Swords vs Armor

A really good, really long post by Eric Lowe at Quora: How do swords penetrate armor?

By thrusting, first off.[3] You jam the tip of your sword between links and you force it forward until the metal of the links is over stressed and gives way. A lot of people imagine that the links will burst at the rivets, but that’s not necessarily true. A well riveted link ought to fail last at the rivet, and of course not all mail was riveted. Some mail construction methods alternated solid metal rings, and some mail sort of “clicked” together with no rivets at all (particularly associated with Mughal India). Also, of course, in an armor that contains thousands of rings, it’s always possible that the particular link under stress was not riveted properly. I’m not saying armorers’ teams were sloppy, but accidents happen. Regardless, this is why the size of the ring wire is an important statistic: thicker rings are, all things being equal, less likely to burst than thinner rings.

The other important thing about the mail itself is the interior diameter of the rings. The smaller the links in your mail, the more of them have to burst to admit a given length of sword point, and the more an incoming thrust will jam the links up against one another so that they provide some amount of mutual support. If you burst a single 12mm link, you’ve opened a hole in the enemy’s defense that can admit a worrying amount of sword blade. If you burst a single 6mm link, only half as much sword can fit through the gap you’ve opened, and to stab further into your target, you’ll have to burst additional links.

What jumped out at anybody? Anything besides the obvious fact that Eric Lowe knows a lot about medieval weaponry? I like this bit:

some mail sort of “clicked” together with no rivets at all (particularly associated with Mughal India)

Now I want to go look up how that armor was made.

Regardless, great post as always, and well worth clicking through if you’re interested — and especially if you’re writing fiction that involves swords and other medieval weaponry.

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3 thoughts on “Swords vs Armor”

  1. I wish he had included more about the maille that clicked together! I used to make maille as a hobby and I’ve never heard of any rivetless armor being used in actual combat, although I definitely don’t know much about Mughal armor. I tried to look it up, but all the Mughal armor I can find pictures of alternates rows of solid and riveted rings. I wish I knew what search terms to use.

  2. (I remembered the one situation where I’ve heard of maille with no rivets being used in combat – I think older Japanese mail used butted links or sometimes wire wrapped multiple times almost like a keychain, but I may be wrong.)

  3. Well, Kate, if you’re on Quora, you could ask him in the comments! Eric responds quickly to comments and questions and he’s very helpful about adding links or video clips or anything he thinks you might like that’s relevant.

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