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About Medieval Armor
During the medieval period of Europe (c. 400-1435), wearing some kind of armour was part of everyday life for many people, ranging from hunters and travellers to soldiers and knights. The kind of armour a person wore was directly related to his wealth (women rarely wore armour); a travelling merchant or hunter generally would have worn leather armour, made from the tanned hides of animals and then sewn together into garments that fit over regular clothes. Soldiers and knights wore plate or mail armour.
Leather armour was the cheapest and easiest to make. When cattle was butchered for meat, the hides were sent to tanneries, where the hides were boiled in mixtures of water, urine, ash and other caustic ingredients in order to toughen up the skin. After boiling, the hides were scraped to remove any remaining hair. The hides were dressed with oil to keep them supple, and some were lined with linen or other fabrics. Armour makers then stitched the hides together into armour for the upper and lower body, usually creating pieces to fit the individual buyer.
Chain mail was used by professional fighters, including mercenaries, soldiers and bodyguards, who were unable to afford custom-made plate mail. Chain mail was more protective than leather armour, but more difficult and expensive to make. Armorers cut thin strips of iron and heated them over a very hot fire. While still hot, the strips were pulled through a mould to make them tubular in shape. The armorer then shaped them while still hot into small circles or squares, using tongs and hammers to wrap the wires around moulds. When the rings had cooled, the armorer linked them together and riveted them shut, flattening them out in the process. Hundreds of thousands of such rings went into the production of a single suit of chainmail armour, to be worn from the head to the legs.
Plate mail was the armour of the moneyed: royalty, military commanders and high-ranking knights often had custom-made armour while professional fighters who could afford it bought it ready-made. Plates of iron were cut into workable sizes and then heated and hammered into the right shape for helmets, breastplates, the arms and the legs. Customers were fitted repeatedly while the plate was being made, and the plate was reheated and adjusted as necessary. The finished plates overlapped one another and were riveted together. Some plate armour suits covered the wearer down to the toes with plate, and used mail for areas that required flexibility, such as the elbows and knees. By the end of the medieval period, steelmaking had developed to a point where steel armour was possible; steel replaced iron throughout Europe by the end of the Middle Ages.
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