Scale armour was a type of metal armour that made use of a large number of small metal pieces. These pieces were typically riveted together and often attached to a backing of leather or some other materials so that the wearer could comfortably wear the armour. The use of the scale armour antedates the medieval ages and in some cultures, dates back thousands of years.
It was one of the most widespread kinds of body armour used before the medieval ages and even during medieval ages in non-European regions. Scale armour was also popularly used to dress up the horse of a warrior in order to protect it on the battlefield.
The history of the scale armour dates back thousands of years, and was used in many cultures throughout the world. The use of scale armour in the Chinese culture dates back at least the 2nd millennium B.C. In Europe, the use of scale armour was common in the Roman armies and was a regular part of the Scythian tribes who came down to Europe from the Eurasia steppes in Late Antiquity.
However, it was less frequent in the Germanic regions and by the time of medieval ages, the use of scale armour had all but declined in Europe, although it was used in some instance.
The medieval ages saw the rise of chainmail armour in Europe. By the early middle ages, the chainmail was a more popular alternative to the scale armour. There is some evidence, though, that a kind of scale armour was used by the Vikings during their early raids into different European territories.
However, other cultures near Europe continued the use of the scale armour at a large scale since it offered better protection from both piercings and heavy blows. Soldiers in the Byzantine Empire, for instance, continued to use the scale armour, at least in protecting their horses.
One possible reason for the decline of the use of scale armour in medieval Europe at large could be the fact that it was more time-consuming to produce. And with the increasing frequency of wars in medieval ages, the use of the scale armour became less viable.
Scale armour was typically cheaper to produce and it could furnish great protection from both piercings and heavy blows. Compared to chainmail, it offered a better body protection on the battlefield. Being attached to a piece of leather or garment on the interior, the scale armour did not require one to wear an additional padding under it.
However, compared to chainmail, the scale armour did not offer as much body coverage which could prove a vital battlefield disadvantage. Also scale armour was less flexible and was consequently less convenient for use because it mitigated a warrior’s manoeuvrability.
Although scale armour was rarely used in medieval European battlefields, it continued to be used as a viable form of protection for war horses. In fact, it was typical of medieval Byzantine soldiers to drape their horses in scale armour while they themselves wore chainmail armour which offered them greater freedom of movement.