Armor Terms
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Armour Terminology

Confusingly, there are different national variations on what armour components have been called throughout history. For the purposes of costume articles it's helpful to define some consistent terminology. Yes, they're a bit of a mixture, but I've picked words that I hope will cause least confusion to those who don't go through life with hammer and tongs! These terms are envisaged as being useful 'hooks' to hang more extensive descriptions of LOTR armour upon in further articles.

  • Helm
    • For protecting the head. Most of the Human/Elf/Dwarf helmets seen in the film are open-faced types, though there are important exceptions. A helm may have integral protection for the cheeks, face and back of the neck (elf helms are good examples) or they may have seperate pieces that serve the same purpose. Helms fitted with seperate visors (faceplates) are much more common amongst the Orcs, who, more than anyone, have good reason to hide their ugly mugs! From a filmmaking point of view a helmet with a mask or visor means that the actor’s face, when playing an Orc, does not necessarily need to be fitted with a prosthetic. Pointed elf ears my also be omitted by using a suitably obscuring helmet.
  • Crest
    • A helmet may also be fitted with a decorative device for identification purposes. A crest can also have actual practical protective benefits, depending on what it’s made from. The metal ‘crescent blades’ on Elf helms would be of some use in deflecting blows, and even a simple horsehair crest affixed to the top of a helm can bind an enemy’s weapon or at least confuse their aim.
  • Aventail
    • A mail 'curtain' hanging from the lower edge of the back of the helmet to protect the back and sides of the neck. As opposed to a mail Coif, which covers the entire head.
  • Hauberk
    • A complete mail shirt. In the LOTR film armour context it has long, medium or short sleeves. Mail is generally constructed from joined circular or oval shaped metal rings, either rivetted, welded or even simply butted together. In the simplest, most common Western pattern, each ring is linked through fours others. Mail in the LOTR films, however, can in some cases be seen to be more exotically composed!
    • Hauberks in the film are often worn beneath plate armour which has the following elements:
  • Curiass
    • The entire defense protecting the whole torso. For the purpose of this article we'll separate a plate cuirass into a breastplate, backplate, and front and rear skirts.
  • Arm Defenses
    • The entire defense covering the arm from shoulder to fingertips. It breaks into these components:
    • Pauldron
      • Plate/s that covers the shoulder joint, front, back and top. Why 'Plate/s'? This is not just a Gollum like stutter! Sometimes a pauldron is just one large, single plate, sometimes it can be composed of a number of overlapping, articulated plates. In either case the entire unit may still be referred to as a pauldron.
    • Rerebrace
      • Gutter or cylinder shaped plate/s that cover the upper arm.
    • Elbowguard
      • Curved plate or plate to cover the elbow and also bridge the gap between the upper and lower arm defenses.
    • Sleeve
      • In some cases in the LOTR film armour wearers have no other substantial arm defense but a mail sleeve. Or, they may wear a mail sleeve beneath other arm defenses so it can be seen protecting the gaps. A mail sleeve could be full (to the wrist) length, or just to the elbow or even shorter. They are usually part of a hauberk, but often in films are attached to an unseen arming garment, the rest of the mail being omitted because it's hidden anyway beneath some outer garment. Of course, in reality, protecting just your arms without additional armoured defense would be rather imprudent!
    • Vambrace
      • Gutter or completely cylindrical shaped plate/s that cover the forearm. Vambraces made specifically to protect an archer's arm from the slap of the released bowstring are also called bracers.
    • Gauntlet
      • Covers the hand and usually the lower forearm, either a heavy leather glove with a wrist cuff which might also be covered with articulated plates or mail.
  • Leg Defenses
    • The entire defense covering the leg from hip to toes. These are the components:
    • Tassets
      • Plate/s which protect the hips, particularly in the case of cavalrymen where additional hip protection is often added. They can be attached to the breast/backplate either by straps or rivets or may even be attached to a separate belt.
    • Groinguard
      • Plate/s protecting the groin.
    • Rumpguard
      • Plate/s protecting the buttocks.
    • Cuisses
      • Gutter or cylindrical shaped plate/s protecting the thighs.
    • Kneeguard
      • A curved plate or plates that protect the knee joint and also bridges the gap between the upper and lower leg defenses.
    • Hose
      • An alternate to articulated plate leggings are mail hose. These are basically mail stockings. Tolkien mentions them, but I haven't seen any yet in the film!
    • Greaves
      • Gutter or cylindrical plate/s protecting the shins and calves.
    • Tall Boots
      • Often, heavy leather boots are worn as an alternate or supplement to Greaves. Depending on their construction they may have little value in stopping blades. However they still serve a protection function, particularly for cavalry, where they can prevent chafing of the rider's leg against the horse's flank and also protect against cuts and scrapes from thistles, branches and other typical hazards encountered when mounted.
    • Sabatons
      • Armoured boots with articulated plates that allow walking.
  • Shield
    • Technically, a shield is also defensive piece of armour, though it may also be used offensively to literally punch or ram an enemy.

This is as good a place as any to note that any armour may potentially be used offensively, a helm can be used to butt a foe in the face, an armoured fist makes a fairly effective mace, and so on. The Orcs and fellow travelers in LOTR enhance the offensive qualities of their armour by a lavish use of sharp spikes applied to various surfaces. Sauron is the extreme example!

Thanks to Rob for the definitions

Read Rob's whole article on LOTR Armor!

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This page was last updated 04/22/08