the face and might well split maille anyway, and presumably the main defence was a shield. Oddly enough, when missile weapons started to become more popular in the west (later eleventh century/twelfth), we suddenly find a trend for padding under maille and helmets which cover the face. Am I being daft in supposing a period with relatively little change in arms and armour - a 400-500 year pause in the 'arms race' where there was relatively little need for innovation and limited technology/infrastructure to produce complicated equipment?

So, leather or padded armour pre-Conquest? I don't think we can give a definitive answer, but "probably not" or "not too much of it" seems reasonable. If you're a thegn, you would have the wealth to afford a mail shirt or be given one by the lord you served (the king or an ealdorman/earl/bishop), certainly from c.1000. If you're just turning up to battle with a shield and spear, I suspect you'd be wearing your normal clothes. A felted tunic might well be a good idea (would also keep you warm at night), but how many people would invest the time/effort into making a garment for military service which they might or might not be called to use? Thegns, yes (part of the job). Thegns' retainers, perhaps. Ceorls/dependant farmers? Estate workers? Possible, but not necessarily probable.

Sorry for the extended "I wonder if" waffle.


Benedict



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Postby Medicus Matt » Wed Oct 07, 2009 1:49 pm

Nicely done Benedict.

Benedict wrote:Padded armour does seem to have been embraced at some indefinite point before the mid-twelfth century, quite possibly from Byzantine/Arab usage.


Which should really be called a reintroduction/readoption, given that the padded armour of the Byzantines was itself a continuation of Roman useage of a thorachomachus/subarmalis wich would have remained in use in the West until the late 5th/early 6th century.

I've always felt that (for infantry at least) scale/lamellar is a supplemental rather than primary armour. Excellent at reinforcing chest, back and shoulders but a bit rubbish when it comes to those bits you're going to get stabbed in, like armpits.


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Postby torvikbloodynine » Wed Oct 07, 2009 5:17 pm

Thanks to all of you, especially Benedict!



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Postby Trading-Dragon » Wed Oct 07, 2009 7:35 pm

By the way - the most important part of defensive kit would be your body shield. For most vike fighters, that IS your armour.

So even good maille would only really protect you safely from glancing blows. Some may have withstood a thrust and with enough padding even a heavy blow but your maille, scale or lamellar are all secondary lines of defence. Your first line always was your shield and if a blow goes over, under, past or through your shield, you would have been in deep trouble, no matter your armour.


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Re: leather armour for poorer Vikes/Saxons

Postby Tallphil84 » Sat Oct 17, 2009 11:59 am

There is a reference in one of the scandanavian sagas to reindeer hides as armour but this is as far as I know an isolted reference. though there hasn't been findes the idea of a leather liner under maile like later arming jackets isn't without merit from a commonsensical viewpoint. I do wear a leather kaftan type coat under my maile but it is purley conjectureal. padded garments are known in the romano-byzantine and middle eastern areas during the period but not in western europe untill atleast after the 1st crusade possibly as not untill the 2nd. I say do wear leather or padding under armour (it's more comfortable and helps spread the wight) but not on its own without providing reasonable evidence. We all want that evidence as it will simplify things. a double layer of wool does make a difference and iss excelent to keep you warm in the evenings.


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Re: leather armour for poorer Vikes/Saxons

Postby arrowmaker » Tue Nov 03, 2009 7:23 pm

Late into this one still hear go,s As an archer is chain any good against a thrust or a 2 handed downwould blow.I can put viking type arrowheads strait through chain with not a heavy bow.I know viking used bows mainly for hunting but the chance to bring down a few know warriors at long range would have been great.Just a though a flapping cloak will stop an arrow and maybe a sword.SHOT ME DOWN IF YOU CAN
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Re: leather armour for poorer Vikes/Saxons

Postby Trading-Dragon » Tue Nov 03, 2009 7:50 pm

I'd say that if you really give it some welly most maille can be defeated by a thrust with something pointy. Apparently it's very easy to do with the main weapon of the period - the spear. But that only proves that maille is also not the main armour of the period. For that you use your body shield, it's your first line of defense. Remember that nearly everyone would use a shield and very few warriors could afford a shirt of maille.

There seems to be this notion that armour is supposed to enable you to just take a heavy blow and shrug it off. Plate may do that yet maille simply does not work that way. A maille shirt will, however, reliably stop any cut that went over, under or around your shield and give you a good chance against thrusts that skid off the shield first. And that would also put arrows out of the game because when faced with a huge, man-sized round shield there simply isn't much to aim at.


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Re: leather armour for poorer Vikes/Saxons

Postby arrowmaker » Tue Nov 03, 2009 8:31 pm

An 80pound hunting bow would go about 6" into a shield you put about 6 or 7 into it you are spending time broking the things off.I would think most archers where hunters and up to about 50/60yards they could pick the spot,and those spectacle helmets make a nice target.As I said I am just thinking about this before my stokes I could hit a 6"spot at 80yards 6 out of 10 no sites no wghts wooden arrows with a short bow.With a recurve you can nock that up to 8 out of 10.These hunters where a lot better than me.As I said the Viking thing is personal combat sword or axe agaist sword and axe but I am sure they saw the potenional of dropping a few real nasty b*****ds down first .
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Re: leather armour for poorer Vikes/Saxons

Postby Trading-Dragon » Wed Nov 04, 2009 8:53 pm

I'm not saying that it didn't happen. There's plenty of references in the sagas of men killed by arrows and in ship to ship combat they were readily used (I believe). Still, don't underestimate the use of a shield. Even if you can hammer an arrow 6" into a centre boss shield, I'm still fine unless I hold the thing pressed against my body. It's like trying to kill someone through a door - you have to be quite lucky to pull it off. It is also very infuriating to shoot at a group of people with shields who are aware that they are being targeted as they will actively cover themselves. Yet I suppose one of the biggest problems a viking archer would face in combat is the fact that me may only get a couple of shots in before he becomes involved in a melee.
Battles weren't big happenings at all. Skirmishes and raids were much more common. In some sagas, even a handful of warriors killing themselves in a forest somewhere might be described as a 'battle'. As an archer, you'd have little back-up. And consider how a raid works: you rush in, terrify the populace, grab what you can and be off again. An archer has not got much use in these circumstances.

On the other hand it must also be said that Vikings did love their bows. To be able to use a bow was something a man ought to know how to do. And as I already said, bows were used, especially on the defensive or when the archer could find a safe spot from which to snipe at his foes. I remember reading of a man who defended his homestead by shooting down from the roof.

I especially like references to bows of horn or bow in the sagas - I believe these to be very similar to eastern recurve and horse bows - my favourite type of bow! They are very fast off the draw, vastly more powerful and reliable and extremely accurate over short distances :thumbup:
Alas, they were probably rare. If they are mentioned at all they are usually held to be unusual or exotic, which leads me to believe that the ordinary self-bow made from a single stave of wood (probably self-nocked as well) was the norm.

And another problem with bows is that you can't easily use a shield at the same time. And as your shield is your first line of defense, you leave yourself wide open to missile fire yourself - which is fine if you're hunting but if you expect trouble in the go, wouldn't you rather have your shield? What might have put warriors off (personal interpretation) is that a bow makes a good ambush weapon. As an archer on the battlefield I find it hard to shake off that notion of cowardice. I hear that a lot!

Personally I am quite convinced that when skirmishes developed into minor battles you probably had a fair number of archers on either side anyways, trying to pick off targets of opportunity. You also get javelins and even slings exchanging missiles over short distances, yet it never really was a weapon of sufficient impact to make or break a battle.

Just think: even when the Normans at Hastings employed archers in sizable quantities (as I am led to believe) it didn't really break Harold's shield wall. Even worse, the Saxons might not have had many bowmen themselves to shoot missiles back at them, so how long will a quiver of arrows last if the battle drags out?
Then again, Harold did take it infamously into the eye (apparently), so here's probably the best argument to support your cause.


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Re: leather armour for poorer Vikes/Saxons

Postby arrowmaker » Wed Nov 04, 2009 9:25 pm

I did not say they would kill or damage a Viking with shield and chain but they would be a pain in the bum keep braking then off.I have seen a short bodkin put staight into 1/4" plate at 60yards.For chain you need long bodkins or small hunting head and you Viking Types would have to tell me if they had that type of head, as I am not going to plough about ten books to find out. I do that type of research for someone who wants a perticular type of arrow from perticular place :D
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Re: leather armour for poorer Vikes/Saxons

Postby Gyrthofhwicce » Thu Feb 04, 2010 2:23 pm

How Man, anyone who wears armour or clothes when fightin', is a reet puff ya know. :devil:


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Re: leather armour for poorer Vikes/Saxons

Postby nathan » Fri Feb 05, 2010 8:28 pm

Tallphil84 wrote:There is a reference in one of the scandanavian sagas to reindeer hides as armour but this is as far as I know an isolted reference.


Just to be clear the Reindeer hide armour are iirc Reindeer cloaks that were enchanted by a Finnish magician.

So you can provenance a cloak of protection +4 based on this but not actual armour made form reindeer hides.

Saga evidence in notoriously challenging to use without corroboration as it was written down at least 200 years later than the viking period, is for the most part based on oral entertainment (is Eastenders a reliable account of the activities of the residents of the current east-end of London?) and occasionally demonstrably fantasy (in this case).

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Re: leather armour for poorer Vikes/Saxons

Postby Medicus Matt » Sat Feb 06, 2010 11:16 am

nathan wrote:
Just to be clear the Reindeer hide armour are iirc Reindeer cloaks that were enchanted by a Finnish magician.

So you can provenance a cloak of protection +4 based on this but not actual armour made form reindeer hides.


Strue, although having made a couple of underarmours from oak-tanned reindeer hide and tried some cut tests on it, I can confirm that, despite being both soft and supple, it's quite dense and would give some protection against cuts and thrusts.

Like most myths of this type, there may be some element of truth in it's origins. I can imagine that the pyschological advantage of having 'armour' that's been blessed by a Saami shaman might have been considerable, giving the wearer the aggresive edge that might lead to victory in combat, enhancing the reputation of such items.


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Re: leather armour for poorer Vikes/Saxons

Postby kael » Thu Feb 25, 2010 8:21 pm

Medicus Matt wrote: I can imagine that the pyschological advantage of having 'armour' that's been blessed by a Saami shaman might have been considerable, giving the wearer the aggresive edge that might lead to victory in combat, enhancing the reputation of such items.



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