How effective are medieval swords against armor

Armor and equipment

From armored shirt to full armor

At the beginning of knighthood, armor consisted of the mail shirt of the Franconian armored riders, a short-sleeved scale armor based on the Roman model with thousands of small iron plates. Leather gaiters or metal splints served as leg protection.

Eastern Roman influences during the Crusades turned the mail shirt into knee-length chain mail including chain stockings, and the plates became rings. The armored shirts were made by so-called armourers.

With the advent of chain armor, the medieval handicraft of the Sarw├╝rker came into being. They made the rings out of iron, which were chained together by hand in painstaking detail, in order to offer the knight optimal protection against cuts and stab wounds.

The helmet, too, always had a new look: if it initially left the face completely unprotected, the nasal helmet could come up with extra protection for the nose around 1050 and around a hundred years later with an additional visor plate.

The entire face was then covered by the pot helmet from around 1220 onwards. However, this also brought with it pitfalls - above all, the knight was no longer able to recognize his opponent in battle.

This increased the importance of the coats of arms, which now functioned as identifying symbols of a family or a class and adorned the helmet as artistically painted or embroidered images.

Over time, however, this had grown into a real monster. That called the basin hood with movable visor on the scene. When pulled forward, it was reminiscent of a dog's snout, which quickly earned it the nickname "Hundsgugel".

In the late Middle Ages, the sallet, drawn out to a point and with a fixed visor, enjoyed great popularity.

From the middle of the 13th century, the chain mail had become obsolete as the sole protection: That was the hour of birth of the iron breastplate, adapted to the body shape, worn over the chain mail. When knee tiles and metal plates for arms and legs were added at the beginning of the 14th century, the knight was almost entirely enclosed in the plate armor.

At the end of the century it was completely wrapped in metal with iron or steel armor. This offered the greatest possible security, but the knight hadn't considered one thing: the heavier armor made him more immobile.

The sword as a holy weapon

In combat, the knight acted mainly with two types of weapon: the thrust weapon and the striking weapon. At the beginning of the fight he mainly used his thrust lance, which made it to the considerable length of three meters.

A special type of lance, the tournament lance, appeared in the 13th century. It consisted of easily splintering softwood, which was actually supposed to guarantee a higher level of safety - however, the French King Henry II died in 1559 precisely on the splintering shaft of such a lance.

However, the sword is and was considered the epitome of chivalry. The long striking weapon, sharpened on both sides, was mostly used in battle in hand-to-hand combat or when the lance was broken.

In addition, the sword also had symbolic value for the knight, sometimes it was regarded as downright sacred. Often people even attributed supernatural powers to the swords and gave them their own names.

In addition to these two most common weapons, the knights also resorted to other war tools such as the mace, the morning star and the battle ax - they could even use them to tear open armor.

The shield, which could vary greatly in shape and color, had a special position among weapons. Not only did it serve to protect against attacks, the knight could also use it to deal blows himself.

No knight without a horse

His horse was of particular importance in the equipment of the knight. It was his status symbol; his existence as a warrior depended on it.

And a knight had to own several horses at the same time. So he needed a traveling horse, a pack horse that had to wear his armor, and the heavy, particularly valuable horse for battle, which in the 11th century was worth five to ten oxen.

When it came to battle, not only did the knight wear armor, but the warhorse was also armored. However, this was only the case since the Crusades, when the knights increasingly encountered opponents such as the foot soldiers who did not see themselves bound by the knightly rules of professional conduct. They strictly forbade the willful killing of the extremely valuable animals specially trained for combat.

Only shortly before the attack, after his squires had hoisted him on horseback, did the knight on horseback take over the lance and shield, and the unity of man, armor and horse was ready for battle.

Incidentally, the chariot was less distinguished by its particular speed than by its weight. Since the entire energy of this trio was concentrated in the tip of the lance, it had immense power in battle.

With the knight's connection with his horse, his success stood and fell. If the horse was incapacitated or even dead, the knight quickly became easy prey in battle. If the unity of humans and animals worked, however, his opponents were faced with an enemy that was difficult to beat.

A Muslim scholar put it in a nutshell during the Crusades: "Once a Franconian gets going, he could break through the walls of Baghdad."