The Celtic Lamellar Armor
This beautifully crafted Celtic Lamellar Leather Armor is a unique take on a classic form of protection. With its hourglass-shaped lamellae (scales) arranged in a symmetrical pattern and banded leather segments detailed in Celtic goldwork, this truly could be the lamellar chest piece of some great hero from antiquity. Each side of the Celtic leather armor features three straps that can be adjusted for a perfect fit. It also uses specially cut overlapping sections to ensure the armor doesn’t feature any weak points. Made with 7-8oz leather, this lamellar is perfect for stage productions, LARP events, or SCA. Available in brown or black leather.
Layers Of Protection
The term Lamellar covers a great deal of armor from many historical periods using many materials. The earliest evidence of this armor type comes in the form of carved warriors found in reliefs made by post-Iron Age Assyrians. The carvings appear to depict men wearing armor constructed of many small, overlapping rectangles, reaching from shoulder to waist with short sleeves. The battles that these reliefs depict occurred in the 7th – 8th century BCE. Sumerian and ancient Egyptian scenes have also been argued to contain examples of lamellar armor but they are less conclusive than that of the Neo Assyrians. Lamellar differs from scale armor in one fundamental way. Scale armor is created by attaching scales to a backing (often of leather). Lamellar uses no backing. Instead, the lamellae, or rectangular pieces, are laced together to create the shirt. Examples have been found using leather, rawhide, bone, bronze, iron, and horn as lamellae. The cord used to bind this kind of Celtic leather armor together could be made from rawhide or leather thong, wire, silk, or linen.
Lamellar – What Properties?
This type of Celtic leather armor was probably worn either on top of or under a shirt of mail if possible. Mail offers decent protection from thrusting attacks but even when it stops the point, it can still drive the rings into the skin, causing pain and bruising (remember Frodo, the mithril coat, and the troll?). Stiff leather armor like this could protect against such injuries – as could a fabric gambeson, which may also have been worn underneath. The question:
“How did medieval people circumvent the shortcomings of the available material technology?”
Is often answered with:
“By using many layers of different stuff.”
Layering material was the most effective way to keep out both the cold and the sharp pointy bits of your enemy’s weapons. Lamellar made of hardened leather was extremely lightweight for the kind of protection it offered. A full lamellar harness made of brass or bronze would be prohibitively expensive. Iron and steel lamellar could be a little lighter, depending on how they were constructed. Not many have survived because of the organic material used in their construction, but leather lamellar armor may have been common due to the availability of materials and relative ease-of-construction.
Why Leather Lamellar?
While leather was still a valuable commodity in antiquity and the middle ages, it wasn’t nearly as rare as the steel or iron required to make mail, brigandine, or scale armor. It also required fewer specialist skills and tools to create when compared with metal armors (as long as you had access to cured leather). The shearing, punching, and lacing needed to make lamellar armor were skills anyone could learn and some would already be proficient at from clothes making. Leather could also be hardened by boiling in in molten wax or oil.
Hardened Celtic Leather Armor
After several hours in the wax/oil mixture, the leather could be removed, shaped into the desired outline, and left to dry. The resulting leather, called cuir bouilli, offered good protection from thrusts and cuts but was very light compared to mail or plate armor. This hardened leather continued to be used commonly in gauntlets, knee pads and elbow pads in the Medieval Period. A lamellar shirt like this one could be made up of offcuts and scraps for a less well-off member of the tribe. The one drawback of leather armor like this lamellar (and it’s a significant one considering the temperate oceanic climate of much of Europe) is that it doesn’t stand up well to bad weather. Unless regularly oiled, leather armor could begin to crack or rot over time. However, unlike plate and mail armor, Celtic leather armor could be patched up by the wearer themselves. Warriors probably carried some sinew, leather thong, or twine with them in case repairs were needed. A soldier in metal armor would likely have to find an armorer to help him with his damaged equipment after a battle.
Misconceptions About Leather Armor
Leather armor is a staple in many RPG and video game systems. And while certain types of leather armor did exist throughout history, the misrepresentation present in these games is the idea that a shirt of simple leather is of any real value in battle. Leather is an incredible material. Anyone who’s ever come off a motorcycle can (hopefully) attest to leather’s resistance to abrasion. But sharpened edges, pointed tips, and heavy blunt force objects are a very different kettle of fish to sliding on the highway. To achieve better resistance to cuts, thrusts, and impact leather had to be hardened by boiling it in oil. After this process, Celtic leather armor like this could offer decent protection on its own or form one of several layers of protection. The overlapping scales used in lamellar also added some protective value.
In Roman Eyes
The educated class of the Celtic people, called druids, preferred not to keep written records, believing them to devalue druidic knowledge and thus the druid’s place in society. For this reason, we depend on Roman accounts of contact with Celtic people for written descriptions of how these ancient European tribes lived, dressed, and organised their societies. Diodorus Siculus, a 1st-century historian, gave an account of how the Celts were dressed for battle. He describes their man-sized shields as being individually decorated. Historians have speculated that these wooden shields were probably covered with cuir bouilli, a type of boiled, hardened leather. He also describes mail shirts, ferocious faces, and the punk rock hair the Celts were famous for.
The Celtic Laws
Until the forced implementation of English common law in Ireland in the 17th Century, Irish people lived under a set of general laws believed to have been set down by a class of travelling lawyers in the 7th Century. Thankfully, Irish historians, Eugene O’Curry and John O’Donovan translated these laws into English in the 1850s, offering a glimpse into what life was like in ancient Ireland. We know from these ancient Irish Brehon Laws that women had a great many more freedoms in some Celtic cultures than their Greek and Roman counterparts. There was some attempt to codify attitudes towards the elderly. The section about the harp being the noblest instrument appears to be buried deep in Irish culture. The harp remains the country’s national symbol to this day. Below are some examples of these ancient Irish laws which predate Christianity:
- Any husband who doesn’t come home to his wife through listlessness must pay a fine
- If a pregnant woman is hungry and her husband withholds food from her through meanness or neglectfulness, he must pay a fine
- If a woman has asked a man to come to her bed or behind a bush then screams, the man is not immediately assumed guilty simply based on her screams. If she has not asked to meet him, however, the man is assumed guilty as soon as she screams
- When you are old and incapable of work, your family must provide you with one oatcake and a container of milk every day. They should bathe you every 20th day and wash your hair and face every Saturday. Seventeen sticks of firewood must be provided for every cold night
- The only noble musician is the harpist. A harpist alone can have individual status. All other performers, flute players, trumpeters, jugglers etc, can only share in the status of the chieftain to whom they’re attached.
- Celtic leather armor is made from 100% vegetable-tanned full-grain leather
- Straps made from natural, top-grain leather
- Brass fittings
- S/M: Chest – 35-39 Inches, Waist – 27-31 Inches, Width – 14-16 Inches, Neck – 22-23 Inches, Length – 21-22 Inches
- L/XL: Chest – 43-47 Inches, Waist – 35-40 Inches, Width – 18-20 Inches, Neck – 24 Inches, Length – 23-25 Inches