Lamellar armour

Japanese lamellar cuirass

Lamellar armour is a type of early body armour, made from small rectangular plates (scales or lamellae) of iron, leather (rawhide), or bronze laced into horizontal rows. Lamellar armor was used over a wide range of time periods in Eastern Europe, the Middle East, and across Asia.

Lamellar armour is one of three early body armour types, the other two being scale armour and laminar armour.


Lamellar armour consists of small platelets known as "lamellae", which are punched and laced together, typically in horizontal rows.

One example of how lamellar armour is laced together

Lamellae can be made of metal, leather cuir bouilli, horn, stone, bone or more exotic substances. Metal lamellae may be lacquered to resist corrosion or for decoration. Unlike scale armour, which it resembles, lamellar armour is not attached to a cloth or leather backing (although it is typically worn over a padded undergarment).

In the orient, lamellar armor eventually overtook scale armour in popularity as lamellar restricted the user's movements much less than scale armour.[1]

Use and history

Lamellar armour worn by Koryak people
Byzantine klivanium (Κλιβάνιον) - a predecessor of Ottoman krug mirror armour

Lamellar armour was often worn as augmentation to existing armour, such as over a mail hauberk. The lamellar cuirass was especially popular with the Rus, as well as Mongols, Turks, Avars, and other steppe peoples, as it was simple to create and maintain.

Lamellar is pictured in many historical sources on Byzantine warriors, especially heavy cavalry. It is thought that it was worn to create a more deflective surface to the rider's armour, thus allowing blades to skim over, rather than strike and pierce. Recent studies by Timothy Dawson of the University of New England, Australia, suggest that Byzantine lamellar armour was significantly superior to mail armour.[2]

Lamellar armour has been found in Egypt in a 17th-century BC context.[3] Sumerian and Ancient Egyptian bas-reliefs depicting soldiers have been argued as portraying the earliest examples of lamellar armour, particularly on chariot drivers, but it is not until the time of the Assyrians (circa 900–600 BC) that possible examples of lamellar appear in the archaeological record. Among finds of Assyrian armour (often individual or unconnected scales), there are examples that can clearly be classified as scale armour as well as others that appear to be lamellar, and there exist a large number of finds whose function has proven difficult to determine.

The extent to which either type was used is a debated topic. Lamellar was used by various cultures from this time up through the 16th century. Lamellar armour is generally associated with the armour worn by the samurai class of feudal Japan, although it came to Japan from Korea.[4] Lamellar armour is also associated with Mongolia, Eastern Russia, the tribes of Siberia and the Sarmatians. Evidence of lamellar armour has also been found in various European countries.[4]

Japanese lamellar armour

Close up view of Japanese lamellar armour, constructed with small individual scales/lamellae known as kozane.

Lamellar armor reached Japan around the 5th century, predating the rise of the samurai caste.[4] Early Japanese lamellar armour, called keiko, took the form of a sleeveless jacket and a helmet.[5] The middle of the Heian period was when lamellar armour started to take the shape that would be associated with samurai armour. By the late Heian period Japanese lamellar armour developed into full-fledged samurai armour called Ō-yoroi.[6] Japanese lamellar armour was made from hundreds or even thousands of individual leather (rawhide) or iron scales or lamellae known as kozane, that were lacquered and laced together into armour strips. This was a very time consuming process.[7] The two most common types of scales which made up the Japanese lamellar armour were hon kozane, which were constructed from narrow or small scales/lamellae, and hon iyozane, which were constructed from wider scales/lamellae .

See also


  1. Oriental Armour, H. Russell Robinson, Publisher Courier Dover Publications, 2002, ISBN 0-486-41818-9, ISBN 978-0-486-41818-6 P.6-7
  3. Albert Dien: A Brief Survey of Defensive Armor Across Asia, Journal of East Asian Archaeology, 2, 3–4, 2000, p. 2
  4. 1 2 3 Robinson 2002, p. 10.
  5. Robinson 2002, pp. 169-170.
  6. Robinson 2002, p. 173.
  7. Friday, Karl F. (2004). Samurai, Warfare and the State in Early Medieval Japan. New York: Routledge. p. 94. ISBN 978-0-415-32963-7.


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