Medieval advancements in armor, while hardly a linear progression of development, nevertheless went through several distinct stages. From chain mail shirts to hauberks to the transitional armors of the 14th century (which combined mail with plate, splint, or other hardened forms of defense at the joints and other vulnerable points) there were recognizable milestones of evolution as physical protection for soldiers improved considerably through the centuries. The development of plate armor allowed warriors to experience greater protection than ever before, but as the strength of the steel plating also resulted in inflexibility early forms of this armor would only cover the chest, back, and limbs – leaving the rest of the body to be covered by chainmail. This created natural gaps in protection that invited exploitation.
Full suits of plate armor – sometimes called “white armor” – became possible as the skills of armorers increased throughout the centuries. Late 14th/early 15th century developments in articulation of steel joints resulted in the “knight in shining armor” that features so prominently at the forefront of our romanticized view of the Middle Ages. Closing those gaps in protection led to the domination of many a battlefield by armored and mounted knights, nigh-invulnerable behind their suits of steel – until weapons technology evolved yet again to provide countermeasures.
As plate armor became more prevalent it developed in several distinctive styles, and of those styles the German Gothic armors were among the most instantly recognizable. Early forms of Gothic armor would include raised ridges and sharp lines on the body – partially as a method of increasing protection by thickening sections of armor, and partly for aesthetics. By the early 16th century this would evolve into what is known as Maximillian armor, distinguished by elaborate fluting and the classical Gothic sallet helm. As much art as it was military hardware, several articles of Gothic plate survive to this day cared for in private collections and museums around the world.
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