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There are several armours which are comparatively small plates worn on a harness or sewn to the garment itself. Often, these small plates were the only rigid defenses worn with the military Kaftan. There are two types which are distinct enough to merit particular attention. One is the "Mirrors" (a name by which they were known to the warriors using them) which are two plates, roughly six to seven inches (roughly fifteen to eighteen centimeters) in diameter, one worn over the front, the other over the back. The other is found quite commonly, but is only known by the modern name -- Brassier (for it's similarity to the women's garment). As the name suggests, this is two plates worn on left and right of the chest.
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From a 7th century Central Asian Budhist painting.
In addition to the Brassier, the warrior wears disk shoulder plates and a Peti torso defense. Under the armour, there seems to be a heavily padded garment with lighter undergarment.
Mirrors and Brassier Plates
Nomads in Camp
Both wear Kaftans reinforced with Mirrors (one with square Mirrors, the other round), rounded Pauldrons (shoulder defnses), and plates sewn to the sleeves.
The scene is generic but the main source for the full configuration of reinforcements are Japanese paintings of Mongols.
Mirrors are most often round but may also be octagonal or square, though each plate of an individual pair seems always to have been of the same size and shape as the other (the decoration of front and back, however, such as embossing or inscriptions, could differ). One of these plates was worn over the solar plexus, the other, at the analogous point of the back.
It is difficult to pin down the origin of the "Mirrors" plates. Early images (dating to at least the 3rd century CE) from Persia often show warriors wearing nothing on the torso except small discs, held in place by crossed straps. Images of "Mirrors" then continue throughout the locations of the Eurasian nomads.
"Mirrors" are also to be found in China, where they had a religious purpose. Similarly to the mirrors the Chinese place at windows, these metal plates (invariably polished to a mirror shine) were meant to repel demons. Coincidentally, they proved valuable in providing added protection without materially effecting the weight or flexibility of harness.
It may be that the "Mirrors" traveled to Eurasia from China at one of the very early periods of migration and initially had the same religious purpose. On the other hand, the "Mirrors" of Eurasia are also quite similar to the "Pectoral Plates" used by the ancient Italian tribes and may have some relation to them.
Alternatively, as the armour is so simple and the protected area so central, it may have arisen in a variety of places independantly. Then, as the various groups interacted, the similar armours may have come to be more similar then they started. Whatever its origin, in a variety of languages, this armour seems to have obtained the same name of "Mirrors".
As this armour spread through Asia, Eastern Europe, and the Middle East, the original purpose came to be remembered only in name. Nevertheless, perhaps due to a combination of esthetic and functional reasons, and perhaps because of a strong reverence for the past, these plates were retained everywhere in the East. In fact, these items of arguably a "heathen" nature were used in even the most fundamentalist of Christian and Moslem nations.
Perhaps because of their, originally, more than materialistic purpose, Mirrors were not only worn on their own, but were often attached to other armour. Thus, they are commonly found on suits of Brigandine and of Scales. They appear, as well on Hauberks, were they again serve a functional purpose by providing rigid protection at a most vulnerable area, while not interfering with the flexibility which is the highest value of the Hauberk. Further, a particular style of armour of bands was developed which provided a place for them.
Eventually, a much larger form of Discs came to be used. As the Mirrors, these were two symmetrical plates (usually circular, but sometimes octagonal or square), worn over front and back. These discs, however, were much larger, covering the entire width of the torso.
The Mirrors, probably through this "linking" style, became the ancestor of several categories of armour. These, the Chahar-Ai-Ne and the various "Disc Armours", are discussed elsewhere.
From a 9th century religious painting.
The large leather and metal Brassier is worn with leather and band pauldrons, a torso defense of bands, and a metal plaque at the throat.
Somewhat less common than the Mirrors, the Brassiers appear in Central Asian art from the Migration period onwards.
As the name implies, the armour is generally characterised by a left and right sections covering the front upper torso of the wearer, much in the way a woman's Brassier does. For categorisation purposes, and possibly for fascilitation of the examination of origins and development, these should be distinguished into two types:
During the migration period, Chinese art shows a variety of armour consisting either of short vest-type torso defenses tied at the center or heart-shaped breastplates. They were complimented by armour which protected the lower areas.
- A substantial cover of two sections, covering the whole of the chest area.
- Two small discs aranged independantly over the chest.
These breastplates seem to be the early form of the first type of Brassier defense. As they gained more definition and reduced in size, they came to cover only the upper torso or chest area, with the stomach covered by other defenses.
At top right is an illustration based on a seventh century painting. The Brassier of large disks tied directly to each other has a soft leather framework and is either hardened leather or metal. It is worn with disk pauldrons and a Peti over two garments.
The illustration at the near right is based on a Uighur painting of the 9th century. The Brassier consists of square metal plates over larger leather squares (with what looks to be stitching in the middle). It is worn with leaf-shaped leather and band pauldrons (compare to Mongol Brigandine) and a girdle of Bands, a metal plaquard also hangs from a thick neck kerchief, probably to protect the otherwise vulnerable ties.
Some illustrations, as early as the sixth century, clearly show small, separate discs worn at the chest over a torso armour of scale. Others at that date are very abstract and open to interpretation (one such absract image shows what may be identical to the late Russian "Panzir Kolchuzhnik" - a maile Hauberk with small disks woven in over the chest).
12th Century Steppes Warrior
Kipchak or Pecheneg of the Russian Steppes area.
The reconstruction is a composite from several statuetes. Most wear no visible armour other than the Brassier and a cap helmet. It has been suggested that maile or lamellar was worn underneath the tunic (one figure wears what may be a lamellar girdle covering only the front of the torso).
The most plentiful illustrations of the small, separate Brassier armours come from the 11th to 13th century, from areas controlled by the Pechenegs, Cumans, and Kipchaks. These are statues of warriors shown wearing a harness of straps going over the shoulder and under the arm with the small discs attached to the harness. On some statues a "Mirors" type disc is worn over the back, where the straps cross. At the left is the image of a 12th century Kipchak or Pecheneg based on these statues.
It is interesting to note that most commonly, these discs are the only item of what looks like armour worn on the torso. It is questionable whether such small pieces of armour, worn as they are, would offer any protection. Further, some of these discs appear to be no wider than the harness itself (one inch or less). Noting this, some have questioned whether these "Brassiers" are armour at all.
The one find of these discs for which I have details seems to indicate that, at least those found, certainly were armour. From the description, each separate "breast cup" consisted of two iron plates sandwiching between them a felt pad. The iron discs showed no decoration. Considering that functional armour was commonly decorated, the lack of decoration only emphasithes the starkly utilitarian function of the Brassier plates -- they could in no way have been jewelry. Further, the construction, to me, clearly indicates that these plates were expected to withstand force -- with the combination of hard and soft materials maximising resistance.
If these "Brassier cups" were indeed meant as protective armour, the question remains why such a design would be used -- at first glance, it seems that it would be hard to hit the cups even on purpose. One answer is provided by some of the burials where plates were found that would comprise a scale or lamellar armour. Some very few statues show what may be such a torso defense covering the belly of the warrior, and it may be that these were quite commonly worn underneath the tunic, with the "Brassiers" only providing a compliment to the hidden torso defense.
But the "scales" don't account for nearly all of the Brassiers. It is my own proposition, after having thought about the possibilities, that, when combined with the weapons and other equipment in use, the Brassier did, in fact, provide a descent basic defense for the most highly targeted and possibly fragile area --
The most typical Steppes nomad of the period was on horseback, used a large (roughly 20 - 22 inch) round buckler, and a Saber. Considering the position of the horse's neck and the protective use of the shield on the one side, with the likely positioning of the Saber on the other, the one "deadly" target that would actually be most likely left undefended is the small area of the chest represented by the Brassier cup (compare, for example with the stance and combat dynamic of the modern Saber fencer, adding to that stance the extra defense of a shield -- modern Saber being a sport that is based most directly on Hungarian dueling, which likely descends from the Magyar combat of the middle ages).
After this time, the Brassiers are to be found on the Mongol Brigandine of the 14th century and on the Russian "Panzir Kolchuzhnik", worn into the 18th century. Finally, a 19th century shirt of maile incorporating small Brassier plates was found in the Sudan.
A Classical Roman soldier is at the left, A Byzantine soldier at the right.
As mentioned above, the early, large Brassiers seem to be developments of East Asian breastplates. It may be that the small plates have a relationship to the same. A second, and likely as important a source for the small Brassiers seems to be the Roman Phaelerae harness.
"Phaelerae" is Latin for discs. Much like modern medals, soldiers of the Roman Republic and later the Empire, received "Phaelerae" (embossed with relevant images) in recognition of special action in combat. Roman soldiers wore these "medals" on a harness consisting of leather straps going over the shoulder, under the arms, and around the lower torso. The origin of these medals seems to be Celtic.
During the later Roman Empire in Constantinople (Byzantium), images of soldiers show a harness of straps over the shoulder and under the arms. These Byzantine images do not show a lower set of straps, nor do they show any sort of discs mounted on this harness.
I propose that the Byzantine images show a more compact form of the classical Roman "Phalerae" harness, with artistic convention simply leaving out the medals. As the Central Asian nomads interacted with the Byzantine Empire, picking up a variety of Roman fashions, they picked up and adapted the new compact version of the Phalerae harness for their own use. In adition to the clear similarity of the Kipchak/Pecheneg Brassier to the harness of the Byzantine Roman, this is born out by the use of other Roman adaptations, such as shoulder "Pteruges" by these nomads (as shown on related nomad statuary).
Common, basic Limb Defenses
In addition to Mirrors and Brassiers, the Kaftan was often reinforced with a variety of plates which provided protection for the limbs. Dished discs were a common protection for the elbows. Similar discs, dished ovals, or overlapping un-dished bands protected the shoulders. Variously shaped plates protected the upper and lower arm and sometimes the thigh.
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Articles and Illustrations by Norman J. Finkelshteyn.
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