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Treadmill shows medieval armour influenced battles - Comments

All About Meme's Avatar Comment 1 by All About Meme

Medieval suits of armour were so exhausting to wear that they could have affected the outcomes of famous battles, a study suggests.

This explains perfectly why atheists continue to win debates with theists.


Wed, 20 Jul 2011 08:19:33 UTC | #851619

Anonymous's Avatar Comment 2 by Anonymous

Comment Removed by Moderator

Wed, 20 Jul 2011 08:34:17 UTC | #851625

Cartomancer's Avatar Comment 3 by Cartomancer

Well, it's nice that somebody has finally got around to working out the precise details of this, but I'm not sure we've really learned anything useful here. Admittedly it could have turned out differently, and there might have been a considerable surprise which forced us to re-evaluate the encumbrance value of plate armour, but really I am puzzled as to why we didn't just believe the historians who have studied accounts of battles and archaeologists who have examined the actual armour. What next, a study into whether Bubonic Plague really was as unpleasant to have as they said?

I should also point out that the sorts of full-plate suits in the photographs were generally cavalry armour for a mounted knight, and hence not being able to run around in them wasn't such a big drawback. Medieval (and, indeed, ancient) infantry generally wore much less armour. The complete full plate suit was actually a comparatively brief military innovation, arising at the beginning of the fourteenth century as a means to protect a mounted knight against massed archery and during his charge, and remaining useful only until the end of the fifteenth century, when powerful crossbows and handguns that could penetrate it (as well as pike and shot tactics) rendered the mounted knight somewhat obsolete. Those cumbersome greaves, cuisses an poleyns on the legs were the first things to go, followed by the vambrace, rerebrace, shoulder pauldrons and gauntlets which restricted arm movement. The early modern warrior still generally wore a breastplate, and sometimes a backplate too, which became the cuirass of the Napoleonic era, but the enclosing armet, sallet or burgeonet helms were really only of any use to a medieval knight, so those disappeared. Even then the fully armoured mounted knight was not a troop type well suited to all military engagements. When battles were fought on boggy, uneven or broken ground, they were pretty useless. Likewise in sieges and street fighting - you can't really go charging at a castle on horseback, or use a couched lance up a siege ladder.

A lot of the really elaborate medieval armour one sees these days is show pieces however - the sorts of incredibly expensive armour a king or noble would have commissioned to display his wealth and status (which was almost never used in battle and hence never wore out, and remains with us, where more functional armour soon became useless and was recycled). The reason we tend to think of the mounted knight as the most important military force in the central and later Middle Ages is because the ideals and culture of knighthood - chivalry, chevalerie, were the ideals of the ruling class, and it just wouldn't do to admit that most battles were won by peasant men at arms shooting arrows at each other or walloping each other to death with billhooks in the mud.

Wed, 20 Jul 2011 08:47:27 UTC | #851628

Tony d's Avatar Comment 4 by Tony d

This does seem to be stating the obvious .A bit like saying Usain Bolt,would be a lot slower at the hundred meters if he was forced to run it in a suit of medieval Armour.

Wed, 20 Jul 2011 08:58:28 UTC | #851630

Tony d's Avatar Comment 5 by Tony d

I wonder if they will do the corollary experiment and see how modern sports equipment stands up to broadswords and maces?

Wed, 20 Jul 2011 09:18:05 UTC | #851640

All About Meme's Avatar Comment 6 by All About Meme

Comment 3 by Cartomancer

Well now THAT was certainly more interesting than the article. I bet you are one scary dungeon-master...


Wed, 20 Jul 2011 09:25:11 UTC | #851642

Denial's Avatar Comment 7 by Denial

I like it. I'd like to see more of this type of article on this site in the future.

Wed, 20 Jul 2011 09:39:18 UTC | #851646

Simon Templar's Avatar Comment 8 by Simon Templar

This confirms what my history teacher taught me in 1972 in Form 3X and clears the doubt that I had in him for the last 39 years

Wed, 20 Jul 2011 10:03:31 UTC | #851650

aquilacane's Avatar Comment 9 by aquilacane

next, they'll check an astronaut's space walking suit. It may have affected the outcomes of famous space walks.

Wed, 20 Jul 2011 10:17:42 UTC | #851653

epeeist's Avatar Comment 10 by epeeist

Comment 5 by Tony d :

I wonder if they will do the corollary experiment and see how modern sports equipment stands up to broadswords and maces?

I don't know about maces but modern fencing equipment should be quite robust. The CEN 2 clothing that is used for international competitions are penetration resistant to 800 Newtons and you have to wear both a jacket and under-jacket (plastron) to the specifications. Masks are rated at 1600N.

Wed, 20 Jul 2011 10:48:50 UTC | #851661

Alovrin's Avatar Comment 11 by Alovrin

Comment 10 by epeeist

They should have worn fencing equipment....silly knights.

Oh apart from being chivalrous of course. Oh and I just be off look into the Battle of Agincourt. This stood out.

the armour-clad French, who had to trek through a muddy field to meet the stationary English line,

Did they get off their horses and walk through mud? Oh my giddy aunt!

Wed, 20 Jul 2011 11:16:35 UTC | #851667

AtheistButt's Avatar Comment 12 by AtheistButt

There does seem to be a degree of "bleedin' obvious" about it. And I agree with All About Meme; Carto's analysis is much more interesting than the original.

Wed, 20 Jul 2011 11:33:38 UTC | #851669

epeeist's Avatar Comment 13 by epeeist

Comment 11 by Alovrin :

They should have worn fencing equipment....silly knights.

I don't think Kevlar had been invented back then...

Wed, 20 Jul 2011 11:46:30 UTC | #851674

Alovrin's Avatar Comment 14 by Alovrin

I don't think Kevlar had been invented back then...

Damn it. Just to answer myself. They did! Get off their horses and walk through mud in full armour. Well I never. And guess what happened...From wiki.

Henry returned a conquering hero, in the eyes of his subjects and European powers outside of France, blessed by God.

Back in the day ah.

Wed, 20 Jul 2011 11:54:10 UTC | #851679

justinesaracen's Avatar Comment 15 by justinesaracen

Yeah, but they LOOKED so cool. How many kids nowadays collect lead soldiers of mud-covered peasants with bows? MY collection is full of spiffy armor coated cavaliers on snowy white horses.

C'mon. There are more important things than winning the battle!

Wed, 20 Jul 2011 11:54:28 UTC | #851680

Didaktylos's Avatar Comment 16 by Didaktylos

On the subject of Agincourt, it is an attested historical fact that the highest ranking English fatality (Edward, Duke of York) was not actually slain in action but collapsed from heat exhaustion.

Wed, 20 Jul 2011 12:01:34 UTC | #851682

Ignorant Amos's Avatar Comment 17 by Ignorant Amos

Comment 3 by Cartomancer

Ironically the full body armour is making a comeback on the modern battlefield along with the trade off in mobility for the infantryman. Modern armour suites include just about all the components of the medievel suite. I believe the first modern full body armour was the E.O.D. suit or bomb disposal if you like, a very cumbersome outfit that achieved very little but fragmentation protection, in a direct hit it did nothing more than keep the targets body in roughly one piece. I have had the misfortune of having to dress in the very same and for the purposes of the job, it is more of a hindrance than an asset.

The latest addition to the armour armoury is the bomb proof boxer shorts, not terribly fetching I admit, but if they offer any protection to "Fagan and the two Magee's" then job done.

Corporal Simon Mercer, who has just returned from Afghanistan with the 1st Battalion The Royal Anglian Regiment said: 'You go out on patrol and you've got a helmet for your head and body armour for your torso, but you've got nothing for your groin. It's forever in your mind.'

I guess the whole armour issue was about optimal combat ability, medieval armour had had out lived it's usefulness in light of advance in ballistic's, modern armour has had a resurgence due to the advances in lightweight anti ballistic materials, so I suppose we've come full circle. The future of personal armour for the combat infantryman will be very exciting with innovations like Dragon Skin and Liquid Armour or exoskeleton types, at least from an ex-squaddie point of view, I'm not sure about other members perspectives.

Wed, 20 Jul 2011 12:01:49 UTC | #851683

Alovrin's Avatar Comment 18 by Alovrin

MY collection is full of spiffy armor coated cavaliers on snowy white horses.

now I'm jealous.

Wed, 20 Jul 2011 12:04:40 UTC | #851685

SaganTheCat's Avatar Comment 19 by SaganTheCat


I caught a glimpse of this on TV this morning and gave it no more thought as you say, this is armour for horseback not fighting on foot.

still it may be a sign of evolution by sexual selection. like the peackocks tail, the lady's love a "night in shining armour", even if he is too knackered to live up to their expectations

Wed, 20 Jul 2011 12:07:16 UTC | #851686

Neodarwinian's Avatar Comment 20 by Neodarwinian

How does this affect Iron Man?

Wed, 20 Jul 2011 13:29:05 UTC | #851724

God fearing Atheist's Avatar Comment 21 by God fearing Atheist

Experimental archaeology brings science to history. History is like any eye-witness account - it could be bollocks. Now we know more about the physiology of wearing armour.

Wed, 20 Jul 2011 14:21:40 UTC | #851747

prettygoodformonkeys's Avatar Comment 22 by prettygoodformonkeys

Thanks to Cartomancer for an insightful, and much more informed, analysis. Kudos.

Wed, 20 Jul 2011 14:39:12 UTC | #851755

Ignorant Amos's Avatar Comment 23 by Ignorant Amos

Comment 19 by Daniel Clear

still it may be a sign of evolution by sexual selection. like the peackocks tail, the lady's love a "(k)night in shining armour", even if he is too knackered to live up to their expectations

That's one way of looking at it. I'm sure there are ladies that like both, do chastity belts count as armour? They are supposed to give protection against lancing after all }80)~

Soz, ma coat is on, I'm outta here.

Wed, 20 Jul 2011 14:41:39 UTC | #851757

SnowyDoc's Avatar Comment 24 by SnowyDoc

I vote for Cartomancer to become our benevolent dictator... :)

Wed, 20 Jul 2011 15:10:12 UTC | #851775

njwong's Avatar Comment 25 by njwong

Last year, I read Mark Twain's "A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court". There was a section in the book where the narrator describes the cons of wearing a suit of armour. Besides the weight of the armour itself, the metal absorbed much heat from the sun, and poor ventilation makes the wearer hot and sweaty. However, because of the helmet that covers his head completely, he was unable to wipe the sweat off his brow, and when sweat entered and stinged his eyes, he was temporarily blinded. Also, as the sweat on the other parts of his body dried, it left a sticky layer on his skin, leaving him with an itchiness all over his body that he was unable to relieve as the armour prevented him from scratching the itches.

Reading that passage demolished all majestic notions I previously held about medieval knights in their shining armour. With all that weight and discomfort, it is no wonder that these armoured knights cannot be the effective fighting machines as they are romanticised to be.

Wed, 20 Jul 2011 15:19:13 UTC | #851779

liq's Avatar Comment 26 by liq

This is why certain people don’t like science, useless stuff like this. Did it really take students at Oxford to tell us wearing a lot of metal makes it hard to move?

Wed, 20 Jul 2011 16:48:28 UTC | #851825

Sean_W's Avatar Comment 27 by Sean_W


To hell with those people, I bet they read shampoo bottles on the shitter.

That's not to say I don't appreciate the joking in here, I do. I myself thought, what next, a judge's disposition influences rulings.

Wed, 20 Jul 2011 17:18:22 UTC | #851836

Maximus222's Avatar Comment 28 by Maximus222

Liq, I think studies like this can add quite a bit to our understanding of history. Perhaps no in this case, but her in the states and other places various approaches to forensic history I guess you would call it, have actually helped historians better understand the particulars of past battles. This kind of study certainly helps us better understand how much it cost to travel in to a battle in heavy armor, and how much it cost to fight in it. I think it adds somewhat to the detailed knowledge of history and that nuance is certainly worth having don't you think? Understanding like this can lead to potentially new questions about armor and its usage. If the physiological costs were so high why was it used? Perhaps historians can go back and look at various battles and this new insight could pave the way to others. Its strange to me, how the outcome of a fracas can hinge on minute details.

Possible tangent..... But consider the following oddity:

Who has the better odds in the following combat scenario: one person has a knife and the other person has a pistol? Both have their weapons holstered. Many people might be tempted to give a fairly common sense and dismissive answer: Guns>knives duh?! Do we need anyone at Oxford, or even to tell us this? However the actual answer depends largely on the distance between the princples. 0-6 ft seems to be the area where any engagement favors the person with the knife. It is easier, and faster to deploy, and can get to work as quickly as it is removed from its sheath, or point of concealment. A pistol or revolver will have to be unholstered (if this isn't a tactical holster this will add time), the safety must be clicked off, you must then sight, aquire and fire. There is plenty of training video on youtube depicting law enforcement personel (men and women trained to quickly unholster their pistols) who failed to unholster their weapons before being set upon by an aggressor from up to 20 feet away. Below 20 feet it is often advised that if you haven't already unholstered your weapon you forget it, and deal with the person coming at you armed with the knife (that is to say deal with the knife first before you bring out your own weapon). That may seem like a bit of a tangent, but I hope it illustrates how common sense (Don't bring a knife to a gunfight) is often befuddled by the facts on the ground (Don't bring a gun to a knife fight, if 1. It isn't already unholstered and live, 2. If the distances are <20 ft and if your have your gun holstered, and safed.) My point is that understanding is often aided by minutae such as that described in this study. Anyway just a thought.

EDIT: Here is an old training video of what I am about:

Wed, 20 Jul 2011 19:44:01 UTC | #851902

RobKing's Avatar Comment 29 by RobKing

I would ask seriously how good replicas these were. Do we still have armour producing skills to the same level? I have seen replica armour compared to the real thing and it is stiffer and less well balanced. Also, how fit are these volunteers? I would be intrigued to see normal "re-enactors" don modern fire-fighting or marine corps kits and run on a treadmill. Hollywood visions of knights being hoisted into saddle were likely only true of full jousting plate--there is evidence that knights could jump into the saddle in full field plate. Not that this means that armour weight was not a significant factor at Agincourt, Crecy and Poitiers--sheer volume of armour-penetrating fire combined with an insane charge through mud probably does explain the defeats quite well.

Wed, 20 Jul 2011 22:20:21 UTC | #851953

AnAtheistBastard's Avatar Comment 30 by AnAtheistBastard

I'd love to see some more of these lighter (sorry!) articles. Not that I have any problem with people asking about religious issues or the newest arc building project, but things like this are good at pulling laypeople in, and it's not like we'd have to sacrifice other articles.

I'm curious about how this project came into being. It reminds me of something from xkcd. "Can we have a grant of $50,000? We're going to take a bunch of undergrads, strap medieval armor onto them and make them run on treadmills, for science!"

The armor in the picture looks kind of hollywoodish, although that might just be me.

Wed, 20 Jul 2011 23:57:00 UTC | #851978