13th and 14th Century Russian Arms and Armor

Defensive Equipment Descriptions and Discussion

Head/neck protection -

The pointed iron helmet was typically Russian, and it could be high and conical, conical-spherical, or onion-shaped (sometimes called the lukovitsa for its onion shape). The most widely used included the helmet with a low immoveable nasal, and the shishak with its high top in the form of a tube where the unit commander could insert a red pennon. The shishak could be covered, or fluted vertically or in a spiral. A rare form was a conical iron cap with a high cylindrical cap-band and shallow straight brim. (the kolpak?) All of the helmets used were open, without any visors. [Except for the lichina associated with the Black Hats (nomad allies) and the nasal with eye-protection. See below.] Chain mail was often attached to the bottom edge of the helmet to hang down over the shoulders and upper back and called a barmitsa. (Stamerov and Kireyeva)
In the 9-10th centuries, helmets were made of two to four metal plates riveted together and this method persisted into the 13th and even 14th centuries in less expensive helmets. There were also helmets made of one piece of metal. Western European style helmets were not widely known in Russia. Russian styles were more similar to styles in Asia Minor. (Sloan and Nicolle 1999?)
In the 11th-13th centuries, helmets took new shapes. The shlyem was replaced by the misyurka and yerikonka, and then the shishak and kolpak became common. The helmet could have a high, bell-shaped crown and long point, while cupola-shaped helmets with a spherical form were predominant. The elongated top of the helmet often ended with a bushing that could be furnished with a flag, a yalovtsa. (Sloan)
The need to reinforce the protection of the helmet created hard-sided, cupola-shaped helmets with a nose coverings or a half masks (zabralom), starting in the 12th century. The "nose" was an iron band that passed through a hole in the peak of the helmet and raised and lowered by a shyurupts, a type of screw (see yerikhonka). The half masks were plates with holes for the eyes that provide protection for the cheek bones and nose. (Sloan)
At the end of the 12th and the 13th centuries, helmets began to have visors, zabralom or lichina, to protect the face. (Sloan)
Simple helmets without special face protection had a hoop attached around the base. This hoop could be ornamented and could also have holes for fastening the barmitsa that was used to protect the warrior's neck. (Sloan) All military headgear were worn a leather skullcap, soft cap or thick cloth lining to protect the wearer from chafing. (Sloan)

barmitsa - 10th-14th -

Chain mail was attached to the bottom edge of the helmet to hang down to the shoulders and back. It was wrapped under the chin to the left and fastened with a small button to closely protect the neck and throat. (Stamerov and Kireyeva)
It could be made of linked plates or a mail net of small iron rings to protect the neck and shoulders. It was attached to the bottom of helmets from the 10th century on. It could be made in one continuous net or assembled out of pieces to serve the same purpose as the western aventail. Sometimes neck and shoulder protection for the soldier's front could be made of small metal plates to resemble a large gorget and was called a zarukovya (?). (Sloan)
A type of barmitsa called the napleshnik consisted of a veil that covered the ears and could be fastened to the lower edge of the misyurka, or attached to the ring of the helmet (?). (Sloan) Another type of barmitsa, called the prilbits, could be worn with the misyurka or attached to a helmet. It covered the face like a Moslem woman's veil with openings for the eyes. The lower part was called a bentsa, and the upper part the cherepa. (Sloan) Helmets with full-face barmitsa often had a hook to hold the barmitsa up away from the face when not in battle. (Finkelshteyn)

kolpak - 13th -

A helmet made of a cylindrical ring 2 or 3 inches wide (called a beneto) and a smooth, straight conical upper part, the nabereshye. It looks like a funnel sitting on a short tin can. (Sloan)
The Russian kolpak might sometimes have a rim, but never ear or back plates, just a barmitsa (?). (Finkelshteyn)

lichina - 13th -

A metal face mask, often moveable, attached to the helmet with a hinge. They could be full-face (particularly associated with the Black Caps) or be half-masks protecting just the upper part of the face. (Sloan) (Nicolle)
Such half-masks are also known as occulars (or zabralom?). They were similar to nasals, but had extra plates extending from the nasal back around the eyes up to the edge of the helmet. (Finkelshteyn)
The full mask, or litchina, was usually immobile (but see lichina?), but sometimes was attached to the rest of the helmet by hinges which allowed it to be raised. These visors had slits for the eyes and openings for the nose, and could cover the face completely or only halfway. The visors often had a grotesque appearance the better to intimidate the enemy. These helmets were worn over a soft cap, and with a barmitsa to protect the neck. (Sloan)

misyurka - 14th - also known as a shapka misyurka

An iron skull cap with a barmitsa (and ear flaps?) attached to offer minimal protection to the crown of the head. It came in two styles. One, the napleshnik, covered the sides of the head and the neck. The other, the prilbits, formed a veil over the face. It resembles the western coif, except for the skull cap. (Sloan)

shishak - 14th, and probably earlier -

One of the most widely used helmets, the shishak had high top in the form of a tube where the unit commander could insert a red pennon. The shishak could be covered, or fluted vertically or in a spiral. (Stamerov)
A conical helmet with a knob on top, called zischagge in the west. It was introduced from Turkey, but may have had a Hellenistic origin. It differed from the shelom and kolpak by having a very long pointed top (shish) ending in a sharp point. In some types, the section between the cylindrical lower ring and the spike was hemispherical and ribbed or fluted, while it was more conical in others. A barmitsa was frequently attached to the lower edge. (Sloan)
The shishak's shape was similar to the traditional onion-dome shape of Russian churches. It is formed from a rounded dome that, near the center, reverses its curve to rise sharply to a point. (Finkelshteyn)

shlyem - general term for helmet - 14th

yalovetsa - a small flag attached to the conical point of some helmets, usually the shishak.

yerikhonka - or shapka yerikhonka - 14th-17th

A tall helmet, but not as tall as a shishak, it had a cylindrical venets (lower edge of the crown) and a very high conical naversheniye (upper edge of the crown), with repye (metallic decoration often of copper), and ear flaps, peak and rear section attached to the venets, worn over a cap or thick cloth lining. The nose with shyurupt (a shurup is a screw) passed through the peak on a kind of slide with a set screw to lock it in place. Usually worn only by rich and noble warriors, and could be richly decorated with gold, silver and jewels. (Sloan)

Shlyem A Simple Shlyem Shishak The Shishak

Kolpak The Kolpak

Kolpak Helmet with Zabralom and Barmitsa Yerikhonka The Yerikhonka Litchina Helmet with Litchina

Body armor - bronya'
Armor made of iron rings was known as kol'chataya bronya or kol'chuga. Armor made with scales or plates was called bronya doshchataya or doshchatimi because its plates were reminiscent of embossed planks. Then in the 14th century, the term dospekhi came to replace the term bronya in the sense of broni doshchati. And in the 15th century, the term pantsir' came to be used to designate plate armor, although it is now used also to refer to armor from the 14th century and earlier, and so it often overlaps with the earlier terms. (Sloan)
This armor was made by blacksmiths, and archeologists have found their tools including anvils, hammers, other pounding instruments, and pliers. (Sloan) Russian soldiers wore their armor over their usual clothing or over special protective clothing, podzor. (Stamerov and Sloan)

baidana - hauberk - 14th -

Comes from the Arab word "badan". This armor was called besermen baidan in the Zadonschina, but existed in Russia from 1200. A form of armor made of metal rings that differs from the kol'chuga in the size and form of the rings. The baidana's rings are larger and look like washers rather than wire. They were flat-forged or stamped from sheet metal. Some of the rings had inscriptions. The rings were either fixed one upon the other, or on a nail or spike (?) resulting in a fairly stable joint. (Sloan)
The baidana was usually split in front at the neck to be pulled over the head, with the opening closed by several clasps. It reached to the knees or below, with long sleeves. Shorter forms were called half-baidana. The longer versions were split at the hem for horse-riding. A baidana weighed up to 6 kg (but see note on weight of kol'chuga) and could contain 10,000 rings. It was good against slashing blows as from a saber, but because of the large rings was less effecting agains penetrating, thrusting blows. It could be worn with other types of defensive armor. The most famous surviving baidana belonged to Boris Gudonov, kept at the Kremlin armory. Many of its rings were stamped with the motto "God is with us." (Sloan)

dospekhi - 14th cent. term for armor used since before the 11th cent., also known as bronya doshchataya/doshchatimi.

The most ancient form of plate armor was made from square or rectangular plates that were tightly fastened to each other with leather straps passed through openings along the edges of the plates. (Sloan)
From the 11th century, scale armor appeared with plates fastened with fabric or leather straps on one edge and secured in the center (whatever that means). Most of the scale armor found by archeologists dates to the 13th and 14th centuries. (Sloan)
The armor introduced at the start of the 14th century combined several types. It could be made with scales in the lower front, and plates and rings on the chest and back. The chest could be further protected by large tongue-shaped plates (?) worn over the dospekhi, which came to be called zertsala in the 16th century. (Sloan)
Fine dospekhi were quite beyond the means of most soldiers and were likely worn on the battlefield only by princes, voevode, and first rank boyars. (Sloan)

kalantar' (Sloan) or kolotar (Finkelshteyn) - 14th - plate armor

Armor of mail and plates made of a separate front and back connected at the shoulders and under the arms with thongs or buckles. From the neck to the waist, it was made of metallic plates arranged horizontally and fastened together by ringed mesh. The plates do not overlap, but are connected to each other by mail. These plates are larger than the ones used in the bakhterets that developed later. (Finkelshteyn and Sloan)
The front of the kolontar has a central row of horizontally placed rectangular plates from the neck to the waist, flanked by a row of square plates lined up with the central plates and running from under the arm to the waist. A row of half-sized plates is used at each shoulder. Less complete forms of the kolontar were used with fewer plates. The half-sized shoulder squares were the most likely to be omitted. Some kolotar had only the central row of large plates, while others split the central plates to make two central rows of squares, and there were other variations. (Finkelshteyn and Sloan)
The back of the kolontar was usually simple mail, though it could be made with square plates similar to the ones used at the lower front, running at underarm level and down from side to side across the back. The plates for the back of the kalantar' were smaller and thinner than the ones in front. (Finkelshteyn and Sloan)
The skirt was made of mail and extended to the knees. Such armor was highly regarded by the royalty of the time, including the neighbors of the Rus. (Sloan)

kol'chuga - hauberk - 13th, 14th -

The chain-mail kol'chuga was a tight-fitting shirt up to 60 cm (23 inches) wide at the hem, and 75-90 cm (29-35 inches) long, with short sleeves to just above the elbow, a neck slash fastened by a small button, and shallow slash at the hem in front and back. It was pulled on over the usual clothing or a thick canvas rubakha and usually worn with a leather belt with plates, or worn unbelted. (Stamerov and Kireyeva)
Until the end of the 12th century, kol'chugi had been made knee-length with long sleeves and worn with mail stocking called nagavitsi. Then they began to be made from round wire rings that had been flattened with a special iron stamp and riveted, or rings that had been stamped from sheet iron, punctured into washer form and joined with elliptical rivets. (compare with baidana) Such a kol'chuga had about 25,000 rings. (Sloan)
The 13th century kol'chuga was made of rings of varying diameters carefully arranged. Large, main rings were arranged in a rectangle on the back and chest. Larger, secondary rings were used for the shoulders, sides, arms and hem. The vulnerable right underside of the kol'chuga was made of thick, heavy rings, while the left underside, protected by the shield, was made from larger, thin rings. The collar was square, thinned out with shallow cuts. (which means?) Sleeves were long. Such a kol'chuga was often worn with a barmitsa attached to the helmet to enhance protection of the neck and upper chest. (Sloan)
Armorers made the wire with stretching devices, then wrapped the wire into a long spiral around a pin or mandrel. The psirals were cored along one side and cut to form round, open rings of uniform diameter. Half of these were welded shut, and the other half prepared for riveting. Their ends were flattened and had holes punched for rivets or rods. The rivets were about 0.75mm in diameter. Each open, rivet-ready ring was attached to four closed, welded rings and riveted shut. So in the end, each ring was attached to four neighbors - a riveted ring was attached to four welded rings, and each welded ring was attached to four riveted rings. Sometimes a row of copper rings was inserted for decorative effect. After assembly, the kol'chuga was brushed and polished. About 600 meters of iron wire went into one kol'chuga and the average kol'chuga weighed about 6.5 kg (14 lb). (Sloan) [Dmitriy Ryaboy points out that such weights are based on old, de-rusted mail and are probably underestimates. One commercially-available modern mail shirt I've seen weighs 23 lb.]
Dmitriy Ryaboy (from a post to the Slavic Interest Group email list) also discusses other points of Russian mail... The mail shirts of alternating riveted and welded rings ranging in size from 7-9 mm internal diameter and 13-14 mm (?), with a wire thickness of 1.5 - 2 mm. Flat rings were introduced in the early 13th century, and measured 13-15 mm internal diameter, width 2-4 mm, and 0.6 - 0.8 mm thickness. 9th and 10th century mail shirts were 60-70 cm long (23-28 inches), 50 cm wide at the waist (19 inches), and 25 cm sleeve length (10 inches). In the 13th century, sleeves and hems started getting longer, more like the western hauberks. (Ryaboy)

kuyak - 13th-17th -

Poorer soldiers often wore a kuyak instead of the kol'chuga - a leather or canvas shirt with metal plates attached. (Kireyeva and Stamerov)
The kuyak was also frequently worn over the kol'chuga. (Sloan)
This armor resembled the western brigantine, except that brigantine places the metal plates on the inside. The term kuyak is of Turkish origin and appeared only in the 16th century. (Sloan)
This armor was made of metal plates, usually round but also rectangular, fixed separately to a leather or cloth base, unlike the ancient bronya where the plates were attached to each other with leather thongs or rivets, or the kalantar where the plates were attached to each other with metal rings. (Sloan)
There were three types of kuyak. One had large, overlapping rectangular plates. Another allowed gapping between the plates that let the leather backing show, similar to the kolontar. The third had small, non-overlapping discs attached to the backing. (Finkelshteyn)
The kuyak could be made with or without sleeves, or could have flaps like a caftan (meaning?). Kuyaki could be reinforced on the breast and back with larger armor plates, and they could be edged at the armpit, neck and waist with fur for warmth. (Sloan)
All seem to have been waist-length cuirasses constructed as ponchos (?) or with separate front and back sections, and were generally worn over a knee length mail shirt. (Finkelshteyn)
Russian art shows scale vests worn with long scale pauldrons to protect the shoulders, and hip length skirts of similar long scales, but these may have owed more to iconic tradition than actual contemporary military practice. (Finkelshteyn and my own opinion, based somewhat on Nicolle.)

pantsir' - a 15th century term, but used to identify older armor from as early as the 11th century, so there is overlap with other armor terms.

pantsir' cheshuichatii - scale armor used particularly by cavalry forces since the 11th century, made of steel plates fastened to a leather or cloth base on one side only. At the joint between plates, they overlapped each other and they were riveted to the foundation material at the center. Such pantsir' reached the knee with a very wide hem, and long sleeves. This scale hauberk was very flexible, because the plates were attached to the foundation on only one side, so it was well-suited for the cavalry. Representations of such armor can be seen in art from the 12th-14th cent. and on a throne of Ivan the Terrible. (Sloan)
pantsir' kolchuzhnik - date? - a mail shirt of using small, thick rings to form a tighter weave than that of the kol'chuga. It was often reinforced with small disks of bronze or steel and had decorative hook-fasteners of the same metal. (Finkelshteyn)
pantsir' plastinchatii - 13th-15th cent. plate armor. The plates of this armor varied greatly in shape - square, half-circular, wide-rectangular, narrow-oblong - and had a thickness of 0.5 to 2 mm. The plates had several holes used to fasten them to the leather or cloth foundation by thread or straps. The plates of older pantsir' were attached only to each other, with no foundation, and the pantsir' was worn over a thick quilted coat or a kol'chuga. (compare with dospekhi?) The plates were independent and overlapping. (Sloan)

podzor - date? - clothing worn under armor to protect the body. One form was a heavy canvas rubakha (shirt) as mentioned by Stamerov, another was a thick quilted coat as worn under the pantsir' plastinchatii. The tyegilyai is a later period quilted armor that may well have had its origins in a form of podzor.

Lamellae Some Russian Lamellae Kolchuga1 A Kolchuga Kolchuga2 Another Kolchuga

Kalantar An Kalantar

Kalantar/Kuyak A Kalantar or Kuyak, depending on the reference Kuyak A Kuyak Podzor Podzor

Other armor

buturlik - date? - protection for calf or shins.

A kind of ponozhi, also called a burulik. The word is of Turkic origin, and the armor was used by Mongols and Tartars. One type was made of three long pieces connected with metal rings to protect the whole leg from ankle to knee. The second type had a wide plate in front and two narrow plates to each side. The third type was made of one piece intended to protect the outside, exposed side of the calf, held in place with leather straps. These corresponded to the western greaves. (Sloan)

nagavits - mail stockings, chausse

nakol'nok - shoulder or knee protection

Plate armor covering the shoulder, resembling the western pauldron. (Sloan) [I question this definition strongly. "Nakol'nok" is obviously more closely related to the word for kneepad "nakolyennik", and knee "kolyeno," than it is to the words for shoulder "plecho" or arm "ruka". The Rus almost certainly had some sort of upper arm protection, but I'm not certain what it was called. See zarukava. Perhaps the sleeves of the kolchuga were usually considered sufficient protection.]
In Eastern Christian countries, pauldrons formed of a single row of long scales attached to dished discs at the shoulders were worn with waist-length scale vests. These are depicted in European art [including Russian art] throughout the period in question. (Finkelshteyn)

nakolyennik - knee protective pad, plate or strap, knee guard or shield (Ozhegov)

naruch - forearm protection

The naruch was especially worn by warriors whose kol'chuga did not have sleeves. It was made of a convex main plate to cover the outside of the arm. It often extended past the elbow, with the elbow end frequently rounded or semi-circular. This plate was attached to rectangular plates, chrevtsi, bound at the wrist and fixed to the arm with small straps. The naruch was often attached directly to the rukavitsa, and could be highly decorated for wealthy warriors. This item resembled the Persian bazuband more than the western vambrace and was called a karwasz in Poland. (Sloan)
The Russian naruch generally had a shallow outer plate with a dished elbow that varied in shape from round, pointed, or onion-shaped. But this was not the only form, the outer plate and elbow extension could be more deeply dished as found in other nations. (Finkelshteyn)

ponozhi - date? - protection for calf or shins, see buturlik.

rukavitsa - date? -

Protective gauntlets or mittens made of leather or quilted padding with chain mail or a series of flexible plates on the upper side. The upper side could be elaborately decorated. (Sloan)

zarukava - dates? - lower or upper? arm protection
Metal plates covering the upper arm (?) fastened with leather straps. The lower (?) parts were called zaruast'ye, and the upper (? part was called a chashkii. Sometimes they were lined with animal pelts. In western terminology, the vambrace was used for both upper and lower arm protection with the upper amr part called a cannon or rerebrace and the section covering the elbow called a cowter. (Sloan) [The illustrations that John Sloan used for the zarukava clearly depict forearm armor as described by Finkelshteyn, below. I'm not ready to call upper arm armor "zarukava".]

The zarukav was forearm protection that differed from the naruch by not providing elbow protection. (Finkelshteyn)

Shield - shchit
The almond-shaped shield, protecting horsemen from the chin to the knees, replaced the circular shields in the 11th or 12th century. As the helmets improved, the top of the shield was flattened. Then in the second quarter of the 13th century, a "gabled" shield appeared, a triangular shield with a curve (meaning?), and was held close to the body. Curved trapezoidal shields also appeared. The Mongol invasion and the Tatars brought round shields to influence Rus armor in the later 13th century. And starting at the end of the 13th century, complex shields were used to protect the cavalryman's chest from a spear thrust. In the 14th century, a shield with a chute on the front (?) evolved to form a compartment for the hands and facilitated maneuvering the shield in battle. Such shields in Western Europe reached a length of 130 cm (51 inches) and were called pavise. (Sloan)
Shields were made of iron, wood, reeds, or skins. the most widespread were wooden shields. The rim was called the crown, and the area between the crown and cap (?) was called the kajmoj. The back of the shield was lined, and the shield held by the soldier by bindings, stolbtsi. Inside the shield was the venets (?). The coloring of the shield was variable, although there was a marked preference for red. Some Tatar or Persian style shields were elaborately decorated with fluting and other ornament. (Sloan)

kite-shaped - 13th -

The shield was almond-shaped, about one to 1.25 meters in height, carried point down and made of wood, covered with hide and bound with iron on the edges. Metal strips were fixed to the shield, crosswise, and a semi-circular metal cover plate fastened over the center of the shield at the intersection. The shields were usually painted red. (Stamerov and Kireyeva)

round - 13th, 14th

Kite Shields Kite Shields Round Shields Round Shields
Buturlik1 A Buturlik Buturlik2 Another Buturlik

Nagavits Nagavits from period art

Nakolniki Some Nakolniki Shoulders Shoulder Armor Naruch Naruch Rukavitsa Rukavitsa Zarukav Zarukav

Return to main armor page.
Go on to Armor Glossary or Armor References.