As I understand it, scale armour, such as the Sassanid Iranian cataphract units wore, required some sort of padding under it. In Europe, a gambeson was used for this purpose, and also served as the only armour of poorer soldiers who could not afford mail.

What was used in the Sassanid empire? As I understand it, the gambeson is a very warm garment - not fit for the warmer Middle-eastern climate. Nor could I find any record of it being used this far south. (It is possible I did not look hard enough, or in the right places.) But if not the gambeson, what was used?


Wool breathes well. Central Asia can also be very cold. They didn't live in their armour. Consider how hot soldiers in tanks must have been in WWII in places like North Africa. People got used to it. The crusading armies were wearing gambesons and the like in their wars.

Armour needs to balance between protection and wearability. The heavy bronze age armours from Mycenean Greece for instance are thought to have been worn by elite warriors fighting from chariots so bulk wasn't an issue. A simple woolen tunic is enough to make armour comfortable and they could have used layers of linen too. The cataphracts used lances like medieval knights so I'd image they would want to have some decent padding under their armour. Being on horseback means that they're not using anything like the energy they'd be using if on foot so heavier clothing would be acceptable.

Consider too the Mongols who used a lot of wool and they wouldn't have given up their armour as they spread west through those hot arid parts of Asia. It took the heat and humidity of India to stop them spreading south.

Wool on a hot day is surprisingly bearable.

  • Is there any information on wool what / linen what they wore? A gambeson is a very specific piece of armour, with specific design and specific way it was constructed to provide padding and protection. There are videos on youtube showing how a gambeson was sufficient protection from longbow arrows. Do we know if the cataphract units wore just a "wool tunic" or something more sophisticated? (For that matter, the gambeson already existed at the time, I just can't find record of it being used in the region.) – Galastel Sep 6 '18 at 19:41
  • I'm only speculating on what's possible. The Romans had a subarmalis under their armour and other groups like the Gauls probably wore something similar. No remains of such a thing exist and only vague references. Gladiators wore arm armour including ones made of cloth - check padded manica for modern interpretations. – Daniel Sep 7 '18 at 0:00

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