Lars Andersen was able to fire off 10 arrows in 4.9 seconds by holding several arrows in his right hand. As a comparison, medieval archers were expected to shoot 12-20 arrows per minute, or 0.98 to 1.63 arrows per 4.9 seconds.
This technique allows him to fire off the arrows using fewer movements, and it allowed him to break a world record by firing off 11 arrows before the first arrow hit the ground.
A picture of him demonstrating this technique can be seen here. A video of him performing the aforementioned feats can be viewed here.
According to him, this was an ancient technique used by Saracen, Chinese and Native American archers.
However, I am unable to find any sources that depict them using the bow in such a manner.
War is not about killing every man on the opposing side; it is about killing enough men on the opposing side that none of the others have stomach for more fight. Part of winning that contest of wills called morale is retaining sufficient quantity of ammunition. A unit of archers without arrows is nothing more than prey.
So while it is useful to have every archer of a unit put a dozen or so arrows into the air in rapid succession, it is expected that the shock of the resultant casualties will cause a morale break in the approaching force. Once that happens, firing more arrows is worse than useless, as those arrows are more effectively reserved for staring down the enemy, or firing at an enemy unit that has not yet been shocked into a morale failure.
From this I conclude that while being able to fire that many arrows is a useful skill, it a skill that should only be exercised in the most dire circumstances, against an enemy of extremely high morale and armour. In less dire circumstances it would simply be a waste of ammunition.
I believe that an important assist in forcing a morale break on the opponent is making going forward more dangerous than going backward. To this end an archer nit would want to fire sufficient arrows to shock the oncoming opponent, and then dare them to repeat. Shock them again every time they recover and continue, until they get the message.
Any unit with the reputation of firing after a retreating enemy has actually suffered its own morale break - by making regress as equally dangerous for the enemy as progress.
The Roman Empire
Perhaps no civilization has had such a profound effect on the modern world as Rome. Over the course of its some 1229 years of existence, Rome went from Monarchy, to Republic, to Empire, and expanded from an insignificant little war-like city-state on the Italian Peninsula to the largest and most thoroughly dominant power in the ancient world.
Like most characters and powers throughout history, Rome was neither exclusively good or bad. Constantly eager for conquest, it caused the death and enslavement of countless individuals, yet annexed provinces did indeed enjoy the city’s protection, and often very low tax rates. In fact, many rural provinces operated at a loss, with Rome still feeling obliged to provide military protection.
The highly efficient and innovative Romans also greatly improved ancient lifestyles, and introduced numerous ideas that we take for granted today, including such things as organized highways and roads, apartment buildings, the postal service, basic sanitation and sewer design, and the development of indoor plumbing and heating.
The individuals that shaped this civilization were themselves often larger than life figures, just like the great empire they inhabited. Charismatic generals and politicians, they took their city from a footnote in the history books to the driving force which shaped the future of the western world.
It’s been a long time since I wrote the first part of my reply to Shad. Originally I was going to get this out much quicker, but a variety of things, most of them unrelated to this post, mean that I haven’t been working on this post consistently over the last year and a bit. However, I recently met Shad at the Abbey Medieval Festival, apologised in person for my original post and received some encouragement from him to continue writing this reply, which gave me the boost needed to finally finish writing this post.
On the bright side, while it has been a long time in the making, the extra time has allowed me to find evidence that I didn’t know had existed before and to consider the evidence more closely. It hasn’t changed my views on leather armour over all - that it was common and relatively cheap - it has helped me consider the issue with more nuance.
This current post is all about the evidence for textile and leather armour. I’ve searched through the available manuscript miniatures on manuscriptminiatures.com, been through all the images on warfare.gq, scoured books for additional references, both artistic and literary, and located all the archaeological information I could find. Nothing much in terms of physical and artistic has been added to my prior post, but I have added more and better sources about infantry armour specifically.
This does mean that I have been unable to answer Shad’s challenge to find archaeological evidence of leather chest armour. However, Shad has also not shown an artistic representation or archaeological remains of textile armour prior to the mid to late 14th century. All his artistic examples of textile armour have been from the late-14th, 15th or early 16th centuries, and the extent physical remains date from the mid-14th century (in one case), the mid-15th century (four cases) and the 16th century (one case, though I don’t know if Shad is aware of the Rothwell Jack). I intend to go into this further in the relevant section, but I want to emphasise that while I’ve acknowledged the flaws in my evidence Shad did not address the flaws in his evidence that I raised in my initial post.
I should note that I did send Shad a copy of my first draft a month and a half ago so that he could check and see if I’d misinterpreted any of his arguments. I sent it via his email address, which he had given to me in Messenger, but I’ve not heard back from him since, in spite of a follow up email and two messages via Messenger. I’m not sure whether he received the original draft or not, but I am satisfied that I did my best to ensure that I was understanding his arguments and position correctly this time around.
As a final note, I’d like to thank Sean Manning and all the other contributors to this thread over on the Armour Archive forums. While I would have found (and, for that matter, did find) all the references I’ve used in this particular post independently of the thread, the compilation of references assured me that I wasn’t missing any well known texts, put the lack of descriptions of infantry armour into more context for me and has provided some extremely useful sources that I wouldn't have discovered on my own for the fourth part of the series, when I discuss construction and economics.
This is the most abundant form of evidence, spanning from the mid-12th century to the mid-13th century. It includes information from romances, poems, chronicles, legal texts and administrative texts. As mentioned in my first post in this series, I’ll attempt to provide both the original text and a translation wherever possible. You’ll also notice that this list of examples is different from that provided in the original post, as further research and looking at the original texts has resulted in some additions and removals. I’ve also chosen to focus on texts specifically about the armour of the lower classes, since this is a major point of contention between Shad and myself. In that vein, not only is armour connected with knights not mentioned, but also armour connected with infantry who are also wearing mail, as they are clearly not poor soldiers but wealthy individuals.
Gesta Herewardi (Anonymous)
And they were girt and protected with these arms: with coats of felt dipped in pitch and resin and incense, or tunics of strongly cooked leather
(Miller, p29 “strongly cooked” substituted for “strongly made” as per below)
hujusmodi armis praecincti et muniti cum feltreis togis pice et resina atque in thure intinctis, seu cum tunicis ех coria velde coctis
This is the oldest mention of either leather or textile armour that I’ve found to date, with modern experts putting the date of composition as some time between 1109 and 1131. I’ve chosen to go with the transcription of Hardy and Martin here, as opposed that undertaken by Miller, because “coria velde coctis” (“leather strongly/powerfully/greatly cooked”) makes more sense than the literal translation of “coria velde cortis” (“leather strongly enclosed”), which is Miller’s transcription.
In the context of this passage, the inhabitants of “Scaldemariland” (possibly the islands of the Scheldt estuary) are arming themselves in order to attack the army of Flanders. In addition to their armour, they’re equipped with spears studded with bent nails so that when fighting they can thrust, pull away (possibly pulling away a shield or pulling their opponents off balance) or strike (presumably as a club) and three or four javelins apiece. Only one man in three has a shield and axe or sword. These are not, then, knights, burghers or wealthy peasants, but quite poor peasants, and their choice of armour is either a felt based armour or hardened leather.
(with thanks to Len Parker, who originally posted the source on myarmoury.com)
Policraticus Book IV, Chapter 6
Therefore, when he perceived the mobility of the foreigners, he selected for the mission soldiers who fought in the same way, since he resolved that they were to engage in battle practise in light armament, assaulting in rawhide boots, chests covered by hardened straps and hides, throwing up small light shields against the missiles, and at one time hurling javelins, at another employing swords against the enemy.
Cum ergo gentis cognosceret leuitatem, quasi pari certamine militiam eligens expeditam, cum eis censuit congrediendum leuem exercens armaturam, peronatus incedens, fasciis pectus et praeduro tectus corio, missilibus eorum leua obiectans ancilia et in eos contorquens nunc spicula, nunc mucronem exerens, sic fugientium uestigiis inherebat ut premeretur
The Policraticus was written by John of Salisbury between 1156 or 1157 and 1159. John was a churchman, philosopher and historian, whose intellectual work would have a significant effect on those who came after him. This doesn’t necessarily make him a good source, by John Hosler has recently made a strong argument for his being very knowledgeable with regards to war and warfare (Hosler, 2013).
The most important part of the text is the phrase “fasciis pectus et praeduro tectus corio”. While Nederman has translated this as “chests covered by hardened straps and hides”, my own preference is for “chests covered by a band of very hard leather”.
While the Welsh and their heavily pastoralised economy probably falls into one of Shad’s exceptions, it’s likely that John was actually writing to encourage the Anglo-Norman knights to abandon their heavy armour and reliance on their horses in order to better pursue the Welsh, rather than referring to an event that took place a century earlier. A similar idea is expressed by Gerald of Wales, although he seems to favour mercenary infantry over knights changing their equipment (Thrope, p266-270).
Some had fine leather jerkins, which they had tied to their waist, many had on a doublet and they had quivers and sheaths girt about them.
Alquanz orent boenes coiriees, qu'il ont a lor uentres liées plusors orent uestu gambais, colures orent ceinz et tarchais
Written later than his Roman de Brut, Wace’s Roman de Rou was composed some time during the 1160s and 1170s, when he stopped composition (c.1175). Apart from the reference to leather armour, it’s also the earliest use of the word “gambeson”. While Elizabeth van Houts has translated “coiriees” as “leather jerkins” and “gambais” as “doublet”, she appears to be using an older dictionary, rather than the more recent Anglo-Norman Dictionary, which makes it clear that the 12th/13th century “gambeson” is not the same as a 16th century “doublet” and does not assign the term “jerkin” to “cuiries” (the standardised spelling of “coiriees”).
The specific reference is to the Norman foot soldiers, who were also described as being armed with a sword and bow. I’m not entirely sure whether or not the text is saying that the cuiries were worn by some of the archers along with gambesons, or whether some archers wore cuiries and others wore gambesons. Either way, these are not knights or members of the nobility, but neither are they poor peasants as Shad has indicated most infantry were. Rather, they represent the more typical mercenary, member of a civic militia or wealthy free peasant who made up most offensive armies of this period.
De nugis curialium, by Walter Map
Our King Henry II also banishes from all his lands that most mischievous sect of a new heresy, which with its mouth to be sure confesses of Christ what we do, but (in act) gathers bands of many thousands, which they call routs, who armed cap-à-pie with leather, iron, clubs, and swords, lay monasteries, villages, and towns in ashes, and practise indiscriminate adulteries with force, saying with all their heart, 'There is no God.'
Rex noster eciam Henricus secundus ab omnibus terris suis arcet hereseos noue dampnosissimam sectam, que scilicet ore confitetur de Christo quicquid et nos, sed factis multorum milium turmis, quas ruttas uocant, armati penitus a uertice ad plantas corio, calibe, fustibus et ferro monasteria, uillas, urbes in fauillas redigunt, adulteria uiolenter et sine deletu perpetrant, pleno corde dicentes 'Non est Deus'.
Walter Map was a Welsh lay cleric of the 12th century who rose to quite high office under Henry II and composed a loosely series of works that he later combined into a book. It wasn’t very widely circulated, probably because it had a very uneven tone, not deciding whether it was going fully fantastical or fully historical, and was only rediscovered in the 19th century. Most of the book was written in the early 1180s, but it was worked on through into the 1190s. While Map is frequently unreliable, his sections on English history from the 1130s on are mostly correct. His section on the armour of the Brabacon mercenaries employed by Henry II is therefore probably mostly correct.
Although some have interpreted the “leather” part of “leather and iron” as being a gambeson (see, for example, Fig. 42 from Ian Heath’s Armies of Feudal Europe), there’s no textual evidence for this. Given that leather armour separate from textile armour is present in the Gesta Herewardi and Roman de Rou, I believe it is more likely to be ordinary leather armour rather than a gambeson with a leather facing.
The next solid reference that I’ve been able to find involving leather armour for non-nobles. I’m not confident in reproducing the table, so I’ve taken a screenshot for you instead (Bonds 1969, p133). A couple of things stand out. Firstly, the only times a corellus (cuirass) has a higher median price than a panceria (gambeson) is 1225 and 1250. At all other times, it is either equal in price or less than a panceria, in some cases significantly so (1222).
Secondly, wherever we have a price for a hauberk, the median price is at least double than of a panceria. This rules out the corellus being a coat-of-plates or something similar, since where we have prices for coats-of-plate in the 13th century (admittedly at the end rather than the start), the average price for a coat-of-plates is higher than for a hauberk. While I think a tenuous argument could be made that the corellus is simply a cheap coat-of-plates rather than leather armour, I disagree due to the early dated use of the term (prior to use outside of the wealthiest nobles and knights) comparative rarity of metal armour in the Bolognese armed societies (see below).
Military Equipment of the Bolognese Armed Societies
Dr Jürg Gassmann has recently published an article on the armed societies of Bologna between 1230 and the early 1300s, and part of the article is a breakdown of the types of armour required by members of the armed societies, one of which had leather armour as an option for torso armour (Gassmann 2014, p227-228). The society was that of the Cervi, and the regulations were laid down in 1255. Other options included two types of textile body armour (the zuppa and the guayferia what the latter is isn’t known, as it seems localised to Bologna with no descriptions available of how it was made) and a coat-of-plates (“lameria”).
Now, with metal body armour an option, it might be suggested that the leather is also an expensive option. However, only four other societies list metal armour (either a coat-of-plates or a hauberk) and none of them permit leather helmets, which the Cervi and only one other society (the 1256 Vari by-laws) does. What does this suggest? Well, firstly it suggests that leather was likely a cheaper option that steel, but probably also less prestigious, since only two of the societies permitted leather helmets.
Secondly, given the context of the societies - a period where there was a need to integrate freed serfs and craftsmen from other cities into the community - it’s probable that the required arms are minimums and that some societies were more thorough than others in listing possible armour. This would explain why only a handful of guilds list anything other than textile armour. This thoroughness probably extended both ways, to the poorest members as well as the richest, with the Cervi and could well suggest that the leather armour was for the poorer members.
I know that this is speculation, but taken together with the prices for leather armour from Genoa at the same time (cheaper or equal to textile armour), as well as the low price of leather armour in late 13th century England (bearing in mind that English currency had an exceptionally high silver content), I think it is reasonable speculation. The fact that no other societies had leather armour as an option may be as simply as leather armour being a sign of a poorer man, or simply because it didn’t have as much space to put the society’s insignia on it.
I want to stress here that this is not the sum total of references to infantry wearing leather armour, merely those which are unambiguous (perhaps excepting Walter Map) and which I’ve been able to double check in the original language. I’ve not been able to verify David Nicolle’s belief that leather armour was common for infantry in Spain and Italy during the 12th and 13th centuries, since I can’t read Spanish or Italian, and that’s what his sources are written in (Nicolle 2002, p209-10). I see no reason to doubt him but, without being able to read what he’s basing his statements on, I’ve decided to leave them out of this discussion.
As you’ll have noted above, the Gesta Herewardi, Roman de Rou, Genoese records and Bolognese armed societies all mention textile armour, and I won’t reproduce them here.
Caithréim Chellacháin Chaisil
gur scoilset a sceith. gur leadairset a luirecha. gur coimrebsad a cotuin.
they cleft their shields, and cut their armour into pieces, and tore their aketons
(Bugge 1905, p106 - modified translation)
Ocus mar do bhadar annsin co bhfacadar na .V. catha coraighthi ar lar an muighi fo glere sciath 7 lann 7 luirech fo ghlere shleagh 7 chotun 7 cathbarr
And as they were there, they saw five battalions drawn up in the middle of the plain with choice shields, and swords, and coats of mail, and with shinning spears, and aketons, and helmets.
(Bugge 1905, p114 - modified translation)
The Caithréim Chellacháin Chaisil is an anonymous Irish text likely written sometime between 1127 and 1134, and is the second oldest reference to textile armour that I’ve been able to find. I have modified Bugge’s translation of “cotuin”/”chotun” from the original “target” to “aketon” on the basis that the Electronic Dictionary of the Irish Language (eDIL) only lists “cotún” as a word for “targe” in one case, namely Bugge’s translation. In all other cases it refers to textile armour. Similarly, none of the words for “targe” are similar. I’ve therefore amended the translation on the basis of probability.
Although this work is set in the 10th century, the equipment referenced, as with most medieval texts, are more likely to be contemporary rather than those of the past. We should consider the reference to textile armour as reflecting the situation in the early 12th century rather than in the 10th century.
This is one of the most famous and commonly cited texts in the field of medieval military history, so I don’t see any reason to quote the Latin as well as the translation (which is from Wikipedia to save me typing it out myself).
Whoever possesses one knight's fee shall have a shirt of mail, a helmet, a shield, and a lance and every knight shall have as many shirts of mail, helmets, shields, and lances as he possesses knight's fees in demesne.
Moreover, every free layman who possesses chattels or rents to the value of 16m. shall have a shirt of mail, a helmet, a shield, and a lance and every free layman possessing chattels or rents to the value of 10m. shall have a hauberk, an iron cap, and a lance.
Item, all burgesses and the whole community of freemen shall have [each] a gambeson, an iron cap, and a lance.
The third item, featuring the townsmen and rural freemen, is where our interests lie. On the surface, it appears that gambesons were cheap enough that every freeman could afford one, but it’s necessary to look at later modifications to the laws to get the full picture. For instance, in 1230 the freemen were divided into two groups: those who earned 40 shillings or more were required to have the equipment of the 1181 Assize, and those who had between 20 and 40 shillings were only expected to have an axe or lance (Powicke 1962, p85-6). Then, in 1242, the category for mandatory ownership of textile armour was raised to 5 pounds income/20 marks in goods and chattels (approximately 13 pounds Powicke 1962, p88-89). I’ll go into this in greater detail in a later part, when I discuss military service, but it can be seen from the gradual increase in wealth - even taking inflation into account - required for a gambeson that it was expensive enough that only a minority of farmers were expected to be able to afford one.
The Song of the Albigensian Crusade
Que cascus dɾls aporta complida garnizo o escut o capel, perpunt o gonio, e apcha esmolua, aucilha o pilo, arc manal o balesta o bon bran de planso, o cotel o gorgeira, capmailh o alcoto.
. each with his full equipment, be it shield or iron hat, tunic or pourpoint, with sharpened axe, scythe-blade or javelin, handbow or crossbow, good lance, knife, gorget, mail-hood or padded jacket.
(Shirley 2017, modified translation)
The Song of the Albigensian Crusade is a text about the wars in southern France at the start of the 13th century and was written by two authors. The first was written by William of Tudela around 1213, and it was continued anonymously afterwards, taking up the narrative from 1213 to 1219. The section quoted is from the second author, who was probably a native of Toulouse and describes the town of Toulouse preparing to fight the Crusaders. Interestingly, it refers to two types of textile armour: the pourpoint (“perpunt” - Shirley seems to have translated it as “tunic”) and the aketon (“alcoto”), although it doesn’t distinguish between classes or offer any information to discern a different construction. However, the “gonio”, which Shirley has translated as “leather jacket”, more likely means “tunic”, or perhaps “coat”.
The Song of the Albigensian Crusade is the last text, excluding the previously cited English and Italian sources, before the 1260s which list mention textile armour worn by foot soldiers, and it is the last narrative source which describes their armour. After this point, I’ve been unable to locate anything but regulations which describe the kind of armour the infantry wore. As this is at the end of the period where I think leather armour was commonly worn, I won’t list them, although I may discuss them later when I talk about medieval infantry soldiers. If I do, I’ll be sure to quote them in full there.
I’ve also omitted two references to English foot soldiers wearing textile armour in conjunction with mail during the Third Crusade, since this is a discussion about the lower end of the infantry scale, and several references to knights wearing only textile armour, again, for the same reason.
This is, as I mentioned in the original post, a rather small list. What is probably the clearest example is f.027v of the Morgan Bible, which features a soldier sitting in the cart, holding a banner and wearing what is probably a cuirie and a leather cap. Shad has cast doubts on it being leather and speculates that it could be a thick gambeson (27:21-27:2), but I see no reason why the very careful and skilled artist would suddenly decide to omit the quilting lines he has drawn on almost every single piece of textile armor for this one piece of armour that looks nothing like a gambeson. Yes, there are a couple of instances where the quilt lines haven’t been drawn on the infantrymen, but they’re clearly wearing textile armour, while the figure in f.027v wears nothing like any gambeson shown, which tend to be depicted as stiffened tunics, with all the bunching and folds associated (see f.003v, for instance). It might not be 100%, but it’s far from 50/50.
In addition to the images mentioned in my first post, I have also found f.093 of the Moulins BM Ms.01 Bible Souvigny. This is so heavily influenced by Byzantine art styles, that I wasn’t entirely sure if I should include it. However, it does also feature the earliest example of textile armour (worn beneath the leather breastplate) in Western art that I’m aware of, so I’ve decided to include it in order to point out that only David is shown wearing Western European armour (the scene shows two Davids: one in Saul’s armour and one without), while everyone else is clearly portrayed as an Eastern “Other”. It therefore shouldn’t be used to support the existence of either leather or textile armour.
The earliest claimed representation of textile armour that I’ve found is Figure 22 from Ian Heath’s Armies of Feudal Europe, which is supposed to be based on a 12th century sculpture. However, as I have been unable to find the original image and as the diamond pattern is not an uncommon representation of mail in the period ( sculpture , fresco , illumination ), I don’t believe it can be taken at face value. However, if the original sculpture was genuinely depicting a gambeson, this would be the only image of one before the very end of the 12th century. Thanks to a comment, I have tracked down the image in question and discussed it further here. I'm even more convinced now that the armour is mail, not textile.
The next possible depiction of textile armour that I know of comes from Verona and was created around 1200 (Nicolle 2002, p12). The baptismal font in the Verona cathedral, depicting the Massacre of the Innocents, shows two soldiers wearing short sleeved, short bodied garments that are clearly quilted. I do find the turban and archaic swords somewhat out of place, and they do raise the possibility that the carving is not depicting contemporary fashions, but is creating an Eastern “Other”, much as the Moulins BM Ms.01 does. However, it also can’t be discarded as evidence either, just treated with caution.
Following the baptismal font, the next artistic depiction of textile armour, which is also the clearest, is the well known Morgan Bible, which is honestly one of the greatest works of medieval art.
After the Morgan Bible, there is f.011v in the Besançon BM MS.54 Psalter Bonmont which, apart from the highly Eastern armour of the far left hand figure, does show an infantry soldier in a gambeson, and f.011r, f.012r, f.014r and f.015r of the WLB Cod.Don.186 Psalter, which similarly show infantry wearing textile armour. Finally, this late 13th century mural from Spain, while not showing any quilt lines, almost certainly has several instances of textile armour to judge by the collars and two piece construction of what several soldiers are wearing.
There are only two pieces of archaeological evidence for our period (c.1100-1250) that I’m aware of: the Sleeve of St. Martin of Bussy, which dates to some time between 1160 and 1270, and some fragments of leather from an excavation in Dublin, dating to between 1150 and 1200. In both cases, the garment was certainly textile based, as the leather was clearly intended to function as the top layer for a quilted garment. Additionally, we can tell that the Sleeve of St. Martin was an aketon and intended to be worn under armour.
The Sleeve is quite an interesting garment. Although it offers next to no protection in and of itself (it’s a mere 8mm thick at the thickest point and has only 4 layers of textiles), there is a clear reduction of thickness from the upper arm to the forearm, almost a halving of width, which may show an expectation that the worst blows would be expected above the elbows. It also tallies quite well with the 2-3 pounds of cotton that Sean Manning has shown to be the most common weight of filling in 14th century aketons/arming doublets which, in turn, suggests that 13th and possibly even 12th century aketons were constructed in this manner as well.
The Dublin fragment is harder to interpret, as we don’t know whether it was the face of a stand-alone piece of armour, or if it was the face of under armour padding. I suspect that it probably comes from a stand-alone piece of armour, as we have a 15th century French (Ffoulkes 1912, p87) and a 16th century English source (Skene 1837, p229n.1) describing jacks with a layer of deerskin as the top layer. These are considerably later sources, but nonetheless present a more plausible interpretation or the archaeological find to my mind than the idea of it being part of padding does.
Shad did mention a 14th century leather breastplate found in the Netherlands (15:31-15:46), however the two pieces originally thought to have been a breastplate and backplate has since been demonstrated by Chris Dobson to have been a pair of cuisses, not a breastplate (Dobson 2018, p44), so I say with some regret that there is not even any archaeological evidence of leather chest armour after the period I'm considering.
One thing that has become obvious to me while researching this post is just how little specific evidence there is for infantry armour in general. We have four narrative and two administrative/legal accounts of leather armour, and four narrative and five administrative/legal (3, if you lump all the English accounts into 1) accounts of textile armour for the whole period of 1100-1255. And, in terms of artwork, we can be certain of only 3 manuscripts showing textile armour in the same period, with two carvings potentially also showing it. The evidence for leather armour is even bleaker, with just one manuscript showing what might be one worn by a foot soldier.
Of course, what evidence we have is informative to some degree. The Gesta Herewardi, for instance, associates textile and leather armour with the poorer class of soldier, while John of Salisbury associates leather armour with foot soldiers rather than knights, whether he actually meant the Welsh or not. Wace and Walter Map also see leather armour as a feature of Continental mercenaries, and these were the best infantry of the day, although their equipment is not very well known. The Genoese source suggests it was common in Northern Italy between 1220 and 1250, it offers a slightly different look in terms of relative cost, showing that while leather armour was typically cheaper than textile armour, it was often not by much. The Bolognese sources, however, offer an interesting contradiction in that leather armour was only considered appropriate in one case.
When it comes to textile armour, the evidence is also informative. Between the Gesta Herewardi and Caithreim Cellachain Caisil, we can date its use to at least the 1130s, and the fact that “cotún” was in the Irish vocabulary at this early date, before the Norman invasion, suggests that aketons were widely used and known across Europe by this date. Wace adds the information that they were one choice, or perhaps the base layer, of mercenary infantry, and the Song of the Albigensian Crusade places it as an option for town militias to wear in Southern France. The Genoese source highlights the difference in price between textile and mail armour, while the English and Bolognese sources present an image of textile armour being the primary entry level armour.
Naturally, these sources are not easy to interpret as a whole. Leather armour was common in Genoa, but apparently not in Bologna at the same time. Leather armour was the primary choice for mercenaries in the mid-to-late 12th century, yet by the end of the 12th century textile armour was the legal minimum. Judging by the men who wore leather armour in the 12th century sources, leather was quite cheap, but the 13th century Genoese source raises questions about whether it was really that much cheaper than textile armour, and certainly suggests that it wasn’t a “poor man’s armour”.
One possible reason for leather’s popularity in the 12th and 13th centuries could be that, covering only the torso and being relatively light (perhaps as little as 2kg), it was more comfortable to wear for a long period and on a long journey than textile armour which, even if it didn’t weigh much more, surely would have trapped a lot of heat during long marches. Covering only the body, it would also have restricted archers less. However, offering less coverage, you could say that textile armour would be cheaper for a given area and, protecting more of its owner, would seem a better choice for those in command who wanted their heavy infantry to be as well equipped as possible.
Another possibility is that there were “cheap” forms of leather armour which common soldiers might have worn, as well as more expensive versions that merchants chose. While there are several examples of hardened leather armour that are only made from one thickness of leather - such as those detailed in Marloes Rijkelijkhuizen and Marquita Volken’s paper, cited by Shad - Chris Dobson has detailed a number of pieces which were constructed with two layers of cowhide (Dobson 2018, p61). Similarly, a 15th century description of how to make a hardened leather breastplate calls for two layers of cowhide to be used (Black 1845, p1221). If there were two levels of protection offered, then the cheap one worn by thepoorer members of society may well have been made from one layer and cost less than textile armour as a result, but offered less protection, while the more expensive one may have been made from two layers and had a similar cost to textile armour, but protected less of the body even if it offered similar protection.
These are, I stress, merely two possible interpretations of the evidence, and I’m open to alternatives. They do, however, explain some of the contradictory evidence, although it must be said that they don’t really explain why leather armour declined in use and ceases to show up in records beyond the 1250s.
If we accept, then, that textile and leather armour were in common use during the 12th and early 13th centuries, although without establishing their precise relationships or relative ratios, the question becomes: why don’t we see more of them? It’s not as if we don’t have good depictions of infantry during the period. The Basilica of San Zeno in Verona, for instance, is an excellent and, so far as we can tell, accurate representation of the city militia, yet in spite of Italy’s strong links to the Byzantine Empire and the Islamic world (who both had textile armour), there is only infantry wearing mail and infantry wearing tunics. Even in the late 12th century, the militia of Milan are shown in the Porta Romana as either armoured or unarmoured, with no textile armour.
It’s not just Italy. England, Germany and Spain all have manuscripts that contrast armoured men-at-arms with unarmoured infantry, while France omits the lesser infantry altogether - I’ve had no luck finding infantry in French artwork who aren’t wearing mail before the Morgan Bible.
The lack of representation doesn’t just encompass infantry armour, since under armour padding is missing from even the Morgan Bible (f.003v, f.028r), a manuscript whose illuminations are considered some of the most accurate illustrations of medieval arms and armour. As I noted in my original post and again in the first part of this series, so far as medieval artists were concerned, under armour padding didn’t exist until the end of the 13th century, in spite of what the literary sources say.
And this is the problem with Shad’s appeal to artwork (11:50-12:30, 14:16-14:40, 27:08-28:01) in proving that leather armour wasn’t common. Medieval art was never intended to be 100% true to life and there are greater and lesser degrees of stylisation, to the point where it contradicts archaeological evidence (the Sleeve of St. Martin) and literary sources (which make it clear that aketons were worn under mail). If even well attested armour components aren’t shown in medieval art, how can you rule out a particular piece of armour, especially if it belongs to a class the artist isn’t interested in?
A similar issue arises with archaeological evidence. It can be used to rule things in - that is, to say that we definitely know an object existed and what its form was - but it’s very hard to use it to rule things out. Shad is right that there’s no archaeological evidence of leather torso armour (14:22-15:13) in spite of other leather objects being preserved, but he fails to apply the same standard to textile armour. Namely, we have no textile armour from the 12th or 13th centuries (the Sleeve is padding, not armour, and the Dublin fragment is ambiguous), in spite of plenty of textile fragments - including layered linen - surviving. If gambesons were so common, to the point where the vikings wore them (Why Vikings DID wear padded armor / gambeson), why don’t we have any before the 14th century?
The answer is, in the first place, armour was not as common as other everyday objects, and so is already at a disadvantage in terms of preservation. I’ll go into this more in my next part. Secondly, the armour not only needs to be buried ground that is suitable for preservation, but it needs to be where archaeologists will find it. This is a big reason why we have such a small amount of armour and equipment from the 12th and 13th century. Sometimes, preservation just doesn’t happen.
The evidence for infantry armour in the 12th and mid-13th centuries is sparse and often contradictory. For whatever reason, the artists of the period chose not to depict it, and the literary sources are difficult to reconcile, as they make it clear both that textile armour was the preferred minimum level of armour, but also that leather armour was commonly used. They offer no easy explanation for why leather armour wasn’t considered an appropriate minimum armour, while also showing that it was, in general, cheaper than textile armour. Archaeology, as with art, has little to offer in the solving of this problem, and it cannot be used to support either leather or textile armour as common.
In my next part I will break down who made up the bulk of medieval armies, how they compared in wealth to the average peasant, and why Shad’s view of the poor man with only one cow is not a correct representation of medieval warfare. Unlike this present part, it won’t take a year to write, but it is going to take a couple of months as I hunt down the appropriate sources to avoid focusing too heavily on medieval England.
A sword is a long, edged piece of forged metal, used in many civilisations throughout the world, primarily as a cutting or thrusting weapon and occasionally for clubbing.
The word sword comes from the Old English sweord, from a Proto-Indo-European root *swer- "to wound, to cut".
A sword fundamentally consists of a blade and a hilt, typically with one or two edges for striking and cutting, and a point for thrusting. The basic intent and physics of swordsmanship have remained fairly constant through the centuries, but the actual techniques vary among cultures and periods as a result of the differences in blade design and purpose. Unlike the bow or spear, the sword is a purely military weapon, and this has made it symbolic of warfare or naked state power in many cultures. The names given to many swords in mythology, literature, and history reflect the high prestige of the weapon.
Swords can be single or double-bladed edges. The blade can be straight or curved.
|Detail from the Morgan Bible f 29|
Shadiversity: Secrets of the Medieval Longbow / Warbow
I know Shadiversity is seen as low-hanging fruit here. I've clashed with him before on a previous archery video. While that one was mostly an academic disagreement, his latest video in his Medieval Misconceptions series presents a bizarre hypothesis which may end up being quite dangerous for anyone who attempts to recreate the method he is promoting.
As with many Shad videos, the verbosity makes it very difficult to critically analyse. It's a 30-minute video that is perhaps 3x longer than it should have been with numerous tangents and broken thoughts. I want to give him the benefit of the doubt in most cases, but nailing down exactly what he said and "meant" is always a grey area, which he tends to exploit and accuse critics of intentionally misrepresenting him. I honestly do want to quote him exactly, but the narrative lacks so much cohesion that for the purposes of this discussion, I must summarise and paraphrase.
A Summary of Shadiversity's "Secret"
Longbows were shot from both the left and right side of the bow (assuming a right-handed shooter)
Main talking points
Shad directly confronts and dismisses the view that medieval artwork may contain erroneous depictions of archery
We are applying modern archery technique to a historical period rather than letting the historical sources speak for themselves
Historical art comes from a period where more people were more familiar with archery, therefore the art must be accurate
Historical art contains numerous specific details which are correct, therefore the inclusion of arrows on the right side of the bow must also be correct
Since numerous sources depict both sides, archers must have shot from both sides (note: specific to European archery, not Eastern archery)
He intends to practice with this method as a form of "experimental archaeology"
He claims that using the right-side method forces the archer to tilt the bow the opposite way, which in turn engages the back muscles and could have been used as a training method
Shooting Finger-Draw on the Right / Tilting the Bow Left
Traditional archers are familiar with the drawing method used with the fingers with the arrow on the right side: the Slavic draw (demonstrated by Mihai Cozmei). This method is outlined in Arab Archery:
The Slavs (al-Ṣaqālibah) have a peculiar draw which consists of locking the little finger, the ring finger, and the middle finger on the string, holding the index finger outstretched along the arrow, and completely ignoring the thumb. They also make for their fingers finger tips of gold, silver, copper, and iron, and draw with the bow upright.
Note that this specific quote doesn't specify which side of the bow the arrow is on. The text, being based off Eastern archery, predominantly uses the thumb draw and assumes the arrow is on the right side. Note further that this method of shooting is only possible if done in this manner.
The method that Shad implies - tilting the bow to the left and twisting the bow arm - has at least some precedent. The most well known is Ishi, who uses a pinch-draw (and notably does not use a long draw method). Demonstration here.
The reverse tilt can also be done with a late medieval French method using a deep index finger hook, though the arrow is on the left side.
As far as I am aware, no textual source verifies the method shown by Shadiversity - shooting from the right while tilting the bow to the left.
His revelation at the end, that tilting the bow the other way and shooting from the right with a Mediterranean draw, is not only a false positive, but also dangerous.
His fatal fault is that he is improperly drawing the bow. Instead of maintaining a straight posture or leaning into the bow, he is arching his back to follow his head, which is tilted because he is holding the bow the wrong way because he is trying to keep the arrow from falling off. It might feel like he's working his back, but it's contorted and one of the worst ways to shoot a bow. Not even the Ishi method does this. He misses the target completely, but insists on this revolutionary idea of using it as a training method.
That's not how anatomy works. He hasn't stumbled across something amazing and undiscovered. He hasn't suddenly engaged back muscles.
The reality that is that the human arm is inclined to tilt the bow to the right. There are biomechanical reasons. The angled rotation of the wrist provides the most strength, aligns the bones in the arm efficiently and makes more efficient use of the muscles to set the bone structure in place. Both Western and Eastern archery styles are shot comfortably with a canted bow towards the right - and Eastern styles place the arrow on the right. Modern bow grips, which are meant to keep the bow straight, are designed so that the wrist is rotated and placed comfortably on the grip's pressure point - basically adapting the bow to suit the body's structure.
The method of drawing a heavy bow and using back tension is actually almost universal. Justin Ma has done research comparing wrist and elbow rotation, and the conclusion is that the position adopted by Shad is a weaker position. His comparison of historical archery illustration shows a more sensible parallel between all archers using heavy bows (100lbs+) from English war bows to Chinese composite bows and Hadza hunting bows. The shoulder is lowered, the body leans into the bow, and the bow is canted to the right to achieve the strongest position. This is also understood in modern archery, though applied to a different extent in competitive shooting.
Shadiversity's logic arbitrarily assumes that since artists were around at a time where archery was common and that they illustrated very specific details (citing examples such as posture, technique, extra arrows in the belt and the separate woods used), the side of the bow must therefore drawn correctly. Shadiversity does not provide any qualification as to why specific details are correct or why this specific detail must therefore be correct he arbitrarily states that this simply must be the case according to his right-side theory.
Shad attempts to rebut the argument that historical archers got the details wrong by bringing up an example of a modern illustration. He states that in this case, the modern artist gets it wrong because they "must be so unfamiliar with archery that. they get the side wrong". He contrasts this with the Luttrell Psalter depiction of archery. He highly credits the artist, stating that "archery was far more common, and the average layperson would be far more familiar with archery" and therefore, with all the details stated earlier, that the artist would make "such a rudimentary mistake. is utterly ridiculous".
With these two examples alone, the contrast is arbitrary and unable to be proven true. There's no reason to assume that the medieval illustrator knows more than the modern illustrator. Both illustrators get other details correct, both place the arrow on the right side of the bow, and yet he holds the medieval artist as correct, citing the modern design of bows as rendering it impossible to shoot the way it is depicted, while also making the assumption that a medieval longbow could be shot on the right.
Citing the Luttrell Psalter so heavily as a reliable source is problematic because the document is not in any way a historical manual. The body of the work is a collection of psalms, with the illuminations intended to be decorative rather than descriptive, and the Luttrell Psalter was made by five different artists. When we consider that the illuminations are basically decorations in the bottom of each page, it is certainly feasible that the artist(s) got details wrong, given that they depicted everything from the Cruxification to a seasonal harvest in what is essentially the book's margins. They certainly can give a good insight, but close examination of specifics in each illustration will show impossibilities.
In contrast, historians generally regard the Beauchamp Pageant to be the most technically accurate portrayal of archery. It isn't hard to see why: the soldiers depicted in the illustrations are drawn with realistic proportions and style, depicting even greater detail in the arms and armour, and specifically the technique shown. By comparison, the Luttrell Psalter's illuminations are cartoons.
Shad also contradicts himself by claiming that the Luttrell Psalter gets so many details right and therefore the arrow must be correct, but brings up other sources with multiple errors and assumes that the arrow is correct. He uses the painting of St Sebastian and states that since the arrow is on the right side for both left and right poses, it was intentional and therefore an accurate depiction. However, the painting is rife with errors that contradict what he claims is correct: the anchor point is not at the ear, but the chin the hook is an impossible finger-tip position and even the bracer is facing the wrong way. And this is just one depiction of the Martyrdom of St Sebastian. Dozens of others show a plethora of anachronistic bows and styles, while a select few from the medieval period do indeed show the correct side of the bow with correct details.
To paraphrase Clive Bartlett in The English Longbowman 1330-1515, the problem with looking at these European illustrations is that they are made by people in a different place and a different time. Shad's source analysis fails to fundamentally understand and critically view in the frame of who made each illustration, when and where it was made, and why. Most of the images shown are romantic, fantastical depictions with no evidence that the artists knew correct archery form, and many lack the details that Shad praises.
Finally, the logic that people back then were more familiar with archery is such a broad statement, it cannot seriously be taken to mean that every artist who depicted archery knew how to do so correctly. We live in a time where most people drive a car, but weɽ be challenged to draw a car with correct specifications without a reference.
Shadiversity, unsurprisingly, makes no reference to textual sources and relies purely on artwork. Unfortunately, few written sources outline exactly which side was used. The Art of Archery c.1515 contains only this:
Then, holding the arrow by the middle, he must put it in the bow, and there hold it between two fingers, and you must know that these two fingers are the first and second. And every good archer should, as I have said before, draw his bow with three fingers and to his right breast, as by doing so he can pull a longer arrow.
The mention of the three fingers is notable, as Shad insists on using a two-finger draw, which is also depicted in artwork. In regards to which side is used to shoot, the best we can interpret is that the shaft is held "by the middle" and is put "in the bow". As an archer, this motion sounds like it is threading the arrow through the bow (between stave and string) so that it comes out on the other side (i.e. the left). It's a common method (I show it here), though with a heavier war arrow I imagine it would be easier to hold the arrow "by the middle" to do this. You would not need to be this specific if you simply placed the arrow on the right side.
The most referenced early work for English archery, Toxophilus (c.1545) unfortunately doesn't give us specifics on shooting side and isn't written as a manual. The next source is The Art of Archerie (1634), which states:
To nock well, is the easiest point in all the art of archery, and contains no more but ordinary warning, only it requires diligent heed giving first in putting the nock between your two first fingers, then bringing the shaft under the string and over the bow.
This seems to draw heavily on The Art of Archery c.1515, with the specific line here stating that the shaft is placed "under the string and over the bow", the weaving motion outlined above. This description therefore suggests that the bow must have been nocked with the arrow on the left for this to be accurate.
Shad makes a bold argument that modern archers are imposing their form on medieval archery. This is spread throughout the video, opening with his contextualising of how the left side of the bow became common in modern target archery, and later when examining the artwork where his rant almost sounds hysterical.
Shad makes a common mistake here: assuming that modern target archery is completely detached from its historical, medieval roots.
We didn't suddenly shoot differently with different bows with centre-shot windows and shelves. Modern archery is a branch from European archery its development ongoing to the modern day. While archery largely faded by the 17th century, its use continued throughout the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries, prospering as a sport and recreational activity. While the purpose and equipment changed (from the thick war bows to thinner longbows used in the Edwardian and Victorian eras). Notably, the more accurate images we have available all show the arrow on the left side.
One of the best sources in this period, Archery, its Theory and Practice by Horace Ford (1859) includes this section on nocking the arrow (emphases in original text):
Holding the bow by the handle with the left hand, and turning it diagonally with the string upwards, with the right hand draw an arrow from the pouch, and grasping it about the middle, pass the point under the string and over the bow then placing the thumb of the left hand over it, with the thumb and first finger of the right hand fix the arrow firmly on the string, the cock feather being uppermost." There is one objection, however, to that part of them which directs the shooter to "pass the arrow under the string"—an objection, curiously enough, entirely overlooked by all the authors upon Archery—and it is this, that by doing so, and owing to the somewhat intricate passage the arrow is made to traverse, the bow is very apt to become pitted by the point of the arrow, and in most Archers' hands who nock in this way speedily assumes the appearance of having had an attack of some mild species of measles or small-pox, to the great injury of the bow, both as regards beauty and safety, especially when made of yew this most valuable wood of all being of a soft and tender character.
This passage shows clear inspiration from the previous sources hundreds of years ago, written in clearer detail. Not only does it show the method of weaving the arrow "under the string and over the bow", it also makes an amusing remark on how archers are prone to stabbing the arrow into the belly of the bow - a problem that we know all too well today for those who use this method.
Following the instructions in this manual means that the arrow, for a right-handed archer, must be on the left side. The damage caused by pitting the bow can only be done if the arrow is improperly passed over the bow. This would not happen if the arrow was placed on the right side.
Shadiversity isn't breaking any new ground, and is wandering into territory he knows very little about from a scholarly and a practical context. His conclusions would be dismissed by any archer and historian familiar with archery, as his technique cannot be done, and he himself cannot actually demonstrate it. The one or two shots he does loose in the video are completely fumbled and missed.
He arbitrarily dismisses opinions on historical artwork, assumes that the artists who were alive in this time period knew more about archery and therefore must have illustrated it correctly, while ignoring numerous contradictory errors in these works as well not comparing them to text sources which do accurately describe technique. He places particular emphasis on analysing the most fantastical and romanticised illustrations rather than more realistic depictions.
His theory that longbow shooters must have at least shot from both sides is not proven. If anything, he proves that it isn't plausible in his own video by his own difficulties: he can't hold the bow steady, he can't align with the target and shoot instinctively, he misses a close target entirely, and he struggles to keep the arrow on the bow all weaknesses that are known to archers who have learned how to do archery in either Western or Eastern methods.
Worst of all, his hypothesis, should it be trialled and tested, is dangerous. With the arrow placed on the right with a Mediterranean draw, there is very little control of the arrow and it will be knocked off the bow most of the time, leading to highly inaccurate shooting and the arrow going off unpredictably. Furthermore, the reverse rotation of the bow arm is going to place far more strain on the elbow and shoulder, which will be disastrous if attempted with a heavy bow.
Edit: Forgot bibliography
Anon., The Art of Archery Ca. 1515 (Edited by Henri Gallice, Translation by H. Walrond, 1901)
Roger Ascham, Toxophilus (1545)
Gervase Markham, The Art of Archerie (1634)
Horace A. Ford, Archery, its Theory and Practice: 2nd Edition (1859)
Arab Archery: an Arabic manuscript of about 1500 (Trans: N.A. Faris and R.P. Elmer, 1945)
Justin Ma & Jie Tian, The Way of Archery: A 1637 Chinese Military Training Manual
Clive Bartlett, The English Longbowman 1330-1515
Justin Ma & Blake Cole, Beyond Strength: why technique matters for using thumb draw to shoot Asiatic bows (link)
A Reply to Shadiversity: Part One - Introductions and Interpretations
I’d like to begin this post with an apology to Shad. There were a number of reasons why I called him arrogant, such as my mistaking his bombastic style for arrogance, frustration at my suggestions that leather armour might have been more common than he was saying were seemingly ignored (although I now realise that there were a couple of other ways I could have tried to get hold of him that might have functioned better) and a general unfamiliarity with his channel and willingness to admit to being wrong. Regardless of these factors, I should still have remained civil and avoided the name calling. I regret my tone and behaviour at the time, and I’d like to thank Shad for being the bigger man and not escalating things further.
For those who missed it, I made a post a while back about what I saw as bad history on the part of a popular YouTuber called Shadiversity, which can be found here. Shad has now replied to my post and, after clarifying his position and legitimately taking me to task for the introduction of my post, he has laid out his arguments for why he still thinks that leather armour was not common (see the next section for more on this and my misinterpretation of his position) and why he thinks that textile armour was significantly cheaper than leather.
I disagree very strongly with his position, and I think he commits more bad history - preferring to rely on speculative pricing for a period, at the very least, a thousand years before the period under discussion (mid-12th to mid/late-13th century) and was mostly focused 1200 years or more before, based on a theoretical price list from more than 200 years after the last known use of said armour, over medieval price data - so I’ve decided to not only reply, but keep the replies here in r/badhistory.
I am not entirely guiltless when it comes to bad history, although my sin is less in the facts than the presentation of them. When I wrote my previous post, I had the mistaken belief that all I needed was to provide sufficient examples to demonstrate that leather armour was common and that artistic sources are not always reliable. The only section where I came even close to good writing was on the relative prices of linen and leather for armour, and even there I failed to provide context in terms of wages of the average free man.
These series of posts (and there will be several) are aimed at rectifying this error. As before, I won’t be going through the video moment by moment and addressing each point as it’s made. This time, though, I won’t be addressing what I see as Shad’s main points but will instead be making ones of my own. When I refer to Shad's points, it will be to compare and contrast his arguments with my own. My goal is to lay out the arguments for leather armour being common and the context that it was used in so that I can build up a cohesive argument as a whole for when and why it was popular and who used it.
Another corrective I intend to make is that of sources. Before I essentially paraphrased David Nicolle’s discussion of the sources and didn’t provide direct quotations. This time, however, I intend, wherever possible, to quote the relevant section of primary source in both original and translation. In some rare cases I will need to provide a crude translation of my own, using a combination of dictionaries and Google Translate, but I will highlight those for the wary. I’ll also be giving page numbers for each source in order to make double checking anything I say that much easier.
As indicated above, this won’t be a short series. As I’m writing this, I’m envisioning at least four more, each focused on a different aspect of my argument. This first post will cover the issue of interpretation, where I will point out some misinterpretations of Shad's, both with regards to myself and his own sources (where I can find them - Shad has only posted a fraction of them and remains reluctant to give out more if anyone knows about the forum threads where tanners give their opinions on the ideal age to kill a cow for leather armour, Iɽ be grateful if youɽ tell me).
The second post will focus on the issues of art and archaeology in relation to textile and leather armour. Very few depictions of leather armour exist, almost entirely relating to the wealthy, and the archaeological record is similarly bare. However, much the same can be said for textile armour prior to the mid-13th century. I intend to explain why the artwork only shows wealthy men in leather armour for the period under consideration, discuss some of the problems inherent in interpreting artwork, put the archaeological finds in their context and point out the limitations of these finds.
The third post is going to be all about those who wore leather armour, their recruitment and their roles in society. Most medieval infantry were not poor levied peasants, but professional mercenaries, town militias or the wealthier members of common society. There are exceptions to this (especially in England at the end of our period), and they’ll be mentioned and contextualised. The higher ranks of society and their use of leather armour will also be examined.
The fourth post will focus on the construction of leather and textile armour, the costs - human and monetary - and also the arms trade. I intend to put use of armour into the proper economic and cultural context to highlight why leather was not as expensive as Shad is assuming and why textile armour was not as cheap as he has made it out to be. Also considered will be the work of Professor Gregory S. Aldrete and why his conclusions must be used with extreme caution.
What will hopefully be the fifth and final post will be a synthesis of the previous posts and will bring it all to a conclusion that will show how and why leather armour was both relatively inexpensive (within the context of armour) and common (within the context of warfare).
Some of these posts might be split into two parts, but I will do my best to be as concise as possible. I know it might seem like I’m being needlessly tangential and wordy at times, but I promise to keep my writing as focused and relevant to the discussion as I’m able to.
In his reply to my post, Shad believes that I constructed strawmen arguments and took what he said out of context (4:48-9:00). While I’ll admit that there were one or two comments that clearly hinted at Shad not entirely disbelieving in the use of leather torso armour, I’m not convinced that a couple of his other comments were sufficiently clear - even with the clearer comments for context - for my original interpretation to be invalid. Whatever strawmen I may have constructed in my original post, they were my honest impression of Shad’s arguments. I did think about defending myself further, but it would serve no purpose. My interpretation of Shad’s arguments was not what he intended, this has been made clear, and going down into the minutia of it all would be boring and pointless for all involved.
However, I’m not the only one who has created strawman arguments. Shad misinterprets a number of statements by myself and Professor Aldrete in his video, and at least one of them seriously impacts his rejection of one aspect of my argument (18:30-19:58). The others serve as examples of how easy it is for your own perspective to warp the arguments of someone else.
“So that is really interesting. Linen can be made in a much cheaper way, and in fact the cheap type of linen is better for armour production. That is significant!” (23:04-23:15).
This is in response to a video clip of a lecture by Professor Gregory S. Aldrete that Shad included in his video (19:59-23:04). However, this is not at all what was said. Professor Aldrete actually says is that they discovered that modern linen - entirely machine made - performs significantly worse than linen that is made entirely by hand, from start to finish (22:05-23:04). There is no suggestion that the cheaper types of historical linen made for better armour than the more expensive types. The closest Professor Aldrete comes to this is mentioning that there were coarser types of linen available that were cheaper than the more expensive types, making the argument of cost irrelevant in the leather vs linen debate (20:20-23:15 in the context of the Type IV armour, specifically).
Misinterpretation aside, this is also a not much of an argument against my examples. Even if the cheapest cloth was the best, this would in no way invalidate my comments on price. When I listed the range of prices for linen, I noted that it could range from 2d to 8.25d per ell, but was most often 4d per ell. I deliberately used cheapest cloth - and the smallest possible amount of cloth - specifically to show that, even when the cheapest cloth is used, textile armour is still expensive. A ten layer jack - which won’t offer enough protection to be used by itself (Ordinance of St. Maximin de Tréves) - is going to cost 46d (3s.10d.) even with cloth priced 2d per ell, and 2.3 ells of cloth required per layer rather than a possible 3.7 ells. Compare this is Shad's claim that the cheapest cloth would still be cheaper than leather armour (26:56-27:08) and the price I gave for leather armour in my previous post (3s), and the weakness of his argument can be seen.
The response to this will no doubt be that, as Shad suggests (26:00-26:56), the common soldier had more chance of accessing homemade cloth than homemade leather armour. While this is true, it's also heavily based on the misconception of self-sufficient (or mostly so) medieval households. I plan on going into more depth on this subject in my fourth post, but for now Iɽ like to raise the point that, even with the slave economy of Classical Athens, many households were not self-sufficient and three adult women were required to meet the demands of a household of six (Acton, p155-156). In later medieval Europe - which lacked a slave economy - large scale cloth manufacturing had moved to the towns, where the horizontal loom could as much as six times the amount of cloth as a vertical loom by the 12th and 13th centuries (Henry, p140-144 It began to replace vertical looms from the early 11th century on, but even so took a century or more to fully dominate the trade) and, although it continued to form an important part of estate and rural production, this was in the form of rural based specialists rather than individual peasant production (Henry, p140, 142 Dyer, p108 c.f. the rural/industrial village of Lyveden on p99). Most households would have concentrated on producing thread for dedicated (or semi-dedicated) weavers rather than the cloth itself.
Further, even if the soldier was taken from a cloth producing household, using cloth which had been produced in the household would still be a significant loss, since all the labour and money (paid for pre-spun thread) will go into making his armour instead of cloth that will be sold for a profit. The loss of profit and cost of production will have an end cost nearly as great as buying the cloth itself. This is the problem of applying generalisations from one pre-modern economy to another, substantially different, pre-modern economy without fully following through the implications of the differences or considering the economic effect of suddenly not having cloth to sell or make into clothing.
“The author of the Reddit article does try and explore the effectiveness of leather armour versus gambeson, and he’s obviously taking the point of view that he thinks that leather armour is superior to gambeson.” (29:36-29:48)
I think I was pretty clear about my stance on the issue of current testing and protection: “As a result, the precise protective qualities of each armour can't really be determined.” That is to say, the best tests performed so far have been sufficiently flawed (as I pointed out in the paragraph above my quote) that no conclusions could be drawn. His comments that I found one test where leather performed better than textile armour, but that he's found other tests where the opposite is true and so there are obviously some variables involved (29:55-30:10) is exactly the point I made myself:
There are some limitations to these examples. The linen armour used by Jones would almost certainly have performed better if it had been quilted, while Williams probably wasn't using boiled rawhide as his cuir-bouilli, which offers better protection than boiled leather, and his blade was short (40mm) and designed to simulate the cut of a polearm, not a sword.
The tests conducted by Alan Williams, which I quoted in comparison to David Jones' tests should also have made it clear that I didn't think there was sufficient evidence to argue one way or the other and that textile armour could (and did) perform better than leather in some testing contexts. While I didn't select the two tests because of their contrasting results (again, I believe they're the two best tests overall, for all their flaws), I did use them for this purpose and then explained why each test was flawed and why we have insufficient data to make any judgments.
“And it’s almost like, maybe I’m misreading this one, because, you know, it’s a big article. Was he implying that gambeson was never worn under mail? ‘Cause that is incorrect, of course gambeson was worn under mail. In fact, one of his own sources that he lists in his own thing explicitly says that gambeson was worn under mail.” (34:57-35:12)
While I’ll credit Shad with not being definite about this one, I was very clear about this point:
While we have good textual evidence of aketons being worn under mail from the mid-12th century on and also have an extent fragment of one (the Sleeve of St. Martin) that dates from the somewhere between the mid-12th and mid-13th century, we have no artistic evidence of anything being worn under mail other than a linen shirt through almost to the end of the 13th century. The Morgan Bible, although it has a couple of instances of gambesons being worn over mail, explicitly shows that mail was worn over nothing but an ordinary tunic. This is despite some pretty good textual evidence of the practice from the same time period.
Now, it could just be that aketons weren't used by everyone until the end of the 13th century, or it could be that they were so often under the mail that most manuscript illuminators didn't know they existed or how to draw them until much later on. Whatever the case may be, the point is that art alone can't be used to confirm or deny the existence of a type of armour. It needs to be used in conjunction with a raft of other sources to be properly interpreted.
I was very much not saying, suggesting or implying that aketons were never worn under mail, just that they were never depicted, even in quite realistic and detailed manuscript illuminations.
Claude Blair, which is the source Shad is referencing, says much the same thing:
”It is probable that the various types of soft armour were in use during the whole of the period covered by this chapter, although I have been unable to trace any definite evidence of this earlier than the second half of the 12th century. Surprisingly enough, neither does there seem to be any indication of the use of a special quilted garment under the hauberk before the same period, although one would have deemed something of the sort essential in view of the complete lack of rigidity of mail. Yet it can actually be shown that as late as the middle of the 13th century the hauberk was sometimes worn without any separate padding underneath, other than a quilted cap. The magnificent French MS. of c. 1250 known as the Maciejowski Bible (Pierpoint Morgan Library, New York), for example, contains a number of illustrations showing hauberks being put on and removed in every case the only garment worn underneath is a knee-length coloured shirt with tight fitting, wrist-length sleeves.” (Blair, p32-33)
“The aketon worn under the armour seems generally to have been of the long-sleeved type described above, although it is rarely possible to catch a glimpse of its edges in contemporary illustrations.” (Blair, p34 the illustrations mentioned are all from the 14th century)
I intend to go into more detail on this subject in my next post, but hopefully we're now on the same page when it comes to issue of interpreting artwork. Sometimes it just doesn't match with what the textual evidence says, even when said artwork is very good.
I apologised to Shad, warned ya'll that this is going to be a very long series, and then went on to demonstrate that I'm not alone in misinterpreting information in a way that's more favorable to myself/less favorable to my ideological opponent. My next post will be on the problems involved in interpreting artwork and archaeology. Hopefully I'll have it done within a couple of weeks!
European Armour, by Claude Blair
Poiesis, Manufacturing in Classical Athens, by Peter Acton
"Technological Development in Late Saxon Textile Production: its relationship to an emerging market economy and changes in society" (1998). Textile Society of America Symposium Proceedings. 175., by Philippa A. Henry
"The Archaeology of Medieval Small Towns." Medieval Archaeology 47. Vol 47., by Christopher Dyer
Gauntlets are armoured gloves that cover from the fingers to the forearms, made from many materials.
Gauntlets were sometimes specially made for jousting
Some gauntlets featured built-in knuckle-dusters
Mail hose, either knee-high or cover the whole leg.
Poleyn 13th C.
Plate that covers the knee, appeared early in the transition from mail to plate, later articulated to connect with the cuisses and schynbald or greave. Often with fins or rondel to cover gaps.
Used in antiquity, lost but later reintroduced in 13th C. used till 15th C. Plate that covered only the shins, not the whole lower leg..
Covers the lower leg, front and back, made from a variety of materials, but later most often plate.
Plate that cover the thighs, made of various materials depending upon period.
Sabaton or Solleret
Covers the foot, often mail or plate.
Tasset or Tuille
Bands hanging from faulds or breastplate to protect the upper legs.
Right Thigh and Knee Defense (Cuisse and Poleyn) for the Armour of Sir John Scudamore (1541 or 1542).
Band of steel plate, put together severally so that several bands can articulate on various areas like around the thighs, shoulders or waist. Such pieces are named for the number of bands, for instance, a fauld of four lamé.
Doublet or Arming Doublet
Padded cloth worn under a harness.
Any circular plate. Roundels protecting various areas may have particular names, such as a besagew protecting the shoulder joint.
A partial debunking of Holy Blood, Holy Grail
If you haven't heard of Holy Blood, Holy Grail, it's probably one of the most famous works of pseudo-history ever. Its basic hypothesis is that Jesus married Mary Magdalene and one of their children married into the Merovingian dynasty. Now, the notion that Jesus could have been married is certainly possible and so is the idea that he could have had descendants. That's not why I find HBHG annoying. I find it annoying because it's filled with countless errors and dubious assumptions. It's about as accurate as The Da Vinci Code and at least The Da Vinci Code had the excuse of having being sold primarily as fiction.
About 90% of Holy Blood, Holy Grail is based on forgeries concocted by Pierre Plantard with the help of Philippe de Chérisey. Plantard and the novelist Gérard de Sède when wrote a book based on these forged parchments called L'Or de Rennes. This book claimed that the mysterious treasure of Rennes-le-Château were parchments detailing the survival of the Merovingian line. Specifically, it was claimed that Plantard was an agantic descendant of the otherwise obscure Merovingian king, Dagobert II and thus, the true heir to the French throne. At the time, this claim was meaningless as France was a republic, but even if Plantard had tried this prank a thousand years ago, the best he possibly could have hoped for was being laughed at. (In the worst case scenario, he would have been laughed at and then executed for being an imposter.)
At any rate, L'Or de Rennes also claimed that these super secret descendants of the Merovingians were protected by an organization known as the Priory of Sion of which the Knights Templar were the military offshoot. Plantard and Sède later fell out with each other over royalties and then Chérisey admitted to having forged the parchments. Unfortunately, the authors of Holy Blood, Holy Grail weren't aware of this. It should be noted that the claim that the Merovingians were descended from Jesus is their hypothesis alone Plantard never claimed such a thing. After finding out about Plantard's forgeries, Baigent, Leigh, and Lincoln decided to insist that Plantard was a liar but that the history of the Priory of Sion was still totally true. Unfortunately, even if you were to ignore the forgeries, the book is still riddled with errors. Here's only a tiny bit of the some of the errors I've found.
It is known that in 1070 . a specific band of monks, from Calabria . arrived in the vicinity of the Ardennes Forest, part of Godfroi de Bouillon’s domains. On their arrival in the Ardennes, the Calabrian monks obtained the patronage of Mathilde de Toscane . who was Godfroi de Bouillon’s aunt and . foster-mother. (p. 113)
There's legend that Matilde of Tuscany founded Orval Abbey and it's possible that she did indeed fund them, but Orval Abbey itself claims that they were founded with the patronage of Arnoul I, count of Chiny.
Matilde being Godefroy de Bouillon's foster mother is an odd statement and I don't know if the authors originated it or if it was Gérard de Sède. There is no reason to suppose that Godefroy spent his childhood anywhere but Boulogne and maybe some parts of England (his father had some lands there, because he took part in the Battle of Hastings). The woman who seems to have been the biggest influence on Godefroy's life was his biological mother, Saint Ide of Lorraine.
Later on, the authors try to claim that Godefoy was elected as the ruler of Jerusalem by monks that Matilde had supported with the implication being that Matilde helped him get elected. But Matilde actually doesn't seem to have liked Godefroy very much, nor does he seem to have liked her. The two of them fought over who got to inherit what after the assassination of Godefroid the Hunchback (Godefroy's maternal uncle and Matilde's distant cousin, stepbrother, and husband) in 1076. The rumors that Matilde had ordered Godefroid's assassination and the fact that Matilde and Godefroy were on opposite sides of the Investiture Controversy probably didn't help their relationship any.
And yet Godfroi seems to have known beforehand that he would be selected. Alone among the European commanders, he renounced his fiefs, sold all his goods and made it apparent that the Holy Land, for the duration of his life, would be his domain. (p. 114)
Godefroi de Bouillon sold some of his lands and mortgaged others because he needed money to pay for the weapons, armor, horses, food, and transportation heɽ need to go on Crusade in the first place. Fellow Crusader Robert Curthose mortgaged Normandy to his brother, William Rufus, for the same reason.
Medieval European aristocrats were generally rich in land, not currency, so we they needed money quickly for war, theyɽ usually have to mortgage their castles and lands. Some nobles chose to sack churches and abbeys to get some quick funding, but that wasn't really an option open to would-be crusaders for obvious reasons.
The Merovingians also claimed direct descent from ancient Troy which, whether true or not, would serve to explain the occurrence in France of Trojan names like Troyes and Paris. (p. 243)
The names of Troyes and Paris come from the Tricasses and Parisii, respectively. Both were Celtic tribes who were named such by the Romans centuries before the Franks showed up.
For the Sicambrian Franks, from whom the Merovingians issued, the bear enjoyed a similar exalted status. Like the ancient Arcadians they worshipped the bear in the form of Artemis or, more specifically, the form of her Gallic equivalent, Arduina, patron goddess of the Ardennes. (p. 244)
Arduinna was a Celtic goddess, not a Germanic one and she was associated with boars, not bears. The authors try ater on to connect the name of the Ardennes forest with Artemis, because that would somehow prove that the Arcadians migrated to the Ardennes region and thus, the Merovingians were Arcadians who fled from Troy. There's a simpler explanation, though: the Franks were no more Trojan than the Romans were and their similarities between Arduinna and Artemis come from Arduinna having become syncretized with the Roman Diana when the Romans colonized Gaul.
If Wilfrid had expected him to be a sword-arm of the Church, Dagobert proved nothing of the sort. On the contrary he seems to have curbed attempted expansion on the part of the Church within his realm, and thereby incurred ecclesiastical displeasure. A letter from an irate Frankish prelate to Wilfrid exists, condemning Dagobert for levying taxes, for “scorning the churches of God together with their bishops’. (p. 260)
The source is Book V, chapter 44 of Gregory of Tours' History of the Franks. Unfortunately, Book V, chapter 44 of History of the Franks is actually about Gregory's fight with Chilperic I of Neustria over Chilperic's attempt to redefine the Trinity. I can't find anything exactly like the quote that the authors of HBHG in History of the Franks, but that may be a difference in translation. The closest I can find in the translation available on archive.org is, "You know what respect should be paid to the churches of God you cannot take them unless you give a pledge of their permanent union, and likewise proclaim that they shall remain free from every bodily punishment." This statement is directed at a Frankish dux named Rauching -- not Dagobert II.
I thought that maybe Baigent, Lincoln, and Leigh were confusing Gregory of Tours' work with the anonymous 8th century Liber Historiae Francorum, but there's nothing there, either. Chapter 44 of Liber Historiae Francorum is about the reign of Clovis II of Neustria and how (in the opinion of the anonymous author) he was pure evil.
In any case, there is no question that by 790 Theodoric’s son, Guillem de Gellone, held the title of count of Razes the title Sigisbert is said to have possessed and passed on to his descendants. (p. 269)
The title "count of Razès" was a Carolingian creation. Far from inheriting any titles, Charlemagne simply appointed his cousin, Guilhem of Gellone as the count of Toulouse and duke of Septimania. The first count of Razès was someone named Berà who also the Count of Barcelona. Berà has traditionally been called a son of Guilhem of Gellone, but Guilhem's will makes no mention of him. He could be the son named "Barnardo", but the Barnardo referred to in the Will was most likely Bernard of Septimania.
At any rate, noble titles were not hereditary during the early Carolingian area. Counts and dukes were often appointed for life, but their children would not inherit the titles.
By their contemporaries, for-example, the Cathars were believed to have been in possession of the Grail. (p. 291
The first person to draw a connection between the Cathars and the Holy Grail was a 19th century occultist named Joséphin Péladan. He reached this conclusion after devoting many hours of careful study to La Canso de la Crosada and Pierre de les Vaux-de-Cernay's Historia Albigensis which mention the Holy Grail so many times in their accounts of Cathars-- oh wait, no, Péladan just made it all up.
Godfroi de Bouillon, for instance, was descended according to medieval legend and folklore from Lohengrin, the Knight of the Swan and Lohengrin, in the romances, was the son of Perceval or Parzival, protagonist of all the early Grail stories. (pp. 291-292)
The earliest versions of The Tale of the Knight of the Swan had no connection to Godefroi de Bouillon. The version first connected with Godefroi tells of the Swan Knight Elias who saves the Duchess of Bouillon from the Duke of Saxony and marries the Duchess' daughter, Beatrice. Elias and Beatrice then have a daughter, Ide, whose destiny is to bear great sons who will save Jerusalem one day. It's great story, but even William of Tyre suspected that it wasn't true. And it isn't: Godefroi's actual maternal grandparents were Godefroid the Bearded, Duke of Lower Lorraine and his wife, Doda.
Wolfram von Eschenbach later incorporated the earlier versions of the tale of the Swan Knight into Parzival, gave the Knight of the Swan the name Lohengrin and made him Parzival's son. Eschenbach's Lohengrin keeps the unhappy ending of the original tales of the Swan Knight where he abandons his bride (named Elsa in Eschenbach's tale), because she broke a taboo of some sort.
A problem that Baigent, Lincoln, and Leigh don't seem to have noticed is that the Swan Knight was always Ide's father, not Eustache's. Thus, even if you chose to interpret medieval romances literally, the notion that the tale of the Swan Knight is a coded reference about Godefroi's supposed agnatic descent from the Merovingians falls apart.
Certainly the Merovingian kings do not seem to have been anti-Semitic. On the contrary they seem to have been not merely tolerant, but downright sympathetic to the Jews in their domains . On the whole the Merovingian attitude towards Judaism seems to have been without parallel in Western history prior to the Lutheran Reformation. p. 412
Around 629, Dagobert I ordered all the Jews in his dominions to convert or leave. It doesn't seem to have been permanent, the way that Edward I's eviction of the Jews from England was, but it still shows that the Merovingians were not perfectly tolerant of Jews. (It's worth noting that Bernard S. Bachrach speculated that Dagobert's motive for this decree may have been because of Frankish Jews' sympathies for his enemy, Brunhilda of Austrasia.) On the other hand, it's true that pogroms seldom occurred in Merovingian-ruled Francia, but that was also true of the rest of Europe during the Early Middle Ages. Pogroms didn't start becoming common until the High Middle Ages.
I'm not sure what to make of the claim "prior to the Lutheran Reformation" . Are the authors not aware that Martin Luther was quite the vehement anti-Semite?
At the least this was extremely interesting for the house of Anjou was closely associated with both the Templars and the Holy Land. Indeed Fulques, Count of Anjou, himself became, so to speak, an “honorary’ or part time Templar. In 1131, moreover, he married Godfroi de Bouillon’s niece, the legendary Melusine, and became king of Jerusalem. (p. 414)
Foulques V, count of Anjou married Mélisende of Jerusalem in 1129 and they had a son, Baudouin III of Jerusalem, in 1130. Queen Mélisende as the origin of the Melusine stories doesn't work. Other than both having names that start with "Mel", the biography of the real Mélisende does not significantly overlap in any real way with the Melusine stories. What the Melusine stories do have a lot in common with are the worldwide legends of shapeshifting lovers-- kitsune, selkies, swan maidens, and the like.
Mélisende was not Godefroi de Bouillon's niece. Her father, Baudouin II of Jerusalem, is often called a cousin of Godefroi and his brothers, but the exact way they were related is uncertain.
Orderic Vitalis did claim that Foulques financed the Templars, but financing a religious order is not the same thing as joining it.
And in the tenth century a certain Hugues de Plantard -nicknamed “Long Nose’ and a lineal descendant of both Dagobert and Guillem de Gellone became the father of Eustache, first Count of Boulogne. Eustache’s grandson was Godfroi de Bouillon . (p. 422)
The footnote in HPHG says: "It is with Godfroi’s grandfather, Comte Eustache Ier de Boulogne, that the confusion begins. His father is not recorded, only the name of his mother, Adeline, and her second husband, Ernicule, Count of Boulogne. Ernicule adopted the young Eustache, making him heir. His true father is lost to history."
However, no one other than the Sion forgers have ever suggested that Eustache I of Boulogne was adopted. His father was originally identified as Arnoul III, count of Boulogne, but it's more likely that Eustache was Arnoul's grandson and his father was Baudouin I or II, count of Boulogne. (The numbering varies it depends on whether you count Baudouin II, margrave of Flanders as the first count of Boulogne.) Now, there is a very good possibility that Eustache I's father was the mysterious count of Boulogne who died in battle with Enguerrand I, count of Ponthieu, but there is nothing to support the idea that Eustache was not a biological member of the House of Boulogne.
Aird, W. M. (2008). Robert Curthose, Duke of Normandy: C. 1050-1134. Woodbridge, Suffolk, UK: Boydell Press.
Bachrach, B. S. (1977). Early medieval Jewish policy in Western Europe. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
Hay, D. J. (2008). The military leadership of Matilda of Canossa, 1046-1115. Manchester: Manchester University Press.
Mayer, H. (1985). The Succession to Baldwin II of Jerusalem: English Impact on the East. Dumbarton Oaks Papers, 39, 139-147. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/1291522.
St. William of Gellone. (n.d.). Retrieved October 8, 2016, from http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/15633a.htm
Sullivan, K. (2005). Truth and the heretic: Crises of knowledge in medieval French literature. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Tanner, H. J. (2004). Families, friends, and allies: Boulogne and politics in northern France and England, c. 879-1160. Leiden: Brill.
Gunbai: Ancient Japanese Warfare
This kind of bow weaker compared with later design, but it was also easy to drawn and quite effective in short distances and fast pace engagement: this is basically were the idea of Yabusame c ame from, in fact this kind of bows were still used for ceremonial and competitive archery, for hunting, for some kinds of training, and even on the battlefield throughout the medieval period and beyond.
There are a lot of religious and mystical stories around bows, like the Hama Yumi (破魔弓)
The grip, as noted in the Chinese Book of Wei (魏書) of the 3th century, was already asymmetrical, even before the development of the horse archery style of combat of the early Samurai.
Composite "recurved" bows like the one used by the Mongols were known in Japan at least since the 9th century. However, horn and sinew were quite rare in Japan: cattle weren't common and handling leather or slaughter animals was a taboo in a Buddhist society, so they turned to the material they had in abundance: namely bamboo and wood.
Entering the 10th century we have the first composite bow, and the first clear evidence of this kind of structure is inside a poem by Minamoto Yorimasa (1104).
These bows were called Fusetake ( 伏竹弓 ) and featured a single strip of bamboo laminated to the outside face of the wood (usually yew - kaya 榧 ) , using a paste (called nibe ) made from fish bladders. This was done to obtain the power needed in a war bow while retaining a cross section of reasonable proportions. In this period, the familiar structure of the Waikyuu started to emerge.
The bows were steam-bent into arc shapes and strung against their curves, an innovation that greatly enhanced their power, and is well accepted that from the 14th century onward, the bow was a recurved one.
In the 15th century two additional bamboo slats were added to the sides, so that the wooden core was now completely encased, p roducing the Shihouchiku yumi (四方竹弓).
The final step was taken around the 17th Century, in the Edo Period, where the Higo Yumi (弓胎弓) was born. This has core of three to five bamboo slats, with additional bamboo facings laminated to the front and back edges, and strips of wood laminated to the sides.
The first steel bow, most of the time simply called iron bow , was excavated from a Kofun of the 4th century , although it is highly unlikely that said bow was spring tempered, since I'm skeptical that in those days they had the technology to produce such a big mono high carbon steel bar and spring tempered it properly.
An iron bow is associated with the 16th century per iod myth of the hero Yuriwaka ( 百合若大臣 ) .
All the Wakyuu were lacquered ( the most common color pattern was vermilion and black) to protect the glued joints from moisture, which could cause the bow staves to delaminate or lose springiness and then bound with thongs of rattan, birch bark or silk. This bindings, other than holding the bow, served as sights you could estimate the distance between the bow and the target and aiming accordingly.
Bowstrings, Tsuru (弦 ), were generally made of plant fibre, usually hemp or ramie, coated with wax to give an hard, smooth surface.
An additional bowstring was carried around the waist, near the swords, in the early times.
Gripping the bow two-thirds of the way down its length maximizes its rebound power and minimizes fatigue to the archer far better than the more familiar centered grip. Careful analysis of the mechanics of a bow pulled to full draw and released shows that the Japanese grip places the archer’s hand at one of two nodes of oscillation during the shooting movement, which means that little shock is imparted to the left (gripping) hand and arm when the string is released.
Instead, using the grip in the centre puts the gripping hand at a point of maximal oscillation.
A detail from the 男衾三郎絵巻
- Due to the emergency of Yabusame ( so short range and fast shots = low draw weight)
Well, is quite obvious that Kyuudo bows and War Bows are two completely different things, and also that Yabusame was more related to the usage of Maruki Bow rather than other proper war bows in addition to that, Mongols and Turkish warriors, which were famous for their horse archery skills, used bows well behind the 100 lbs ( 120-160 lbs) and the Wakyuu wasn't only used on horseback!
Is quite hard to establish the draw weight of Yumi nobody apparently bother to measure an antique bow until recently (however there are modern historically accurate replicas made with traditional techniques which are around the 110 lbs spot).
Mainly because the power of the bow in Japan was established by measuring the dimension of the core or by counting the men needed for string the bow something like a Sannin-bari (三人張り= 3 men bow ) or Yonnin-bari (四人張り= 4 men bow) in ancient times.
Some researchers have tried to establish the correlation between men bow and kilograms and they have proposed that something like a 5 men bow would be the equivalent of 70-80 kg (176 lbs).
Some chronicles mention things like 10 men bow, but I seriously doubt that would have ever been practical.
I've seen physician, historian and bowyers opinions and the draw weight range estimated is from 70 to 200 lbs, with an average of 120 lbs.
Well this is an estimation, but is also true that is not that hard to reach those numbers: you just need to add more bamboo and made the core thicker, and here you are at the end of the day, the strength of the bow is deeply related to the strength of the archers.
EDIT: An actual historical yumi was measured in its draw weight. It was a "3 men bow" from the early Edo period, with a structure fairly similar to the ones used in the Sengoku period.
Said bow measured 196 lbs (89kg) this allowed the researcher to conclude that the idea of anything above 5 men bows were likely terms used to express power around 200 lbs, because more than 3 men cannot string a bow without hinder themselves in the process.
A screenshot taken from the video were they tested few 110 lbs bows and measured such beast.
163m) without the need of arching the shot!
Arrows types and quivers
It would be impossible trying to show all the possible Japanese arrow shapes and tips in a Blog's article and I have to say that this is already too long so I'll started with the shaft.
Japanese Arrows (Ya - 矢 ) were made with a shaft of bamboo, cut in between November and December, then softened in hot sand and straightened with apposite tools. The length varied a lot based on the periods, and were in between 86 and 97 centimeters.
Ebira from 武器袖鏡. 初編
While entering in the Muromachi period, the Ebira was used only for travel and the Utsubo replaced it ( it was in use since the Kamakura period for hunting). The Utsubo is a tube-like quiver, worn on the back and covered with fur.
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Actually Ming record describes that Yumi arrows pierce the roof and buried into the rafter (internal beams that form the "skeleton" of the roof), rather than hitting the floor.
I also read that Japanese arrowheads are made in a similar manner to their sword, i.e. folded steel with tempering, which should increase the effectiveness in penetrating armour (when compared to iron arrowhead).
On, and there's this gem:
Shot from a 66 pound Yumi (presumably a "Kyudo" bow) at a range of 15m (took him five tries, with the first four arrows bounced off). Even if we assume that's a low quality iron helmet, piercing it on both sides is still an impressive feat.
Thank you for the visit! I'm honored that you read it! As you can see all my blog is still work in progress (both in content and design) I will correct the "roof to floor" sentence since I've just misunderstand what a rafter is.
Yes you are right regarding the steel in arrows, the process is called differential hardening but it wasn't used in decorative arrows because the steel needed to be softer to be easily decorated.
I'm aware of that performance the archer is indeed Yoshida Nouan (吉田能安) at Nikkou shrine
yes is quite impressive but I think that the archer there was the "impressive" part!
Virtually all steel in Japan at that time was of folded construction. The very poor quality bloomery steel that was available to them basically necessitated a folding process to draw out impurities and create a somewhat homogeneous internal structure. Infact their steel tended to be of such quality that it often wouldn't have met out modern definition of what steel is, a great deal of it had carbon contents which made it into the material we call "cast iron" today (this is because of its chemical makeup, not because it was actually cast into shape)
There are many points to address in your comment.
First of all, pretty much everywhere prior to the development of the Bessemer method, steel produced with pre-industrial technology needed some kind of refinement (a.k.a. folding). Bloomery steel, decarburized cast iron, wootz all of them need some consolidation in order to homegenize the final product.
Also, bloomery steel quality was pretty much the same all over the world, because the process used was very, very similar the biggest difference would have been in the size of the furnace. A small bloomery wouldn't have been able to melt fayalite (a type of slag formation) but a big one could reach 1400 °C which is more than enough. Japanese bloomeries were able to do so, and there is not something inherenthly inferior in their methods compared to European or Middle Eastern ones as far as bloomery steel production is concerned. You can expect a very similar final bloomery steel in Europe and Japan for example.
However, what is important, is the fact that the Japanese had access to an indirect steel production method known as Zuku Oshi Tatara which is essentially a blast furnace.
With this process, the final quality of the steel ingots would have been much better compared to bloomery ones.
Morover, the amount of slag % found in Japanese steel products of the period was in line with those find in Europe, India and China. You can expect to see steel with very low amount of slag in Japan too.
Finally, cast iron/pig iron was never directly used in Japanese swords that's a fairly famous myth. Forging cast iron into shape is something that is not even feasible in my opinion, because it's too brittle.
Japanese swords used either hypereutoctid bloomery steel or decarburized cast iron with a carbon content range in between 0.7-1.5%. During the forging process, the amount of carbon will decrease, and usually Japanese swords at the edge have 0.7-1% carbon at best.
To have cast iron, the amount of carbon should be around 2% or higher, and this was never observed in the first place on Japanese steel artifacts.
I have dedicated a series of article to address the traditional Japanese steelmaking process you can find plenty of references and information there.
I happen to stumble across (apparently Edo period) rough estimates on Japanese bow thickness in relation to its draw weight, something like:
五分 (bow thickness at the grip) = 三貫八百目 (draw weight).
Do you have more data on this stuffs?
Good day! Unfortunately no, I don't have such information what I know is that thickness was indeed a way to measure the strength of the bow. Is not a surprise that historical Japanese warbows were 5 or more times thicker than their modern day Kyuudo counter part, which are roughly in the 20 lbs draw weight spot. If the things are related, one could expect to see a warbow being up to 100 lbs but that's again another estimation. By the way, thank you for coming here again and sharing your info! I've been busy during this month but now I'm ready to post again!
I have found a photo showing what lloks like bodkin points on arrow from the Kamakura Period. That make me think, have there been a comprehensive test of arrow on Japanese armor like the Oyoroi and Do maru?
Is the way Japanese lamellar is laced have to do with stopping arrow?
I mean, try to compare Japanese a
lamellar and Han dynasty reconstruction. The Japanese lamellar look like small plates fastened together to create a metal strip, then the strip are fastened one on top of the other.
With that kind of lacing, maybe the arrow will have to spent energy on moving the free hanging lamellar rather than spend all of its energy hitting a solid target.
Hi! As far as I know there aren't many test on the specific Oyoroi or Doumaru armor, not as many as Europeans ones for example, where you have videos, books and scientific publications.
However, although quite unique in its aesthetic, samurai period lamellar armors are quite similar to the lamellar armor used all over the world, especially in Asia. What you said is true, I will write an article on the structure of these armors, but essentially they were assembled to create a row, and then they were fastened on top of the other.
This structure is "weak" meaning that is not as rigid as plate since each lamellae has some spaces to move in the row this makes the arrow losing some of its energy as you said. This was also demonstrated in some test in which lamellar armor performed extremely well against longbow (but honestly I can't remember the book in which these test were done).
In addition to that, there are some Japanese armor which were made with a triple overlapping, which means more or less 1 cm of material to bypass.
Japanese bows were surely built around piercing armor, but they were effective only in specific context against the heaviest form of armor.
This is the bodkin point, I mentioned.
How common is the usage of bow in a Japanese army?
Because in almost every painting I see a lot of them carrying bow whether mounted or on foot. Is the Yumi hard to mass produce?
Prior to the widespread usage of arquebus, the bow was probably the most used weapon. It was used both by cavalry (with some exceptions in the 14th century) and by infantry, and even in the Sengoku period bows were fairly common inside Ashigaru units.
I don't know the precise numbers of the armies prior to the late 16th century, but for comparison in the 16th century, bows were still used a lot. It depends on clan, but for example the Shimazu in Korea sent 1500 arquebusers, 1500 archers and 300 spearmen.
I cannot say with accuracy but I think Yumi are not so hard to mass produce: they need wood, bamboo and others elements which are found in Japan with no efforts they required some time to be assembled but back in the days man work was cheap, so they were able to make a lot of bows per day. Otherwise they would have not rely too much on these weapons.
I should caution that the replicas produced and tested by a certain Iron *something* armoury are considered a really, really bad joke (as in "even SCA armours are better than theirs" level of bad) by some of my serious armourer acquaintances.
Take their tests (and other's tests on their products) with a gigantic pile of salt.
I have seen the tests done by the armory itself and by other you tubers here and there and all I can say is that, despite the armor preventing potential fatal injuries, it was severely dented, even by sword blows.
This doesn't rappresent the best quality of Japanese armor available at that time, according to the survival battle damaged armors and battle accounts as well.
In fact it is a very light set of armor.
It is a fair level for the price you get nobody would consider historically accurate the tests done against a full set of European plate armor in the same price range.
I wanted to write an article about that in the past, but honestly I don't want to argue with companies that are selling their products just because they aren't "historically accurate". However, people should be aware that their armor is not an accurate analogy for a period armor as far as protection is concerned: this fact should be address by the ones doing the tests or reviewing the armor!
I'm so happy I stumbled across your article! I've seen so many people on the "internet" talk about how weak Japanese yumi's are based on some wild assumptions (mostly surrounding modern bows). They all claim how there's a lack of historical proof that show the power of Japanese bows, when all you have to do is go to Sanjusangendo in Kyoto. You actually see how deep the arrows penetrated the old hardwood rafters and there is a collection of ancient bows there that resemble English longbows (in core thickness).
But, the real reason why I found your site was I'm looking for information on the rattan wrapping on yumi's. For example I've heard in ceremonial shooting like the Ogasawara school only highly ranked archers shoot bows with rattan bands running the length of the bow. Then I've heard the decorative rattan circle wrap above the arrow pass is added by Kyudoka's to signify reaching a certain point in their progress. But, I haven't actually seen any solid information with regards to the rattan wrappings.
Do you have any information about this?
I'm so glad that you found my blog!
I do agree with you, the information about the power of the Japanese bow in English sources is fairly limited and not accurate at all, that's why I made this article in the first place.
Unfortunately I don't have the information you were looking for as far as I am aware, the rattan main purpose was to protect the bow from moisture, most likely.
It might be that said traditions were established, maybe in the Edo period, maybe before that but I guess that it's more related to Kyudo and Kyujiutsu, two arts that I'm not familiar with.
If this can be of any help, you might ask to (or read something about) someone related to the Ogasawara school.
Hello, and thank you for posting this information.
Some points, though: Being a kyudoka in Heki-ryu Insai-ha school (not Heiki-ryu, typo, I guess)(the school is practising the way of foot soldiers) for over 25 years now, I've not heard of any history of bow being held horizontally. I am not saying it wouldn't be impossible, but even in battle demonstrations (Koshiya Kumiyumi, [薩摩日置流腰矢組弓 演武]) the draw begins first when the bow is upright, even it could have been nocked laying on the ground. The Uchiokoshi (lifting the bow up) is lower, you will not show your bare armpit to the enemy, that would be bad. The bow is opened from down up. Lifting the bow high up over your head is anyway quite a late invention, late 1800s, if I can recall, and one of the purposes might be letting the right kimono sleeve drop out of the way when shooting, so it has little to do with medieval warfare.
And about the rattan windings, besides holding the bow in one piece, the rattan just over the nigiri (handle) serves as a sight. You can estimate the distance to the target and aim higher or lower according to the windings.
Thank you so much for leaving a comment!!
I have realized just now how bad were my choice of word when it comes to horizontally I didn't mean that the bow was held horizontally like in a crossbow I meant that the bow was held "perpendicular" to the ground, without arching the shot but shooting straight (like any other bow when you are shooting ) I'll change the word!
Also, I've never been too sure about the Uchiokoshi although it might make sense on horseback, since you have the horse's neck to deal with, is a little bit awkward when it comes to strength. My sources said this so I reported it, but I will add the kimono explanation too which seems very reasonable!
And thank you so much for your comment on the rattan windings this is a very useful information!
I have read somewhere on your article about the Japanese steel bow (for showing Japanese prowess in metallurgy), are they commonly used?
I find 2 websites in Japanese about a steel bow from a 4th century Kofun tomb. I cannot understand the Japanese article and I don't trust the Google translation.
Did the Japanese use arrow guide or blunt arrow for inflicting blunt trauma?
Well I'm impressed, that's actually an iron bow with arrows entirely made of iron!
I didn't knew they existed in that period, I'll have to update the article. I have few things to consider:
1) It might have been of steel since the Japanese use the word tetsu for anything steel/iron/cast iron. To be spring tempered it has to be monosteel with a medium carbon content and I highly doubt that such technology exist in the 4th century Japan.
2) The bow and arrows are clearly cerimonial, because all iron bows in Japan were actually cerimonial and these arrows are too heavy to be shot. So if it was cerimonial, they might have used another material as well like copper or gold, but they chose iron (or possibly steel) maybe to allow the bow to work properly nevertheless? If I am right, the bow was spring tempered.
In any case, the later iron bows I'm pretty sure that were spring tempered they were never really common because they have a really high draw weight and are also very expensive to make. These bows however were supposed to work.
As far as blunt trauma arrows, no they were not used an arrows has to be reasonably light to flight, and even the heavier ones are not heavy enough to inflict blunt trauma. They used blunt arrows for small games and yabusame but not for war
The Han Dynasty already know tempering techniques and make flexible sword.
Maybe the techniques spread to Japan as well.
I have once read that the Tatara furnace is actually unrelated to Chinese metallurgy and have more in common with Southasian furnace.
Steel bows have been used in India too.
Is there maybe a correlation?
By the way, with the wide usage of rigid armor made with plates, I think there would be incentives to create powerful long range weapon.
Do you have information about the usage of the Oyumi?
The Kofun bow is 182 cm long and the arrow is 80 cm long if you want to know.
By the way for more large Kofun Period weapon, there is also this long sword with original length of possibly 150 cm.
If it is really practical, I think it would need to be spring tempered as not to break or bend easily upon hitting.
I have no idea how to get such info, maybe ask the museum to perform test on the bow.
I have rarely seen metallurgical composition testing on Samurai period weapons and armor, but never on Kofun weapon or armor.
Thank you for the information, I didn't know that they already had access to spring tempering that early, but I'm not that surprise given the high level of technological development in metallurgy of the ancient Chinese.
It could be possible that said technique arrived in Japan, although they were much more connected with the Koreans back then rather than the Chinese.
I've read about these steel bows made in India, but I cannot find any correlation since the two culture were very far from each other especially during the Kofun period. In any case, I read that these bows weren't that powerful in terms of draw weight according to a paper that dealt with the physique of Asian Warbows, by Timo Nieminen ( which I suggest you to read it, it's highly informative and it's free, just google it!). Might be wrong here though.
All things considered I don't think that they were worth the cost steel bow is incredibly more expensive compared to one made of wood, which can still reach high level of draw weight provided that it's thick enough.
I also have some information on the Oyumi and I will write something about it, but given the fact that I'm quite slow with all these articles, if you are interested I can write them in this comment section! Just let me know.
About that sword, it is indeed an incredible discovery! As far as I know, swords in this period weren't that different from the later ones, in the sense that they were laminated and differentially hardened (although the techniques involved in swordmaking improved over the ages and by a lot) that being said, the Nodachi of the later periods were made without spring tempering and still hold very well on the battlefields. For example, the fact that it is single edge greatly increase its structural strenght due to the thick back supporting eventual shock.
Unfortunately, as far as that bow is concerned, I doubt we would be able to know if it is spring tempered or not, mainly because the risk of damaging while testing is too high.
In any case, if you take katana for example, they were hardened and tempered, so you could possibly have tempered martensite on the edge.
About metallurgy of this period, there are some papers in Japanese, but I can suggest you to read this paper: "On the Origins of Nihonto" by Carlo Giuseppe Tacchini.
I don't know how reliable it is ( I suspect it is very accurate) but it is very well made and it is full of references there are metallurgical details inside too and it talks about swords prior to the Nihonto. I will definetely use it for the future!
Hope that this could help
Emperor's Ghost Army
Explore the buried clay warriors, chariots, and bronze weapons of China's first emperor.
In central China, a vast underground mausoleum conceals a life-size terracotta army of cavalry, infantry, horses, chariots, weapons, administrators, acrobats, and musicians, all built to serve China's first emperor, Qin Shi Huang Di, in the afterlife. Lost and forgotten for over 2,200 years, this clay army, 8,000-strong, stands poised to help the First Emperor rule again beyond the grave. Now, a new archaeological campaign is probing the thousands of figures entombed in the mausoleum. With exclusive access to pioneering research, "Emperor's Ghost Army" explores how the Emperor directed the manufacture of the tens of thousands of bronze weapons carried by the clay soldiers. NOVA tests the power of these weapons with high-action experiments and reports on revolutionary 3D computer modeling techniques that are providing new insights into how the clay figures were made, revealing in the process the secrets of one of archaeology's greatest discoveries. (Premiered April 8, 2015)
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NARRATOR: It's one of the greatest marvels of the ancient world: China's terracotta army, 8,000 strong, fully armed and built for eternity. Created more than 2,000 years ago, it was lost and only recently discovered. Now this stunning treasure reveals the first empire to rule ancient China.
XIUZHEN JANICE LI (Terracotta Army Museum): We found amazing archaeological objects.
ANDREW BEVAN (University College London): And the implications are enormous for archaeology. It's going to be truly revolutionary.
NARRATOR: But who made this vast army? How? And why? It's the creation of an amazingly advanced civilization.
MIKE LOADES (Military Historian): The Chinese crossbow is two millennia ahead of its time.
NARRATOR: Its ancient weapons excel in rigorous modern tests.
MARCOS MARTINÓN-TORRES (University College London): You cannot make a better arrowhead than this.
NARRATOR: Archaeologists piece together clues and try to decode these ancient wonders. Warriors and weapons, chariots and horses, an entire world, buried for more than 2,000 years, now sees the light of day. Revealed in all its original glory, the Emperor's Ghost Army, right now, on NOVA.
It's been called the Eighth Wonder of the World: a vast army of almost 8,000 warriors, all over 2,000 years old, larger than life-sized and made from “terracotta,” or “baked clay,” a stunning array of infantry, cavalry and chariots.
Creating on such an epic scale must have been an extraordinary challenge. How was it done? And what can it tell us about ancient China?
Now, a series of archaeological excavations shows the terracotta army is only the start, a small part of a vast complex, estimated to be over 21 square miles.
On the outskirts there's chilling evidence. The mass graves of the people who built it, piled with bones. The site contains hundreds of subterranean tombs, filled, not only with the clay warriors, but also birds, horses, musicians and acrobats. All of this surrounds a huge manmade mound, a tomb of the man responsible for creating China's first ever empire.
So far, archaeologists have excavated about 1,900 terracotta figures, only a fraction of the number believed to be buried in three major pits. Each figure is intricately detailed, weighs 3- to 400 pounds and is made from seven main parts.
The archaeological work has taken 40 years, and much still remains to be uncovered.
JANICE LI: We found amazing archaeological objects. So, I think we cannot guess what buried beneath in the whole tomb complex.
NARRATOR: But now, archaeologists are finding new answers to many of their questions. Why was the terracotta army created? And how and when was it engineered? Who were the people who built it? And what was their fate?
Scientists have dated the charcoal found in the pits as well as the clay in the figures. All the evidence indicated that the terracotta warriors were made around 2,200 years ago, more than 200 years before the birth of Christ.
It was the end of what historians call “the warring states period,” when, for over two centuries, China was devastated by rival states fighting for dominance. Mass invasions and battles raged across the countryside, but, finally, one of those states conquered all the others and created the terracotta army, and all in a single lifetime.
The great mystery is how. It's a mystery, because the oldest surviving literary source was written nearly a century after the terracotta army was built, by the father of Chinese history, Sima Qian, who wrote these classic records of the warring states and later dynasties. Surprisingly, he made no mention of the terracotta army, nor does any other source.
Over 2,000 years ago, these warriors were buried and forgotten. No one knew they ever existed. Then, one day, in 1974, during a drought in Shaanxi province, Mr. Yang and other local farmers started digging a well.
He tells China historian Jonathan Clements what happened.
YANG ZHIFA (Farmer who discovered the Terracotta army): I used a pickaxe to dig the hole.
JONATHAN CLEMENTS (Historian): As they were digging down, they found what they first thought to be the rim of a pot.
YANG ZHIFA: I said, “There's bronze underground.”
JONATHAN CLEMENTS: They also found bronze. They found metal artifacts, so they start dragging cartfuls of broken terracotta out of this well.
YANG ZHIFA: Then a shoulder and chest appeared.
JONATHAN CLEMENTS: As they dug away the earth around it, they realized that they were looking at the body of a statue. They had the top of the armor, and they saw an arm.
YANG ZHIFA: I told my friend, “This is a temple.”
JONATHAN CLEMENTS: What if they have disturbed gods in an old temple? That is bad news.
Of course, what he didn't know was the importance for the entire planet, because this is the most important archaeological finding in China of the last 100 years that you can look at and say, “Ancient China was amazing!”
NARRATOR: Archaeologists soon found heaps of broken terracotta. Bits of legs, headless humans and even horses, all smashed after 22 centuries underground. They were buried in three large pits.
Pit 2 has only been partially excavated and still looks as it did when first unearthed. The roof planks are thought to cover nearly a thousand warriors and scores of chariots.
Pits 1 and 3 have also been partially excavated and an elaborate restoration project begun, repairing hundreds of warriors and recovering their lances, arrowheads and swords.
CAO WEI (Terracotta Army Museum): It astounded the world, when it was first discovered, and is truly unique. We have five ongoing archaeology sites in the mausoleum.
NARRATOR: The Terracotta Army Museum has become a major international tourist attraction, housing a vast treasure trove of ancient art, technology and information.
But can it be used to clarify how a 2,000-year-old culture overcame all the challenges of creating such an epic masterpiece?
It's a mystery that a joint team from University College London and the Terracotta Army Museum is investigating.
MARCOS MARTINÓN-TORRES: There are two types of visitors to the terracotta army. Some appreciate the beauty in the detail. You can choose any of these warriors and you will immediately admire the very personal facial expressions, the individual hairstyle. Other people are more taken by the sheer scale of this site, its magnitude. How was it possible to orchestrate all the technological knowledge, all the resources and all the manpower needed and to do it so quickly?
NARRATOR: And it was built in an amazingly short period, all within 37 years. The length of the reign of Qin Shi Huang, the first Emperor of China.
That's according to Sima Qian's historical records, which state that he was enthroned in 246 B.C., and that this is when work started on his mausoleum, and that 37 years later, he died and work stopped. But by then Qin Shi Huang had built an empire.
His Qin state ended over two centuries of war and conquered all its powerful neighbors. The first emperor now ruled many millions of people and an area that rivalled the size of the Roman Empire. The Qin Empire gave its name to China, along with a legal system and one currency. But the first emperor also had a reputation for extreme cruelty.
JONATHAN CLEMENTS: What we now call China is only called China because of the first emperor. The problem that the Chinese have today is reconciling this idea that he was a cruel tyrant and that hundreds of thousands of people suffered and died under his regime,&
NARRATOR: His story in Sima Qian also lists some of his crimes as massacring prisoners of war, burning books and slaughtering his critics.
JONATHAN CLEMENTS: &but also that he did some good, that he unified China, that he took these disparate states, with different languages and with different writing systems, and he forced them all to be Chinese.
NARRATOR: Sima Qian's accuracy has been questioned, since he lived a century after the first emperor died and was a member of the succeeding dynasty, but his account describes the Emperor's obsession with immortality, which may help explain the motivation behind the building of his vast tomb.
JANICE LI: What he believed, when he died, he still could carry on his life in the underground kingdom. So he brought all of the things with him to the underground kingdom.
NARRATOR: The ancient Chinese saying “treat death like birth” meant he could enjoy his possessions in the afterlife. This may have inspired the elaborate planning of his vast mausoleum and overshadowing it all, the first emperor's own huge tomb mound.
The grand historian said the imperial coffin was buried under the mound, which was originally 350 feet high. The mound has not yet been excavated, for fear of damaging it, and it won't be, until the contents can be safely preserved.
But Sima Qian vividly described how a model of the empire surrounded the bronze coffin, with miniature rivers of mercury flowing into seas and heavenly bodies on the ceiling above. The tomb mound is the center of a mausoleum unrivalled in history, built so the emperor's afterlife matched his luxurious life before death.
Dams diverted streams around the tomb. Over 300 coffins were filled with horse skeletons. Other pits held models of exotic animals and even members of the emperor's court.
JONATHAN CLEMENTS: So we're finding musicians and acrobats and weight lifters. So we're seeing an entire culture revealed to us.
NARRATOR: This is not just a mausoleum, but an eternal pleasure palace: two half-size chariots made up of over 3,400 parts. Each is pulled by four bronze horses, their harnesses embellished with gold and silver.
JANICE LI: They got bronze chariot for his spirit to travel in the afterlife. And also he got terracotta warriors with him to protect him in afterlife.
NARRATOR: Such beliefs may explain the creation of the terracotta army and why it is located a mile to the east of his tomb. It stands guard between the emperor's grave and the states he subjugated to the east.
He may have feared that the spirits of his many victims would seek revenge in the afterlife. So, perhaps the terracotta bodyguards were created to combat any threat from the underworld.
The ongoing survey work has mapped the newest finds and shows the site is far larger than originally thought, covering the area of 10,000 football fields.
But how did the Qin craft so many imposing and intricately designed clay warriors? Reassembling the broken figures is the first part of their restoration and reveals the clues to how they were made. Each figure was handcrafted from the local clay. You can see, on the broken figures, how the torso was created by coiling clay around in layers to build the upper body.
JANICE LI: That's the marks here, probably the hand holding inside and then smooth outside.
NARRATOR: Master craftsman Mr. Han has studied the figures with the museum curators and worked to replicate ancient production methods.
MARCOS MARTINÓN-TORRES: So what's the weight of an average warrior?
JANICE LI: (Translating from conversation with Mr. Han): About 200 kilos.
MARCOS MARTINÓN-TORRES: That's over 400 pounds.
JANICE LI: Yes. So, that's very heavy.
NARRATOR: Limbs, boots, hands and heads were all cast from the local clay, which was pressed into molds and shaped for each body part. Originally, the legs were based upon molds used for drainpipes. The molding process creates a variety of limbs that can be combined with the various torsos in different ways to create a mix of figures: archers, heavy infantry, cavalrymen, generals, officials and charioteers and even their horses.
Once the hollow mold is filled out with clay, it's joined and allowed to dry before the figure is assembled, ready for firing in a kiln or oven.
Mr. Han has built a replica of an ancient Qin kiln.
MARCOS MARTINÓN-TORRES: So, it's based on the real Qin archaeology.
JANICE LI: Yeah, that's based on the Qin, real Qin archaeology.
NARRATOR: The figures are sealed up and then fired for days to harden them. The original figures are a combination of molded parts. But are they clones or individuals? There are a variety of different faces. They are dark and light skinned, with varying facial hair. They have many different eye shapes and a dazzling array of hairstyles and head wear.
There are clearly differences among the figures, but is each one truly unique?
The scientists hope to provide a definitive answer, by making 3D models to allow precise comparisons. Each figure will need to be scanned into the computer, but 3D-laser-scanning is time-consuming and expensive.
So Janice Li is using a still camera as the first step in the process that will turn 2D pictures into 3D models.
ANDREW BEVAN: This is a very new technique, and the implications are enormous for archaeology. And it's going to be truly revolutionary.
NARRATOR: Back in London, Andrew Bevan is compositing the photographs, to create a 3D model.
ANDREW BEVAN: What the software tries to do is to go through each photograph and define a set of features that it can recognize. It might be, for example, the tip of an ear.
NARRATOR: In humans, no two ears are the same, and Andrew Bevan wants to know if this is the case for the terracotta figures. The computer maps the features in three-dimensional space, then joins them up to create the head.
ANDREW BEVAN: We've done this particular warrior in all of his glory.
NARRATOR: These models are designed to allow precise comparison of everything from hands to heads, arms to armor, or figure to figure.
ANDREW BEVAN: Effectively, the sky's the limit. In this particular case, I'm going to slice off the ear of the warrior, so it could be compared to some others.
NARRATOR: This will show if they are all anatomically unique. The results indicate that the ears vary in shape, with different sized earlobes.
ANDREW BEVAN: What we've discovered, so far, through these 3D models, is that no two ears are demonstrably the same. These warriors seem to be very individual, in the same way as a typical human population.
NARRATOR: Some archaeologists suggest that they are even portraits of real people.
So, this was an army of individual warriors, each strikingly real and unique, the product of the skill, dedication and technique of the craftsmen creating them.
JANICE LI: The hands work really reflected the processes of making terracotta warriors 2,000 years ago.
(Translating from conversation with Mr. Han): Yes, so, it normally takes three days for Han to carve, you know, the details.
NARRATOR: Even today, the individual style of the craftsman clearly shows up in his work.
MARCOS MARTINÓN-TORRES: Mr. Han's ears.
JANICE LI: Yeah. It's really big ear lobes there. Yeah.
NARRATOR: But years of careful restoration, preservation and analysis have given rise to clues that the terracotta army was originally quite different from what we see today. Flakes of bright pigments still cling to the surface of torsos, hands and heads, showing the warriors were once highly decorated and suggesting a colorful, even gaudy array when first created.
We can now see how the warriors may have looked over 2,200 years ago: a dazzling display of colors, with painted figures and ornate chariots, all fully armed and intimidating.
But were they carrying sharpened war-grade weapons or merely symbolic representations? After the wooden parts rotted away, all that was left on the floor are the bronze weapons once placed in the warriors' hands.
But how are these weapons made? And how are they used? To analyze them, Janice Li is creating silicon casts of the ancient weapons, using a technique originally developed for dentists.
JANICE LI: We use this silicon mold to get very clear impression on the surface.
NARRATOR: By putting the silicon impression under a scanning electron microscope, Janice Li avoids any damage to the original weapon and can examine the blades in extreme close up. The screen is filled by a tiny section of the blade. The marks show it was originally sharp and still is today.
JANICE LI: These parallel fine marks show this really massive effort for sharpening these functional lethal weapons.
MARCOS MARTINÓN-TORRES: So consistent, so, you cannot do these by hand. Every one of the 40,000 arrowheads were sharpened by somebody on a wheel.
NARRATOR: The identical parallel lines on so many weapons show this is mechanical sharpening, on an industrial scale. Only one type of machine could make these fine even lines, a rotary lathe that uses a spinning stone to sharpen blades.
MARCOS MARTINÓN-TORRES: All the swords, all the lances, all the halberds and every one of the 40,000 arrowheads have been sharpened in the same way.
NARRATOR: Combat damages the edges of bronze weapons, but the terracotta army ones are unmarked.
MARCOS MARTINÓN-TORRES: There's no sign whatsoever of them having been used. These are freshly made weapons, delivered directly to the terracotta army.
I think it's obvious these are not representations for religious purposes. These are real, lethal weapons, made to kill.
NARRATOR: This is the earliest evidence of rotary lathes being used for sharpening weapons, on an industrial scale, anywhere in the world.
MARCOS MARTINÓN-TORRES: They're really well done. This is fantastic.
MARCOS MARTINÓN-TORRES: I think we are onto something exciting.
NARRATOR: So the terracotta army was fully armed. The heavy infantry carried the deadly “G” or halberd. Some were over six feet long.
Military historian Mike Loades demonstrates how it was a highly flexible weapon. The Qin army's best defense against their greatest foe, cavalry.
MIKE LOADES: A major threat to all Chinese armies of all states was cavalry, both horsemen and charioteers. And the principle defense against them was the halberd.
Now, obviously, I had to stop the horse there, or it would have impaled himself on the spear. And that's really the first function of the halberd. And you'll see it's got this crosspiece, this transverse bar, so if I had gone hurtling into a line of halberds, this would have skewered the poor horse here, but it would have stopped, so the halberdier himself doesn't get trampled.
He can also use the spike to take out the horse's leg. But what if the animal gets past the point of the halberds, and I'm coming in with a lance? He could use his halberd to lift the point, so that it's done that, and that's pushed it onto my throat. And he has pushed me where he can obviously be quickly dispatched.
NARRATOR: As well as the halberd, the Qin deployed a range of bronze weapons, including spears, lances and longswords. But the ancient Chinese led the world in one particular branch of warfare: archery.
A variety of pre-Qin sources show the Chinese invented the crossbow centuries before the first emperor. But how and why did it evolve to become the most effective offensive weapon of the age?
MIKE LOADES: The Chinese battlefield was full of arrow storms. Storm after storm of arrows. But that takes skill and training. How could you do that with an army full of peasant conscripts that were there for a few months? Well the answer was in the Chinese crossbow. Just a simple stock of wood easily mounts any bow, so the bow is already made. It fits onto there and just with putting a crosspiece in there you could lash that into position.
NARRATOR: None survive. This is a working replica. Its importance is shown by the ranks of terracotta archers, armed with crossbows and ready for battle. But all that is left of the Qin crossbows, after the wooden parts have rotted away, are clusters of strange bronze objects found in the pits.
MARCOS MARTINÓN-TORRES: This is a bronze crossbow trigger, one of the most sophisticated three-dimensional engineering mechanisms of ancient times.
NARRATOR: They were mass-produced, with all the parts made to fit together precisely, as historians of the day recorded.
MARCOS MARTINÓN-TORRES: The Annals of Lü Buwei, who would date to around the time of the first Emperor, claim that if there's any misalignment in the parts of a trigger, it will not function.
NARRATOR: Using a replica, Mike Loades demonstrates the design of the trigger.
MIKE LOADES: The real genius was the trigger: the bronze, the cast bronze trigger, produced to a standardized form in the hundreds of thousands. So it's got its very simple interchangeable component parts. It comes apart very easily, and it goes together very easily. And this whole assembly just drops into a pre-carved slot in the bow, and you have got a bow ready to shoot.
NARRATOR: The trigger locks tightly and can securely hold and smoothly release the power of the bow.
MIKE LOADES: It is an ingenious bit of mass-produced, standardized military equipment.
NARRATOR: But any crossbow is only as deadly as its arrows. Over 40,000 arrowheads have been excavated from the pits. This is just one bundle of a hundred, a quiver's full, discovered here, in the middle of Pit 1.
So what were these arrowheads made of? A portable X-ray fluorescent spectrometer is used to explore the details of Qin metalworking.
MARCOS MARTINÓN-TORRES: This is, today, the simplest, fastest, even cheapest, way we have of determining the chemical composition of something. It's only recently that we are beginning to use it in archaeology, bringing about a revolution in the way we can characterize materials.
NARRATOR: It shows the terracotta army's weapons are nearly all made from bronze, an alloy that's a mixture of copper, lead and tin. At first, the researchers assume that every part of the arrow will be a single blend of bronze.
MARCOS MARTINÓN-TORRES: This is telling us the recipe that the weapon-makers had for each of the parts of their weapons. There's the head proper, and then what we call the “tang,” which would be inserted in the longer bamboo shaft.
The tang contains three percent tin, one percent lead, and the rest is copper. So, it tells us that this is a bronze with relatively low amounts of lead and tin.
We can now turn it over, we can immediately see a relatively high tin content that's around 20 percent. This is an alloy that we know would be extremely hard.
NARRATOR: More tin makes for a harder, sharper arrowhead, but less tin makes the tang more flexible and less likely to snap.
MARCOS MARTINÓN-TORRES: When you only have bronze, you cannot make a better arrowhead than this. This is as good as a bronze weapon is going to get.
NARRATOR: So, they used two different alloys of bronze in one fused section of the weapon, the arrowhead and the tang, the part connecting the arrowhead to the shaft. But how?
Master forger Andy Lacey is experimenting, trying to reproduce the casting techniques developed in China over 2,000 years ago.
ANDY LACEY (Master Forger): You have your tang pre-cast, already exists. You just insert it into the mold. You can see that it sits within the space that's the arrowhead, and then, you put the top part on and clamp it together. Then you see the tang just sticks out there and that's the funnel that would take the metal in.
It's got these two components beautifully together,&
MARCOS MARTINÓN-TORRES: Yeah, that's the important thing.
ANDY LACEY: &and has welded on very tightly.
MARCOS MARTINÓN-TORRES: Very tightly.
NARRATOR: Joining the two bronze alloys reveals the Qin's impressive technical sophistication and innovative production skills. But only a test can show if the replica arrowheads perform in practice.
Ancient Chinese sources give clues to how the bows that shot them were loaded.
MIKE LOADES: We have some evidence that the Qin laid on their backs to span their bows. That would suggest pretty powerful bows of about 200 pounds, which is more powerful than a hand-bow is going to be.
NARRATOR: Mike's demonstration bow replicates the mechanism of an authentic Qin bow, but only creates a quarter of the force.
MIKE LOADES: And we're now shooting with more than four times the power.
NARRATOR: To test the replica arrows to the limit, he's using a modern bow, with the 200-pound draw weight of the original Qin bows. It's devastating against ballistic gel, but how will it fare against Chinese armor?
MIKE LOADES: This is the level of armor that an arrow has to defeat. It's lamellar armor. That means you've got scales, which overlap each other, and then, behind that, is soft textile armor. And you can see on the terracotta warriors, they're wearing quite bulky clothing. And armor is a composite defense of hard exterior with soft padding, and they've probably got felt coats under that. Deep inside, here, is a piece of pork, to represent the human being inside. So that's the challenge an arrowhead has. Delivering that crucial thump to the target.
Well, it's stuck in. It's done something, by god, and its gone right through the pork. That is a dead enemy.
It's actually gone right through, and it's come out the other side, through the pork. Through three layers of hardened leather, through multiple layers of gathered silk, through a thick piece of felt, through a side of pork, and here it is, out the other side.
NARRATOR: The Qin used the crossbow to powerful effect. In 223 B.C., the Qin faced the vast Chu army on the banks of the Yangtze River. The Qin tricked them and then attacked with their devastating archers.
MIKE LOADES: This seemingly simple mechanism is two millennia ahead of its time.
NARRATOR: It would take over 1,500 years for European crossbows to surpass the Chinese ones in power, and only then with cumbersome levers and pulleys, making them far slower to use and difficult to master.
MIKE LOADES: You can learn to use this in less than two minutes. And it enabled a peasant army to be converted into state of the art troops.
NARRATOR: The Qin army had become so well organized and equipped, it conquered all its rivals and ended two centuries of war. The Qin leader now ruled all China, as the first emperor.
Historian Sima Qian, writing a century later, from the prospective of a succeeding dynasty, describes a frenzy of book-burning.
JONATHAN CLEMENTS: All of the books in his kingdom were destroyed, possibly thousands of Chinese documents that we'll never get back, a terrible cataclysm for Chinese history and for Chinese historians.
NARRATOR: It was, according to Sima Qian, a descent into complete tyranny, as 700,000 workers were forced to expand the tomb complex. On the far western edge of the site, chilling evidence has revealed the dark secret behind the making of the terracotta army.
Janice Li is heading into the orchards, where mass graves have been excavated, filled with the bodies of workers, including women and children, worn down by the relentless toil. Archaeologists also found leg and neck irons, while Sima Qian refers to some workers as convicts and men condemned to castration.
The all-controlling Qin bureaucracy gave each body an inscribed death certificate or dog tag. Each is a moving testimony to an individual story of hard labor.
JANICE LI: Bu Geng Jiu is the builder's name, means, like, he owed the government money. So, he needs to work here instead of paying off the money to the government.
NARRATOR: The story of worker Bu Geng Jiu is typical. He was forced to work because he couldn't pay a crippling debt he owed the government. It was this forced labor that enabled the Qin to create the Chinese empire, protected with the earlier stages of the Great Wall, connected with intercity highways and irrigated with networks of canals and locks.
Conscripted laborers and slaves also assisted skilled artisans in making the 8,000 terracotta warriors. But how did the Qin do it all on such a vast scale? And with such attention to detail.
The careful study of both the figures and the weapons now enables us to understand how the workforce was organized and controlled.
Inscriptions on the warriors reveal who made them. They were built by groups, or cells, led by 92 master craftsmen, each probably controlling about 10 workers. These cells came from the palace factories or local workshops.
And the weapons also provide evidence of this highly productive and tightly controlled organization.
MARCOS MARTINÓN-TORRES: We have hundreds, thousands of weapons here, but we want to find out how that was achieved. How is it that they could produce so many weapons in such a relatively short period?
NARRATOR: To help answer this, Janice Li has meticulously plotted all the armaments found in Pit 1.
JANICE LI: This is the map of all these bronze weapons, discovered in the east part of Pit 1. So, like, the red one showed the bronze triggers, crossbow triggers, discovered in the pit and the black dots presents the arrow boundaries.
NARRATOR: The plots are then compared with the analysis of the metal content of the arrowheads,&
JANICE LI: This group really are very different from&
MARCOS MARTINÓN-TORRES: Yes.
NARRATOR: &and the precise shape of the triggers. This reveals that the triggers fall into distinctive groups, defined by their characteristic shapes.
MARCOS MARTINÓN-TORRES: For example, this hanging knife, here, is curved at this corner. This other one, here, ends at an angle.
NARRATOR: The plots of the armaments in Pit 1 identified several distinct batches of triggers. All the trigger combinations located in the top northeast corner are identical in size, bronze content and design, suggesting they were made by the same cell of workers. While this set of triggers is different, showing it was made by another cell of workers.
ANDREW BEVAN: This is a series of cells, working individually to create these metal weapons.
MARCOS MARTINÓN-TORRES: All of this requires a very versatile workforce that can produce a sword today, a crossbow tomorrow, a halberd the day after, depending on what's needed, as the work moves forward.
NARRATOR: The worker cells were trained to be, not only productive, but versatile.
MARCOS MARTINÓN-TORRES: I think this production model holds the key to understand how it was possible to produce something so colossal, so big, but also so sophisticated in a time window, maximum, 40 years, quite possibly less.
NARRATOR: Janice Li has also found crucial evidence about how the workers were organized, by decoding inscriptions chiseled into their weapons. They reveal a structure of strict supervision, where all the workers had to record their names.
MARCOS MARTINÓN-TORRES: We can see individual workers, working on different years of the reign of Qin above them, the craftsmen form and that will be working with them the officials and then, on top of all, Lü Buwei, who was then the Prime Minister or Chancellor of Qin.
NARRATOR: The craftsmen at the bottom had to sign their names, so any substandard work could easily be traced.
MARCOS MARTINÓN-TORRES: Sometimes people referred to this supervisory system for quality control as a “carrot and stick” system. If something was wrong with a particular weapon that didn't fit the standard, then one could identify worker Jing, in particular, and make him accountable for his error.
NARRATOR: Everything had to be perfect for an immortal army, created to defend the first emperor in his perpetual afterlife, and perfection was achieved through fear.
Some recently discovered Qin legal codes detail a harsh system, where even minor crimes had terrible consequences.
JONATHAN CLEMENTS: The state of Qin didn't just define things like theft and murder as crimes. Incompetence was also a crime. So, not meeting a particular standard of workmanship would also have been met with savage punishment: maimings, you have tortures, you have executions.
NARRATOR: This was all part of the system the Qin had created to rule every aspect of life in the empire. It was called “legalism.”
The grand historian, Sima Qian describes a society organized into small groups, each person responsible for the others' behavior.
JONATHAN CLEMENTS: Every unit of five or ten houses was obliged to report on each other. If anyone committed a crime within your cell and you didn't report it, the entire cell would be punished. It's very likely that just as the army and society was divided up in this cellular way, that the artisans, the blacksmiths and the potters of the Qin world also worked on very similar lines.
It creates a vicious, brutal society of people informing on each other, and everyone was terrified.
NARRATOR: All the evidence shows that the Qin deployed small groups of skilled workers capable of mass-producing both weapons and individualized figures. They were controlled by a rigid system of incentives and punishments.
In 210 B.C., 11 years after he conquered all his neighbors, the first emperor died. Sima Qian records he was buried in a bronze coffin, surrounded by rivers of mercury, laid out in a map of the empire.
His tomb mound has never been excavated, but the terracotta army opened the door to a lost world. This massive site stands as testimony to the ingenuity and ruthlessness of the ancient Qin civilization. Its pioneering system of flexible manufacturing, combined with authoritarian rule, allowed it to create the eternal wonder of the terracotta army.
This remarkable discovery gives a glimpse into how one small state created a vast empire, perhaps foreshadowing the rise of a super-power today: modern China.