Tibetan armor

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18th century Tibetan cavalryman and horse armor on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Tibetan Armored Cavalryman.jpg
18th century Tibetan cavalryman and horse armor on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Tibetan culture has a long history of producing armor for military and ceremonial use. Tibetan armor came in many forms, and was produced into the 20th century due to the isolation of the Tibetan Plateau. [1]




Tibetan armor was heavily influenced by the armors of China and the various Mongol peoples. According to Donald J. La Rocca of the Metropolitan Museum of Art's Department of Arms and Armor, Tibetan soldiers were most commonly protected by body armor, a helmet, and a rattan-reed shield reinforced with iron struts. [1] Tibetan cavalry also protected their horses's bodies with thin leather armor and their heads with thick iron plates. The most common form of Tibetan armor was lamellar armor called byang bu'i khrab, which was created by overlapping squares of force-absorbing material. [2] The most common material used in Tibetan armor was leather, as it was lowest in cost. Higher ranking Tibetan soldiers were equipped with iron or copper lamellar armor, often elaborately decorated with gold inlay. [1] In later eras, iron-worked mail armor became more common, and lamellar armor was gradually replaced with more effective scale armor. Some Eastern Tibetan tribes were speculated to have employed heavy infantry clad entirely in iron armor. This observation is complemented by an account by Chinese historian Du You in his encyclopedia Tongdian. You noted that, during the reign of the Tibetan Empire (7th to 9th centuries AD), Tibetan heavy infantry were entirely encased in armor. [3] He wrote that,

The men and horses all wear chain mail armor. Its workmanship is extremely fine. It envelops them completely, leaving openings only for the two eyes. Thus, strong bows and sharp swords cannot injure them. Their archery is weak but their armor is strong.

Du You

Starting in the 17th century, Tibetan cavalrymen rode into battle protected by four large iron disks strapped to their torsos, backs, and sides, a method of protection dubbed "the Four Mirrors." [1] These heavy cavalrymen also wore specialized helmets with iron wings on the sides. Some Tibetan armorers produced plate armor known as duru. [4] Developments in armor design continued into the age of gunpowder, as the relative remoteness of the Tibetan plateau isolated Tibetan armorers from having to contend with the widespread use of firearms in warfare. [1]

16th century Tibetan lamellar armor. Composed of iron and leather overlapping, interlocking squares designed to reduce the force of an impact. Lamellar Armor (Byang Bu'i Khrab) MET DP113384.jpg
16th century Tibetan lamellar armor. Composed of iron and leather overlapping, interlocking squares designed to reduce the force of an impact.

Decoration and religious usage

Tibetan arms and armor were used outside of the battlefield. Ceremonial armor was used as part of rituals during the annual Great Prayer Festival in Lhasa. [1] To evoke the aid of guardian deities, specialized shrines called Gonkhang Mgon Khang were established in Buddhist temples. These shrines housed the venerated arms and armor of Tibetan warriors, and it was these chapels that preserved many of the pieces of Tibetan armor that survive to the present day. [1] As far as decorations are concerned, many high-quality works of Tibetan armor were decorated with inlaid precious metals, gemstones, or were emblazoned with Buddhist iconography. [5] [1]

Related Research Articles

Armour or armor is a protective covering that is used to prevent damage from being inflicted to an object, individual or vehicle by direct contact weapons or projectiles, usually during combat, or from damage caused by a potentially dangerous environment or activity. Personal armour is used to protect soldiers and war animals. Vehicle armour is used on warships and armoured fighting vehicles.

Cataphract Heavily-armored, mounted warrior

A cataphract was a form of armored heavy cavalry used in ancient warfare by a number of peoples in Europe, East Asia, Middle East and North Africa.

Plate armour Body armour made of shaped metal plates

Plate armour is a historical type of personal body armour made from iron or steel plates, culminating in the iconic suit of armour entirely encasing the wearer. While there are early predecessors such as the Roman-era lorica segmentata, full plate armour developed in Europe during the Late Middle Ages, especially in the context of the Hundred Years' War, from the coat of plates worn over mail suits during the 14th century.

Lamellar armour armour made of overlapping scales, without a solid backing

Lamellar armour is a type of body armour, made from small rectangular plates of iron, leather (rawhide), or bronze laced into horizontal rows. Lamellar armor was used over a wide range of time periods in Central Asia, East Asia, Eastern Europe, and the Middle East. The earliest evidence for lamellar armor comes from sculpted artwork of the Neo-Assyrian Empire in the Near East.

Body armor Protective clothing; armor worn on the body

Body armor, also known as body armour, personal armor/armour, or a suit/coat of armour, is protective clothing designed to absorb or deflect physical attacks. Historically used to protect military personnel, today it is also used by various types of police, private security guards or bodyguards, and occasionally ordinary civilians. Today there are two main types: regular non-plated body armor for moderate to substantial protection, and hard-plate reinforced body armor for maximum protection, such as used by combat soldiers.

Korean armour

Korean armor is armor that was traditionally used in ancient times by Koreans, those fighting in and on behalf of Korea, or Koreans fighting overseas. Examples of armor from the Korean Peninsula date back to at least the Korean Three Kingdoms period. Depending on the tactical situation, Korean armor also included horse-armor and other kinds of early anti-ballistic armor before the 20th century.

Chinese armour Type of armor

Chinese armour was predominantly lamellar from the Warring States period onward, prior to which animal parts such as rhinoceros hide, rawhide, and turtle shells were used for protection. Lamellar armour was supplemented by scale armour since the Warring States period or earlier. Partial plate armour was popular from the Northern and Southern dynasties (420–589), and mail and mountain pattern armour from the Tang dynasty (618–907). mail had been known since the Han Dynasty, but did not see widespread production or battlefield use, and may have seen as "exotic foreign armor" used as a display of wealth for wealthier officers and soldiers. During the Ming dynasty (1368–1644), brigandine began to supplant lamellar armour and was used to a great degree into the Qing dynasty (1644–1912.). By the 19th century most Qing armour, which was of the brigandine type, were purely ceremonial, having kept the outer studs for aesthetic purposes, and omitted the protective metal plates.

Barding full suit of body armour for a war horse

Barding is body armour for war horses. The practice of armoring horses was first extensively developed in antiquity in the eastern kingdoms of Parthia and Pahlava, and after the conquests of Alexander the Great it made its way into European military practices via the Seleucid Empire and later Byzantine Empire. Though its historical roots lie in antiquity in the regions of what was once the Persian Empire, barded horses have become a symbol of the late European Middle Ages chivalry and the era of knights.

<i>Ō-yoroi</i> armor worn by the samurai class of feudal Japan

The ō-yoroi (大鎧) is a prominent example of early Japanese armor worn by the samurai class of feudal Japan. The term ō-yoroi means "great armor."

Burgonet type of light open helmet

The burgonet helmet was a Renaissance-era and early modern combat helmet. It was the successor of the sallet.

Bashford Dean American zoologist

Bashford Dean was an American zoologist, specializing in ichthyology, and at the same time an expert in medieval and modern armor. He is the only person to have held concurrent positions at the American Museum of Natural History and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where he was Honorary Curator of Arms and Armor; the Metropolitan Museum purchased his collection of arms and armor after his death.

Heavy infantry

Heavy infantry refers to heavily armed and armoured infantrymen that were trained to mount frontal assaults and/or anchor the defensive center of a battle line. This differentiated them from light infantry which are relatively mobile and lightly armoured skirmisher troops intended for screening, scouting, and other roles unsuited to the heavier soldiers.

Mail and plate armour armour consisting of chaimail withmetal plates

Mail and plate armour is a type of mail with embedded plates. Armour of this type has been used in the Middle East, Ottoman Empire, Japan, China, Korea, Vietnam, Central Asia, Greater Iran, India, Eastern Europe, Philippines and by the Moors.

Japanese armour armour originating from Japan

Scholars agree that Japanese armour first appeared in the 4th century, with the discovery of the cuirass and basic helmets in graves. It is thought they originated from China via Korea. During the Heian period (794-1185), the Japanese cuirass evolved into the more familiar style of body armour worn by the samurai known as the dou or dō, with the use of leather straps (nerigawa), and lacquer for weatherproofing. Leather and/or iron scales were also used to construct samurai armours, with leather and eventually silk lace used to connect the individual scales (kozane) of these cuirasses. In the 16th century, Japan began trading with Europe, during what would become known as the Nanban trade. Samurai acquired European types of armour, which they modified and combined with domestic armour, as it provided better protection from the newly introduced matchlock muskets. When a united Japan entered the peaceful Edo period, samurai continued to use both plate and lamellar armour as a symbol of their status. Lightweight, portable, and secret hidden armours became popular, since personal protection was still needed against civil unrest.

Helmschmied Medieval German family of armourers

The Helmschmieds of Augsburg were one of late medieval Europe's foremost families of armourers. Their name, sometimes also spelled Helmschmid, translates to helmet smith. The family's most prominent members were Lorenz Helmschmied, Kolman Helmschmied (1471–1532) and Desiderius Kolman Helmschmied (1513–1579).

<i>Tatami</i> (Japanese armour)

Tatami (畳具足), or tatami gusoku and gusoku, was a type of lightweight portable folding Japanese armour worn during the feudal era of Japan by the samurai class and their foot soldiers (ashigaru). The Tatami dō or the tatami katabira were the main components of a full suit of tatami armour.

<i>Armor of Ferdinand I, Holy Roman Emperor</i> worn by Ferdinand I, Holy Roman Emperor

The Armor of Emperor Ferdinand I is a suit of plate armor created by the Nuremberg armorer Kunz Lochner in 1549 for the future Ferdinand I, Holy Roman Emperor. One of several suits of armor made for the Emperor Ferdinand during the wars of Reformation and conflict with the Ottomans, the etched but functional armor is thought by scholars to symbolize and document the role of the Habsburg Catholic monarchs as warriors on Europe's literal and ideological battlefields.

Turban helmet helmet shaped like a turban

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Kulah khud Middle Eastern helmet that generally has a sliding nose guard, two plume holders and a spike on top, with a chainmail neck guard

Kulah Khuds were used in ancient western Asia for battle and as decorative head pieces.

Helmet of eight plates in the Korean style iron helmet produced between 14th and 16th centuries in either Korean peninsula or Mongolia

Helmet of eight plates in the Korean style is a helmet produced between 14th and 16th centuries in either Korean peninsula or Mongolia. This helmet consists of eight plates made of iron. It is speculated that this helmet style was spread to Korean peninsula from theTibetan regions. Helmets with similar structure can be seen in Tibet, while both versions of the helmet are made of iron and leather. But Korean-style eight plated helmets are distinguished from those of Tibetan style by its relatively smaller size. Usually a Tibetan-style eight plated helmet measures 21–22 cm in height. But this Korean style helmet measures only 13 cm in height. Currently displayed at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, the Korean style helmet measures 24.3 cm in length and 21 cm in width and 1065.9 g in weight.


  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 Rocca, Author: Donald J. La. "Tibetan Arms and Armor | Essay | Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History | The Metropolitan Museum of Art". The Met’s Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. Retrieved 2017-11-19.
  2. Tibetan gzim sbyong pa / zimchongpa heavy infantryman http://www.forensicfashion.com/1578TibetanInfantry.html
  3. Beckwith, Christopher I. The Tibetan Empire in Central Asia: A History of the Struggle for Great Power among Tibetans, Turks, Arabs, and Chinese during the Early Middle Ages (1987) Princeton University Press. ISBN   0-691-02469-3
  4. al-Zubayr, Aḥmad ibn al-Rashīd Ibn (1996). Book of Gifts and Rarities. Harvard CMES. ISBN   9780932885135.
  5. Rocca, Author: Donald J. La. "The Decoration of Tibetan Arms and Armor | Essay | Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History | The Metropolitan Museum of Art". The Met’s Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. Retrieved 2017-11-19.