Not to be confused with Brigantine.
For the video game, see Brigandine (video game).
Brigandine from Handbuch der Waffenkunde (Handbook of Expertise), Wendelin Boeheim, 1890.

A brigandine is a form of body armour from the Middle Ages. It is a cloth garment, generally canvas or leather, lined with small oblong steel plates riveted to the fabric.


Saint Michael and the Dragon with sword & buckler, wearing brigandine with plate armour for hand and legs

Protective clothing and armour have been used by armies from earliest recorded history; the King James Version of the Bible [Jeremiah 46:4] translates the Hebrew סריון[1] ÇiRYON or שריון SiRYoN "coat of mail"[2] as "brigandine". Medieval brigandines were essentially a refinement of the earlier coat of plates, which developed in the late 12th century, typically of simpler construction made of larger plates. The Asian-originated armour reached Europe after the Mongol invasion in 1240 that destroyed the Kievan Rus' and generated extensive damage to the Kingdom of Hungary in 1241. The new armour became very popular first in Eastern Europe, especially in Hungary, towards the end of the 13th century and after having proved effective was adopted by the medieval states from West Europe several decades later.[3]

Later Brigandines first appeared towards the end of the 14th century, but survived beyond this transitional period between mail and plate, and came into wide use in the 15th century, remaining in use well into the 16th. 15th century brigandines are generally front-opening garments with the nails arranged in triangular groups of three, while 16th century brigandines generally have smaller plates with the rivets arranged in rows.

The brigandine has been confused with the haubergeon, while the name is often confused with the brigantine, a swift small sea vessel.[4]


The form of the brigandine is essentially the same as the civilian doublet, though it is commonly sleeveless. However, depictions of brigandine armour with sleeves are known. The small armour plates were sometimes riveted between two layers of stout cloth, or just to an outer layer. Unlike armour for the torso made from large plates, the brigandine was flexible, with a degree of movement between each of the overlapping plates. Many brigandines appear to have had larger, somewhat 'L-shaped' plates over the central chest area. The rivets, or nails, attaching the plates to the fabric were often decorated, being gilt, or of latten, and sometimes embossed with a design. The rivets were also often grouped to produce a repeating decorative pattern. In more expensive brigandines the outer layer of cloth was usually of velvet. The contrast between a richly dyed velvet cloth and gilded rivet heads must have been impressive and, unsurprisingly, such armour was popular with high status individuals.

Modern flak jackets and ballistic vests are based on the same principle: a protective cloth vest containing metal plates.


Inside view of an Italian brigandine (c1470).

It was commonly worn over a gambeson and mail shirt and it was not long before this form of protection was commonly used by soldiers ranging in rank from archers to knights. It was most commonly used by Men-at-arms. These wore brigandine, along with plate arm and leg protection, as well as a helmet. Even with the gambeson and the mail shirt, a wearer was not as well protected as when wearing plate armor. However, the brigandine was probably favored by soldiers who preferred the greater degree of mobility this armour afforded.

Brigandines were simple enough in design for a soldier to make and repair his own armor without needing the high skill of an armorer.

A common myth is that brigandines were so-named because they were a popular choice of protection for bandits and outlaws.[5] This is untrue. Originally the term "brigand" referred to a foot soldier. A brigandine was simply a type of armour worn by a foot soldier. It had nothing to do with its alleged ability to be concealed by bandits. In fact, brigandines were highly fashionable and were ostentatiously displayed by wealthy aristocrats both in European and in Asian courts.

Similar types

European jack of plates

Jack of plates, English, c1580-90

A similar type of armor was the jack of plates or coat of plates, commonly referred to simply as a "jack" (although this could also refer to any outer garment). This type of armor was used by common Medieval European soldiers and the rebel peasants known as Jacquerie.[6]

Jack of plates, English or Scottish, c1590

Like the brigandine, the jack was made of small iron plates between layers of felt and canvas. The main difference is in the method of construction: a brigandine is riveted whereas a jack is sewn. Jacks were often made from recycled pieces of older plate armor, including damaged brigandines and cuirasses cut into small squares.[7]

Jack remained in use as late as the 16th century and was often worn by Scottish Border Reivers. Although they were obsolete by the time of the English Civil War many were taken to the New World by the Pilgrim Fathers as they provided excellent protection from Indian arrows; one dating back to 1607 was recently found at Jamestown.[8]

Indian "coat of ten thousand nails"

Indian brigandine enforced by mirror plates

The Indian equivalent of the brigandine was the Chihal'Ta Hazar Masha, or "coat of ten thousand nails": a padded leather jacket covered in velvet and containing steel plates which was used until the early 19th century. The skirt was split to the waist, allowing the soldier to ride a horse. Matching vambraces and boots containing metal plates were also used. It was derived from Islamic armor used by the Saracen armies. These were often elaborately decorated with gold lace, silk and satin and are highly prized by European collectors.

Tipu Sultan wore armor of this type during his wars against the East India Company. The Turks used similar armor during the Russo-Turkish Wars.

Two complete suits of armor are preserved in the Hermitage Museum, Leningrad.[9]

Chinese dingjia

Qing military uniform, made to look like earlier Dingjia armour

A type of armour very similar in design to brigandine, known as dingjia (Chinese: 釘甲; Pinyin: Dīng jiǎ) was used in medieval China. It consisted of rectangular plates of metal, riveted between the fabric layers with the securing rivet heads visible on the outside.

Russian orientalist and weapon expert Mikhail Gorelik states that it was invented in the 8th century as parade armour for the Emperor's guards by reinforcing a thick cloth robe with overlaping iron plates, but did not come into wide use until the 13th century, when it became widespread in the newborn Mongol Empire under the name of hatangu degel ("robe which is as strong as iron"). He also argues that Eastern European kuyaks and, supposedly, Western European brigandines originate from this armour.[10]

Dingjia brigantines were still used in China as late as the Ming and Qing periods. It was favoured by officers for its rich, expensive look and protection. Later examples, however, often lacked iron plates and were merely a military uniform.[11]

Russian kuyak

Depiction of a late 15th-century Russian warrior in kuyak from Wendelin Boeheim's Handbuch der Waffenkunde[12]
19th-century artist's interpretation (likely erroneous) of the kuyak armour
Reenactor in Central Asian brigandine

In the Moskovian Rus', there was a type of armour known as the kuyak. It is thought to have Mongolian origins[10][13] and be analogous to the Central Asian,[14] Indian and Chinese brigandine armours.[15] The word "kuyak" is itself a derivative from Mongol huyag, which means "armour" (of any type). No known intact examples of this type of armour survived the tumultuous history of Russia, but historical depictions, textual descriptions and photos[16] remained.

The descriptions, while not offering any in-depth details of the kuyak's construction, suggest a textile body armour reinforced with iron plates (usually not specifying directly the placement thereof, only mentioning the "nails" - rivets, which attached the plates to the layer of cloth), often with long armoured faulds, sleeves and/or pauldrons, sometimes covered in expensive textiles like sateen, velvet or damask and decorated with fur.[17]

Some kuyaks had large "mirror" plates or "shields" attached to the outside. Some descriptions also mention cotton wool padding.[18]

There were also brigandine helmets called "kuyak hats" that used the same principle of construction as the kuyak body armour.[19]

Japanese kikko armour

Edo period manchira vest, with leather plates sewn in between layers of cloth

Kikko is the Japanese form of brigandine.[20] Kikko are hexagonal plates made from iron or hardened leather and sewn to cloth.[21] These plates were either hidden by a layer of cloth[22] or left exposed. Kikko were used only relatively recently, during the 16th century.[21]

Kikko comes in many forms including, coats, vests, gloves, arm and thigh protectors, and helmet neck guards. Kikko armor was worn as a stand alone defense or under other types of armor as additional protection.

See also


  1. Compendious Hebrew-English Dictionary Avinoam and Segal, The Dvir Publishing Co, Tel-Aviv
  2. Strong's Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible, James Strong
  3. Kriskó Gyula. Az Árpád-kor háborúi. Bp. Zrínyi Katonai Kiadó 1986
  4. Cyclopædia, or, An universal dictionary of arts and sciences, Ephraim Chambers, 2 volumes, with the 1753 supplement, 2 volumes; digitized by the University of Wisconsin Digital Collections Center. P.127
  5. Edge and Paddock. Arms and Armour of the Medieval Knight. Saturn Books, London, 1996.
  6. Barbara Tuchman. A Distant Mirror. Alfred A. Knopf, NY (1978). p. 155ff.
  7. Jack of plates: Evidence of recycling
  8. Archaeologists uncover jack of plate at Jamestown
  9. H. Russell Robinson (1 March 2002). Oriental Armour. Courier Dover Publications. pp. 103–. ISBN 978-0-486-41818-6. Retrieved 20 February 2011.
  10. 1 2 Mikhail Gorelik. Armies of the Mongolo-Tatars, X-XIV centuries.
  11. William Alexander (1805). The costume of China, illustrated in forty-eight coloured engravings. Wikisource: W. Bulmer and Co. Retrieved May 7, 2014. This dress of the troops is clumsy, inconvenient, and inimical to the performance of military exercises, yet a battalion thus equipped has, at some distance, a splendid and even warlike appearance; but on closer inspection these coats of mail are found to be nothing more than quilted nankeen, enriched with thin plates of metal, surrounded with studs, which gives the tout-ensemble very much the appearance of armour.
  12. See also a photo of the same set of armour (in the center). Dated late 15th century. The description: "5. A soft type of armour which bears the name of the kuyak, also with a kuyak helmet (15th century)".
  13. Fedor Solntsev's "Ancients of the Russian State" (1849-53) directly calls the kuyak a "Mongolian cotton fiber body armour".
  14. L. Bobrov and Y. Hudyakov in their "Late Medieval Central Asian Warrior's Protective Gear" directly refer to Central Asian brigandine armours as "kuyaks".
  15. Brockhaus and Efron Encyclopedic Dictionary states that the Chinese had armours almost indistinguishable from Russian kuyaks.
  16. Photo of a kuyak body armour and kuyak "hat" (in the center; pieces of a European fullplate armour are unrelated), dated late 15th century. The description: "5. A soft type of armour which bears the name of the kuyak, also with a kuyak helmet (15th century)".
  17. P.I. Savvaitov: Description of ancient Tsar's utensil, clothes, weapons, armours and trappings, extracted from manuscripts of the Archives of Moscow - Sanct-Petersburg, 1865; A.V. Viskovatov: Historical description of the clothes and weapons of Russian troops - 1841; Brockhaus and Efron Encyclopedic Dictionary; and others.
  18. Fedor Solntsev's "Ancients of the Russian State" (1849-53) contain descriptions of both kuyak body armours and kuyak helmets ("hats") padded with cotton wool and reinforced with small iron plates, which are fixed by small "nails" (rivets).
  19. Depiction and desctription of a kuyak hat from Fedor Solntsev's "Ancients of the Russian State" (1849-53).
  20. Anthony J. Bryant; Angus McBride (1989). The samurai: warriors of medieval Japan, 940–1600. Osprey Publishing. pp. 53–. ISBN 978-0-85045-897-8. Retrieved 20 February 2011.
  21. 1 2 George Cameron Stone (2 July 1999). A Glossary of the Construction, Decoration and Use of Arms and Armor: In All Countries and in All Times. Courier Dover Publications. pp. 246–. ISBN 978-0-486-40726-5. Retrieved 20 February 2011.
  22. Japanese arms & armor. Crown Publishers. 1969. Retrieved 20 February 2011.
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