Medieval Armor

There were various kinds of armor in the middle ages but only three basic types. First, there was armor made of leather or fabric. Then there was chain armor, also known as mail. The third kind of armor is the most famous one – plate armor, made of big steel or iron plates, connected by rivets and pieces of leather on the inside.

Chain armor

Famous medieval armor made of large plates was actually invented quite late. In the meantime, European knights wore the chain armor or mail. It was made of small metal rings, which were linked together and looked like a kind of fabric – a very rough one though.

Even ancient soldiers used mail for protection. For example, the Romans had shirts made of it. But in the middle ages, this type of armor became much better. It was no longer attached to leather or cloth, and the rings were linked more firmly.


Because it consisted of chained rings, mail was very flexible. It meant a lot to the knights because they were able to move freely during the fight. Also, this material was a great defense against slashing strokes. Unfortunately, it could not always protect its wearer from thrusting weapons such as arrows.

Early medieval chain armor, such as that worn by Charlemagne in the eighth century, consisted of a short shirt and had a separate sleeve that enabled the wearer to move the sword hand without a problem.

By the eleventh century, shirts – also called coats – were long but divided to enable riding, and had both sleeves. A hood shielded the head and neck. For bruise protection, knights wore padded undergarment. Over time, mail became fixed to gauntlets, as well as to feet and legs. Then plates were added for better breast and back protection – and that was later the base of plate armor.


Even when some early forms of plate armor were developed, knights still wore mail parts, which protected their knees, shins, and elbows. Hoods, sleeves, and leggings were being made of this material for a long time.

Plate armor

Plate armor was very rigid at first, and it was hard to move in it – but eventually, it was improved so much that it replaced mail. In the beginning, chain mail got strengthened by some additions made of plate, which covered knees, shins, and elbows.

By the end of the Middle Ages, full plate armor – with flexible joints – covered the whole body of its wearer. The helmet only had a few holes, so that the wearer could see and breathe.

The look of plate armor was just as important as its functionality. Some very important people, such as kings and nobles, had luxury armor with decorations made of gold.

This kind of armor was really heavy. A complete steel suit was around 20 kg (40lbs). Luckily for the wearers, the weight was spread evenly, so it was possible to run, jump, and fight normally.

In the 15th century, every army had a lot of plate-armored soldiers – most often several thousand / and they consisted of more than half of the actual army. By then, even the soldiers who fought on foot wore the full plate.

Near the end of the Middle Ages, plate armor was amazingly good. It protected men from the attack with all kinds of medieval weapons. Sword slashes couldn’t harm them, and it was difficult to hurt them with spear or pike. So, eventually, it caused the developments of some new types of weapons.

Leather armor

Not everyone could afford steel armor, so they had to find some other kind of protection. Leather armor was made of so-called boiled leather. It wasn’t really boiled. The leather was hardened by soaking in water, either warm or cold.

This type of armor was worn by infantry and other common soldiers. It was less resilient than chain or plate armor, but it was light-weight, so the soldiers could move freely, and still be pretty much protected.


What were the two types of armor that were made of metal (iron or steel)?

Those were chain armor (or mail) and plate armor.

What was the difference between chain and plate armor?

Chain armor was made of linked metal rings, and plate armor consisted of large plates, hence the name.

Which one came first?

Chain armor was invented first, and it was in use for a long time until plate armor became somewhat flexible.

Was mail good protection against swords and arrows?

It was good against sword slashes, but not so much against arrows. Any thrusting weapon could go through the ring holes.

Who wore leather armor?

Mostly infantry wore it.