When most people think of armour, they think of the full suits of metal that were worn in battle in medieval and Tudor times. However, it goes back much further than that. Battles have been fought for thousands of years and participants always knew that some form of protection was needed. To achieve this they used a variety of materials and for a long time, leather was the material of choice, with metals being added as time went on.
It is known that around 1300 BC, the most popular choice for armour was bronze, but most battle participants opted for leather. The earliest example was found in a tomb at Dendra. The armour is made from a variety of materials including bronze and boar’s tusk, which was used to create a pointed cap.
It was around 1100 BC that bronze was abandoned in favour of iron. This is due to the abundance of iron and the relative scarcity of the components of bronze. Iron could be used to create steel, and while we might think of this as a relatively new metal, it has been around in one form or another for around 3000 years. Iron weaponry was used by the Assyrians around 900 BC.
The ancient Greeks and Romans used a type of armour that is very familiar to people today. It was the Greeks that created the basic design of the armour, and this was then taken by the Romans and adapted. The ‘hoplite’ is the name given to the battle armour used by the foot soldiers in the Greek army. This consists of a bronze helmet that featured the bridge that covered the nose and a corselet that was designed to fit from the shoulders to the hips. The corselet was usually made from leather but had a bronze plate that sat across the chest. Bronze shin plates completed the outfit and weapons included the long spear and an iron sword.
One of the downsides to this type of armour is that it was heavy. While it might have been useful for protection during a battle, it was not so useful if they needed to run, slowing them down and leaving them vulnerable.
The Roman army started to adapt this armour from around 400 BC. The spear that the Greeks used became a javelin and the long sword became a short sword. They simplified the Greek helmet by exposing more of the face. They changed the shield used, creating a rectangular shield that curved slightly to cover the body. However, the basics of the armour remained the same. The Romans were very good at altering things to suit their own purpose if they thought that they could improve the original.