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You hear accounts of guys trundling around with a dozen arrows sticking out of their padded armour, looking like pin cushions. This has lead to the belief padded cloth armours could stop arrows surprisingly well, and may've been more efficient in doing so than mail. Is this true?

One point to be considered, is often that heavy padding may have had mail in it. And that may've been the major arrow stopping factors. I have seen some tests on mail vs gambesons with arrows, but I can't remember a definitive example that shows the efficiency of one over the other.

So, could someone please tell me? Was padded armour more efficient at stopping arrows than mail?

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    Do you have some real-world references to "guys trundling around with a dozen arrows sticking out of their padded armour"? – Steve Bird Oct 23 '16 at 0:08
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    @SteveBird I'm afraid the only one that comes to mind is the battle of Arsuf during the crusade of Richard, where Saladin's biographer mentions seeing men with ten arrows in them who were unhindered. There are some other cases I've seen, but I will have to look. ...I can't find much. Only examples that obviously had metal armour like the klibania. Sorry. – J. Doe Oct 23 '16 at 2:10
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    mail and bronze got pierced, even flat riveted mail ( except 6 to 1 or 8 to 1 mail, that did stop them most of the time). a friend of mine builds correct medieval (13th-14th) aragonese over-the-mail gambesons ( called perpunt) with the same style as the other friend's linothoraxes, and they can stand atleast one arrow piercing. scontent-bru2-1.xx.fbcdn.net/t31.0-8/… the red one. weights almost 2 kg. – CptEric Oct 26 '16 at 13:18
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    it's because the padding and layering + the sewed rows add both elasticity and strength to the cloth, creating a soft but strong airbag effect on fast impacts. On the other side, it makes them very rigid, the first prototype of perpunt could stand on itself because it had a dozen sewing rows. – CptEric Oct 26 '16 at 13:22
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    I don't think so, but would be nice to see it published ( and wth photos of the layering), i agree. will post as answer. – CptEric Oct 26 '16 at 13:46
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I would say no. The accounts I've heard of are about crusaders who looked like pin cushions, yes because they had a bunch of arrows that had failed to penetrate their quilted tunics/other padded armor, but this was after said arrows had already penetrated the mail they were wearing on top and thus lost a lot of their energy. It seems to me that the accounts you're referring to may be distorted versions of this, where the person retelling it has forgotten that they actually had mail on top as well.

And really, if there was "heavy padding with mail in it", shouldn't that be called mail armor with heavy padding instead? A curious inconsistency.

  • I agree that this seems to be the case. There appears to be an urban legend now that cloth is more protective against arrows, which I had the impression of being true previously. I'll wait a while before accepting the solution (we're meant to wait 24 hours, apparently). Thank you. – J. Doe Oct 23 '16 at 18:47
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To an extend, yes. an Archaeologist friend of mine has tested padded linen ( not glued,sewed ) greek armour ( linothorax) , and, due to the addition of many sew rows all along it and around 9-10 cloth layers, it can stop a competition bow with armour piercing arrows shot at 50-70 metres. Ofcourse, the contussion would have broke any rib behind the padded cloth, and after three shots an arrow was able to trespass the textile, as it lost strength.

During some testing done in the field (and not in lab conditions or documented), mail and bronze got pierced, even flat riveted mail ( except 6 to 1 or 8 to 1 mail, that did stop them most of the time), while linothorax padding could sustain 1 to 3 shots before losing integrity. A friend of mine builds correct medieval (13th-14th) aragonese over-the-mail gambesons ( called perpunt) with the same style as the other friend's linothoraxes, and they can stand atleast one arrow pierce before losing strength.

The right, bright red one is an example of this clothing garment: enter image description here

How it was worn:

enter image description here

Notice the horizontal sewing lines. The principle is the same than on mountain climbing ropes, more sewings, and more layers, more resistance.

enter image description here

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