book review

Some Thoughts on “Armour Never Wearies”

Timothy Dawson, Armour Never Wearies: Scale and Lamellar Armour from the Bronze Age to the 19th Century. Spellmount: Stroud, Gloucestershire, 2013. ISBN-13 978-0-7524-8862-2. Cover shows a cavalryman in scale armour riding over fallen enemies with a background of armour of steel scales laced to leather bands
Timothy Dawson, Armour Never Wearies: Scale and Lamellar Armour from the Bronze Age to the 19th Century. Spellmount: Stroud, Gloucestershire, 2013. ISBN-13 978-0-7524-8862-2. Cover shows a cavalryman in scale armour riding over fallen enemies with a background of armour of steel scales laced to leather bands

Timothy Dawson, Armour Never Wearies: Scale and Lamellar Armour from the Bronze Age to the 19th Century. Spellmount: Stroud, Gloucestershire, 2013. ISBN-13 978-0-7524-8862-2 Biblio
128 pages, GBP 14.99

Dr. Timothy Dawson has undertaken a difficult task: to understand armours of small plates laced or wired together, often known as scale or lamellar. Although these kinds of armour were once common, they tend to fall apart as the backing or lacing rots, so understanding how they were made is hard. Even worse, he is most interested in styles from the Greek Christian world which are only preserved as vague references in texts, stylized images of saints, and a few fragments of rusted iron. Moreover, arms and armour studies are not well supported by academe, so he has to do his work at his own expense and without the discipline of needing to submit his ideas to criticism by a group of peers. The resulting book is not very useful to me, but under the circumstances I can’t complain.

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Some thoughts on “GURPS Fourth Edition Low-Tech”

Cover of GURPS 4th Edition Low-Tech illustrated with Greek hoplites in combat, a First Nations man in bearskin cloak standing in front of a fire with a spear, and an eighteenth-century ship firing a broadside

William H. Stoddard, with Peter dell’Orto, Dan Howard, and Matt Riggsby, GURPS Fourth Edition Low-Tech. Steve Jackson Games: Austin, TX, 2010. Link to publishers’ online store.

Its a hard time for small publishers. On November the 12th Steve Jackson Games released its annual Report to the Stakeholders and announced that in a year with their second highest revenues ever they could not afford to print their fully typeset GURPS Discworld. Apparently they have a much harder time selling their roleplaying games than their card and board games. I think that is a shame, because many of their books would be valuable outside the small number of people who play games with the GURPS rules. One of these books is GURPS Fourth Edition Low-Tech.
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An Outline of Toby Capwell’s “Armour of the English Knight”

A folding slip of corrugated cardboard with a printed label carrying the address, over a green nylon bag a metre long and 50 cm wide labeled Swiss Post
Courier firms work in mysterious ways: Armour of the English Knight 1400-1450 in its double packaging

Tobias Capwell, Armour of the English Knight, 1400-1450 (Thomas Del Mar: London, 2015)
308 pages, 24 x 30 cm
All glossy paper, most pages contain at least one line drawing or colour photo
ISBN 978-0-9933246-0-4
GBP 54 (UK, France, Germany, Italy), 64 (other countries) including shipping and handling; I don’t see any reason to believe that it will ever be available from other sellers or in softcover.
Link to publisher’s online storeLink to publisher’s new online storelink to online store with volume 2 AOTEK 1450-1500

After five years of anticipation, the first volume of the results of the inquiries of Toby Capwell into English armour began to arrive at customers’ doors in the middle of October. For reasons which seem good to them, the publisher and author have made very little information about the book available on their website. For quite a few buyers, “a book on English armour by Toby Capwell with drawings by Mac and Jeff Wasson” was all they needed to know. But for those who are on the fence, or waiting for their copy to arrive, I thought it would be helpful to sketch out the sort of things which this volume contains.

This book has a diverse audience. I will do my best to say things which I think armourers and armoured fighters would like to know, then give my own academic thoughts. But this is definitely not a review, and I refuse to find something to quibble about. Since I do not even dabble in fifteenth-century history, there would not be much point. I also refuse to give a summary since this book is newly published.

This is a study of full harnesses in a distinctive style worn by extremely rich men in England and Wales in the early fifteenth century. The main source is effigy sculptures, but documents, literature, funerary brasses, manuscript illuminations, and other kinds of medieval evidence are used to supplement them. The author’s experience as a jouster, and his helpers’ experience making plate armour, are also used to help interpret the sources.

The contents are divided into four parts. First is an introduction which sets the effigies in context in fifteenth-century England and discusses the problems of studying a style of armour which has all been destroyed (52 pages long). Then there are two sections on armour in the periods 1400-1430 (136 pages long) and 1430-1450 (75 pages long), each broken down by part of the body (helmets, cuirasses, shoulder defenses, vambraces, gauntlets, leg armour, sabatons). Last comes a miscellaneous section with a conclusion, the author’s experiences wearing armour in the English style, a bibliography, a list of effigies divided into six styles, a glossary, and two short indices (total 45 pages).

This miscellaneous section contains 25 pages on the famous blackened and gilt harness which he commissioned from Mac, and his experiences planning it, having it built, jousting in it, and having it modified.

A photo of an open book with a photo of a statue of a recumbent man in armour on the verso and a group of pencil sketches, four photos of details, and a paragraph of commentary on the recto opposite
Pages 204 and 205 of Armour of the English Knight 1400-1450. Full-page colour photos of important sources, closeup colour photos of details, pencil sketches, written commentary. As always, click to enlarge.

All pages are glossy, and some contain double-page spreads of important manuscripts, effigies, paintings, etc. Many of these images are not available online, and all the photos are printed in higher resolution than normal computer screens can display.

There are a series of line drawings by Mac of six typical harnesses representing six styles of English armour. Each is sketched from front, side, and rear for maximum clarity, and each of these views fills half a page.

There are a number of comments by Mac on specific technical problems which armourers in the fifteenth century faced, and how this might have affected the armour that they built.

There are pages of pencil sketches by Jeff Wasson with structural diagrams of different styles of armour and details of motifs, borders, etc. Individual sketches are scattered throughout the book alongside the closeup photos of details.

So for armourers, this is 300 pages on the development of armour in England with photos and sketches of details and suggestions of how to reconstruct it. For armoured fighters, this is 300 pages on the development of armour in England with suggestions of the advantages and disadvantages of different choices. And for academics, this is 300 pages of analysis of armour in England as a social tool and as a martial tool. While the publishers could make it easier and cheaper to buy and quicker and cheaper to deliver, and while this is a specialized book, I think it does what it tries to do very well. Although the shipping is a bit slow and expensive, the basic book is quite cheap for its size and complexity, especially considering that it will not sell thousands of copies. And everything about the physical book is professional.

Now I will put my academic hat back on and say why I think this book is important. Even though I can’t really afford it, and even though my dabblings in medieval history focus on late 14th century Italy rather than early 15th century England, I pre-ordered a copy. This was because I knew two things about this book.
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Some thoughts on John Lynn’s “Battle”

Title text over a sixteenth-century charcoal drawing of a man with a fleshy face in profile wearing fanciful embossed armour
Cover photo c/o The Caffeinated Symposium blog


John A. Lynn, Battle: A History of Combat and Culture. Updated with a new epilogue. Westview Press: New York, 2008. ISBN-13: 978-0-8133-3372-4 (Bookfinder link)

This week I am going to talk about a book written by a specialist in the wars of Louis XIV of France, only two of whose eight chapters deal with ancient warfare in the broadest sense. That is because the book is one of the few which does the work of demolishing one of the most influential and least accurate ideas which an ancient military historian has ever presented to the public: the Western Way of War. Yet rather than be purely destructive, it goes on to sketch a scientific approach to war and culture, and even presents a model which scholars can apply to other cases. It does all that in an affordable volume written for lay readers in the United States where belief in a western way of war is strongest.

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Link Dump

A votive statue of Chai-Hapi (a thousand of bread, a thousand of beer, a thousand of all good things to him!) excavated from the remains of Roman Vienna. Carved from gneis. In the style of late 19th Dynasty Heliopolis. Wien, Kunsthistorisches Musem, Ägyptische-Orientalische Sammlung, Inv. Nr. Äs 64. Photographed on special... Continue reading: Link Dump

Some thoughts on Tobias Capwell’s “The Real Fighting Stuff”

Photograph of the cover of the book with three suits of plate armour and a title
Cover photograph c/o the Wallace Collection website

Tobias Capwell, The Real Fighting Stuff: Arms and Armour at the Glasgow Museums (Glasgow City Council: Glasgow, 2007) ISBN 978-0-902752-82-5

Dr. Tobias “Toby” Capwell, jouster and curator with a PhD in fifteenth-century armour, is taking preorders for his forthcoming book on knightly armour in late medieval England. In honour of that, I thought I would post on the only one of his publications which I have been able to read, a book for beginners on arms and armour at the Glasgow museums.

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Treasure from Dilmun: Some Thoughts on Geoffrey Bibby’s “Four Thousand Years Ago”

Photo of a faded hardcover book with torn paper dust cover
One thoroughly used copy of Geoffrey Bibby’s “Four Thousand Years Ago” (Collins: St James’ Place, London, 1962)

I first encountered Geoffrey Bibby’s Four Thousand Years Ago in a “Best-of” volume of the Robert E. Howard fanzine Amra where the reviewer enthused that the second millennium BCE was a time when Conan could have lived again. For a younger self that was recommendation enough, and I tracked down a copy in the library. On a whim I decided to order a copy and have a look with more scholarly eyes. The volume which arrived in the mail has an old bookseller’s stamp from The Public Bookshop, PO Box 1, Bahrain which is very appropriate, for Bibby excavated there and believed it was the Dilmun of the Sumerians, the place through which all good things came.  Like the statuette of Lakshmi from Pompeii, who can say how it made its long way to its current home?

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Some Thoughts on “War: The Lethal Custom”

The holidays are a time for reacquainting oneself with old friends, both the living and the paper varieties. One of those was Gwynne Dyer’s book War: The Lethal Custom. Dyer’s writing has earned him a worldwide network and a middle-class living, but not the global celebrity of a John Keegan or Steven Pinker, and I think that is a shame. Dyer has something to teach anyone interested in human behaviour, and his book shows more respect for evidence than many popular works do.

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Some thoughts on Brouwers’ “Henchmen of Ares”

Josho Brouwers, Henchmen of Ares: Warriors and Warfare in Early Greece. Karwansaray Publishers: Rotterdam, 2013.

I can enthusiastically recommend Henchmen of Ares to anyone interested in ancient Greek warfare. It is beautifully made, backed by serious research, and clearly written, but its greatest value is that it comes from the perspective of an archaeologist. Most work on early Greek warfare is written by historians or literary scholars, so Brouwers provides an interesting alternative. While Brouwers clearly knows early Greek poetry, he also gives a prominent place to art, architecture, and funerary practice and puts Greek warfare in an East Mediterranean context. In particular, he emphasizes that the development of Classical warfare was bound up with practices in Lydia, Caria, Phoenecia, and Egypt. Not all hoplites were Greek, just as not all early Greek warriors were hoplites. He also makes a serious attempt to cover the period between the collapse of the Mycenaean palace kingdoms and the revival of cities which has left very little evidence (so little, in fact, that a minority of scholars think that it was much shorter than the 400 years allowed in most chronologies). And he explains his methodology, rather than simply telling a plausible story based on sources with a few brief remarks on the literary evidence.

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