Body Armour by David Nicolle
An extract from The military technology of classical Islam by D Nicolle

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       Of course, lighter, non-metallic armours were worn and the more limited protection that they gave was either accepted or improved by the wearing of additional defences. Quilted armour, for example, gave protection against the impact of a blow, but helped little against penetration by a sharp object (Figs. 44, 61B, 67, 72, 74, 75, 165, 187, 194, 207, 233, 249, 271, 292, 320, 320, 350, 392, 445, 447, 450, 453, 499, 517, 575, 580C-D, 587 and 596). Hence one tended to find quilted armours, such as the bughlutāq and khaftān being used in conjunction with scale, mail or lamellar in Islam, Byzantium and western Europe.10
10. Haldon, "Some Aspacts of Byzantine Military Technology from the 6th to the 10th centuries," pp. 19 and 36; al Aqsarā'ī op. cit., p. 322; Mubārakshāh, op. cit., p. 330; Firdawsī, op. cit., pp. 485, 694 and 948; Schwrarzloso, op. cit., pp. 328-329; A. M. Fahmy, Muslim Sea-Power in the Eastern Mediterranean, (Cairo 1966), pp. 149-150; Blair, op. cit., p. 33.


Quilted armours may, however, have been widely worn by poorer men,11 in Islam as in Christendom, and in regions either of extreme heat or primitive technology.12 They also seem to have persisted in Ifrīqiyah at least until the late 14th century.13
       Felt and certain leather armours, such as those of buff leather; may have had the same absorbent function as quilted armours, though they would also have provided some protection against cuts and thrusts. There may be problems in interpreting certain documentary sources, however, as these do not always make it clear whether the leather armour in question is a coat cut from sheets of flexible leather, or consists of scales or lamallae made of hardened leather.
       Protective felt and leather garments were used in China, Iran and Byzantium in the immediate pre-Islamic era14 (Figs. 18, 43, 45, 46, 95, 102, 197 and 473). They continued to be worn in later centuries, particularly in Muslim Kurāsān15 and the rest of eastern Islam (Figs. 127, 198, 209, 341, 410, 609I, 625 and 642C). The well-documented popularity of felt and leather in the Muslim and Christian regions of the Iberian peninsula16
11. Al Mosʿūdi, op. cit., vol. VI, p. 462.
12. Ibn Ḥawqal, Kitāb Ṣūrat al 'Arḍ, p. 58; Robinson, Oriental Armour, pp. 86 and 89.
13. B. Tuchman, A Distant Mirror. The Calamitous 14th century, (London 1979), p. 473.
14. Laufur, op. cit., p. 292; Haldan, "Some Aspects of Byzantine Military Technology from the 6th to the 10th centuries," pp. 19 and 22; Aussareases, op. cit., p. 57; Fahmy, op. cit., pp. 149-150.
15. Al Jāḥiẓ, Rasāil al Jāḥiẓ, pp. 20-21.
16. Lévi-Provencal, Histoire de l'Espagne Musulmane, vol.III, pp.90-112; Anon., The Song of Roland, verse 247; Gabrieli, "Gli Arabi in Spagna e in Italia," pp. 709-711.


is likely to reflect Muslim influence from the Middle East or even beyond (Figs. 495, 497, 506, 511, 517, 521, 529 and 591). Armours of leather or felt are also recorded among non-Spanish European warriors during the 11th and 12th centuries,17 These may, however, refer either to men of the Languedoc or those influenced by southern French military styles which were themselves closely related to those of Christian Spain (Fig. 575).
       Scale was a far more widespread protection and may well have been the most common form of armour in the Muslim world until the 11th or 12th centuries. This would certainly be the case if one accepts that the basic dirʿ was a hauberk of scales fastened to a coat of leather or other flexible material. There is, in fact, a great deal of evidence to suggest that the original dirʿ was of scale rather than mail. The term may, however, have come to embrace mail hauberks in some regions at a later date. To begin with, the metaphorical terminology used for those pieces that made up the dirʿ, such as calmā'u, manābadh, musrūdah and sard (see Terminology), and the similies by which these elements were described, such as ḥarshaf, "the hump-backed skins of broadbeans" - al jannā min ablam, or "shaped like the Arabic letter nūn"18 (see Terminology), strongly suggests scales rather than mail. Even ḥalqah might not originally have meant a "ring" of mail.
       The majority of such dirʿ armours also seem to have either had an obvious leather base19 or to have included such a large amount
17. Bahā al Dīn, op. cit., p. 251; Blair, op. cit., pp, 23-24.
18. El Gindi, op. cit., p. 173.
19. Lévi-Provencal, Histoire de l'Egnnnno Musulmans, vol.III, pp. 90-112; Gabrieli, "Gli Arabi in Spagna e in Italia," pp. 709-711.


of leather in their construction that a leather foundation is the most obvious interpretation.20 Elsewhere, such armours are stated to have been cleaned on the outside with dust and oil and on the inside with camel dung,21 for metal and leather respectively, while being preserved in a mixture of these three ingredients.22 It seems hardly surprising, therefore, that armours were often remarkably evil-smelling in the 12th century.23
       Other evidence indicates that scale hauberks were widely used in the so-called Dark Ages, both within the world of Islam (Figs. 115, 122, 123, 189, 210, 258, 292, 305, 340, 384, 385, 416, 498, 515, 545, 548, 576, 577, 580, 581, 597, 603, 604C, 606, 609 and 659) and beyond (Figs. 196, 213, 229, 239, 241, 413, 417, 418, 446, 557, 586, 587, 609B and 634). Such armours were clearly more plentiful than horses in the first Muslim armies in Arabia.24 They may even have predominated in Europe until the 8th century.25 Though later becoming rarer in the west, scale armour was known, particularly in southern Europe26 and in Spain,27 where it seems
20. Schwarzlose, op. cit., p. 325.
21. Ibid., p. 346.
22. El Gindi, op. cit., p. 171; Norriss, op. cit., p. 95
23. ʿImād al Dīn, op. cit., p. 376.
24. Levy, The Social Structure of Islam, p. 407.
25. Norman, op. cit., p. 35; Salin and France-Lanord, op. cit., pp. 95 and 127; Arwidsson, "Armour of the Vendel Period, " p. 31.
26. Clair, op. cit., pp. 23-24; Norman, op. cit., p. 216; M. Terenzi, "Armour on a Fresco-at Spoleto, " Journal of the Arms and Armour Society, VIII (1974), p. 96.
27. Gabrieli, "Gli Arabi in Spagna e in Italia," loc. cit.


to have been used largely in siege warfare.
       Probable scale armour, of pierced-iron maḥzūz was used for sieges in Ḥamdānid Syria28 where other comparable Byzantine military traditions were also known to have been strong. Certainly scale armours of various types were very popular in Byzantium from the 6th and 7th centuries onwards.29 Surprisingly, perhaps, scale was rare in early medieval Russia,30 but this area was probably under greater Central Asian than Byzantine influence in military matters. In yet another direction, scale armours are known to have been manufactured in large numbers in pre-Islamic Yemen31 and also in 10th to 12th century India.32
       How far the influence of scale armour, from whichever source, lay behind the development of the late 13th century European coat-of-plates is as yet far from clear (Figs. 213A, 271, 275 and 656). It is not even certain whether such coats-of-plates first appeared in northern or Mediterranean Europe,33 or whether they were related to various yet more mysterious and perhaps solid
28. Canard, "Quelques Observations aur l'introduction géographiques de la Bughyat at'T'alab," p. 46.
29. Haldon, "Some Aspects of Byzantine Military Technology from the 6th to the 10th centuries," pp. 19-20, 26-27, 33-35 and 46.
30. Kirpitchnikoff, Medieval Russian Arms, vol. III, pp. 90-91; Thirdemann, "The Asiatic Splint Armour in Europe," pp. 131-133.
31. Von Kremer, op. cit., pp. 79-80.
32. Bosworth, The Ghaznavids, pp. 120-122.
33. Blairs op. cit., pp. 30-40 and 269; Haldon, "Some Aspects of Byzantine Military Technology from the 6th to the 10th centuries," p. 29; Norman, op. cit., pp. 219-221; Thordemann, Armour from the Battle of Wisby, 1361, p. 288.


pieces of amour worn beneath other garments in 12th century Europe.34
       The spread of lamellar armour from Central Asia across the Muslim world is altogether easier to chart. Its terminology is generally less contentious and the illustrated material is simpler to interpret. As discussed earlier: such a form of defence may have originated in the ancient Middle East but by the immediate pre-Islamic centuries lamellar armours of iron or a mixture of iron and bronze were far more characteristic of Central Asia and eastern Iran than the Fertile Crescent35 (Figs. 61, 67, 82, 428, 435, 437, 440, 443, 451, 453, 454, 455, 462, 463, 464, 471, 472, 474, 478, 480 and 481). There is, however, some evidence to suggest that they were known in 7th century Arabia, although they are likely to have been rare.36 Indeed, lamellar would seem to have been highly prized and expensive even in those Transoxanian regions where it was not common, and remained so well into the Muslim era.37
    The increased importance of lamellar in eastern Islam and in the partially subdued Christian regions of the Caucasus is clearly documented as is its spread westward into Muslim Anatolia towards the end of the period under review38 (Figs. 220B, 306, 309, 316,
34. Oakeshott, op. cit., pp, 269-270.
35. Robinson, Oriental Armour, p. 130; Laufer, op. cit., pp. 208 and 214; W. Hauser, "The Persian Expedition, 1933-1934," Bulletin of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, XXIX (1934), p. 8.
36. Schwarzlose, op. cit., pp. 327 and 346.
37. Narshakhtī, op. cit., p. 46; al Ṭabarī, op. cit., vol. II pp. 256 and 1889.
38. Firdawsī, op. cit., pp. 270, 273, 427, 688 and 953; Anon., The Book of Dede Korkut, p. 166; Rust'haveli, op. cit., verse 220.


348, 410, 442, 444, 447, 638, 641 and 642C). References could be multiplied ten- or twenty-fold if one included all those concerning armours known to be of lamellar, such as the jawshan and kamarband, rather than simply those that described lamellar, its appearance, construction or fastenings.
       Lamellar armour may also have been used in Byzantium in the pre-Islamic era39 (Figs. 90, 91 and 556) but its more widespread adoption after the 7th century clearly reflected Muslim military pressure40 (Figs. 212, 220A, 314, 630 and 637). A smaller but equally common kabadion lamellar cuirass was seen in Byzantium from the 10th century41 (Figs. 227, 242, 249, 314, 414 and 608). This could reflect the changing fashions of eastern Islam, where the lamellar kamaband may have been developed in the 10th century, or it could have been the Byzantine original that stimulated the adoption of this latter Iranian form of armour (Figs. 209, 241, 292, 294, 306, 347, 354, 376, 377, 385, 390, 392, 422, 446, 447 and 641).
       Although lamellar was clearly known in central and western Islam, it does not seem to have been widely adopted in these areas. Here European and Muslim warriors could easily be mistaken for one another, even in the 13th century.42 Nevertheless, the lamellar jawshan had been growing in popularity in Syria and Egypt for at
39. Haldon, "Some Aspects of Byzantine Military Technology from the 6th to the 10th centuries," p. 20.
40. Ibid., pp. 25-26, 29 and 46.
41. Ibid., p 36.
42. J. Hewitt, Ancient Armour and Weapons in Europe, (London 1860), vol. I, p. 226.


least a century (see Terminology) and even reached al Andalus (Figs. 142, 145, 175, 177B-D, 178, 180, 267, 300, 548, 580C-D, 581 and 647).
       A certain amount of confusion could surround mail. Its rings were widely referred to in Arabic as zard, zared or zird, which is a term very close to the sard scales of the dirʿ. There does, however, seem to have been a clear distinction between the two terms from the 10th to 14th centuries (see Terminology). The situation in Persian-speaking areas was simpler, for here the term zirih quite clearly referred to mail.43 The pictorial evidence, some of it very stylized and having to be interpreted with caution, shows that mail hauberks of various shapes, long (Figs. 330, 333, 335, 447, 501, 520, 537, 543, 600, and 639) or short (Figs. 134, 196, 246, 267, 292, 294, 305, 392, 515, 522, 541, 598, and 599), with long (Figs.161, 174, 241, 250, 270, 298, 305, 345, 346, 347, 348, 350, 375, 428, 435, 438, 442, 494, 500, 519, 535, 538, 540, 543, 545A-F and H, and 551B) or short sleeves (Figs. 262, 286, 288, 292, 339, 444, 446, 499, 521, 546A, 551, 601, 606, and 661), some opening down the front (Figs. 324F and 641) and others put on over the head (Figs. 157, 316, 377, 422, 517, and 549
       Many or these illustrations also confirm the written evidence44 that mail was worn beneath other armours, a feature that was to remain rare in most of Europe until the 14th century. Such habits
43. Firdawsī, op. cit., pp. 368-369, 427 and 828.
44. Fries, op. cit., pp. 62-63; Anon., The Song of Roland, verse 79; Ibn Isḥag, op. cit., p. 107; Mutanabbi, in Wormhoudt, op. cit., p. 84; Norris, op. cit., pp. 95-96.


must have contributed not only to the weight of Muslim armour,45 which could apparently cause problems, but also to the all-enveloping character of many such protections. These frequently seem to have covered all the wearer's face except his eyes.46
45. ʿImād al Dīn, op. cit., pp. 319 and 381; Minhāj al Dīn, op. cit., pp. 176-177; Miskawaihī, op. cit., vol. II, p. 335; al Tanūkhī, op. cit., p. 187.
46. Ibn Isḥāq, op. cit., p. 147; Howard-Johnson, op. cit., p. 292; M. Brett, Fitnat al Qayrawan. A Study of Traditional Arabic Historiography, (Unpub. Ph. D. thesis London Univ. 1970), pp. 17-18; Armari, Biblioteca Arabo-Sicula, vol. II, p. 399 and Appendix, p. 25.

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