Sunday, December 31, 2006

Arrows vs Armor, ca 1400

Looking at the metallurgical data collected by Alan Williams, and comparing it to the performance of heavy English bows and thickness of surviving harness, it seems there was quite a broad range of armor effectiveness. With a top quality harness of medium carbon steel hardened by effective heat treatment, 1.25 mm plates would need about 120 Joules to penetrate, and would defeat a 140 lb bow generating 100 J hitting dead on at close range. 1.25 mm is the low end of the range for helmet sides and cuisses measured by Hardy from this period.

On the other hand, low quality iron armor of the same thickness might be defeated by about 40 Joules from an arrow striking perpendicular to the surface, and a 70 lb bow could generate over 50 J at close range. Even at 180 yards, with an arrow descending at about 30 degrees, a 100 lb bow could probably deliver enough energy to defeat such plates if it hit squarely in the horizontal plane.

The thinnest value measured by Hardy for the top front of a bascinet was 2.47 mm, which if made of iron would require about 110 J to defeat with an arrow. A 1.5 mm iron breastplate worn over iron mail and padding would probably require at least 130 J to defeat with an arrow, so even an inferior harness would offer excellent protection for the vital organs from a frontal attack.

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Armor vs. Muscle

Impact tests:

Williams unless specified otherwise)

Energy to defeat, in Joules:

Arrowhead vs. Buff Leather 30 J
Lance vs. Cuir-boulli 30-20 J
Lance vs. Padding (16 layers linen, 60g for 16 x 21 cm) 50 J
Arrowheads vs:
Modern Mail (mild steel) alone 80 J
Modern Mail & Jack Penetration 100 J
Modern Mail and Tailor's Dummy 100 J (Soar et al)
Modern Mail, Jack Penetration, and 35 mm penetration of Plastilene behind 120 J
15th c. Mail (low carbon steel hardened by quenching) two links broken and jack behind completely penetrated: 120 J
1 mm mild steel plate (perpendicular impact) 55 J for 45mm penetration
1. 5 mm mild steel plate 110 J
2 mm mild steel plate 175 J
1 mm “Victorian wrought iron”: 46 J for 51 mm penetration at 10 m
1.9 mm “Swedish” Wrought Iron 80-75 J

Energy delivered:

Underarm: up to 63 J
Overarm: up to 115 J
(These are maximum values. PSDP testing suggests that a stab resistant vest rated at 43 joules should be able to stop stabs from 96% of the male population. These standards assume typical commercial knife handles. A fighting handle with a well designed guard to prevent slipping might add another 5 J to the effective attack.

English bows:
70 lb bow: 52-55 J (Hardy)
70 lb bow: 46-47 J at 10 m
80 lb bow: 70-83 J (61 J at 50 m)
140 lb bow: 99-104 J (Calculated from Soar et al)

The Mary Rose bows with draw weights estimated by Hardy ranged from 98 to 185 lbs, with the median values 115 -124 lbs. Mark Stretton conducted tests with heavy war arrows suggesting that they had about 80% of point blank penetration against foam targets at 60 yards and 67% at 180 yards. (Soar et al). At longer range penetration of plate would also be adversely affected by more oblique impact.

Olympic level javelin throw: 360 J (Calculated from 30 meters/second)

Armor thickness, from Hardy unless noted
Four bascinets, 1370-1380
Top front: 2.44-4.57 mm
Side or visor snout: 1.27-2.54 mm
Breastplate ca 1400, Churburg 2.6 kg (Williams) This is probably equivalent to an average thickness of about 1.5 mm. The segmented breastplate at Churburg is 2.63 kg but wraps partly around the back, and so would be somewhat thinner. It seems likely that breastplates intended to by worn over habergeons tended to be somewhat thinner than those intended to be worn over arming doublets with mail gussets. The velvet covered breastplate with a skirt of hoops in Munich weighs 4.6 kg (Williams)
Breastplate ca 1470 2.03-2.79 mm
Five Breastplates 1470-1510 1.5-2.5 mm, 2.1 mm median (Williams)
Cuisses 1390 1.78-1.27 mm
Legs and Cuisses 1510 .8-.7 mm, breastplate 1.3 mm (Williams)
The AVANT armor, ca 1440, Glasgow (formerly Churburg 20) 57 lbs (25.9 kg) without tassets, right gardbrace and left gauntlet, a relatively heavy armor for its size and period. Thickness measured by Robert MacPherson:

Gauntlets: 1-1.8 mm
Lower arms, 1.1-1.5 mm, avg. 1.3mm
Upper arms 1.1-1.9 mm, avg. 1.4 mm
Greaves.6-1.55 mm, avg. ca 1mm
Breastplate 2.3-3.2 mm, avg. for center front 2.8 mm

Hardy, Robert Longbow: A Social and Military History New York 1992 ISBN: 0-685-62481-1

Soar, D. H. Hugh, with Joseph Gibbs, Christopher Jury, Mark Stretton Secrets of the English War Bow Yardley, PA 2006 ISBN 1-56416-025-2

Williams, Alan The Knight and the Blast Furnace: A History of the Metallurgy of Armour in the Middle Ages and Early Modern period History of Warfare, 12. Leiden: Brill, 2003 ISBN 90-04-12498-5.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

14th c. Armor Metallurgy

The Knight and the Blast Furnace by Alan Williams explores the metallurgy of medieval armor in great detail. While he covers armor metallurgy through the early 17th c., I was most interested in his coverage of the 14th c.

He provided a metallurgical analysis of some 48 pieces of 14th c. armor, as well as three lames from the battle of Visby. 14, or 29%, are simple wrought iron. Most of these are from Northern Europe, which seems to have lagged Italy in metallurgic development: only two of the iron pieces are from Italy. In Northern Europe iron seems to have been still in use even for armor for men at arms: well shaped and finished visored bascinets like the c.1370 bascinet in the Museum de Valere at Sion in Switzerland or Veste Coburg cat. no. 50 c. 1380 were made from iron rather than steel.

These iron pieces had VPH (Vickers Pyramidal Hardness) of 130-175, and the lowest quality iron armor was, according to Williams, perhaps half as efficient at resisting penetration as modern mild steel.

The next step up in quality was low carbon steel: 17 pieces, or 35%. These had from .1% to .3% carbon, and VPH ranging from 108 to 233. Modern mild steel might have carbon content of .15% carbon and VPH of 152. Medieval steel, however, had a much higher level of slag inclusion than modern mild steel. Even high quality 14th c. Italian harness had slag content between .8% and 1.9%. Modern steel is virtually slag free. Williams rated this grade’s resistance to penetration at about 75% of modern mild steel.

Next came medium carbon steel, with .4% carbon or more but without full hardening: 11 pieces or 23%, with VPH ranging from 193 to 276. Williams rated this grade of armor about 10% superior to modern mild steel.

The highest grade was medium carbon steel with successful hardening by heat treatment. According to Williams only six pieces from the 14th c, at least four of them from Italy, fell into this category: with VPH ranging from 366 to 374, or 12% of the total. These had resistance to penetration about 50% better than modern mild steel.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Conversing at a Medieval Recreation

If you are doing a first person recreation of a medieval person, you should try to avoid obvious modernisms. It will improve the experience of those around you, and you may enjoy it more yourself. A truly accurate recreation of premodern speech isn’t necessarily an achievable or even desirable goal. If you are portraying an 11th c. Englishman faithfully, hardly anyone will be able to understand you, even if you could pull it off.

Avoid modern subjects. Here are some alternatives:

Fifty men at arms defeat a hundred. Which would you rather be, the worst of the fifty or the best of the hundred?

At a tournament "Which is to be more highly prized: the one who loses two horses or three in one day while attacking or defending quite openly, or the one who keeps his horse very close the whole day and endures and bears well the pulls and blows and everything that comes his way?"

Knights say they perform deeds of arms for the honor of their ladies. Is that so, or do they really do it for their own honor?

A man's wife is under an enchantment: she will be hideous during the day (when others can see her) but beautiful at night (when he sleeps with her.) Or the reverse can be true, but the man must choose one or the other, forever. Which should he choose?

When Adam delved and Eve span, who was then a gentleman? That is, since we are all equally descended from that pair, how can nobles claim that they are worthier than commoners?

There are many styles of music, vocal and instrumental. Which is best?

What is the greatest adornment of the mind, nobility of arms or letters?

Is it better for a man to be brave or wise?

Who was the wickedest woman in the Bible?

More examples of possible conversation topics can be found in Castiglione’s The Book of the Courtier, from which many of the preceeding are cribbed.

Avoid modern slang and contractions.

Avoid false archaicism. Medieval speech didn’t sound archaic to medieval people, it sounded contemporary, because it was.

Some in the Society for Creative Anachronism use medievalish terms when speaking about modern things: dragon for automobile and farspeaker for telephone. Others find these terms jarring, and there are usually better alternatives, like wagon or message. I prefer Head Cook to Feastocrat and Porter to Troll.

Use thee and thou correctly or not at all. The second choice is much easier.

Some people have the talent of picking up the patterns of speech of another period by osmosis. If they read enough Chaucer or Froissart in translation, they are able to convey some sense of the flavor and construction of speech from that time. If you’re one of them, great. If not, don’t worry about it. It doesn’t hurt to give the technique a try. If you’re interested in an era, read some good books written during the period. At worst, you’ll have read some good books and gained a better understanding of your period of interest.

Springtime on Mars

This made me laugh.

And on a related note...

Monday, December 11, 2006

SCA Errata Sheet: Florentine and Two Sword

Florentine was first used as a term for a weapon style within the Society for Creative Anachronism circa A.S.2 (1970 AD) to describe a fighting style involving the use of two pounds of spinach and a pair of salad forks. Later the spinach was either discarded or eaten (feasts often started late in those days) and the term came to denote any two-weapon style, or, alternatively "what medieval knights would have called fighting in tournaments with two weapons at once if they had ever done such a thing, which they didn't". The style is sometimes referred to as “Too many swords.”

While medieval men at arms sometimes carried a second sword in case their primary weapon was lost or broken, there is no evidence they fought in armored combat with two at one time.

There are three main sources of inspiration for the use of two swords or two weapons in the Society’s recreation of medieval armored combat. The Icelandic sagas sometimes describe characters fighting with two weapons. In Njal's Saga, for example one character is bushwacked while cutting firewood, and fights with his axe and his sword. The hero Gunnar often fights with his sword and his magic "halberd". (Since the story is supposed to be happening long before what we think of as halberds appear, it's a little unclear what the weapon actually was). One could argue that these were special cases, and that the Sagas are not entirely dependable as factual evidence. But even taken at face value, they are not evidence for the use of "two weapons" in tournaments, since the action occurs before the first tournaments are invented.

The second is renaissance styles of unarmored combat that used either sword and dagger or, more rarely two swords.

The third is a fighting style using two swords introduced by the Japanese swordsman Miyamoto Musashi some time after 1600.

The early 15th c. fighting manual Flos Duellatorum by Fiore dei Liberi does include a brief sequence on fighting with due bastone or two clubs. This seems to be an example of how to improvise a defense in unarmored combat, like a similar sequence on how to defend yourself using only a walking stick and a dagger. The clubs are rude and unshaped tree branches, the attacker is armed more conventionally, and the sequence ends with the defender throwing away one of the clubs.

Fighting with two swords at once can be a reasonably effective technique using Society armored combat rules, but the combat style was almost or entirely unknown in medieval armored combat. The difference probably stems from a mismatch between the combat rules and reality. In SCA armored combat, swords are virtually unbreakable and hands are considered to be invulnerable to attack. Neither was true in the actual Middle Ages.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Chaucer in Rap

Baba Brinkman has performed some of the Canterbury Tales as rap. Yeo Yeo Yeo.

But wayte! It gets better. He and Chaucer duel each other in rhyme at Geoffrey Chaucer Hath a Blog.

"Noon othir than Baba Brinkman hath taken me to task in a maner that maketh Johannes Gower seme a smal fluffy bunny."

But Chaucer more than holds his own. These are wonderful times we live in.

If you like 14th c. rap you might also enjoy Chevauchee by BlakP....