Tibetan armor

Last updated
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 lamellar armour, 16th-17th century Lamellar Armor (Byang Bu'i Khrab) and Helmet MET DP124295.jpg
Tibetan lamellar armour, 16th-17th century
Tibetan Cavalry armor; riveted mail hauberk with mirror armor, steel helmet, armored belt, 18th-19th century, Met museum. Antique chainmail armour with mirror.jpg
Tibetan Cavalry armor; riveted mail hauberk with mirror armor, steel helmet, armored belt, 18th–19th century, Met museum.


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]

A common material used in Tibetan armor was leather (which was really untanned or superficially tanned rawhide). 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 was used after being introduced. 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. He had 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" ( me long bzhi). [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]

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

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Armour</span> Covering used to protect from physical injury or damage

Armour or armor is a covering used to protect an object, individual, or vehicle from physical injury or damage, especially direct contact weapons or projectiles during combat, or from a potentially dangerous environment or activity. Personal armour is used to protect soldiers and war animals. Vehicle armour is used on warships, armoured fighting vehicles, and some mostly ground attack combat aircraft.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Plate armour</span> Body armour consisting of shaped metal plates that were fitted together

Plate armour is a historical type of personal body armour made from bronze, iron, or steel plates, culminating in the iconic suit of armour entirely encasing the wearer. Full plate steel 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.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Tibetan art</span> Art of Tibet

The vast majority of surviving art created before the mid-20th century is religious, with the main forms being thangka, paintings on cloth, mostly in a technique described as gouache or distemper, Tibetan Buddhist wall paintings, and small statues in bronze, or large ones in clay, stucco or wood. They were commissioned by religious establishments or by pious individuals for use within the practice of Tibetan Buddhism and were manufactured in large workshops by monks and lay artists, who are mostly unknown. Various types of religious objects, such as the phurbu or ritual dagger, are finely made and lavishly decorated. Secular objects, in particular jewellery and textiles, were also made, with Chinese influences strong in the latter.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Lamellar armour</span> Armour made of overlapping scales, without a solid backing

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

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Korean armour</span> Type of 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.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Byzantine army</span> Land branch of the armed forces of the Byzantine Empire

The Byzantine army was the primary military body of the Byzantine armed forces, serving alongside the Byzantine navy. A direct continuation of the Eastern Roman army, shaping and developing itself on the legacy of the late Hellenistic armies, it maintained a similar level of discipline, strategic prowess and organization. It was among the most effective armies of Eurasia for much of the Middle Ages. Over time the cavalry arm became more prominent in the Byzantine army as the legion system disappeared in the early 7th century. Later reforms reflected some Germanic and Asian influences – rival forces frequently became sources of mercenary units e.g.; Huns, Cumans, Alans and Turks, meeting the Empire's demand for light cavalry mercenaries. Since much of the Byzantine military focused on the strategy and skill of generals utilizing militia troops, heavy infantry were recruited from Frankish and later Varangian mercenaries.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Chinese armour</span> 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). Chain 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.

Mongolian armour has a long history. Mongol armour drew its influence from Chinese, Middle Eastern, and Central Asian styles. Most Mongolian armour was of scale and lamellar variety. Most armour was made of hardened leather and iron, laced together onto a fabric backing, sometimes silk. Mail armour was also sometimes used, but was rare, probably due to its weight and difficulty to repair. Mongol archers demanded the armour be light enough so that when riding, it didn't interfere with their mobility. It is also possible that the Mongol armour lacked mail and was generally lighter than its counterparts to the East and West because the nomadic habits of the Mongols were not conducive to the labour-intensive practices and permanent facilities necessary for making mail or large plates. Sometimes arm protection was removed so that a rider could draw their bow more easily. The helmet was made of mostly iron, but leather and other materials were also used. Lamellar armour was also used by the countries that were affected by the invasion of the Mongols worldwide, including the conquest of China and the Middle East. This is especially shown by Tamerlane, a debatably Mongol warlord of the 15th century that used lamellar armour consistently with his cavalry, and garbed himself and his men in Mongolian armour during war.


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."

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Lame (armor)</span>

A lame is a solid piece of sheet metal used as a component of a larger section of plate armor used in Europe during the medieval period. It is used in armors to provide articulations or the joining of the armor elements. The size is usually small with a narrow and rectangular shape. Multiple lames are riveted together or connected by leather straps or cloth lacing to form an articulated piece of armor that provides flexible protection. The armor worn by the samurai class of feudal Japan used lames in the construction of many of their individual armor parts. The Japanese term is ita, which can both refer to the lame or its borderings.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Bashford Dean</span> American zoologist (1867–1928)

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.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Heavy infantry</span> Type of infantry that is heavily armed and armoured

Heavy infantry consisted of heavily armed and armoured infantrymen who were trained to mount frontal assaults and/or anchor the defensive center of a battle line. This differentiated them from light infantry who are relatively mobile and lightly armoured skirmisher troops intended for screening, scouting, and other tactical roles unsuited to soldiers carrying heavier loads. Heavy infantry typically made use of dense battlefield formations, such as shield wall or phalanx, multiplying their effective weight of arms with force concentration.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Morion (helmet)</span> Brimmed and crested helmet

A morion is a type of open-faced combat helmet originally from the Kingdom of Castile (Spain), used from the beginning 16th to early 17th centuries, usually having a flat brim and a crest from front to back. Its introduction was contemporaneous with the exploration of North, Central and South America. Explorers such as Hernando de Soto and Coronado may have supplied them to their foot soldiers in the 1540s.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Mail and plate armour</span> Type of armour

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

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Japanese armour</span> Type of armour

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 unique Japanese samurai armour ō-yoroi and dō-maru appeared. 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. This was the first time matchlock muskets were imported, and as they became mass-produced domestically, samurai needed lighter and more protective armour. As a result, a new style of armour called tosei-gusoku (gusoku), which means modern armour, appeared. When a united Japan entered the peaceful Edo period, samurai continued to use both plate and lamellar armour as a symbol of their status.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Lance rest</span>

A lance rest is a metal flange or hook that is typically attached to the right side of a breastplate, just under the armpit. The lance rest appeared in the late 14th century, remaining in use until the use of full plate armour and heavy lances became obsolete for general use in the late 16th and early 17th centuries.

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

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.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Turban helmet</span>

The turban helmet is a historical variety of combat helmet with a bulbous shape and fluting that imitates the folds of a turban. Turban helmets originated in Ottoman Turkey, primarily used by warriors and some external attics.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Kulah khud</span>

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

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Helmet of eight plates in the Korean style</span>

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 the Tibetan 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.{{cite web}}: |first= has generic name (help)
  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. La Rocca, Donald J. "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.