The Carolingians were a Frankish family which rapidly rose in power through the Frankish ranks during the 8th century. They initially reached high positions of power within Frankish society and ultimately deposed the Merovingian dynasty, replacing them as the Frankish rulers.
The key source of Carolingian power was an excellently well-organised military led by Carolingian leaders. This helped the Carolingians reach the top of the ladder and also enabled them ultimately to expand their reign into a veritable empire by the end of the 8th century. Carolingian soldiers were typically well armed and wore a number of armour pieces including helms, shields and body armour.
Carolingian soldiers wore different types of helms on the battlefield. The leaders of the military force typically wore well-forged and expensively constructed helmets, possibly one-piece and conical in their construction. There is also evidence that the Carolingians used the spangenhelm which was made from multiple strips of metal, which eventually became very popular in medieval Europe.
The most common type of helmet used by Carolingian soldiers usually came with a rim which ran around the helm and a neckguard to project the helmet enough and acted as a protector for the neck as well. Helmets formed one of the most vital pieces of Carolingian armour for the Carolingian soldiers as they rode to the battlefield. However, compared to the shield, a helmet was a fairly expensive piece of armour. It was typically used in conjunction with other types of armour such as the shield and chainmail.
The Shield was the most common and inexpensive type of armour used by the Carolingians in the battlefield. Unlike other pieces of armour which were mostly afforded by mounted Carolingian knights, the shield was a piece of armour which was easily affordable for both the cavalry and the soldiers on foot. Consequently, it was the most common kind of Carolingian armour.
According to extant historical sources, it is quite probable that the shield used by the Carolingian soldiers was round and concave in shape, usually having a diameter of 0.8 meters. Made from wood, such a shield was effectively in blocking direct assault on a soldier’s upper body from the neck to the thigh.
Carolingians frequently covered their shields with decorative symbols such as radial arcs. Since the wooden shields were prone to breaking during the battle, shield sellers usually accompanied a Carolingian army on the march and sold their wares on the go.
Body armour was the most highly treasured piece of armour among the Carolingians. Helmets were expensive but most soldiers could afford them. Shields were highly inexpensive and every Carolingian soldier carried one. But body armour was usually affordable for only the leading nobles and notable Carolingian warriors.
As a result, even most mounted Carolingian warriors didn’t own a body armour and only the wealthy nobles could own one or very few pieces of body armour. This body armour comprised of scale armour which fell down all the way to the wearer’s hips.
Some kind of leg armour was also used by the Carolingians while some warriors may have used gauntlets or armguards to protect their hands and arms. Although rare, body armour was usually a must-have for the top Carolingian nobles and any noble owning one was required by law to wear it to the battlefield.