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Chinese Scale Armour.
Scale Armour with skirting and Pauldrons
Mongolian Lamellar.
Lamellar laced alternating with leather belts
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Armours of Scales

As a general term, "Armours of Scales" refers to armours constructed of a number of identical small plates (the largest I know of being approximately three by four inches, or seven by nine and a half centimeters) which are visible when the armour is worn (as distinguished from Brigandine, discussed at another page). These small plates are called scales or lamellae, depending on the subtype of armour being referred to.
Currently, two subtypes of Armours of Scales are distinguished by name and are, by some, considered wholly different types. One is called Scale, or Armour of Scales and the other is called Lamellar. An alternate subtyping, used mainly in reference to Russian armor differentiates between "scale armour", with smaller scales, and "Kuyak", an armour with larger scales. This alternate subtyping is discussed below.
The term Lamellar seems to be an entirely modern one, used by armour historians for ease of classification. Often the distinctions between the two types of armour blur.
Lamellar plates.
Segment of Lamellar
1-1/2" X 3" plates, 18 guage mild steel. Laced with thick leather thong.
Manufactured by author.
Nevertheless, the one defining distinction is that armour with plates attached to a backing garment is called Scale, while if the plates are attached to each other without need for a backing garment, the Armour is called Lamellar. Because the distinction is a structural one, rather than esthetic, it is often difficult to interpret ancient references.
Thus, for example, Goliath's armour is described (in the book of Samuel) as a cuirass of fish-scales of bronze. While the staggered pattern of Scale, arguably produces more of a fish-scale effect than the pattern of Lamellar, the individual plates of either (generally scalloped) may equally be described as fish-scales.
Steel scales.
Segment of Scales
2" X 3" plates, 16 guage mild steel.
Manufactured by author.
While Scale Armour was used by Roman period Judeans, there is no evidence I know of for its use at this, much earlier period. Looking at regional art, we find many reliefs of warriors in Lamellar and none in anything that is clearly identifiable as Scale. On the other hand, there are many small figurines of men covered in giant "fish skins". These have scales represented in much the same way as they would be by a modern craftsman, showing a staggered pattern of plates with scalloped lower edges.
Unfortunately, these figures are supposed to be those of protective fish spirits rather than of men armoured for combat. One may, however, ask whether these "fish skins", artificially constructed, were worn by some officials with a symbolic duty. Perhaps these were temple guardians, or a priestly warrior elite, whose role may have been, symbolically, that of the guardian fish-spirits. It may be that the giant, Goliath was such a guardian.
On the other hand, the war described in the story of David may be more symbolic than literal, a war between the power of the "One God" of the Jews and the host of gods of the Philistines. In this interpretation it is sensible that Goliath should wear fantastic, or supernatural armour. The figure of Goliath (the descendant of a "son of heaven" and a mortal woman) may well have represented to the ancient reader a divine being of the polytheistic Middle East, to be defeated by the simple shepherd who follows a God beyond gods (thus making Goliath a parallel to the angel who wrestled with Jacob, the progenitor of the Jews).


Russian Scale Armour.
Russian Warrior in Scale Vest
As mentioned above, Scale is constructed by the attachment of numerous identical plates to a cloth or leather backing garment so that the plates are visible when the garment is worn. Plates have historically varied in size from small ones of about an inch (two and a half centimeters) to large ones of about four inches (nine and a half centimeters) in length.
The plates are generally rectangular with a scalloped lower edge, though they may also be of a myriad other shapes. The most common of these alternative shapes are half circles, rounded triangles, rectangles with a wedge shaped lower edge, or just simple rectangles (as the Sino-Korean "Reverse Brigandine").
Sometimes the shape of scales is dictated by the material which they are made from. A Chinese armour in the Tower of London, for example, consists of the scales of some type of ant eater. The scales are approximately two inches (five centimeters) long, roughly triangular (with somewhat rounded edges) and have the look of gold or clean brass. The only modification which the scales had undergone in the construction of the armour is that they were pierced with three small holes, for tying onto the backing garment.
Hardened leather three hole scales.
Hardened Leather Scales
Central Asian three hole pattern.
Water hardened 8 ounce leather.
Manufactured by author.
As is evident from the above, Scale Armour has been made from a great variety of materials. Thus, for example, according to Burton, the earliest Scale Armour used by the Slavic peoples was made from the hooves of horses. I believe that Burton's source for this, however, was mistaken or mistranslated, as each horse would then only be good for a few scales. Most likely the actual material was horse's hides. Animal hides (or simply, leather), hardened for the purpose, in fact, remained a comparatively common material for armour throughout its time of use. Most commonly used for scales in the relevant period, however, were the various metals, both iron and copper based.
The Scales are attached to the backing in horizontal rows which overlap downwards (with the row above overlapping the one below it). Most commonly, the rows are staggered (so that the center of the plate above is at the edge of the plate below it). This is not, however, always the case, in some types of scale armour (the most notable being the Sino-Korean "Reverse Brigandine") the plates are lined up vertically as well as horizontally.
While the plates always overlap vertically, this is not as uniform horizontally. Often, adjacent plates are simply placed next to each other (as in the most common pattern) or they overlap only very slightly (as the "Reverse Brigandine"), at other times, however, the plates overlap as much horizontally as they do vertically (most notably this may be seen on Roman scale).
Basic two hole scales.
Segment of Scales
Basic two-hole pattern.
2" X 3" plates, 16 guage mild steel. 1/8" lacing holes.
Manufactured by author.
Generally, this distinction may be accounted for, due to the way that the scales are assembled. Thus, Roman scales are attached to each other in horizontal bands, each scale fastened to the adjacent ones by a length of wire passed through overlapping holes in the scales. Each horizontal "band" is then fastened to the backing, by a length of thong passed through the holes of each individual scale and the backing. A strong overlap is, therefore, unavoidable. In contrast, the scales of the "common", non overlapping, pattern have holes at their top corners, by means of which they are riveted to the backing. This design does not permit overlap.
An Asian design (which seems to be that used in the aforementioned Chinese armour at the Tower Armoury), on the other hand, has three holes. One is at the upper left corner, one at left center, and one at upper center. The scales are riveted (or laced) to the backing individually and each overlaps the one to its right (covering the rivets or thong). The other common Asian design (that of the "Reverse Brigandine") has two holes at the center of each scale, one at top center, the other slightly above the center of the scale. This arrangement, as does the previous mentioned, allows for as much, or as little overlap of adjacent scales as the armourer thinks necessary (commonly, this was very little).
Chinese Star Scale.
Chinese Star Scale
A unique type of scale was used by the Chinese elite. This is constructed of three pointed, star shaped plates. The plates are fastened to the fabric at the outside of each point, arranged so that the points of each plate are covered by the center of other plates. This armour is very tedious to construct. Further, due to, often, triple overlap, this armour is very heavy and, though I have not yet done a reconstruction, it seems to be quite stiff, probably approaching the stiffness of a "single plate". These characteristics probably account for this armour's extremely limited provenance.
It is impossible to date the origin of scale. Prehistoric garments, and caps, to the outside of which were laced teeth, bones, or wooden slats, may be considered the earliest of this type of armour. The early Greeks wore helmets of boar's tusks laced to a backing of leather, which may be seen as a continuation of that tradition.

Scale Vest
2" X 3" plates,
20 guage cooper.
Four holes along the top of the plate. Plates sewn with artificial sinew to to leather vest of buckled front and back construction.
Manufactured by author.
See more details and Buy it NOW !!
In the Roman period, scale was widely used, by the Romans and by their Middle Eastern and Central Asian enemies. The Romans wore waist length cuirasses of scale, which they called the "Lorica Squamatta". While many partial garments have been found (and thus the assembly of scales is known in detail), it is not known how the garment looked as a whole. The images in Roman art indicate that it was a vest between waist and hip length and it is my assumption that this opened at the front, as the Lorica Segmentata (the famous Roman armour of bands), and was fastened with straps and buckles, or laced up.
Illustrations of the enemies of Rome show scale caps in use and scale covering the arms and legs, as well as the body.
In Europe, scale remained in use into the fourteenth century, when it was replaced by distinctly European Brigandines. European scale was generally a waist or hip length cuirass which seems to have been of poncho design, fastened at the sides, though there is some indication that longer ones were used, some with front opening.
The Chinese had a variety of scale armours. All consisted of a vest, pauldrons, and skirting, while some included supplementary pieces like separate groin or underarm protections. Often the cuirass was fastened at the front, sometimes this was with an overlap (as illustrated), sometimes without (as the illustrated brigandine). Many other cuirasses are of a poncho design. Finally, a cuirass was, infrequently, fastened at the back.
In Korea, this is much more uniform. As most, if not all, Korean armour, Scale was worn as a knee length, half sleeved coat which fastened in the front. Coats of "common" scale were fully covered by the plates while those of "Reverse Brigandine" followed the pattern of Brigandine (hence the title).
In Russia, the scale garment, called "Cheshuichaty Panzir" (literally "Armour of Scales"), was a local style of armour that existed from time immemorial. It could be of a variety of styles, from vest to long coat, with differently shaped plates.
In aproximately the thirteenth century, the Russians began to distinguish a subtype of scale armour by the use of a Turko-Mongol term -- Kuyak. There seem to be three types of Kuyak: One of overlapping large rectangular plates (smilar to the Chinese armour I call Reverse Brigandine), One of plates that allowed gapping where the leather backing showed through (similar in style to the Kolontar, maile and plates armour), and one where small, non-overlapping discs were attached to a backing. All three seem to have generally been a waist length cuirass of poncho or separate front and back construction, and to have generally been worn over a knee length Hauberk.
Waist length scale vests, similar to the European, were worn in the Eastern Christian countries as well. Here, in Eastern Rome (or Byzantium) and Georgia, pauldrons of a single row of long scales, attached to dished discs at the shoulders, and hip length "skirts" of similar long scales were worn in conjunction with waist length mail, scale, or lamellar vests. Similar pauldrons and skirts are shown in European art until the 13th century, while the pauldrons remain in Northern European art until the 15th century.
The Central Asian Nomads wore scale in various fashions. Vests of waist to mid-thigh length seem to be common, but "Chinese" style suits, which included skirting and pauldrons, were also used.


Early Turkish Warrior in a Lamellar vest.
Lamellar Vest
Like Scale, Lamellar Armour consists of a large number of small identical plates. These have historically been much more uniform in design then Scale, indicating their common origin (in contrast to Scale, which seems to have developed in a parallel way in several places).
Most lamellae (or plates of a Lamellar Armour) of, so called, "international" design average three inches (roughly eight centimeters) in length. They are generally rectangular with a scalloped upper edge, the only variations on this being some Western European examples which have a scalloped side and some Central Asian and Chinese examples where the side is shaped as a double scallop.
The plates of "international" design have seven to eleven holes by means of which they are fastened to each other. Plates are arranged in a horizontal row and laced together through the four (or eight) central holes. The horizontal rows are then laced together, overlapping upwards (in contrast to scale, here the lower row overlaps the one above it), by passing a thong through the single hole at the bottom of each plate in the upper row and the one or two holes at the top of each plate in the lower.
The Mongols, while using the same, "international" style, plates, used a slightly different system for lacing the rows together. Instead of simply lacing one row to the next, a leather strap is laced to the bottom of the upper row, with the strap overlapping the lamellae. Then, that same strap is laced to the top of the lower row, with the lamellae overlapping the strap.
Unlaced segment of lamellar.
Lamellar in process of lacing
This image is somewhat artificial to illustrate lacing pattern. In the normal process, the plates are laced tightly into horizontal rows before begining to lace the rows vertically. 1-1/2" X 3" plates, 18 guage mild steel. Laced with thick leather thong.
Manufactured by author.
This, "international" Lamellar is believed to be what is illustrated in the Assyrian reliefs, dating back to the 10th century BCE. The same (styled, as Greek armour, as a cuirass with separate shoulder sections) is also found on an Etruscan Kouros of the fourth century BCE. Armour of this type has been found at a 14th century battle site on Wisby, in Western Europe. It was used in Eastern Rome (Byzantium), China, and throughout Central Asia. In Tibet, this same type of armour continued in use until the end of the 19th, the beginning of the 20th century.
In the late Roman period (roughly third or fourth century) the Romans briefly used an armour that may be called Lamellar. Developed from Roman Scale, this armour is quite different from the "international" type.
As Scale, and in contrast to "international" Lamellar, this armour consists of horizontal rows which overlap downwards. The plates are fastened together into these horizontal rows with wire, as is Roman Scale. A similar length of wire then fastens the plates vertically.
This construction combined the disadvantages of both the "single plate" cuirass and Lamellar. The overlapping wire fastening made the armour almost as stiff as a "single plate" cuirass. At the same time, due to the overlap, it was heavier than the "single plate" and, because it was of small plates, it lacked the strength of the "single plate". Thus, its use was very brief and does not seem to have been adopted by any other nations.
A single row of Lamellar.
Single row of Lamellar
1-1/2" X 3" plates, 16 guage mild steel. Laced with thick leather thong.
Manufactured by author.
In the sixth century, brought in through trade and raiding by Central Asian nomads, Lamellar virtually replaced the local plate cuirass of Japan. In Japanese use, however, Lamellar changed over time until, by approximately the 12th century, it had attained truly local characteristics, yielding the three types of Japanese Lamellar. Generally, these differ from the "international" in consisting of much smaller plates with a far higher number of holes (held together with a very different lacing system). The most common type of Japanese Lamellar, the "Kozane", consists of plates having, generally, thirteen holes.
Nevertheless, "international" Lamellar continued in use, unchanged, among the native, Ainu population for as long as armour continued to be worn.
Generally, Lamellar was worn as a waist length cuirass, with skirting and pauldrons. In the Christian countries (Europe, Byzantium), however, pauldrons and skirting were omitted (the cuirass being often augmented with pauldrons and a skirting of scales, as described above).
Commonly, the skirting was in two wide sections, split at the middle. These were, at times, made narrower and augmented with smaller sections in front and back. Alternatively, the skirting could be of up to eight sections (though six was more common - splitting the two side sections in half and augmenting them with a front and back).
The skirting was either of one piece with the cuirass or attached to a belt at the waist. In fourteenth century Persia, it was often tied to the thighs (and may be seen as rudimentary cuises).
In Tibet, Lamellar developed so that some later armours are made (using lamellae of several sizes) fully in one piece. In these, the pauldrons have become sleeve-like so that the whole may be truly called a Lamellar "Coat".
Battle of Heroes Two warriors wearing a variety of Lamellar armour.
A common image in Central Asian art. In my version:
The archer wears arm defenses of bands, torso armour of straight and "B" shaped lamellar with a mirror plate, and skirting and pauldrons of lamellar with leather belts, all over maile hauberk and leggings.
The spear man wears a torso defense of alternating lamellar and bands, skirting of "B" shaped lamellar, lamellar pauldrons with shaped shoulder plate, and lamellar leggings, all over maile hauberk.
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Articles and Illustrations by Norman J. Finkelshteyn.
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