Follow Slashdot stories on Twitter

 



Forgot your password?
typodupeerror
Science

Scientists Study Impact of Wearing Medieval Armor 213

Posted by samzenpus
from the turns-out-it's-really-heavy dept.
FoolishOwl writes "Scientists at the University of Leeds tested the effects of wearing heavy medieval armor by monitoring volunteers, who were experienced medieval reenactors, as they walked and ran on treadmills, while wearing accurate replicas of 15th century armor. While the suits of armor weighed between 30 and 50 kg, comparable to the weight of gear carried by modern soldiers, volunteers who carried equivalent amounts of weight in backpacks had an easier time with the weight. Volunteers in armor burned more energy and had difficulty breathing. The scientists speculate that much of the additional effort was due to weight of armor on the legs — leg armor was one of the first things dropped in the shift towards lighter armor in the 16th century. While it has long been assumed that heavy medieval armor limited mobility, and that this contributed to the outcome of battles, such as the Battle of Agincourt in 1415, this was the first study to quantify the impact of wearing heavy armor."
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Scientists Study Impact of Wearing Medieval Armor

Comments Filter:
  • Battles (Score:2, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward

    While it has long been assumed that heavy medieval armor limited mobility, and that this contributed to the outcome of battles, such as the Battle of Agincourt in 1415

    Nonsense. It's well established that being French contributes to the outcome of battles, such as the Battle of Agincourt. The effects of armor is minor in comparison.

    • by Dunbal (464142) *
      Good thing they got better in the 19th Century eh mon ami?
      • Really? They totally sucked in 1871.

    • Re:Battles (Score:5, Informative)

      by liquidweaver (1988660) on Wednesday July 20, 2011 @04:34PM (#36828692)
      Oh come on. http://www.militaryfactory.com/battles/french_military_victories.asp [militaryfactory.com] When you cherry pick from the history of any country, you can come up with a long list of defeats. I don't remember Japan, Germany or Russia being too successful in the last hundred years. Even America got it's capital burned to the ground in 1812, and was defeated in Vietnam (in fairness, after France too).
      • by Baseclass (785652)
        "Shut up. We didn't lose Vietnam. It was a tie!"
        - Otto
      • by waimate (147056)

        At least the French never got beaten by the Canadians.

      • Re:Battles (Score:5, Interesting)

        by Phrogman (80473) on Wednesday July 20, 2011 @09:58PM (#36831236) Homepage

        Americans have this tunnel vision with regards to the French, and assume they can't win wars because they got their ass kicked in WWII. They seem to think its funny even - even though if you mention the French in any regard on a forum, you can be 100% assured that someone will make a comment concerning that defeat. Its long since gotten tired folks.

        Somehow they seem to ignore the whole Napoleonic Wars period, you know 30+ years where the French were the most feared military force in the world. When the French *defined* military technology, techniques and achievements. Sure, they are kind of stuck up, and their recent military history hasn't been all that distinguished but to be fair they were also faced with the German army, in its time the most efficient military force in existence. It took a whole lot of countries to defeat the Germans, and yes that eventually included the USA.

        • I am an American - and I would agree with you. Britain was just short of defeat in WW2, Sweden was making deals with the Nazis, and Russia is enormous and enormously cold. France got sacked in WW2 mostly because of bad military strategy - but more importantly, because the Germans had the best tech and strategies in Europe. Making fun of France for getting rocked in WW2 is like laughing at the kid who got his lunch money stolen, despite that he tried to defend himself. And I am proud of my country;however, a
        • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

          by Anonymous Coward

          The US land army in the spring of 1940 was hardly better than the Dutch or Belgian army, and tiny compared to the French one. The quick French defeat is unfortunate, but no other army actually in existence at that time could have done better defending France from Germany. French performance on the unit level is also not notably worse than British, Belgian, and Dutch performance in that campaign, if one compares units of similar quality.

          The French were Europe's most formidable military force in a number of p

        • by AmiMoJo (196126)

          Their surrender in WW2 is usually the first thing British people bring up too. The reality is that we were there too (Expeditionary Force) and got our arses kicked too. It would have been a lot worse for us if the French hadn't covered our fleeing from the battle at Dunkirk.

          France was defeated militarily. People seem to think that when Churchill gave his "fight them on the beaches... we will never surrender" speech he was being serious, but no country ever fights to the last man. While I don't want to take

          • by tehcyder (746570)

            People seem to think that when Churchill gave his "fight them on the beaches... we will never surrender" speech he was being serious, but no country ever fights to the last man.

            Speak for yourself. . Most people I know would have fought to the end against Hitler or anyone else invading us. There was a whole guerilla/insurgent organisation planned and trained, and it would have started by killing any collaborators.

    • by dltaylor (7510)

      Yeah, like the losers who blockaded Lord Charles Cornwallis' resupply and reinforcements at Yorktown, and the ground troops that reinforced the perimeter to help prevent a breakout.. Without the help of the French, both in North America and in keeping the British busy elsewhere, there would likely be no United States of America.

      Perhaps the French defeats that passed into folklore (Agincourt, Trafalgar, Waterloo, Dien Bien Phu) have done so because the French were, at the time, a major power (which takes wi

    • It is easy to go after the French, especially since they initially lost WWII. What most USA,USA,USA Americans tend to forget was that the first World War was largely a French vs Germany affair, with France fielding the largest army and suffering the largest casualties, not to mention that the war was fought largely on French soil. It was no poetic license when they said that the "flower of Europe's youth" were killed during WWI. The UK and US on other hand had the luxury of fighting without serious conseque

      • by tehcyder (746570)
        Although you're largely correct, the UK also had a large proportion of a generation wiped out in WWI too - even apart from the dead thee were huge numbers of serious physical and psychologically injured soldiers too.
  • Ergonomics (Score:5, Informative)

    by pgpalmer (2015142) on Wednesday July 20, 2011 @04:21PM (#36828544)
    There's a reason why good-quality backpacks have a strap that wraps around the waist - the pelvis is capable of comfortably supporting a large amount of weight, and that is why the weight of backpacks is best supported there. Medieval armour supports it all over the body, causing body-wide muscle fatigue. From the article: "We were interested to find out why that was - and one of the main reasons is that if you wear a suit of armour, a lot of the weight is carried on the legs - about 7-8kg of it."
    • Actually, the best backpacks (ones for long-distance hiking) tend to have the weight more on the hips than on the waist. Ideally, the shoulder straps should be relatively loose, and the bulk of the weight transferred down to the hip belt. The purpose for the shoulder straps is to to keep it relatively stable.
      • by gknoy (899301)

        To be fair, he did imply that when he mentioned the weight being distributed on your pelvis (the hip bone).

    • Re:Ergonomics (Score:5, Informative)

      by Nefarious Wheel (628136) on Wednesday July 20, 2011 @05:40PM (#36829372) Journal

      Medieval armour supports it all over the body, causing body-wide muscle fatigue.

      Not so. Medieval armour up to the 14th century had hip belts that supported the weight of the leg armour on the pelvis.

      The amount of effort you spend wearing armour is way more dependent upon the fit than the total weight.

      There's been a huge study of this in various groups of the Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA). Possibly the best proponent of this study that I know of is a gent known as His Majesty Cornelius von Beck, current king of Lochac (Australia). (www.sca.org.au). He's an armourer himself, and has studied - and worn - original 14th century plate. Serious students only can contact him via the SCA.

      The SCA is the only organisation I know that chooses its leaders by rite of combat...

      • Not so. Medieval armour up to the 14th century had hip belts that supported the weight of the leg armour on the pelvis.

        Not a medieval armor expert, but didn't they have even better after the 14th century? I think that was the point of an arming doublet, a jacket or coat that was worn under say, plate maile that had straps and hooks for fastening armor on. I would imagine with such a garment that you could re-adjust where weigh was carried to a great degree.
      • by dwywit (1109409)

        I helped to dress a serious re-enactor once (in Brisbane - he's not with the SCA, though) - he had me put my foot on his waist while I pulled the war belt as tight as I could. The lower half of his chain-mail suit was then supported by the belt around his waist/hips, so the whole thing (approx 10kg) wasn't solely taken on his shoulders.

      • Not so. Medieval armour up to the 14th century had hip belts that supported the weight of the leg armour on the pelvis.

        While it may take some of the weight while standing still, it won't do anything to help lift the legs while walking.

        And if you transfer the weight onto the pelvis, what supports the pelvis?

      • Re:Ergonomics (Score:4, Insightful)

        by DerekLyons (302214) <(fairwater) (at) (gmail.com)> on Wednesday July 20, 2011 @08:05PM (#36830586) Homepage

        There's been a huge study of this in various groups of the Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA).

        And some of it has even been reasonably scientific. The vast bulk of it doesn't even approach Mythbusters levels of scientific accuracy and diligence however. Though the SCA tried very hard, and has gotten markedly better over time, a scientific or academic organization it isn't.
         
        (Disclaimer: Member of the SCA 25+ years now.)

  • by MRe_nl (306212) on Wednesday July 20, 2011 @04:24PM (#36828572)

    ne miles on a treadmill are you effing joking".

    • by blair1q (305137)

      Yes, they are joking.

      The folks who could afford full armor could also afford horses.

      And they didn't do a lot of running. They mostly stood around a quarter of a mile behind the fighting watching to see if they should get back on their horses.

      The folks who did the fighting, if they wore any armor at all, wore small pieces of armor at critical points.

      I call ye olde shenaniganes.

      • by mcvos (645701)

        The folks who could afford full armor could also afford horses.

        You touch upon a very questionable claim by TFA. It says the inability to run for very long might have influenced battles like Agincourt, but the French (who lost there) had all there knights on horseback. The English knights (who won) were on foot. They still weren't running very much, because they were relying mostly on their longbows and letting the French come to them (who were hindered by mud and stakes in the ground), so to what extend fatigue from running in armour is relevant is highly questionable.

        • by corbettw (214229) <`moc.oohay' `ta' `wttebroc'> on Wednesday July 20, 2011 @06:54PM (#36830070) Journal

          Have you ever ridden a galloping horse over rough ground? It's hard, and you use a lot of muscles in your legs, buttocks, and abdomen just to stay upright. Add in all the weight from armor and weapons, and it's no wonder that knights who had to move, even if they were riding horses, would be exhausted compared to knights who could stand back and let the enemy come to them.

          • by xkuehn (2202854)
            Exactly. So why use a treadmill instead of horses? Seems like a big hole in the study.
        • the French (who lost there) had all there knights on horseback.

          Huh? Most things I've read say the second wave attacked on foot.

          • by mcvos (645701)

            I'm probably confusing Agincourt with Crecy, which I'm more familiar with. They're very similar battles, but I guess it makes sense that by the time of Agincourt, the French had picked up some of the English tactics.

        • by rossdee (243626)

          "the French (who lost there) had all there knights on horseback."

          And what does a french knight do when his horse gets shot by an arrow, or stuck in the mud?

  • http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bdfx7l4z5cQ [youtube.com]

    Who knew scientist suffered from too much game of thrones.
  • didn't seem to help the Black Knight [wikipedia.org] much.
  • Scientists study the impact of wearing a wizard hat while yelling "Lightning Bolt! Lightning Bolt!"
  • SCA Nerd (Score:5, Informative)

    by Toze (1668155) on Wednesday July 20, 2011 @04:40PM (#36828766)

    Disclaimer; the SCA does medievalISH combat with rules and equipment for safety; it's not authentic medieval fight styles, and there are other groups (like WMA) that focus on things like 15th century German fechtbuchs and who have more authority to speak on authentically historical modes and styles of combat.

    That said, the SCA does swordfighting at full speed and often with full power (depending on the area), and there are some strong similarities with historical combat. The sticks used (for safety reasons) are roughly the same weight as the historical swords, and there's a strong social pressure to wear armour that is both save and as authentic as possible. Thus, there's a couple things I can comment on from personal experience. First, metal armour on limbs *noticeably* slows down shots. We accept plastic plates as long as they're covered ("best effort to look good" is the standard), so people will fight with plastic covered in canvas or leather, and there is a well-known tradeoff in the SCA between "looking good" in shiny metal armour and having the best possible speed.

    I just finished building a fairly close replica of 14th century coat-of-plates armour. I had been using (poorly disguised) plastic before, and the difference when wearing 25 pounds of overlapping plates is quite noticeable. I look much better, of course, but I also work harder, sweat more, and need to take more breaks. The weight's all on my shoulders, so it's not wearing my legs out, but there's a noticeable weight when I'm moving. I recently got metal gauntlets, and they're noticeable as well; the hands move slower when there's a pound or two of metal on them. I hate to reference anime, but you know how Goku wears the heavy arm and leg weights in Dragonball Z? There's some truth to that; even the fat SCA fighters have bulkier shoulders and larger arms. (actually wearing weights around all day will just screw up your joints, by the way; it's the holding-heavy-things-out-from-your-body that does it)

    There's a reason armour was attached where it was in the middle ages; suspending legs from a belt takes at least some of the weight off the legs when moving.

  • ...they just need more points in Athletics.
  • Firsthand (Score:4, Informative)

    by Caerdwyn (829058) on Wednesday July 20, 2011 @04:49PM (#36828862) Journal

    Speaking as an ex-"reenactor" (Society for Creative Anachronism, http://www.sca.org/ [sca.org] I can offer the following firsthand observations:

    1. The quality of fitting to the individual is probably the single most important factor in how burdensome a given suit of armor is, from the point of view of the ability to move quickly. Leggings are by far the hardest to fit correctly; they also tend to shift around the most in response to movement, so a good fitting can become a bad fitting very quickly.
    2. In melee combat, the legs are hit far more often than any target other than the head. Leg armor may be encumbering, but when it comes to hand to hand combat you can't do without it.
    3. When faced with archers, an unshielded fighter takes it in the arms and torso more than anywhere else.
    4. Breathing difficulties are usually caused by poor ventilation in a closed-face helm, or a side effect of heat. Which brings us to:
    5. Overheating is what is going to exhaust you. You're wearing not just armor, but heavy padding as well. The number one factor an SCA medic sees at a large battle is overwhelmingly heat exhaustion/heatstroke/dehydration.

    • Re:Firsthand (Score:5, Informative)

      by Toze (1668155) on Wednesday July 20, 2011 @05:04PM (#36829012)
      Regarding 2, Bengt Thordeman's "Armour of the Battle of Wisby" includes a survey of wounds from a 14th century mass grave, and very many of the deaths in historical combat seemed to be preceded by leg wounds. Specifically, one or both legs followed by an overhead strike to the top of the head with sword or hammer.
      (sca) I found it particularly amusing, because there's an An Tir joke about "the kingmaker" being ankle-ankle-head. (/sca)
    • by mcvos (645701)

      5. Overheating is what is going to exhaust you. You're wearing not just armor, but heavy padding as well. The number one factor an SCA medic sees at a large battle is overwhelmingly heat exhaustion/heatstroke/dehydration.

      Note that this depends quite a bit on the climate. There's a good reason why armour got lighter the further south you got. Also keep in mind that much of the US lies at the same latitude as the Mediteranean.

      In the end, though, armour wasn't meant to be comfortable. It was meant to keep you alive, or at least make you somewhat harder to kill.

  • In theory, at least, the weight and unwieldy nature of the armor may have mattered less to the nobles who were most likely to wear it, simply because they rode into battle on horseback. As such, they didn't need to support themselves the whole time. The problem of the leg armor in particular largely disappears when on horseback (assuming of course that the horse itself can manage the weight).

    If and when they fell off their horse, or said horse was put down, *then* they could be in trouble. But my understand

  • by JabberWokky (19442) <slashdot.com@timewarp.org> on Wednesday July 20, 2011 @04:59PM (#36828960) Homepage Journal

    What's interesting is that modern sports combat based on western martial arts -- meaning sword and shield, full metal armor, but using modern materials -- has shifted over to using things like 6061-T6 aluminum to keep things light. Also Underarmor sweat wicking clothing (seriously). For instance, the SCA, which is interested in individuals or groups meeting in competitive combat rather than a specific battle from a particular time or place. A good deal of effort is put into finding lightweight armor that still protects your bones.

    Now comes the twist: It's actually thicker and more durable, because nobody likes to hammer out their armor each week after (or during) fighter practice. So it actually lasts much much longer under a barrage of blows, but is still roughly the same weight. Apparently it's a reasonable weight to fight in, and what you can now take out with modern materials, people are adding back for durability.

    Check out http://www.zoombang.com/ [zoombang.com] for really out there modern armor designed for medieval non-edged combat.

    obSemiOffTopic: Deep bruises are just part of the sport -- my wife is very careful to point out early in doctor visits that she's involved in full contact martial arts. Especially as she's 5 foot and petite and I'm 6'3" and huge; we already had one nurse freak out and send me out to have a talk with her about reporting domestic violence. She now carries photos on her phone of herself in armor, holding her helm and grinning happily, just to fend off people who get the wrong idea.

    • You had me at "modern armor designed for medieval non-edged combat" but Zoombang lost me with that god damn flash menu.

  • I thought this was going to be about the socio- and psychological impacts.
  • I somehow doubt that you can make a representative study of how knights in the Middle Age (you know, the ones whose almost only duty / job was to fight for his lord and who trained during his life for that) by using some modern people, who might be fit but will need a serious training to get used to it. Not to mention all of the know-how about using the armour lost during the centuries.

    As a sidenote, the simplest explanation to the fact that the first armor to be eliminated was the armor of the legs may be

    • by dave562 (969951)

      there are no vital organs in the leg, so an injury there is less likely to be lethal.

      Organs no, but those arteries are a real bitch.

      • there are no vital organs in the leg, so an injury there is less likely to be lethal.

        Organs no, but those arteries are a real bitch.

        That's why I just said less lethal. I prefer not to receive any, but if I have to chose I'll go for a cut in the leg or the arm before a cut in the head any day.

    • by mcvos (645701)

      The legs themselves are rather vital if you want to run away from danger. Disabling someone's leg is very effective in combat.

    • by corbettw (214229)

      there are no vital organs in the leg, so an injury there is less likely to be lethal.

      The femoral artery is the single largest artery in your body after the aortic artery. Even just knicking it, let alone severing it, will cause you to bleed out in about 30 seconds.

      And considering modern standards of diet and health care, I think you could find considerably better specimens for testing endurance while wearing armor than among knights from 500 years ago.

    • As a sidenote, the simplest explanation to the fact that the first armor to be eliminated was the armor of the legs may be just that there are no vital organs in the leg, so an injury there is less likely to be lethal.

      The problem there is that it is very difficult to avoid a lethal injury once your leg is injured. However, I am going to guess that improved maneuverability offset the loss of protection. The introduction of gunpowder to the battlefield changed the balance between maneuverability and physical force in combat.

  • Scientists Study Impact of Wearing Medieval Armor

    And, this being slashdor, I expected to see a story about global warming and the effect that armor had on it.

  • The medieval blokes wearing the bespoke armor fared much better than the poor bastards wearing that cheap outsourced shit from War-mour Mart.
  • ....back then?

    A friend is a history professor and he has a story (apocryphal?) about a history professor who had an exact-size copy made of some 13th century king's armor from his teens (Richard the Lionhearted?), and the armor was a good fit on a modern football linebacker.

    Anyway, the idea is that the elite soldiers -- from nobility, raised to fight from a young age, the best possible diet for the era (high in protein) -- were in outstanding physical condition and very, very strong. The armor the football

  • House Rules (Score:4, Funny)

    by guyminuslife (1349809) on Wednesday July 20, 2011 @10:49PM (#36831454)

    I'm pretty sure that the motivation for this experiment was to settle a long-standing argument about D&D encumbrance rules.

  • Besides the Battle of Agincourt, which proved that armored knights on horseback was no match for large formation of well-train longbow archers, I think another battle nearly 100 years later--the Battle of Cerignola in southern Italy--proved that full-body armor of the time was useless against the then-new gunpowder firearm, the harquebus gun.

  • So the weight on the legs didn't matter.

An inclined plane is a slope up. -- Willard Espy, "An Almanac of Words at Play"

Working...