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A display of 16th century arms and armour on wooden manekins and wall hooks

The first Rustkammer at Schloss Ambras, Innsbruck. Photo by Sean Manning, May 2018.

In an earlier post, I talked about videos on making armour. But what if you prefer books? Whereas 20 years ago very little was available, today there are quite a few things to read and look at.

There is one textbook on making European plate armour: Brian R. Price, Techniques of Medieval Armour Reproduction: The 14th Century (Paladin Press: Boulder Colorado, 2000). The book is a reasonable introduction by a mid-level armourer with a troubling history. Brian R. Price (now an Associate Professor at Hawai’i Pacific University) once ran a small press (Chivalry Bookshelf) until it emerged that he had not been paying the agreed royalties, had not obtained rights to all the illustrations, and had not registered their works with the appropriate authorities. Many of his other business (Revival Enterprises) and martial-arts (Schola Saint George) associates had similar stories, and in the end a coalition of authors sued him and regained control of their works in exchange for a nondisclosure agreement.* While Techniques of Medieval Armour Reproduction was published by Paladin Press, an independent business, many people are uncomfortable with supporting the author. (Also, this book is specifically on late medieval European armour … if you are interested in ancient kinds or kinds outside of Catholic Europe you will need other resources).

The late Anthony J. Bryant published a web book on making Japanese armour at Sengoku Daimyo: Nihon Katchū Seisakuben, An Online Japanese Armour Manual. Tony Bryant was a hobby armourer and student of Japanese literature who studied the art of armouring while living in Japan. His website contains many details which are otherwise only available to those who read Japanese and have access to rare books, and is very well designed. (Trevor Absolon, a Canadian, has launched a series of books with photos of Japanese armour from Osprey Publishing which looks promising, but they are focused on surviving armour not methods of construction- I have not read them, if you have why not give your thoughts in the comments!)

In the last decades, the poor academic job market has freed some PhD students to work on fun but unfashionable topics like armour. (If the senior scholars in a field no longer have jobs to offer when you graduate, why spend a lot of energy tailoring your thesis topic to their interests?) Nickolas Dupras focused on tool marks inside surviving armour. Thom Richardson, a retired curator at the Royal Armouries, published and analysed royal records from England mentioning arms and armour (and other equipment such as tents). (Since his dissertation, he has published several related documents). Matthias Goll focused on photographing surviving plate armour and constructing a typology of both the armour itself and specific features such as rivets. I expect to see more dissertations like these, because entering a PhD program is one of the best ways to get paid to research something unfashionable.**

For ancient armour from the Mediterranean and the Near East, probably the most important resources are Thomas Hulit‘s thesis on the armour of Tutankhamun and other Late Bronze Age scale armour, and Mike Bishop‘s book on lorica segmentata. Hulit built and tested reconstructions, and most people who make replica lorica segmentata rely on Bishop’s research. Panagiota Manti wrote a dissertation on the construction and tin-plating of early Greek helmets. Simon James‘ book on the finds from the siege works at Dura Europos in Syria describes many details of the construction of Roman shields, and some about armour for men and horses (sadly, it was published 70 years after the end of excavations). Several people working on scale and mail armour appear in recent issues of the Journal of Roman Military Equipment Studies.

  • Thomas Hulit, Late Bronze Age scale armour in the Near East : an experimental investigation of materials, construction, and effectiveness, with a consideration of socio-economic implications (PhD Thesis, Durham University, 2002) http://etheses.dur.ac.uk/1006/
  • M.C. Bishop, Lorica Segmentata Volume I: A Handbook of Articulated Roman Plate Armour (Chirnside 2002) https://www.academia.edu/513011/Lorica_Segmentata_Volume_I_A_Handbook_of_Articulated_Roman_Plate_Armour
  • Panagiota Manti, Shiny helmets: investigation of tinning, manufacture and corrosion of Greek helmets (7th-5th c. BC) (PHD thesis, Cardiff University, 2011)
  • Simon James, Excavations at Dura-Europos 1928-1937, Final Report Volume VII: The Arms and Armour, and Other Military Equipment (The British Museum Press: London, 2004 or Oxbow Books: Oxford, 2010)

There are still some gaps: research in English focuses on metal armour from Catholic Europe and the Greco-Roman world, and only a handful of people bring the evidence of documents, the evidence of surviving armour, and time in the workshop together. It is hard to be both a working smith and a good philologist. Although in many cultures the majority of armour was made from hide, fabric, felt, wickerwork, and other organic materials, these are less studied … Chris Dobson has a new booklet on leather armour in medieval and renaissance Europe. Since many of the best reproduction armourers now live in eastern Europe, the fact that most of this research is in academic English can be a barrier (if any of my gentle readers know of large pieces of research oriented towards makers in other languages, please mention them in the comments!) Armourers have a great deal of working knowledge, and best guesses about how the originals were made, which has never been printed (while archaeologists often fail to finish writing up their excavations and publish them). But if you are interested in the subject, these books give a good place to start.

Full disclosure: I have met Thomas Hulit and several of the authors who published with Chivalry Bookshelf, and traded emails with Mike Bishop and the late Tony Briant.

* In 2011, the dispute between Brian R. Price and the authors became public, and a Scott ‘Murdock’ Adkins announced that he had bought Revival Enterprises, Price’s company selling reproductions of medieval objects (or clones of other people’s reproductions). However, Price still describes himself as a ‘silent partner’ in Revival Enterprises on linkedin, and on 24 April 2017, the domain revival.us was renewed using Brian Price’s name, email address, and former home address in Texas. Caveat emptor. You can find a history of the dispute with the authors in a mammoth forum thread or on Will’s Commonplace Book. ↑ Back to top of post ↑

** When I look at the careers of the people who wrote these dissertations, Dupras is working as a sessional lecturer; Goll does not have an Internet presence; Hulit has a job as curator of a small museum in Alberta; Manti is a lecturer in Wales (equivalent of an assistant professor in Canada); Richardson already had his job as curator, and is since retired. That seems about average for a group of five new graduates with PhDs. ↑ Back to top of post ↑