Scale Mail
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Basic Information

A fairly innacurate (but common) name for flexible armour composed of overlapping metal (or, more rarely, leather) scales, attached to a cloth or leather backing1. More correctly called 'scale armour' this was fairly popular in ancient times as an alternative for chainmail as it was far easier2 to manufacture. Against that it was far more vulnerable to a rising blow (which could slip under the scales) and prone to shedding scales when hit. It also provides more protection from crushing blows than chainmail, because and at the cost of being less flexible.

Scales could be made of bronze or iron3 and might potentially be enamelled or gilded in the case of an expensive suit made for a warlord. As noted above, leather scales also saw use - generally as chunks of thick cuir boulli on a lighter backing, but still providing a very different kind of armour. Theoretically armourers could also use softer metals (for decoration, or because they belong to a pre-bronze tech level) or wood (if they are a pre-metal culture4). Hoof, horn and similar materials were also popular - the Mycenaean peoples seem to have been fond of a type of leather helmet scaled with sliced boar's tusk whilst several central Asian nomad cultures used scales of horse-hoof in making armoured tunics.

Common in the later Roman Empire (as lorica squamata) and amongst eastern peoples such as the Parthians where it was the standard armour for their cataphracts for a long time.

Similar to lamellar armour - where the scales are jointed to one another rather than a backing and brigandine or a coat of plates where the metal scales or plates are on the inside.


Game and Story Use

  • Somewhat laughable in a medieval era campaign - although still better than nothing for an impecunious knight or man at arms - and best saved for primitive cultures or ancestral armours dug from mouldering chests and tombs or barrels in the depths of an armoury.
  • Presumably actual scales … from, for example, a dragon might be usable for this if it didn't end up as hide armour.
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