Selecting the Right
Armor / Armor Resources
Armor and its composite pieces were known by a number of different
names during the Middle Ages. While this list is by no means
exhaustive or absolute, it provides the most often-used names for
armor pieces in general. Please note that these pieces would have been
named differently depending on the part of the world and the time
Aketon - see gambeson.
Arming Cap - a type of cap worn underneath a helmet.
It could be either a quilted coif or a smaller helmet worn
underneath a larger one.
Arming Doublet - see gambeson.
Armor - any protective covering worn upon the body like
clothing. This does not include shields. Also a historical word
describing an entire set of armor. Medieval sources do not refer to “a
suit of armor,” but rather “an armor” or “a harness.”
Besagews - also sometimes called roundels, besagews
were usually round plates that hung from the shoulder over the front
of the armpit to protect the usually mailed joint. Besagews are only
found on later-period plate armors, mainly for jousting.
Bracers - armor that covers the forearms. Sometimes
referred to as vambraces. Derived from the French word for “arm.”
Breastplate - as the name implies, a breastplate is the
piece of armor that covers the chest. Sometimes the term breastplate
can refer to a set of pieces that cover both the front and back.
Often it refers to the front part of a cuirass.
Camail - the mail drape from the bottom of a helmet
that protects the neck and throat.
Chausses - protection for the legs, from the thighs down
over the feet. Usually, the term chausses refers to mail armor for
the legs. Otherwise, see cuisses, poleyns, greaves and sabatons.
Derived from the French word for “hose.”
Coif - an armored hood. Often made of mail, but sometimes
quilted. Comes from the French word for “hair.”
Couter - elbow defense.
Cuirass - a defense for the front and back of the torso.
The front part is often referred to as the breastplate,
although a cuirass can also include a plackard. Derived from
the French word for “leather,” as early cuirasses were made from
Cuisses - a defense for the thigh. Cuisses sometimes wrap
all the way around the thigh to protect both the front and the back,
and may be attached to the poleyns. Derived from the French
word for “thigh.”
Faulds - defenses for the upper thigh. They often hang from
the plackard and cover the unarmored space between the plackard
and the cuisses. Sometimes referred to as tassets.
Gambeson - a quilted jacket worn underneath the armor, both
to protect against pinching by the armor and to act as a kind of
cushion to absorb the impact that armor would otherwise transfer to
the body. In some cases, a thick gambeson was the only armor worn at
all by poorer troops. Sometimes called an arming doublet or aketon,
depending on the time and place from which the armor comes.
Gauntlets - hand defenses. They can be either “mitten”
gauntlets, in which the fingers are all armored collectively, or “finger”
gauntlets in which each finger is armored separately. In addition,
there are “demi-gauntlets” or “half-gauntlets” in which only the back
of the hand and wrist are protected, but the fingers are not.
Gorget - an armored collar that protects the throat.
Sometimes strapped directly to the breastplate. These were
worn relatively rarely in the Middle Ages, as they interfere with
neck flexibility. However, they are recommended for many modern
re-enactors because they defend against injury to the upper spinal
column. Derived from the French word for “throat.”
Greaves - lower leg defenses. Greaves can protect just the
shin, or both the shin and calf. Greaves can be attached the the poleyns
and sabatons, and are sometimes also called jambs.
Harness - a word used in the Middle Ages that often
referred to an entire suit of armor.
Hauberk - a name for the mail shirt. Hauberks can also be
referred to as haubergeons and byrnies, depending on the length of
the mail shirt and the time and place in which the armor was worn. Hauberks
in one form or another were one of the most popular pieces of armor
to be worn throughout the medieval era. Derived from the Old English
word for “hood” because the coif was often integrated with
Helm/Helmet - armored head protection. A helm is generally
a fully-enclosed helmet that rests close to the shoulders when worn,
and may be won on top of an arming cap or coif. A
helmet is merely any sort of armored head covering.
Jamb - see greaves. Derived from the French word for
Plackard - a separate lower torso defense. Often the lower
half of a cuirass. A plackard often has faulds
Pauldrons - shoulder plates. Pauldrons often also protect
the upper arm and are generally found on later-period armor in place
of spaulders. They can be attached to the gorget in
some armors. Derived from the French word for “shoulder.”
Poleyns - knee protection. Often attached to both the cuisses
and the greaves.
Roundels - see besagews.
Sabatons - foot protection. Sabatons are generally not
found on most armors, except for expensive later-period armors. Once
in a while, foot armor is made of mail, but this is not properly a
sabaton. Generally attached to the greaves.
Spaulders - armor that covers the point of the shoulder and
the upper arm. Spaulders are often replaced by pauldrons in
later armors. Derived from the French word for “shoulder.”
Tassets - see faulds.
Vambraces - see bracers.