A cuirass (/kwɪˈræs, kjʊəˈræs/;[1] French: cuirasse, Latin: coriaceus) is a piece of armor, formed of a single or multiple pieces of metal or other rigid material which covers the torso. The use of the term "cuirass" generally refers to both the chest plate (or breast plate) and the back piece together. Whereas a chest plate only protects the front and a back plate only protects the back, a cuirass protects both the front and the back.

Géricault - Portrait de carabinier - Louvre
Cuirass worn by a Carabinier-à-Cheval


In Hellenistic and Roman times, the musculature of the male torso was idealized in the form of the muscle cuirass[2] or "heroic cuirass" (in French the cuirasse esthétique)[3] sometimes further embellished with symbolic representation in relief, familiar in the Augustus of Prima Porta and other heroic representations in official Roman sculpture. As parts of the actual military equipment of classic antiquity, cuirasses and corsets of bronze, iron, or some other rigid substance were used. Secondary protection for the breast was worn in earlier times by men-at-arms in addition to mail hauberks and reinforced coats. It was not until the 14th century that the plate armor became an established part of medieval armor.


Indian steel cuirass 17th to 18th century
Indian steel cuirass, 17th to 18th century

The Roman emperor Galba donned a cuirass just before he went to his death. Suetonius records in 12 Caesars that, "As [Galba] was offering sacrifice on the morning before he was killed, a soothsayer warned him again and again to look out for danger, since assassins were not far off. Not long after this he learned that Otho held possession of the camp, and when several advised him to proceed thither as soon as possible – for they said that he could win the day by his presence and prestige – he decided to do no more than hold his present position and strengthen it by getting together a guard of the legionaries, who were encamped in many different quarters of the city. He did however put on a linen cuirass, though he openly declared that it would afford little protection against so many swords."

The latter portion of the 14th century saw the cuirass gradually come into general use in connection with plate armor for the limbs until, at the close of the century, mail was phased out among the nobles (e.g., knights) except in the camail of the bascinet and at the edge of the hauberk. The cuirass was almost universally worn throughout its lifespan as a form of armor. Thus, the globule form of the breast-armor of the Black Prince, in his effigy in Canterbury Cathedral, 1376, intimates that a cuirass (as well as a hauberk) is to be considered to have been covered by the royalty-emblazoned jupon of the Prince.

Historical cuirass, contrary to many modern reproductions, did not rest on the hips. Historical cuirass usually stopped somewhere around the midriff or bellybutton in order to allow a proper range of movement to the wearer. A cuirass ending at the waist would severely limit the ability of the wearer to lean forward, backward or sideways. Thus, to protect the rest of the torso, mail or fauld were used depending on the time period.

An 1854 cuirass worn by the French Cuirassiers

Early in the 15th century, plate armor, including the cuirass, began to be worn without any surcoat; but in the concluding quarter of the century the short surcoat, with full short sleeves, known as a "tabard", was in general use over the armor. While the surcoat was being phased out, small plates of various forms and sizes (and not always made in pairs, i.e., the plate for the sword-arm often being smaller and lighter than the one for the off-hand) were attached to the armor in front of the shoulders, to defend the otherwise vulnerable points where the plate defenses left a gap.

About the middle of the century, the breastplate of the cuirass was made in two parts; the lower adjusted to overlap the upper, held together with a strap or sliding rivet in order to add flexibility to the advantages plate armor had over mail. In the second half of the 15th century, the cuirass was occasionally superseded by the brigandine jacket, the medieval forerunner of the flak jacket. In essence, the brigandine jacket was constructed of metal plates sewn into a fabric jacket. The fabric was generally a rich material, and was lined throughout with overlapping scales of metal which were attached to the jacket by rivets, having their heads, like studs, visible on the outside.

German helmet and frontal armoured plate for trench warfare 1916
German helmet and frontal armored plate for trench warfare, 1916

About 1550, the breast-piece of the cuirass was characterized by a vertical central ridge, called the tapul, having near its center a projecting point. Somewhat later, the tapul was moved lower on the breast. Eventually, the profile of the plate began to resemble a pea pod and, as such, was referred to as the peascod cuirass.

Corslets provided with both breast and back pieces were worn by foot-soldiers in the 17th century, while their mounted comrades were equipped in heavier and stronger cuirasses. These defenses continued in use longer than any other single piece of armor. Their use never altogether ceased and in modern armies mounted cuirassiers, armed as in earlier days with breast and back plates, have in some degree emulated the martial splendour of the body armor of the era of medieval chivalry. Both the French and German heavy cavalry wore cuirasses in parade leading up to World War I. In the early part of that conflict, they painted their cuirasses black and wore canvas protection covers over the neo-Roman style helmets.

Some years after Waterloo, certain historical cuirasses were taken from their repose in the Tower of London and adapted for service by the Life Guards and the Horse Guards. For parade purposes, the Prussian Gardes du Corps and other corps wore cuirasses of richly decorated leather.

The Japanese cuirass

Iyozane dou 2
Japanese cuirass (dō) from the 1600s made from individual large scales (hon iyozane)

Cuirasses were manufactured in Japan as early as the 4th century.[4] Tankō, worn by foot soldiers and keikō, worn by horsemen were both pre-samurai types of early Japanese cuirass constructed from iron plates connected by leather thongs. During the Heian period (794 to 1185), Japanese armourers started to use leather as a material and lacquer for weatherproofing.

By the end of the Heian period, the Japanese cuirass had arrived at the shape recognized as part of iconic samurai armor. Scales of iron and leather, bound together by silk lace, were used to construct samurai armors.[5] The introduction of firearms to Japan in 1543 resulted in the development of a cuirass constructed of solid iron plates. The use of the samurai cuirass lasted until the 1860s when a national army using conventional uniforms was established.[6] Samurai armor (and cuirasses) were last used in 1877 during the Satsuma rebellion.[7]

See also


  1. ^ "cuirass". Oxford English Dictionary (3rd ed.). Oxford University Press. September 2005. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  2. ^ Charlotte R. Long, The Twelve Gods of Greece and Rome (Brill, 1987), p. 184; Elfriede R. Knauer, "Knemides in the East. Some Observations on the Impact of Greek Body Armor on 'Barbarian' Tribes," in Nomodeiktes: Greek Studies in Honor of Martin Ostwald (University of Michigan Press, 1993), pp. 238–239.
  3. ^ Kenneth Clark remarks on this familiar convention in The Nude: A Study in Ideal Form 1956:67.
  4. ^ Farris, William Wayne (3 June 1998). "Sacred Texts and Buried Treasures: Issues in the Historical Archaeology of Ancient Japan". University of Hawaii Press. p. 75 – via Google Books.
  5. ^ Robinson, H. Russell (3 June 2017). "Oriental Armor: By H. Russell Robinson". Courier Corporation. p. 173 – via Google Books.
  6. ^ Nagayama, Kōkan (3 June 1997). "The Connoisseur's Book of Japanese Swords". Kodansha International. p. 43 – via Google Books.
  7. ^ Samurai: The Weapons and Spirit of the Japanese Warrior, Clive Sinclaire, Globe Pequot, 2004, page 58.
Components of medieval armour

This table identifies various pieces of armour worn from the medieval to Early Modern period in the West, mostly plate but some mail, arranged by the part of body that is protected and roughly by date. No attempt has been made to identify fastening components or various appendages such as lancerests or plumeholders or clothing such as tabards or surcoats which were often worn over a harness.

There are a variety of alternative names and spellings (such as cowter/couter or bassinet/bascinet/basinet or besagew/besague) which often reflect a word introduced from the French. Generally, the English spelling has been preferred (including mail instead of the lately used maille or the inauthentic term chainmail).


Cuirassiers (; from French cuirassier [kɥiʁasje]) were cavalry equipped with armour and firearms, first appearing in late 15th-century Europe. The first cuirassiers were produced as a result of armoured cavalry, such as the man-at-arms and demi-lancer, discarding their lances and adopting the use of pistols as their primary weapon. In the later 17th century, the cuirassier lost his limb armour and subsequently employed only the cuirass (breastplate and backplate), and sometimes a helmet. By this time, the sword was the primary weapon of the cuirassier, pistols being relegated to a secondary function.

Cuirassiers achieved increased prominence during the Napoleonic Wars and were last fielded in the opening stages of World War I. Cuirassiers continue to be employed as ceremonial troops by a number of countries. The French term means "one with a cuirass" (cuirasse), the breastplate armour which they wore.

Doublet (clothing)

A doublet (derived from the Ital. giubbetta) is a man's snug-fitting jacket that is shaped and fitted to the man's body which was worn in Spain and was spread to Western Europe from the late Middle Ages up to the mid-17th century. The doublet was hip length or waist length and worn over the shirt or drawers. Until the end of the 15th century, the doublet was usually worn under another layer of clothing such as a gown, mantle, overtunic or jerkin when in public.

Originally it was a mere stitched and quilted lining ("doubling"), worn under a hauberk or cuirass to prevent bruising and chafing. Doublets were sometimes opened to the waistline in a deep V. The edges might be left free or laced across the shirt front. If there was space left it might be filled with a stomacher. By the 1520s, the edges of the doublet more frequently met at the center front. Then, like many other originally practical items in the history of men's wear, from the late 15th century onward it became elaborated enough to be seen on its own.

Throughout the 300 years of its use, the doublet served the same purpose: to give fashionable shape and padding to the body, to support the hose by providing ties, and to provide warmth to the body. The only things that changed about the doublet over its history was its style and cut. It was fashionable in the 1600s.

Dō (armour)

Dō or dou (breastplate or cuirass) is one of the major components of Japanese armour worn by the samurai class and foot soldiers (ashigaru) of feudal Japan.

Faulds (armour)

Faulds are pieces of plate armour worn below a breastplate to protect the waist and hips, which began to appear in Western Europe from about 1370. They consist of overlapping horizontal lames of metal, articulated for flexibility, that form an apron-like skirt in front. When worn with a cuirass, faulds are often paired with a similar defense for the rump called a culet, so that the faulds and culet form a skirt that surrounds the hips in front and back; the culet is often made of fewer lames than the fauld, especially on armor for a horseman. The faulds can either be riveted to the lower edge of the breastplate or made as a separate piece that the breastplate snugly overlaps. Although faulds varied in length, most faulds for field use ended above the knees.

A pair of tassets to protect the upper thighs was often suspended from the bottom edge of the fauld by straps and buckles. From the 16th century onward, some armors integrated the fauld and tassets almost seamlessly; the fauld lames were those which were continuous from side to side, and the tassets began where they separated at the groin. A much larger skirt that was usually confined to foot tournaments was called a tonlet. By the 17th century, many cuirasses either omitted both faulds and tassets altogether, or had large tassets suspended directly from the lower edge of the breastplate without any fauld lames in between.

Iron lung

A negative pressure ventilator, also known as iron lung (colloquialism) or pulmotor (generic trademark), is a nearly-obsolete mechanical respirator which enables a person to breathe on their own in a normal manner, when muscle control is lost, or the work of breathing exceeds the person's ability, as may result from certain diseases (e.g. poliomyelitis, botulism) and certain poisons (e.g. barbiturates, tubocurarine).

Examples of the device include both the Drinker respirator, the Emerson respirator, and the Both (or Emerson-Drinker) respirator. The negative form of pressure ventilation (decreasing surrounding pressure to induce inhalation then repressurizing to 1 bar (15 psi; 750 mmHg)) has been almost entirely superseded by positive pressure ventilation (forcing air into the lungs with a pressure greater than 1 bar then allowing the body to naturally exhale before repeating) or negative pressure cuirass ventilation.

Japanese armour

Armour in Japan has a history that goes back as far as the 4th century. Japanese armour developed enormously over the centuries since its introduction to the battlefield and warfare.

Ksour Essef cuirass

The Ksour Essef cuirass is a Hellenistic gilded bronze cuirass which was found at Ksour Essef in Tunisia. It is now kept in the Bardo National Museum in Tunis.

Laminar armour

Laminar armour (from Latin: lamina - layer) is an armour made from horizontal overlapping rows or bands of solid armour plates, as opposed to lamellar armour, which is made from individual armor scales laced together to form a solid-looking strip of armor.

Prominent examples of such armour are lorica segmentata and certain versions of samurai armour.

Less known examples were present in Asia from Iran to Mongolia, including Central Asia. Laminar armor from animal skins has also been traditionally made and worn in the Arctic areas of what are now Siberia, Alaska and Canada.

In the 16th century laminar and lamellar armour was superseded by plated mail in the Middle East and Central Asia, remaining mainly in Mongolia. However, laminar armor did appear briefly in some form in Europe during the 16th to the 17th century with the main feature that distinguished it from other forms of laminar armor being the metal strips being fastened using sliding rivets. This was known as anima and was invented in Italy. Notable examples include the Earl of Pembroke's Armour and the armor worn by the Polish hussars. The technique was also used to armor the neck, upper limbs, and hips as seen in the Almain rivet and the zischagge.


The linothorax (pronounced ) (Greek: λινοθώρακας) is a type of upper body armor used by the ancient Greeks, ancient Macedonians. The modern term linothorax is based on the Greek λινοθώραξ, which means "wearing a breastplate of linen"; the actual ancient term for this type of armour is unclear. The term "thorax" was the word for breastplate during this era and was traditionally made of metal in most contexts. The "linothorax" were made of linen glued in layers with animal fat, and eventually adopted by many armies. The earliest attested account of a linothorax used for battle is recorded in Book 2 of Homer's Iliad (2.529 and 2.830). It is worn by Ajax the Lesser and is described in brief. Homer, composing stories long before the great armies of Athens, Thebes, Sparta and Macedon, surely understood what the armor was. However, the extent to which it was used can not be fully determined as the texts were not accurate accounts of specific time periods. An educated guess can be made, however, based on its use by Alexander the Great, and its mention by other sources such as Herodotus (2.182, 3.47, 7.63), Livy (4.19.2–20.7), Strabo (Geography, 3.3.6, 13.1.10), and many other minor sources. The linothorax appears to have been used in place of the bronze "bell cuirass" as the popular choice of armour for Greek hoplites, starting perhaps around the late seventh century and early sixth century B.C. This could have been due to the lower price, lesser weight, and cooler material. Its high point in vase paintings, sculptural reliefs and artistic depictions corresponds with the time of the Persian Wars. By the time of the Peloponnesian War it was still used, and continued to seemingly flourish well into the Hellenistic period.

Madamango sea catfish

The Madamango sea catfish (Cathorops spixii), also known as the Raspfin sea catfish or the Spring cuirass, is a species of catfish in the family Ariidae. It was described by Louis Agassiz in 1829. It is a tropical, marine and brackish water-dwelling catfish which occurs between Colombia and Brazil. It inhabits a depth range between 1 to 50 m (3.3 to 164.0 ft). It reaches a maximum total length of 30 cm (12 in), more commonly reaching a TL of 20 cm (7.9 in).The Madamango sea catfish feeds on a variety of crustaceans, including amphipods, copepods, isopods; as well as bony fish and benthic invertebrates. It is preyed upon by Arius parkeri and Elops saurus. It is marketed commercially.The species epithet refers to biologist Johann Baptist von Spix.

Mechanical ventilation

Mechanical ventilation or assisted ventilation is the medical term for artificial ventilation where mechanical means is used to assist or replace spontaneous breathing. This may involve a machine called a ventilator, or the breathing may be assisted manually by a suitably qualified professional (such as an anesthesiologist or paramedic) compressing a breathing system, bag valve mask device or set of bellows.

Mechanical ventilation is termed "invasive" if it involves any instrument inside the trachea through the mouth, such as an endotracheal tube or the skin, such as a tracheostomy tube.

Face or nasal masks are used for non-invasive ventilation in appropriately selected conscious patients.

There are two main types of mechanical ventilation: positive pressure ventilation, where air (or another gas mix) is pushed into the lungs through the airways, and negative pressure ventilation, where air is, in essence, sucked into the lungs by stimulating movement of the chest. Apart from these two main types there are many specific modes of mechanical ventilation, and their nomenclature has been revised over the decades as the technology has continually developed.

Mirror armour

Mirror armour (Russian: зерцало / zertsalo meaning "mirror"; Chinese: 护心镜 / hùxīnjìng, meaning "protect-heart mirror"), sometimes referred to as disc armour or as chahār-āyneh / char-aina (Persian: چهاﺮآﻳنه meaning "four mirrors"; hence Kazakh: шар-айна / şar-ayna), was a type of cuirass used mainly in Asia, the Middle East and Eastern Europe including Indian, Persia, Tibet, Russia and the Ottoman Empire. It literally translates to "four mirrors" which is a reflection of how these pieces looked, which resembles four (sometimes more) metal discs or rectangular armour plates. Mirror armor was used in some cultures into the 20th century.

Muscle cuirass

In classical antiquity, the muscle cuirass (Latin: lorica musculata), anatomical cuirass or heroic cuirass is a type of cuirass made to fit the wearer's torso and designed to mimic an idealized human physique. It first appears in late Archaic Greece and became widespread throughout the 5th and 4th centuries BC. Originally made from hammered bronze plate, boiled leather also came to be used. It is commonly depicted in Greek and Roman art, where it is worn by generals, emperors, and deities during periods when soldiers used other types.

In Roman sculpture, the muscle cuirass is often highly ornamented with mythological scenes. Archaeological finds of relatively unadorned cuirasses, as well as their depiction by artists in military scenes, indicate that simpler versions were worn in combat situations. The anatomy of muscle cuirasses intended for use might be either realistic or reduced to an abstract design; the fantastically illustrated cuirasses worn by gods and emperors in Roman statues usually incorporate realistic nipples and the navel within the scene depicted.


A plackart (also spelt placcard, planckart or placcate) is a piece of medieval and Renaissance era armour, initially covering the lower half of the front torso. It was a plate reinforcement that composed the bottom part of the front of a medieval breastplate. They were predominantly worn in the 15th century. Sometimes they were worn with a metal finish, while the top part of the cuirass was covered in material (often velvet), the difference in finish making a contrast.

The plackart stopped at the natural waist, and metal plates, much like a skirt, were attached to the bottom of the plackart. These were called faulds, and protected the hip and the groin.

The plackart originally protected the bottom half of the torso, and was attached to the breastplate which covered the top half of the torso. The plackart could be attached with rivets in such a way that it could slide and give movement, though sometimes they were fixed, so the whole front part of the cuirass acted as one solid piece.

Eventually, especially in Italian armour, it evolved to the point where it covered more of the front of the armour, covering nearly the entire breastplate. This form of plackart was later employed by cuirassiers and other armoured cavalry of the late 16th and 17th centuries as a reinforcement designed to give added protection against firearms.

Plackarts of the German Gothic style were often fluted (a form of decoration that gave straight ridges to the armour) and generally more decorated than the Italian style. Fluting decorated the armour while also making it stronger, and possibly deflected sword blows by guiding them off the armour. The tip of the plackart, where it met the breastplate, was often decorated.

Plate armour

Plate armour (or plate mail) 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 13th century.

In Europe, plate armour reached its peak in the late 15th and early 16th centuries. The full suit of armour is thus a feature of the very end of the Middle Ages and of the Renaissance period.

Its popular association with the "medieval knight" is due to the specialised jousting armour which developed in the 16th century.

Full suits of Gothic plate armour were worn on the battlefields of the Burgundian and Italian Wars. The most heavily armoured troops of the period were heavy cavalry, such as the gendarmes and early cuirassiers, but the infantry troops of the Swiss mercenaries and the landsknechts also took to wearing lighter suits of "three quarters" munition armour, leaving the lower legs unprotected.The use of plate armour declined in the 17th century, but it remained common both among the nobility and for the cuirassiers throughout the European wars of religion. After 1650, plate armour was mostly reduced to the simple breastplate (cuirass) worn by cuirassiers. This was due to the development of the flintlock musket, which could penetrate armour at a considerable distance.

For infantry, the breastplate gained renewed importance with the development of shrapnel in the late Napoleonic wars.

The use of steel plates sewn into flak jackets dates to World War II, replaced by more modern materials such as fibre-reinforced plastic since the 1950s.

Portrait of Philip IV in Armour

The Portrait of Philip IV in Armour is a portrait of Philip IV of Spain by Velázquez now in the Museo del Prado in Madrid. It is one of the artist's most realistic portraits of Philip IV and was one of the first he produced after being made painter to the king in 1623. Its style corresponds to the artist's beginnings in Seville and shows its subject in a sculptural style like a portrait bust, with abrupt colour contrasts.


Pteruges (also spelled pteryges, from Greek πτέρυγες, meaning "feathers") refers to the defensive skirt of leather or multi-layered fabric (linen) strips or lappets worn around the waists of Roman and Greek warriors and soldiers, as well as the similarly-fashioned epaulette-like strips worn on the shoulders, that protected the upper arms. Both sets of strips are usually interpreted as belonging to a single garment worn under a cuirass, though in a linen cuirass (linothorax) they may have been integral. The cuirass itself could be variously constructed: of plate-bronze (muscle cuirass), linothorax, scale, lamellar or mail. Pteruges could be arranged as a single row of longer strips or in two or more layers of shorter, overlapping lappets of graduated length.During the Middle Ages, especially in Byzantium and the Middle East, such strips are depicted depending from the back and sides of helmets, to protect the neck while leaving it reasonably free to move. However, no archaeological remains of leather strip defences for helmets have been found. Artistic depictions of such strip-like elements can also be interpreted as vertically-stitched quilted textile defences.

Tatami (Japanese armour)

Tatami (畳具足), or tatami gusoku (from tatamu 畳む, "to fold") and gusoku (meaning full suit of armour), 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 (a foldable cuirass) or the tatami katabira (an armoured jacket) were the main components of a full suit of tatami armour.

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