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Scale Armor


Scale armor is a general term for body armor consisting of overlapping metal scales sewn onto a fabric or leather backing. It is one of the oldest forms of protection, having been used by the Sumerians, Assyrians, Egyptians, Romans, Japanese and many other cultures throughout the ages. The scales themselves can be made of any hard material, such as bronze, steel, bone, horn, etc. depending upon the time period and location in which it was made.

The advantage of scale armor comes from its relative ease of construction. Unlike plate armor, which is a large single sheet of metal, individual scales are far easier to make. Holes are then punched in the scales and they are sewn or laced together in such a way that they overlap. This approximates the protection of a unified material without requiring the metallurgical skill to make it. However, the number of scales required for each suit of armor make it incredibly time consuming to mass produce for large armies.

Scale armor has several disadvantages, first of which it is hard to clean. There are many historical accounts of armor getting wet and dirty and becoming infested with lice or fleas. The scales can also rust, or the lacing can be cut in battle and the scales will come loose or fall out. Scale armor is also vulnerable to angled strikes that bypass the scales and penetrate the soft backing. Soldiers were cognizant of this and altered their tactics to minimize the possibility of this kind of attack.

In many cultures, scale armor was supplanted by the widespread use of chain mail. It is often debated which is the better armor, and many speculate that scale armor is slightly more effective, but chain mail was so much easier to produce that it became the more popular choice.

Some cultures improved on scale armor by sewing the metal scales directly to each other instead of using a leather backing. This type of armor is known as lamellar armor, which is generally considered stronger and easier to maintain.

Occasionally the term "scale mail" is used, but the word 'mail' implies metal rings which scale armor does not have. For the record there is no "plate mail" either.

Armor, General Term, History, Torso


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