AskDefine | Define Armour

Dictionary Definition



1 a military unit consisting of armored fighting vehicles [syn: armor]
2 protective covering made of metal and used in combat [syn: armor]
3 tough more-or-less rigid protective covering of an animal or plant [syn: armor] v : equip with armor [syn: armor]

Extensive Definition

Armour or armor (see spelling differences) is protective clothing intended to defend its wearer from intentional harm in combat and military engagements, typically associated with soldiers. Armour has been used throughout recorded history, beginning with hides, leather, and bone, before progressing to bronze, then steel during the Roman Era, to modern fabrics such as Kevlar, Dyneema and ceramics.
Armour was also commonly used to protect war animals, such as war horses and elephants. Armour for war horses was called barding. Armour has also been produced for hunting dogs that hunt dangerous game, such as boars. Since World War I, armoured fighting vehicles are protected by vehicle armour.
In modern usage, Armour, or the armoured is also a heavily armoured military force or organisation, such as heavy infantry or heavy cavalry (as opposed to light infantry or cavalry). In modern armoured warfare, armoured units equipped with tanks serve the historic role of heavy cavalry, and belong to the armoured branch in a national army's organisation (sometimes, the armoured corps). Mechanised infantry has replaced heavy infantry.


Many factors have affected the development of armour throughout human history. Significant factors in the development of armour include the economic and technological necessities of armour production. For instance plate armour first appeared in Medieval Europe when water-powered trip hammers made the formation of plates faster and cheaper. Also modern militaries usually do not provide the best armour to their forces since doing so would be prohibitively costly. At times the development of armour has run parallel to the development of increasingly effective weaponry on the battlefield, with armourers seeking to create better protection without sacrificing mobility.
In European history, well-known armour types include the lorica segmentata of the Roman legions, the mail hauberk of the early medieval age, and the full steel plate harness worn by later Medieval and Renaissance knights, and a few key components, (breast and back plates) by heavy cavalry in several European countries until the first year of World War I. (1914-15).
In November 2006 it was announced in Greece that the oldest armour that exists in Greece was restored and will be put on display soon. The armour dates from the Mycenaean Era around 1400 BC, some 200 years before the Trojan War.
In East Asian history laminated armour such as lamellar, coat of plates, and brigandine were commonly used. Later cuirass and plates were also used, but were quite rare. In pre-Qin dynasty times, leather armour was made out of exotic animals such as rhinoceros. Chinese influence in Japan would result in the Japanese adopting Chinese styles, their famous 'samurai armour' being a result of this influence.

History of armour in post-Ancient Europe


Mail, sometimes called by the neologism "chainmail", is made of interlocking iron or steel rings, which may be riveted or welded shut or, solely in modern manufacture, simply closed with the ends abutting. It is believed to have been invented by the Celtic people in Eastern Europe about 500 BC. When these Celts moved West they took mail with them. Most cultures who used mail used the Celtic word Byrnne or a variant, suggesting the Celts as the originators. The Roman Army used mail for almost all of its history. After the collapse of the Roman Empire in 476 AD the infrastructure to make plate was largely lost in Europe, as a result mail was the best available armour during the ensuing Early Medieval period.

Transition to plate

Little by little, small additional plates or disks of steel were added to the mail to protect vulnerable areas. By the late 1200s, the knees were capped with steel, and two circular disks, called besagews were fitted to protect the underarms. A variety of methods for improving the protection provided by mail were used as armourers seemingly experimented. Hardened leather and splinted construction were used for arm and leg pieces. The coat of plates was developed, an armour made of large plates sewn inside a textile or leather coat.
Solid steel plate was then developed to protect the shins, feet, throat and upper chest, and soon (mid to late 1300s) these protective plates covered most of the mail. The next phase saw the plate cover almost all parts of the mail. Eventually a full mail hauberk was no longer worn as it had been made redundant. Mail continued to be used to protect those joints which could not be adequately protected by plate, such as the armpit, crook of the elbow and groin.
The small skull cap evolved into a bigger true helmet, the bascinet, as it was lengthened downward to protect the back of the neck and the sides of the head. Additionally, several new forms of fully enclosed helmets were introduced in the late 1300s to replace the great helm, such as the sallet and barbute.

Plate armour, 1300 - 1620

Probably the most recognised style of armour in the world, associated with the knights of Late Medieval Europe, but continuing later through the 16th and 17th Centuries in all European countries. Heavy cavalry was being used before plate armour became the norm. In the 14th century, horsemen were using a small, mobile "hand cannon", which along with improved crossbows, and the first pistols, began to take a heavy toll on the mail clad, and partially plated knights and foot soldiers. Rather than dooming the use of body armour, the threat of small firearms intensified the use and further refinement of plate armour. There was a 150 year period in which better and more metallurgically advanced steel armour was being used, precisely because of the danger posed by the gun.
In the early years of pistol and muskets, firearms were relatively low in velocity. The full suits of armour, or breast plates actually stopped bullets fired from a modest distance. The front breast plates were, in fact, commonly shot as a test. The impact point would often be encircled with engraving to point it out. This was called the "proof". It was not uncommon for a man in armour, mounted on a horse, to ride up closer to the enemy, wheel in a tactical manoeuvre called a caracole, and discharge his hand-cannon or later, pistols, right into the faces of the adversary at close range. Crossbow bolts, if still used, would seldom penetrate good plate, nor would any bullet unless fired from close range. In effect, rather than making plate armour obsolete, the use of firearms stimulated the development of plate armour into its later stages. Hence, guns and cavalry in plate armour were "threat and remedy" together on the battlefield for almost 400 years. For most of that period, it allowed horsemen to fight while being the targets of defending arquebuseers without being easily killed. Full suits of armour were actually worn by generals and princely commanders right up to the second decade of the 18th century. It was the only way they could be mounted and survey the overall battlefield with safety from distant musket fire.
The horse was afforded protection from lances and infantry weapons by steel plate barding. This gave the horse protection and enhanced the visual impression of a mounted knight. Late in the era, elaborate barding was used in parade armour.
See components of medieval armour for a summary description and comparison of the various parts of a harness as plate armour developed over time.

Characteristics of armour

Since the 15th century, most parts of the human body had been fitted with specialized steel pieces, typically worn over linen or woollen underclothes and attached to the body via leather straps and buckles and points. Mail protected those areas that could not be fitted with plate; for example, the back of the knee. Well-known constituent parts of plate armour include the helm, gauntlets, gorget or 'neckguard', breastplate, and greaves worn on the lower legs.
Typically, full-body plate armour was custom-made for the individual. The cost of armour varied considerably with time and place as well as the type of armour, coverage it provided and the cost of decoration. A typical suit of full plate harness cost around 1 pound sterling in 14th century England A man-at-arms in the same period made 1 shilling per day and so his armour cost about 20 days pay. As such plate armour was limited to the noble and landed classes and mercenary professional soldiers, who did most of the fighting in the Medieval period, with soldiers of lower standing generally wearing less armour. Armour often bore an insignia of the maker. Full plate armour made the wearer virtually impervious to sword blows as well as providing significant protection against arrows, bludgeons and even early musket shot. Although sword edges could not penetrate even relatively thin plate (as little as 1 mm), they could cause serious head trauma via the impact. Also, although arrows shot from bows, crossbows and early firearms could occasionally pierce plate especially at close range, later improvements in the steel forging techniques and armour design made even this line of attack increasingly difficult. By its apex, hardened steel plate was almost impregnable on the battlefield. Knights were instead increasingly felled by blunt weapons such as maces or war hammers that could send concussive force through the plate armour resulting in injuries such as broken bones, organ haemorrhage and/or head trauma. Another tactic was to attempt to strike through the gaps between the armour pieces, using daggers, spears and spear points to attack the man-at-arms' eyes or joints.
Contrary to common misconceptions, a well-made suit of medieval 'battle' armour (as opposed to the primarily ceremonial 'parade' and 'tournament' armour popular with kings and nobility of later years) hindered its wearer no more than the equipment carried by soldiers today. It should be remembered that an armoured knight would be trained to wear armour from his teens, and would likely develop the technique and endurance needed to comfortably run, crawl, climb ladders, as well as mount and dismount his horse without recourse to a crane (a myth probably originating from an English music hall comedy of the 1830s, and popularised in Mark Twain's A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court). A full suit of medieval plate is thought to have weighed little more than 60 lb (27 kg) on average, considerably lighter than the equipment often carried by the elite of today's armies. (For example, SAS patrols have been known to carry equipment weighing well over 200 lb (91 kg) for many miles.)

Plate armour slowly discarded

Gradually starting in the mid 16th century, one plate element after another was discarded to save weight for foot soldiers, but breast and back plates continued to be used through the entire period of the 18th century through Napoleonic times in many (heavy) European cavalry units, all the way to the early 20th century. Muskets from about 1700 and later could regularly pierce plate, so cavalry had to be far more mindful of the fire. At the start of World War I the French Cuirassiers, in the thousands, rode out to engage the German Cavalry who likewise used helmets and armour. By that period, the shiny armour plate was covered in dark paint and a canvas wrap covered their elaborate Napoleonic style helmets. Their armour was meant to protect only against sabres and light lances. The cavalry had to beware of high velocity rifles and machine guns like the foot soldiers, who at least had a trench to protect them. Machine gunners in that war also occasionally wore a crude type of heavy armour. Towards the end of World War I, armies on both sides were experimenting with plate armour as protection against shrapnel and ricocheting projectiles.

Modern personal armour


Today, bullet proof vests made of ballistic cloth (e.g kevlar, dyneema, twaron, spectra etc.) and ceramic or metal plates are common among police forces, security staff, corrections officers and some branches of the military. For infantry applications, lighter protection (historically known as a flak jacket) is often used to protect soldiers from grenade fragments and indirect effects of bombardment, but usually not small arms fire. This is because assault rifles usually fire harder, higher-energy bullets than pistols, and the increased protection needed to stop these would be too cumbersome and heavy to use in combat.
The US Army has adopted Interceptor body armour, however, which uses Enhanced Small Arms Protective Inserts (E-S.A.P.I) in the chest, sides and back of the armour. Each plate is rated to stop a range of ammunition including 3 hits from a 7.62×51 NATO AP round at a range of 10 m, though accounts in Iraq and Afghanistan tell of soldiers shot as many as seven times in the chest without penetration .


Despite advances in the protection offered by ballistic armour against projectiles, as the name implies, modern ballistic armour is much less impervious to stabbing weapons unless they are augmented with anti-knife/anti-stab armour (usually a form of mail).
Riot police are usually equipped with armour against blows.
Armour in Arabic: درع
Armour in Belarusian: Браня
Armour in Catalan: Armadura
Armour in Czech: Zbroj
Armour in Danish: Rustning
Armour in German: Rüstung
Armour in Spanish: Armadura (combate)
Armour in Esperanto: Kiraso
Armour in French: Armure (équipement)
Armour in Scottish Gaelic: Armachd
Armour in Galician: Armadura
Armour in Korean: 갑옷
Armour in Indonesian: Baju zirah
Armour in Icelandic: Herklæði
Armour in Italian: Corazza
Armour in Hebrew: שריון
Armour in Lithuanian: Šarvai
Armour in Hungarian: Páncél
Armour in Dutch: Harnas
Armour in Japanese: 鎧
Armour in Norwegian: Rustning
Armour in Occitan (post 1500): Armadura
Armour in Polish: Zbroja
Armour in Portuguese: Armadura
Armour in Romanian: Armură
Armour in Russian: Доспехи
Armour in Simple English: Armor
Armour in Slovenian: Oklep
Armour in Finnish: Haarniska
Armour in Turkish: Zırh
Armour in Ukrainian: Броня
Armour in Chinese: 盔甲
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