Insights from Historical Artwork

From the 13th century Maciejowski Bible, a battle scene of several interesting points. On the far left a helm is cut into by a sword and a mace strikes another, next to it on the right an axe bites deep into a conical helm and a sword splits another.  Below, a lance pierces a rider's mail, his own broken in two places.  Both round and heater shields are evident on mounted fighters.  In the back on the far left a large unique chopping blade rises between a sword and two spears.  On the ground below the fight are several bodies showing gruesome wounds.  A severed head on the left, next to it a body with large wounds to the back of the neck, the shoulder and the forearm, next to this a mal-coifed head is almost severed from its body and a figure lies with a blade stuck through his side and his large helm cleaved almost in two. From the color of the conical helms it is not clear whether they are of hardened leather with metal rims or fully steel. Many conical helms tend to be light and flat top helms provide an angle that allows a sword edge to bite into and does not deflect blows as easily. When evaluating historical images of weapons against armor from this period, keep in mind that armor was not standardized and quality did vary.   Helms of this period were not as heavy as later ones and the quality of steel in armor of the 10th – 13th centuries is not considered to generally be as hard as that of the 14th - 16th.   Additionally, many of today’s replica armor is often made of stronger steel and thicker steel than the actual historical pieces from the 1200’s (whereas in contrast, the quality of modern replica sword blades is generally not as fine as the historical pieces). 

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