Rings of Power is not a good series in multiple ways, but for this blog, only weapons and armor are really relevant. So that is what will be discussed here. I will get one repeated issue out of the way: nobody is wearing any sort of hand protection. While usage of gauntlets and similar protection for hands was hardly universal, it was fairly widespread by the 15th century and wide utilization of plate armor. And even before usage of gauntlets, some form of hand protection was often used – be it mail mittens or muffs, or just leather gloves. Fact is that hands are fairly vulnerable part of body – a cut that would be “merely” painful somewhere else could easily result in loss of fingers.
Main characters also do not wear helmets, which is a completely dumb decision but understandable considering the necessities of the media. Namely, hair is very important in character recognition on the screen, especially in large battles. This means that even open-face helmets would negatively affect the recognition of major characters, unless each helmet were a unique design and very recognizable on screen. For this reason, I will not be pointing out when main characters do not wear a helmet but should be. Mail coifs seen in the series are also loosely hanging, as opposed to being snug to the head the way they should be. And to get it out of the way right now, credit should be given to the series for avoiding the donut armor so frequent in fantasy.
Reading post on basics of medieval armor is recommended.
Armor used by members of Galadriel’s rag-tag group is weird. Upper body seems to be covered in loosely-hanging mail, while forearms and legs are afforded full plate harness. This alone is a massive issue, as this essentially inverts the order of priority: no matter what, the head and the torso have to be provided the heaviest protection. In fact, order goes head > torso > everything else. Usually upper arms and thighs are given priority over lower extremities, but this can be inverted depending on specific requirements. Here, however, legs and forearms are given priority in armor protection.
Good aspect is that head is given protection – we see later that the armor includes mail coif. But this is still insufficient considering the heavy plate armor given to the legs, and coif itself is as badly designed as the rest of the mail itself. Namely, it is loosely-hanging. This was never done with historical mail, unless mail in question was a hastily-provided munitions armor. Such loosely hanging mail would not provide additional protection, while significantly increasing the weight of armor. It would also make it more likely for armor to catch onto something, provide the opponent with good grabbing / grappling hold points, and impede movement. And this issue is especially bad for mail coif, as having it loosely hanging makes it likely to slip off the head (which, I have been told, is a fairly important part of body), and also leaves the throat exposed.
Mail itself is far too fine to actually be protective, and ragged edges give it the appearance of cloth rags – something that would never be done in actual mail armor. Fact that nobody is wearing any padding also means that any strikes – especially on the head – would cause serious injuries. In fact, combination of fine, loosely hanging mail with no padding means that any strikes to the head would not just cause injuries but would easily split open the skin – and potentially even the skull (and the brain). And this is assuming that weapon in question does not simply cut through the rings, which with rings so thin is definitely a possibility.
Swords used by the members of the expedition are similarly badly designed. Handle is far too long for the blade, which is fairly short. Crossguard is bent aft, which makes it more likely for enemy weapon to slide off it and into the person holding the sword, and being constructed of two metal bars means that it is far more complex and far heavier than it needs to be.
Basic Elven armor
Basic elven armor is mostly fine. We first see this armor in the opening scenes of the first episode, and it seems to be based mostly on European plate armor of 15th century. This is a departure from elven armor seen in Lord of the Rings, but actually makes more sense.
Overall, the armor follows basic principles. Helmet protects the head but leaves face open for vision and breathing. Torso is protected by breastplate and backplate, while shoulder are protected by pauldrons. Both arms and legs are also fully protected, and neck is protected by collar (gorget). The largest mistake it does make is one very frequent in fantasy armor: namely, the lower edge of breastplate is too low, as seen in one of the screencaps above. Such a long single-piece breastplate would seriously limit mobility. Armor also has no mail voiders to cover gaps in the plate. This leaves arm joint vulnerable on the inner side. There is mail “skirt” protecing the legs down to the knee, but no fauld or tassets which should have been relatively easy to add. It is unclear why mail skirt is being used. If armor includes leg harness, then such a mail skirt is unnecessary weight. If it does not, question is, why not?
Helmet itself appears to be based on the Greek Illyrian or Attic helmet, but with neck protection that is somewhat similar to Roman Gallic helmet. It is essentially an inferior version of Elven helmets seen in the Peter Jackson films, and is thus acceptable for the reasons of continuity.
Elf Ranger Armor
Arandir the so-called-elf wears a different type of armor – apparently issued to rangers. And this armor is rather problematic.
Cuirass consists of breastplate and backplate in approximal style of Greek or Roman muscle cuirass, but with added spaulders. Cuirass itself is far too long, encompassing the whole torso and thus limiting mobility. Spaulders are shaped in form of leaves, which unfortunately causes a rather significant gap between the spaulder and the cuirass.
Usage of cuirass for ranger armor is by and in itself a major flaw. Light troops such as rangers usually forewent armor completely, or else used armor that was cheap, light and easy to maintain. Cuirass, and especially such an “artistic” cuirass, is none of that. Plate armor is by its nature expensive – more expensive than even mail for much of the Middle Ages. It is also far more difficult to maintain than mail or scale armor. Repairing a damaged mail or scale armor requires replacing several broken or misshapen rings or else scales – both of which can be done in the field, assuming spare parts are on hand. Repairing a damaged piece of plate armor requires a forge, and spares are impractical to carry as one would need to carry essentially entire additional suit of armor.
Armor has absolutely no protection for groin area or upper thighs – not a sign of the skirt of hanging straps (hoplite pteruges or legionary baltea). None of the rangers seen so far wear helmet either, which is another major weakness. In fact, soldiers tended to protect head above everything else – if a soldier wore any metal armor at all, he wore a helmet. Yet these rangers are apparently too cool for helmets. Neck, too, is left unprotected. While a relatively lightly armored rangers would likely not have rigid neck defense, at the very least a tie or a scarf should be present to provide some kind of neck protection.
Better lighting shows that armor is either made out of wood or detailed as to be made out of wood, neither of which makes any sense. Armor of wood would not stop any metal weapons, not even blades, let alone arrows or blunt weapons. And just being in the field in damp climate – such as would have been in based-on-Europe Middle Earth – would rapidly rot the wooden armor to the point it would not be able to stop even harsh words. On the other hand, etching armor (presumably with acid) to make it look as if it is made out of wood would weaken the armor, make it more likely to catch arrows and blades instead of deflecting them, make armor more likely to rust and make it more likely to either have or develop faults that would make it fail in combat.
Decorations on armor are also very deep in relief, which would unnecessarily complicate the manufacturing process, make armor far heavier than it needs to be, and also complicate maintenance. Leaf decorations would catch blades, making any blows – be it blunt weapons or arrows – far more effective. They are also too complex to be part of the armored plate itself. This is a problem, since laminated armored plate is usually weaker than a homogeneous plate of the same material and thickness. Unless, of course, armor is made of wood – which will have made it completely useless. One positive side of decorations is that they would increase thickness in the crucial chest area.
White Elven Armor
This armor is fundamentally the 15th century “white” plate armor, except that it looks to be made of cardboard and aluminum and has a terrible finish. Basic prioritization is done properly, as armor protects the entire torso and arms, as well as the neck. There are however three major, immediately obvious flaws. First is the gorget, which is too tall and would limit head mobility – to the point of preventing head from turning more than few degrees, as seen in few scenes. It also has a separate – and completely unnecessary – metal “collar” or second gorget which appears to “float” around the neck, and whose purpose is unclear. Second are the pauldrons, which are weirdly shaped – they cover the front and the back of the shoulder area, but leave cutout for the shoulder itself, which then necessitated the usage of spaulder to protect. Historically, this was never done – armor would utilize either spaulder or pauldron, but not both. Third flaw is the lack of gauntlets. Minor flaw is the absence of leg harness, but that at least can be explained by it being concealed by long skirts – whose presence rather suggests this is a solely parade armor.
Much like with Gondorian armor in Lord of the Rings, breastplate seems to be far too long, limiting mobility because it ends low on torso. There is no proper fauld – or rather, no fauld at all. Breastplate itself is completely flat, having basically no shaping that 15th century white armor would have in order to better deflect blows and projectiles.
Worse comes when it is being removed. Nobody is carrying an arming doublet, and parts of armor are even coming up against the bare skin. Needles to say, this would have been profoundly uncomfortable. And thanks to the long skirts everybody seems to be wearing with the armor, actually moving in the armor in combat would be impossible.
Galadriel’s armor is similar to white elven armor in its basic principles. Armor offers fairly extensive protection, covering the torso, entire arms and legs in plate harness.
It has a more ornate breastplate, but breastplate itself is decently shaped. It even seems to be of roughly proper length, extending to the waist instead of the hip-length of many fantasy breastplates, though it may still be somewhat too long. While sides of the cuirass rest on the hips, which is historically accurate, front of the breastplate is shaped so that it protrudes significantly downwards – ostensibly for protection, but that feature would significantly limit torso mobility. And while arm harness itself is decent, there is an unnecessary gap between it and the breastplate.
Armor does have mail voiders, but these are “floppy”, freely hanging even on the outside of the plate in the shoulder area. In reality, mail voiders – and mail armor in general – should be snug to the body. Such freely hanging “floppy” voiders would in fact restrict movement, as well as be a hazard as they could catch on things (such as elements of the armor that they are a component of) or be caught by the enemy in combat. Mail mesh that voiders are made of also seems to be way too fine, with too small and too thin rings, to be useful. Minor issue are the tassets, which hang from the sides instead of protecting the front of the leg, and there is no fauld at all.
While this is primarily an armor post, elves do have issues with weapons. Elven sword has an illogical curved-back crossguard with a hollow in it that serves no purpose. Handle is also very long relative to the blade, and for no apparent purpose.
Hammer displayed in Eregion’s forge is likely intended to be a warhammer, but looks more like a civilian hammer. It is made out of a single piece of metal, which was rarely or never done for actual warhammers. It is also too decorated, and its head is blunt. This last point is the greatest flaw, as it guarantees that hammer would harmlessly slide off the armor plate – historical warhammers had spikes to prevent precisely that. Ironically, it also appears to be slightly smaller than historical warhammers – the opposite of the problem that most fantasy weapons have.
There are also examples of bad weapons care. Arandir leaves his bow strung when carrying it around, which would lead to bow gradually losing tension and growing weaker.
Dwarven armor appears to consist of mail armor with scale armor over it. This is absolutely a historical setup, even if both scale and mail armors had also been used as a standalone. Scale armor covers torso, upper arms and thighs, while mail hauberk covers entire arms and legs to slightly below the knee. This setup is both historical and logical since mail is easier to fit to cover large areas, and it protects well the more important areas.
Masked helmets are also historical, and dwarven helmets appear to be based on the Sutton Hoo helmet. This may be a weird choice since Sutton Hoo helmet is not Norse helmet but rather Anglo-Saxon, but Tolkien did note in Silmarillion that dwarves wore masks when facing Glaurung. The shape and coverage of the helmet itself is closer to an enclosed helmet, as the helmet does not cover as much of the rear of the head as it does of the front. What prevents these helmets from being actually passable is the fact that the mask includes a metal beard. This massive metal beard would physically prevent dwarven soldiers from actually turning their heads. As a result, anyone in the frontal arc would be in trouble – but only so long as they stayed there.
Historicity of the helmet falls apart in the fourth episode, when we see that the helmet is equipped with door-type spring-loaded visor on the mask. Another major issue is the usage of gilded cover for eye slots. Whatever the material it may have been made of, if it were thin enough to still allow for vision (which apparently it does), it would be easily pierced by any sort of weapons. If it were thick enough to be protective, it would render the wearer completely blind. A chain mesh is possible solution, but that would risk broken pieces of mail getting into the eye, and in any case appearance does not suggest mail is what is being used. From the rear, mail coif can be seen protruding underneath the helmet – this is something that absolutely will have been done to protect the neck.
Female dwarves are visible wearing what appears to be conical boob armor. This type of armor would simply not work, especially since only boobs seem to be protected by metal plate while rest of the armor is soft leather. Whoever came up with this design managed to produce something even worse than traditional fantasy boob armor, which is a very difficult feat to accomplish. Helmet is only slightly better. Its basic shape is that of a visorless bascinet, but it has completely useless horn ornamentation. Helmet is also too tight to the skull, leaving absolutely no room for a helmet liner. Assuming these women do in fact have a brain, any significant impact – even one that does not actually penetrate a helmet – will be causing brain damage, possibly even of lethal kind.
Some dwarven soldiers seem to be wearing what is hopefully a black surcoat, but looks like biker leather.
Dwarves seem to be using double-bitted two-handed axes. While these are based on Gimli’s axe, they are just as stupid: double-bitted axe head is useful for cutting wood, but is a waste of metal and weight on a war axe. War axes, with no exceptions, had only one blade. The opposite side had either nothing, or else was equipped with a hammer or a spike – never another axe blade. Axe head is also too large. Real war axe could have either a much shorter blade or somewhat longer blade, but head itself was always relatively small. Even the Norse bearded axe which does have a long blade still had an overall much smaller head than seen here.
A dwarf is visible in one scene with absolutely massive polehammer. This design makes absolutely no sense. Firstly, head is far too massive to be used effectively – even for a dwarf, it would be too heavy. In fact, it seems to be overall three spans (span = 23 cm) long, of which one span is the hammer head and two spans the pike, and one span wide. This would give it a volume of approximately 17 800 cm3 (hammer – 23 * 23 * 23 * 0,8 = 9 700 cm3, pike – 23 * 23 * (23*2) / 3 = 8 100 cm3). Heads of war hammers in middle ages could be either iron or steel, but since we are talking about dwarves here, I will assume low-carbon steel. This type of steel has density of 7,87 g/cm3. Result is that heads of dwarven war hammers would weight almost exactly 140 kilograms. For reference, head of a historical warhammer or a pollaxe weighted at around 2 – 2,5 lbs, or around 1 kg in metric units. Shaft would add another two pounds (0,9 kg) at most. Even if this is actually a mining pick – we see it later being used to destroy stone – it is still far too large to be useful.
Numenorean Marine Armor
This armor at least appears to be somewhat decent… perhaps because, with just the torso armor and the vambraces, there is not much to get wrong. Metal components – which appear to be either bronzed or made of bronze – consist of essentially breast and back plates and vambraces. These are backed up by cloth armor (gambeson) which covers most of the rest of the body. Yet it still has major issues.
First issue is the breastplate which is completely flat. It has neither the artistic shape of the ancient muscle cuirass, nor the globular shape of real medieval armor. Lack of globular shape would significantly reduce its protective qualities, as it would not be able to properly disperse force of the impact, and would be more likely to “catch” any impacts and be penetrated. Captain’s breastplate has some sort of extensions over the shoulder compared to other examples, with the consequence being that the captain cannot raise his arms higher than perhaps the horizontal position.
Second are the vambraces. In medieval armor, vambrace enclosed the entire forearm. Even in antiquity vambraces enclosed the forearm whole. While exception existed in form of Roman manicae, these were armor for the entire arm. Vambraces shown here however cover only the rear part of the forearm.
There are few elements that are well done. Cuirass appears to be of a roughly proper length, ending at the natural waist and thus not limiting the mobility the way some other armors do. Second detail are the raised edges of the armor. These were seen in historical armors, purpose being to prevent a weapon – be it lance or other bladed weapon – from sliding off the plate and into the joints of armor.
Numenorean Guard Armor
Numenorean Guard armor is fairly extensive, covering the head, torso, shoulders, forearms and lower legs in metal protection. This coverage is not entirely well prioritized, but it is not ahistorical either – Roman legionaries for example had metal protection for torso and shoulders, and sometimes forearms and lower leg, but not for the upper arm and thighs.
Basic setup consists of a combination of a helmet and Greek muscle cuirass. This in and by itself is not a bad combination. Helmet is a conical helmet with cheek guards. Specifically, it appears to be based on the late Roman ridge helmet. The obvious difference is that there is no ridge, Numenorean helmet being made in one piece as opposed to the two-piece or four-piece construction of its Roman equivalent. Helmet’s conical shape contrasts the rounded bowl shape of its historical counterpart. Helmet is equipped with cheek guards, which appear to be hinged – not an uncommon feature on helmets featuring neck guards. Overall, helmet itself is a decent design. Minor issue is the nose guard. While its design is reminiscent of the sliding nasal guard found on some lobster-tailed helmets, the guard itself is affixed into place and appears to serve a wholly decorative function. Historically, nose guards could also serve a decorative function, but it was always secondary and I do not recall any historical helmets where nose guard was so massive.
Neck protection is provided by mail aventail, but that protects only back of the neck. There is no trace of any other sort of neck protection. (Aventail itself appears to be mail pattern printed onto cloth, as opposed to Lord of the Rings’ usage of actual mail – if in many examples plastic). Moreover, helmet’s aventail is the only piece of mail armor present. There is no sign of mail voiders or mail shirt to protect areas not covered by plate.
Cuirass has similar issue as the marine armor, not being shaped properly for deflection. In this case at least it does have some artistic value, though it is nowhere near detailed and artistic as ancient muscle cuirass will have been. Armor has a major issue in that spaulders appear to be tucked underneath the cuirass, which will severely limit mobility in the shoulder. In other scenes they hang completely separately from the cuirass, again with no attempt made to protect the gap with mail voiders. Positive side is that the cuirass itself appears to be of roughly the correct length, with lower torso being protected by textile armor. This may have been supposed to be a brigandine apron, judging by the studs. Yet pattern of the studs does not really correspond to historical brigandine armor, and fabric can be seen bunching in some scenes. This would mean that the apron does not in fact have plates riveted to the cloth, but rather the studs are purely decorative and serve no defensive purpose. The idea likely comes from the fantasy – and rather dumb – tradition of “studded” armor, which is merely a fantasy RPG misinterpretation of the brigandine armor.
In some scenes, guards also have shields. These appear to be center-grip round shields, judging by the metal boss in the middle (a metal protrusion meant to protect the fist and the grip, which itself is in the shield’s center of mass). However, closer look – specifically, the guards at the port scene – shows that the boss is purely decorative, and shield is instead held by straps. Unlike the Greek hoplon, center of the mass is somewhere in the center of the forearm, which would allow for better mobility. Shields are also on the smaller side – diameter appears to be around 45 cm, give or take some. Even at higher end of 50 cm, this is smaller than even Macedonian telamon, a shield whose diameter (24 inches or 61 cm) was driven by the need to utilize a pike. Usage of shields however definitely goes well with greaves, especially since shields’ shape and size means they do nothing to protect the lower leg.
Spears appear to be roughly 9 feet long, which is at the higher end of Greek dory. As such, length alone would allow spears to be utilized in one hand, alongside the shields. Head, however, would not. What appears to be bronze spearhead is nearly two feet in length, which is twice the length of the spearhead on Greek dory. Just as significantly, spears do not appear to have any kind of counterweight at the rear end (sauroter in Greek or ferrule in Roman usage).
Numenorean White Armor
This armor is apparently used by the regular troops. Overall, it does halfway job, which is disappointing compared to some better examples in here. Helmet is decent, with cheek and nose guards but no protection for the neck. It is overall very similar to the guards’ helmet. Noticeable issue for both helmets is that they are secured with a strap passing underneath the jaw, but there is nothing to tie up chin guards and prevent them from flapping as head moves. Helmet in this armor also has a very long horse tail plume. This type of plume would never be used in a combat helmet, as it is easy to grab while not providing any purpose beyond decoration. Further, plumes were typically used by officers as a sign of rank and to make them more noticeable on the battlefield, thus helping command and control. Yet here everybody has the horsehair plume.
Armor may have been supposed to be scale armor. Yet closer look shows that scales are merely decorative, and that torso armor from waist up consists of solid plates. Backplate has no fishscale decoration and is clearly a solid plate. Pauldrons are solid plate with inset scales, and sleeves are merely scale-painted cloth which may have been intended to portray actual scale armor. If so, this makes little sense as scale armor was generally not worn underneath plate or any other sort of armor – when worn, it came on top, with either mail and quilted or just quilted armor (gambeson) underneath it. Scale armor was generally replaced by plate armor. Soldiers also have bands around their upper arms that are reminiscent of party arm bands worn by various socialists (Communists, Nazis), but otherwise serve no functional purpose. One can assume they were supposed to be attachment points for pauldrons, except they obviously are not. Armor has significant gaps between the pauldrons and the breastplate, and these gaps are not protected by anything – thus exposing the axillary artery. This issue could have been solved easily with mail or besagews, but no attempt was made at all. Neck protection meanwhile is completely nonexistent – in fact, armor appears to expose part of the chest and clavicles as well.
There is also no protection for the legs at all, yet Numenorean soldiers do not use large shields that would explain that. This is made weirder by the fact that forearms are protected by vambraces, which means that everything above the waist is protected by fairly heavy armor whereas below the waist there is no armor at all except for a fairly short scale skirt protecting the hips on the male variant of armor. One possible explanation for such armor design would be widespread usage of pavise shields, or simply infantry being expected to fight predominantly in close combat. This explanation however falls flat since cavalrymen equipped with this type of armor also have no leg protection despite their legs being precisely at infantryman’s chopping height. Also, even the medieval infantry armor that forewent leg harness still had tassets protecting the upper thighs.
Female variant of armor is perfectly idiotic, seeing how it includes the “boob-plate” (a.k.a. chest plate shaped after female anatomy). And while male armor at least has (limited) protection for the hips, female armor leaves hips completely exposed. This is not even getting into the fact that no sane medieval society will have ever included women as a regular element of its armed forces, for various reasons I will not be discussing here.
There is also a question of what exactly the armor is made of. Historical “white” armor wasn’t white at all, but merely wasn’t painted – that is, it was the color of the metal. And while armor was often painted, this was generally true only of plate armor which did require a lot of protection from the elements. This might be the case here – except painting scale armor doesn’t make much sense as friction between the scales would rub the paint off. Painting armor makes more sense if armor truly is the scale-patterned plate, but issue is that even the cloth parts – which we are likely to suppose are actual scale armor – are still painted white. And considering the shape of the shirt with scale pattern, there is no way that could ever have been actual scale armor, especially not with the size of assumed scales – a mistake also repeated with Ar-Zimraphel’s armor.
Ar-Zimraphel’s armor is bad. I will not spend much space on discussing it as it essentially repeats the mistakes of other Numenorean armors, the white armor in particular. It has rigid breastplate shaped to have breasts, which places it at technological level of antiquity – in a society that is supposed to be the technologically most advanced society in the whole of Middle-Earth. Underneath is “scale” armor, or rather printed scale pattern on cloth, which – as discussed before – makes no sense combined with plate armor.
Legs are protected by a mail skirt, but that again has links so fine that it wouldn’t stand up to harsh language. Worse, considering how it looks, it is likely supposed to be bronze.
While there are numerous mistakes, few are as bad or as obvious as the run-of-the mill mistakes seen in the likes of the Game of Thrones. Thus while the execution is far, far from perfect, and significantly inferior compared to something like the Monty Python and the Holy Grail, it is still better than much of the stuff out there.
3 thoughts on “Weapons and Armor in the Rings of Power”
Reblogged this on Fantasy View and commented:
Blog post discussing weapons and armor in the Rings of Power.
Excellent blog post. For someone who doesn’t know much about medieval armor, but loves Tolkien’s work this was very interesting. Wasn’t a fan of the show, and this article helped me see more flaws. Thank you!
No problem! I will be writing more posts on Lord of the Rings (and other fiction) in the future, but main focus of this blog is still on history so these will be relatively few.