Monday, October 17, 2011

Heavy Armor

Researchers at the University of Leeds in the United Kingdom have measured the effort required to walk on a treadmill while wearing a full suit of armor.

A complete outfit of late 15th century armor, with cuisses, greaves, and sabotons, weighs as much as 50 kg or 110 pounds. It was hard to find subjects who knew how to move in armor or were strong enough to carry that weight. But some historical interpreters from the Royal Armories were up to the task.

They found the replica outfit remarkably flexible -- they could even do cartwheels in it. But extended moving around took a toll. By measuring heart rate and respiration, researchers calculated that it took 2.3 times more effort to walk in the suit compared to normal walking, and 1.9 times more effort to run in it.

Credit: Graham Askew/University of Leeds
More at: Science
Web glossary of armor parts


Ivo said...

I suppose that kind of full armour was mostly used by horsemen (knights, cavalry, ...) rather than footsoldiers, who were only partly armoured?

Chris Dunn said...

The Royal Armouries is situated in Leeds so it's the best place for this experiment. The armour would probably be useful in Leeds on a Saturday night as well.

Note. I can say this because I was born in West Yorkshire.

Bill Guffey said...

No wonder I'm so tired all the time. I need to lose the greaves and sabotons.

The Surfin' Squid said...

Wow, that's amazing. Really makes one appreciate how much effort really goes into wearing full armor. I imagine this is also a good lesson on just how much exertion needs to be expressed for convincing portrayals of people wearing this much armor.

Jan said...

@Ivo: not necessarily. The ratio of armoured cavalry: infantry changed a lot through the middle ages. Cavalrymen used to be the rich guys who could afford all this armour, but later medieval era witnessed quite a few armoured infantrymen too. Armour got cheaper and more importantly - footsoldiers became wealthier and more important.
Fully armoured knights would also fight on foot if needed.

So the answer is: "kinda. Sometimes. Not always. Probably."

These tests are interesting, but we should keep in mind that people doing the tests are not medieval soldiers/knights, they've not been wearing armour half their lives. (although Royal Armouries have some very experienced jousters iirc)

Being "used to" something, conditioning the body for a long time, that can change a lot.

I'm not a particularly fit person, but I managed to run around and fight partially armoured for some 5 hours. I was quite exhausted obviously, but for a nerdy IT guy it wasn't as bad as I expected.

Scorchfield said...

Run Forest, run!

JonInFrance said...

Yeah, when they found the archers' skeletons - the arm/hand bones were deformed - a lifetime of training to draw the bow more powerfully

Tim said...

They missed the most relevant test! "How many more times are you likely to survive in a swordfight?"

colleen said...

Well I feel sorry for the horses that had to care the man plus their own armor :-)

Cole said...

The weights quoted seem unusually high, the number I usually hear for a plate harness is 20 kilograms, though a plate harness worn with mail underneath or a heavier jousting armour could easily weigh much more.

The statement that doing things in X weight of armour is harder than doing things while wearing the same weight on your back seems very counter-intuitive to me.
My prior understanding was that the weight of a harness should, by way of arming points, evenly distribute its weight over the wearer so that it's easier to carry. I don't envision many people doing cartwheels with a 30-50kg backpack strapped on.

They mentioned the armour constraining the wearer's breathing so that they had to take short rapid breaths, which to me suggests the armour wasn't well fitted.

Larry said...

Yes, the researchers might have done a third experiment with 110 lb back pack to show that the distributed weight helped the wearer significantly in baring the excess load.

Assuming the wearer has half of the weight planted at a time while lifting the other half. Also, a heavier arm or leg, while more difficult to start into a swinging motion, will deliver some inertia once put into motion, which seems to show up in the decreased ratio at higher speeds.

very interesting stuff.

My Pen Name said...

Do we know anything about the training methods of knights?

Do we have any accounts of extended battles?

What about breeching defenses (which involves sprinting climbing walls etc)

My guess is that the men were in good enough condition to wear full armor in battle. It certainly didn't hurt the Spanish during the Reconquista or the Knights of Malta when fighting the muslims - the janissaries, as a side note - had disastrous light weight cotton/ silk uniforms that easily caught fire - thus the 'fire hoops'used by the Knights of Malta had a devastating effect.

smackmonkey said...

"Also, a heavier arm or leg, while more difficult to start into a swinging motion, will deliver some inertia once put into motion,..."

Thus explaining the ability to perform cartwheels which are mainly an inertial exercise - form requirements not withstanding.

It should be noted that there is great variation in the body dynamics of individuals. I have seen smaller, lighter men swing a 16 lb. sledge with greater authority than many who were much larger (not that I'd relish a blow by either). Is it fair to assume that the very large suit of armor I once viewed in the Tower armory was worn by someone capable of making the most of it or just by someone wealthy enough to have it made?