Military of Westeros 3 – Weapons and Equipment
Knights have surcoats over armour. George Martin has stated that armour tends to later styles as one goes south – North uses mostly mail, while Lannister troops use plate armour. Ned Stark’s guards wear steel caps and shirts of mail, but Jory – captain of the guards – wore plate armour. One Stark soldier at Green Fork wore mail hauberk and gauntlets of lobstered steel. Frey infantry specifically wears mail, as do Bolton troops. Roose Bolton’s guards wear grey mail and iron halfhelms. Fact that North uses mail may explain why archers are as effective as they are, although even good mail was mostly impervious to longbows. This also indicates that Westeros perhaps has not developed the techniques for mass production of plate which – in real world – ended up making plate armour cheaper than mail. Conversely, Robb Stark wears plate armour in war, though in Winterfell he wears boiled leather and mail (unless plates themselves are boiled leather, though that is unlikely due to Martin’s usage). Ser Rodrik Cassel, Winterfell’s castellan, wears mail. Freys also wear plate armour, and Frey heavy cavalry is noted to be armoured in plate – men and mounts both. Lord Karstark and Greatjon Umber both wear mail, as do their men, and so do members of House Mormont. This includes hand protection. Chiefs and champions of mountain clans also wear mail and boiled leather. Roose Bolton’s body double wears plate armour, but Bolton’s lords wear mail. Northern troops in Winterfeel wear wool and mail and leather.
Riverlands knights – or at least Edmure – carry greathelms with ornamental crests on top. This style was typical for first half of 14th century – such a knight would have had plate armour for limbs, while trunk was protected by brigandine atop mail. Edmure however is noted to have had mail armour. Knight typically wore two helmets, a bascinet without visor which was connected to mail protection of the neck, and a greathelm that would come over it. In second half of 14th century, greathelms were gradually abandoned, while bascinets received visors. Knight of the time would also have had a convex square shield, and indeed Edmure is stated to also have had a shield, though its type is not stated. Hoster Tully was laid to reast in his plate armour (“plate-and-mail”), with greathelm beside him. Riverrun’s captain of guards, Ser Robin Ryger, wore mail with soiled white surcoat. When meeting Jamie, Brynden wore greaves, gorget, gauntlets, pauldrons and poleyns, indicating a transitional armour style (cca 1330s). He used this type of plate armour in GoT as well until he became an outrider and switched to mail. Jonos Bracken had “plate and mail” and rode an armoured destrier; former points to early form of full plate, with significant mail protection.
Robert Baratheon had plate on tourney, but was too fat to wear it. At least some Baratheon troops at King’s Landing had studded jerkins. Studded jerkin however is not a historical piece of equipment: it never existed at all, and would in fact have been useless as armour. What is often called a “studded jerkin” is actually brigandine – a form of armour where small metal plates are riveted to the cloth (whereas in lamellar armour plates are sewn). Martin correctly identifies it in ASoS – it is worn by one of gaolers. Renly’s infantry is equipped with steel caps and mail shirts, and his outriders also wear mail. Stannis’ lords at Storm’s End wore plate, and troops at Blackwater had mail and plate armour. At Wall, Stannis’ freeriders and men-at-arms wear jacks and kettle helms, while his knights while leaving Castle Black and later Deepwood Motte are described as wearing plate and mail (which likely means early form of plate armour). Stannis himself wears grey plate armour, while Renly (while alive) wore green plate. Richard Horpe wears quilted doublet over plate-and-mail, which would likely indicate gambeson over plate – this was used by French knights in 100-years-war to prevent arrows deflecting from plate. Men-at-arms at Wall with Queen wore iron mail.
Lannister soldiers wear mail armour – when Jamie confronted Ned, Lannister escorts wore “ringmail over leather, gauntlets and greaves, steel helms with golden lions on the crests”. Soldiers burning Riverlands under Gregor Clegane were also armoured in mail, as were other Lannister soldiers seen in King’s Landing. Lannister soldiers which came for Arya had mail shirt and what appear to be conical helmets with nose guards. Many soldiers in Tywin’s camp at the Green Fork wear mail, though knights wore plate. Mail armour was worn by two which captured Gendry in AcoK and the mounted men-at-arms Sansa sees at King’s Landing. Some knights also wear mail, as seen from Ser Daven, Jamie’s cousin. Ser Gregor Clegane wears grey plate armour. Sandor’s armour is mail under boiled leather, including mailed hands; but as a Kingsguard, he wears soot-grey plate. Tywin Lannister’s own breastplate is enameled in crimson. It is also described as having rondels, most likely for armpit protection (besagews). Besagews developed in 1320s, went out of fashion in second half of 14th century, and reappeared in 1420s but disappear in 1440s (? – some examples of late 15th century Gothic armour have besagews), rendering them useless for determining the type of armour except already obvious fact that it is a type of plate armour. However, presence of a greathelm would place armour in late 14th century at latest. Tywin’s greathelm is crested by maned lion, which is typical for first half of 14th century, reinforced also by the fact that his hand protection is mail. Lord Jast wore black plate with inlaid lions. Ilyn Payne wears mail over boiled leather, when it should be the opposite.
City Watch is equipped with black enamel breastplates, while at a different point watchmen are noted to have shirts of “black ringmail” and also “black mail”; thus it is likely that while some watchmen have plate, most of them wear mail. This black armour is combined with golden cloaks. King Joffrey however wears gilded mail and enameled crimson plate, and Kingsguard also wear “gleaming white plate”, which in AFfC is stated to be enameled. Not all of them, however: Ser Meryn wears a “shirt of enameled scales chased with gold”, with greaves, gorget, gauntlets and boots of plate and a tall helm. Ser Barristan also wore scale armour. Even some Sparrows have plate armour.
Night’s Watch also uses black mail, but at least some members wear plate over mail. Jon Snow has breastplate, and Satin is noted to have helmet with visor. Presence of visor may indicate visored bascinet, as that is the helmet most commonly associated with visor, though greathelms and sallets could also be visored. In ASoS, when villagers are armed, mentioned are studded leather jerkins (again, not an actual type of armour), mail hauberks, greaves and gorgets. Night’s Watch troops from Eastwatch wore black mail and black halfhelms – halfhelm most likely being a type of chapel-de-fer (kettle hat), or else a simple conical helmet.
Ser Loras wears enameled plate in tourney. In Renly’s camp Brienne of Tarth is noted to have plate armour as is Ser Emmon and Renly himself. Loras “rode a tall white stallion in silver mail, and fought with a long-handled axe”. Robett Glover wore mail with a surcoat when he was captured. Randyll Tarly in AFfC wore “mail, boiled leather, and breastplate of grey steel”. Due to generally incorrect usage of boiled leather in ASoIaF, it can be assumed that boiled leather here actually stands for aketon, and is not used for armour plates. Infantry wears mail and steel caps. Sailors from the Shields (in Reach) wear no armour for the most part, though some wore plate (e.g. Serry Talbert) or brigandine. Generally, it can be assumed that cavalry wears plate and infantry mail.
Vale guards wear “sky-blue cloaks and silvery mail shirts”, but Ser Vardis Egen – captain of household guard – wears “hammered moon-and-falcon breastplate”. Underneath is mail and padded surcoat (likely meaning arming doublet), and armour has large round rondels (see overview of Tywin’s armour).
Ironborn soldiers seen on islands wear plate armour as well, yet Theon himself wore mail after he had captured Winterfell, and his men wore mail and boiled leather. Victarion Greyjoy wore “mail and leather and lobstered plate”, and dreamed of driving his mailed fist into Euron’s face. Asha wore scale armour, “green leather jerkin covered with overlapping plates of steel”, while her troops wore mail and leather armour.
(this assumes boiled leather is actually cuir bouilli, as opposed to misnamed gambeson. Latter is more likely:)
Tyrion gives mountain clains mail armour. Earlier, Bronn wore mail shirt over boiled leather (it should be reverse), round steel halfhelm with a noseguard (which was popular around AD 1000) and a mail coif.
Household knights also use plate, as shown by household knights of Eyrie which are armoured in mail and plate, and Frey cavalry which was equipped with plate armour. Sellswords seem to use mostly mail or boiled leather, as do poorer knights, such as ones serving Faith Militant. Rhaegar had worn black plate and golden (gilded) mail.
At Harrenhall, Brienne finds a visored greathelm. This type of helmet existed in 13th century.
Overall, mail appears to be very common form of armour, despite the common(?) perception of omnipresent plate armour. In fact, evidence points to all kingdoms using mail armour as their primary form of armour. Loras in A Storm of Swords asks if “that old woman could cut through hardened steel”, referring to Catelyn Stark; but cutting through mail is next-to-impossible, and through plate completely impossible. Loras himself acknowledges that in discussion with Jamie later, so his apparent slip need not mean anything. Bronn’s duel with Ser Vardis in AGoT is a weird case – his cuts leave only scratches on Vardis’ plate, yet later in the same duel, Bronn cuts cleanly through rondel – which should be physically impossible. Longaxes are called “armor crushing” in AsoS. Soldiers are shown sinking due to weight of armour, which implies that Westerosi armour is uncommonly heavy – historically, it was possible to swim in either mail or plate, even with additional equipment, although not for long; usual cause of drowning was either surprise, exhaustion, or inability to swim at all. Its effectiveness is more-or-less historically accurate in ADWD at least: mail easily turns cuts; yet in GoT longsword is shown cutting through mail, and even Dothraki arakh in one instance (Qotho’s fight with Jorah). In GoT as well Ser Jorah shows that he has no clue what he is talking about (that, though, is par-the-course for him): late-era mail armour is excellent against arrows, and even with less-well-made armour, arrows need to be shot straight at the target to penetrate; “arrows falling like a rain” would not do much to armoured soldiers, despite his statement to the contrary.
Plate armour is also worn over, not instead, of mail; this is seen on several occasions, including in Oberyn’s duel with Gregor Clegane. This indicates that plate armour is, at most advanced, in the style of late 14th to early 15th century; late 15th century Gothic and Milanese plate did away with mail underneath the armour and relied on mail voiders to cover the gaps instead. However, Gregor’s “flat-topped greathelm” with its singular narrow eyeslit was obsolete by middle 14th century at latest, replaced by visored bascinet. This, and the presence of “long yellow surcoat”, reinforces the conclusion that Westerosi armoured protection at its most advanced is at the level of first half of 14th century. Oberyn himself wears “supple leather”, and mail and scale armour – a combination which would in fact be as heavy as if not heavier than proper plate armour while providing far less protection. Another unusual thing from Gregor/Oberyn duel is that when Oberyn spears through joints of Gregor’s armour, “point punched through mail and boiled leather”, and at other points too are joints referred to as being protected by mail and leather (e.g. Victarion). But boiled leather used for armour is as stiff as metal plate; with boiled leather covering joints under mail, Gregor should have been as immobile as scarecrow. Yet he is clearly able to move, and even fight; thus, joint armour must have been normal arming doublet (aketon), which is quilted cloth armour with absolutely zero leather. Roose Bolton’s body double wears “dark grey plate over quilted tunic” with rondels “wrought in shape of the screaming human heads”; this would place it in the same type / time period as armour worn by Tywin Lannister. Ser Vardis Egen wore plate armour with rondels, skirt of lobstered metal and solid gorget. Skirt in question refers to fauldrons, placing armour in 1370s at the earliest. Visor with pointed beak and narrow slits refers to visored bascinet, which appeared in 1330s and remained in use into 15th century in Germany.
In conclusion, plate armour appears to be reserved for more important individuals (e.g. knights) while common soldiers use mail and gambesons, and more rarely brigandines, regardless of which kingdom they come from. This means that techniques for mass production of plate have not been developed. Tobho Mott, smith from King’s Landing, states as much, saying that while “any village smith can hammer out a shift of mail; my work is art”. This is indeed true in era before techniques for mass production of plate developed, when each piece of armour had to be carefully produced and was indeed a work of art.
When Stannis is at the wall, Jon Snow states that they had lost their armourer, implying that metal armour will not be available. But Ser Godry suggests boiled leather, which may be easier to make, but also starts to fall apart much more quickly and should thus have became unavailable much earlier.
Horses are also armoured. Barding appears to be mail or plate – mail was used in King’s Landing, while Frey heavy cavalry had plate armor for men and horses both. Lannister, Baratheon and other heavy cavalry uses barding – Lannister cavalry at Blackwater and Stannis’ cavalry at the Wall both ride barded horses.
Dornish spearmen appear to have no armour, relying instead on round shields for protection.
Melee infantry is armed predominantly with pikes – even guards such as goldcloaks. Lances, longswords and axes seem to be cavalry equipment – ser Loras utilized longaxe. This again shows that troops are professionals – armed peasants would have used axes, which have civilian application. What is unusual is that cavalry – at seen at Blackwater – mixes lances and axes as their primary weapons. Stannis’ troops at the Wall also use “lance and sword and longaxe”, and longaxes used by Frey cavalry during the Red Wedding. But historically, sword is a secondary weapon, whereas longaxe – better known as Dane axe – is not cavalry weapon at all. It is also out-of-place in essentially-14th-century Westeros, having evolved into pollaxe by 14th century as a result of a need to cope with introduction of plate armour. Despite Hound crushing through helmet and skull with his axe in ASoS, and Victarion repeating the feat in AFfC, axe actually can only really dent a proper helmet; and target being a living person would make axe less, not more, effective. The only way to really pierce armour plate (or helmet) is with warhammer or polehammer/poleaxe spike. Warhammers are indeed used in Westeros, but some examples are ridiculous. Robert’s warhammer apparently weighted 60 pounds, whereas real warhammer would have weighted 3,5 – 4 pounds – even if Robert could have swung 60-pound warhammer, inertia would have made it look like a drunken bear dance as warhammer pulled him around. For individual combat, spears may be used, finding gaps in plate armour – a good tactic, as spear can indeed penetrate mail relatively easily. Maces are also used against armoured opponents. Overall however, swords are way too often used as seemingly primary weapons, even by soldiers expecting combat (again example of Ser Serry) – in reality, they were a backup weapon. Brienne’s Oathkeeper is referred to as cutting mail, which should be impossible unless Valyrian steel has magical properties akin to Aragorn’s Anduril.
Lances are frequently referred to as “shattering” or “exploding” in context of tournaments, which is realistic. What is less realistic is that Tommen is proud of breaking the lance during practice – practice lance ought to have been much more similar to combat one, and also blunt, making it near impossible to break on a spinning-arm target.
Dorne seems to utilize predominantly spears. Oberyn Martell opts for a spear in combat against Mountain, Dornish guards carry spears, and even the capital of Dorne is called Sunspear. Lannisters also utilize spearmen for guards, while Ironborn seem fond of sword-and-axe combination.
When it comes to ranged troops, archers and crossbowmen both appear – but latter, curiously, much less frequently than the former. In fact, there is only one mention of crossbowmen in the first book at all, and in the second their only appearance is as guards in the Maegor’s Keep where Joffrey and Cersei hid. At the battle against Mance, there are eight longbowmen but only one crossbowman atop the wall, though Night’s Watch has multiple crossbowmen. Steelshanks’ archers in AsoS however are noted as using crossbows, so this may partly be an issue of terminology. Crossbowmen are also used on some warships. Fact that Maidenpool is protected by crossbowmen suggests that they may see use in city militias. Lannister escort for Tywin’s corpse also includes crossbowmen, and several other fortified places in AFfC are defended by crossbowmen. Ironborn are known to use throwing axes.
Longbow draw used in Westeros is either three-fingered Mediterranean draw or two-fingered Flemish draw, as indicated by Jon drawing his bow back to the ear. Latter is more likely, as Westeros is overblown Britain. Compared to thumb-only Mongolian draw, this type of draw results in greater power and arrow velocity (and thus range), but at the cost of accuracy and increased difficulty of use from the horseback. Either of those however is much stronger than some more primitive types (see here).
Another oddity aside for relative lack of crossbowmen is that Baratheon archers at Blackwater seem to lack any melee weapons at all; in fact, troops in general appear to be equipped with only one weapon (such as the mention of “swordsmen”, which in reality appeared only rarely as a type of troops, with sword usually being a backup weapon, a sidearm). Stannis’ army at the Wall includes mounted bowmen.
Goldenheart bows are stated to be capable of sending a shaft four hundred yards. This is in fact the same range that was achieved by yew longbows with flight arrows, though actual battle arrows (heavy broadheads) had much more limited range (somewhere north of 200 yards). Based on this, goldenheart bows could have the same range or somewhat less than twice the range of yew longbows.
Primary warship type is war galley. This is unusual development, as Westeros coasts face primarily open ocean. Further, sail-only warships would have had significant advantage in both amount of artillery they could carry, as well as in boarding actions – both of which feature prominently in Battle of Blackwater (see “Galley vs sailing ship” for more details), though galleys do have rams. Victarion notes that “men of green lands” usually fight without armour when on sea, for fear of drowning, while Ironborn do carry armour – and indeed, nine out of ten soldiers on ships from Shields he faces are unarmoured. But that is historically inaccurate: regardless of whether it was Roman or Byzantine marines or English men-at-arms, soldiers on ships fought in same armour they wore on land. In fact, even sailors may not have known how to swim in some cases, as drowning was often kinder fate than dying from thirst – sailling ships are hard to stop and turn, and lifeboats did not exist. Both swimming and drowning can be noticed in depiction of Battle of Sluys, but it clearly shows that soldiers fought armoured.
Galleys’ reliance on ramming is basically throwback to Roman Republic. Ramming then worked largely because of the hull-first construction technique which led to relatively flimsy hull; ram would snap the planks. Later on, introduction of skeleton-first construction meant that ramming was only useful for destroying oars, and was eventually completely abandoned: Roman Imperial, Byzantine, Arab, Venetian and Ottoman galleys all relied on boarding and missile exchange as primary way of fighting, and water-level rams were replaced by boarding spurs. In fact, this eventually led to abandonment of galley as a primary warship, for reasons noted in previous paragraph (and the link). The only successful exceptions were the cases where sailing ships rammed galleys, which actually worked because sailing ships tended to be much larger, heavier and more strongly constructed than relatively flimsy galleys (image link).
Siege weapons include scorpions, ballistas and trebuchets, and are used for assault and defense alike. Lannister troops under Jamie Lannister also build rams and siege towers.
P.S. I thought about writing terminological dictionary but was too lazy, so what he heck: