44 Stunning Pieces Of Armor — And The Fascinating Stories Behind Them

Published September 22, 2022
Updated September 26, 2022

From ancient Greek warriors to Japanese samurai, see some of the most exquisite pieces of body armor from centuries past.

Siberian Bone Armor
Greek Soldier's Helmet
Philip Ii's Armor
Bronze Greek Cuirass
44 Stunning Pieces Of Armor — And The Fascinating Stories Behind Them
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Over the course of human history, people have consistently depended on body armor. From ancient warriors to modern soldiers, armies have relied on diverse materials to protect themselves in battle.

But although the idea of armor may seem simple enough, its execution is often anything but. Different cultures have developed protective gear in a variety of ways throughout the millennia, from the fabric armor of 18th-century Korea to the metal armor historically favored by Europeans.

Above, look through a gallery of 44 photos of armor through the ages. And, below, see how this military strategy evolved across cultures and times.

A Brief History Of Armor

People have used some form of body armor since the beginning of recorded history. Early humans initially used materials like hard cloth, leather, other animal hides, and even wood to defend themselves. That changed as civilizations learned how to work with different kinds of metals.

Artifacts like the Stele of the Vultures appear to show ancient Sumerians wearing copper helmets to battle as early as 2600 to 2350 B.C.E. The Greeks utilized bronze to make full-body armor starting around 1400 B.C.E.

Ancient Romans studied the leather and metal armor produced by Greece, Macedonia, and Egypt, and eventually adopted their own segmented protective gear, which allowed for greater flexibility of movement. And as Roman culture spread across Europe, this sort of armor did, too.


Metropolitan Museum of ArtA Greek helmet made from bronze. Circa early 5th century B.C.E.

Throughout the Middle Ages and beyond, armor continued to evolve. Kings in Europe adorned themselves with elaborate helmets, breastplates, and gauntlets, which sometimes included Christian imagery and inscriptions.

As Sky History UK points out, however, a new weapon made this kind of armor all but obsolete on the battlefield. Gunpowder completely changed warfare, as increasingly accurate weapons could easily tear through metal gear. In the gallery above, you can see a harrowing example of that in a Napoleonic breastplate that was obliterated by a cannonball.

But even though metal was long favored, especially in Europe, it's not the only kind of defensive material that humankind developed. Across the globe, many cultures experimented with different kinds of armor material.

How Different Cultures Used Armor

As the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County explains, various cultures didn't always rely on metal to defend themselves from their enemies. In areas with limited resources, other materials were used.

Eastern cultures, especially those living on islands, relied on what they could find in their natural environment to build armor. Across Oceania, people would scrub and bleach stingray skin to build weapons and protective clothing. Cultures in New Guinea wove rattan (or climbing palm). And in Southeast Asia, people sometimes used tortoise shells or tree bark.

Native American Bone Breastplate

National Museum of the American IndianNative American warriors used breastplates like these to protect themselves against arrows.

In the gallery above, you'll see different kinds of armor as well — including the bone breastplates used by Oglala Native American warriors, the fabric-based protective gear created by 18th-century Korean soldiers, and the coconut fiber and blowfish skin armor built on the Gilbert Islands.

These 44 images show that armor is not just one thing. Though it's often associated with images of European knights riding bravely into battle, protective gear has a long and varied history. From ancient Sumerian warriors to Indigenous chiefs to modern-day troops, humans have always come up with creative ways to try and protect themselves.

In that way, armor is more than a simple defensive tool that's been used in warfare for millennia. Instead, it's a tangible and revealing part of the human story that provides a unique window into culture, art, design, combat, politics, and more.

After looking through these images of armor, check out these historical images of erotic art. Or, enjoy these 99 colorized photos from the past.

Kaleena Fraga
A staff writer for All That's Interesting, Kaleena Fraga has also had her work featured in The Washington Post and Gastro Obscura, and she published a book on the Seattle food scene for the Eat Like A Local series. She graduated from Oberlin College, where she earned a dual degree in American History and French.
John Kuroski
John Kuroski is the editorial director of All That's Interesting. He graduated from New York University with a degree in history, earning a place in the Phi Alpha Theta honor society for history students. An editor at All That's Interesting since 2015, his areas of interest include modern history and true crime.
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Cite This Article
Fraga, Kaleena. "44 Stunning Pieces Of Armor — And The Fascinating Stories Behind Them." AllThatsInteresting.com, September 22, 2022, https://allthatsinteresting.com/historical-armor. Accessed May 23, 2024.