Merry Christmas

If your idea of a Christmas present is watching a guy in 15C armor running on a treadmill, Merry Christmas. The study, published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B (Biological Sciences), argues that steel plate armor doubled the energy expended by unencumbered soldiers. I seem to recall medievalists arguing that the finely-crafted balance of plate mail made it not much of an encumbrance at all, so I wonder if this is a revelation or not. Here’s the abstract from the journal article:

In Medieval Europe, soldiers wore steel plate armour for protection during warfare. Armour design reflected a trade-off between protection and mobility it offered the wearer. By the fifteenth century, a typical suit of field armour weighed between 30 and 50 kg and was distributed over the entire body. How much wearing armour affected Medieval soldiers’ locomotor energetics and biomechanics is unknown. We investigated the mechanics and the energetic cost of locomotion in armour, and determined the effects on physical performance. We found that the net cost of locomotion (Cmet) during armoured walking and running is much more energetically expensive than unloaded locomotion. Cmet for locomotion in armour was 2.1–2.3 times higher for walking, and 1.9 times higher for running when compared with Cmet for unloaded locomotion at the same speed. An important component of the increased energy use results from the extra force that must be generated to support the additional mass. However, the energetic cost of locomotion in armour was also much higher than equivalent trunk loading. This additional cost is mostly explained by the increased energy required to swing the limbs and impaired breathing. Our findings can predict age-associated decline in Medieval soldiers’ physical performance, and have potential implications in understanding the outcomes of past European military battles.

Of course this leaves all sorts of questions unanswered, assuming the scientists included all the relevant variables in their experiment. The British media has framed the question around the battle of Agincourt, no surprise, where the French men-at-arms famously dismounted and slogged their way across a ploughed field to get at the awaiting English. As an aside, the first exam in my first grad school foray into EMEMH (a Joe Guilmartin course) required me to put myself in the greaves of a French knight as I slogged across that soggy field. I don’t remember my grade, but I do remember ending it with dying thoughts of my petite chouchou back home, whom I would never see again. But I digress…

I wonder if the Agincourt framing is a bit misleading, since the English are generally said to be among the first to dismount their own knights, to shore up their archers. So I guess I’m left wondering how we incorporate this information into our understanding of late medieval battlefield tactics. Presumably it provided further encouragement for the preference for defensive dispositions in battle, as Cliff Rogers emphasizes. Any other thoughts?


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3 responses to “Merry Christmas”

  1. Elizabeth Ostwald says :

    The 23rd is early for Christmas, but it’s right on time for Festivus. Does this go under Feats of Strength or is it related to the origins of the metal pole?

  2. Wayne says :

    You could argue, as I have, that this is a symptom of increasing cultural emphasis on knight-on-knight combat, even as that system was increasingly tenuous on the real battlefield. Also: the heavier the individual armor, the less ability to synchronize tactical movements.
    (do you have the full cite? I remember seeing press coverage when this came out, but don’t have the original cite).

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