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Coat-of-plates and so-called transitional armor

Coat-of-plates and so-called transitional armor
Arms and Armour Sunday, 16. June 2024

Protection of the torso with the help of iron plates fell into oblivion with the fall of the Western Roman Empire, making chainmail the most advanced armor available in the early Middle Ages. Protective elements made of iron sheets were limited to helmets and occasionally to partial and limited limb protection.

This trend continued into the High Middle Ages, but a change occurred during the 13th century – for the second half of this century, so-called coat-of-plates are documented. These were made of metal plates riveted onto leather, cut in a shape reminiscent of a vest. The coat-of-plates, which could also be covered with colorful fabric, was worn over chainmail and typically fastened at the back.

The statue of Saint Maurice, created around 1250, from the Cathedral of Saint Catherine and Maurice in Magdeburg, depicts Saint Maurice, traditionally portrayed as an armored warrior, dressed in chainmail and a coat-of-plates. Wikimedia Commons

In the course of the 14th century, further innovations followed this development: chainmail was increasingly supplemented with plate protection for the shoulders, elbows, knees, and eventually the entire limbs. The coat-of-plates, which originally encircled the warrior’s torso like a shapeless cylinder, began to be anatomically shaped over time. This development led to the so-called "transitional armor" in the second half of the 14th century – a mounted heavy cavalryman wearing this armor was already largely protected by plates, while chainmail increasingly used to protect specific vulnerable areas (i.e. genitals, armpits).

Armored men in so-called transitional armor are depicted capturing prisoners during the Jacquerie uprising in 1358 in France. The illumination itself dates from around 1375-1380. Grandes Chroniques de France. Wikimedia Commons

The torso was protected by a coat-of-plates, which was mostly anatomically shaped by this time and consisted of fairly large segments of plate on the chest; however, it was not yet true cuirass. The first cuirasses began to appear during the second half of the 14th century and initially consisted only of front breast plates, while the coat-of-plates protected the warrior's torso from all sides. Transitional armors were still in use in the first half of the 15th century, gradually being replaced by full plate armors.

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