The tropical Southeast Asia (especially the Malay world, e.g. Malaysia/Indonesia) are very hot, and apparently wearing European-style full armor is very uncomfortable in hot climates.

What kind of armor, if any, did the heavy infantry/heavy cavalry soldiers in the region use before the introduction of gunpowder (or other developments which renders armour obsolete)? I think they must have not encountered European armoured soldiers, and due to the heat they might have less reason to develop heavily armoured soldiers.

Do we have any records of how they were armoured before the European's arrival? Maybe during the 14th-15th century?

2 Answers 2


Unlike war in central plain of China and Europe, Indonesia was covered with heavyrain forest. Size of trees and leaves are way bigger than any other in the world. Therefore wearing armor will only slow the movement and ended up as bull's eye for poison arrows.

Medieval Indonesian soldiers were usually chest naked and wearing coloured headband to differentiate the kingdom they represented. The battle are usually guerillia style instead of covered in formations. As per pictured drawn in ancient stone tablets (prasasti), high rank general and kings wore partial embroided armored made by gold, as they are heavily influenced by Indian culture. However once they hit the deep forest battlefield, even armies commander will fight almost bare chest.

Indonesia is rich of exotic animals which produced numerous type of poisons. These are applied on the weapon, therefore ones can wear heavy armor, but if the skin were scrached by poison arrow, they would be dead almost instantly. Even modern medicine today won't be able to penetrate half of available poison. This is due to poisons are mixed to generate stonger effect.

When Indonesia was faced with gunpowder era which was brought by the Mongol and Ming, the Muslim culture swipped the nation. High rank commander swapped their golden armor with cotton clothes.

So to answer your question, South East asian nations rarely wore armor like the ones in other nations. Even the Spanish Conquistadors who were always portrayed with heavy chest plate armor in South America are portrayed as uniformed army without armor in South East Asian history.

  • 3
    Welcome to History Stack exchange. Please edit your answer into paragraphs- this is difficult to read. As for your contention, could you provide some references?
    – Rajib
    Commented May 1, 2015 at 6:41
  • I think at least some armor would be very useful against poitioned projectiles, compared to bare chest.
    – Anixx
    Commented May 1, 2015 at 22:31
  • Does the last sentence make sense?
    – Rohit
    Commented May 2, 2015 at 15:58

The answer to this varies considerably by region and class of soldiers. The soldiers from some higher social classes had limited armor that was made of brass plates sewn over fabric, but they represented a minor segment of the assorted militaries.

The more common foot soldier was much more limited in what constituted "armor". It would be more accurate to say that they would wear matching outfits to help distiniguish them as part of a specific army. The actual makeup of their "armor" ranged from paper, to fabric, to woven materials such as rattan.

One of the most intersting examples I found was a vest with two layers of rattan sewn together, then overlaid with hard shells. (This forum thread has five pages with different examples, but most were simply fabric. I also saw an example of a shield made of woven wicker with metal plates placed on top of it.

I think the most consistent theme that I have encountered was that their "armor" from that time period was very seriously limited and would not really be classified as actual armor in the truest sense.

  • Is the lack of armour mostly due to technological limitation, climate, or other factors?
    – Fitri
    Commented Jan 21, 2013 at 16:25
  • From what I read, it appears to be a lack of materials and expertise more than anything else. They didn't appear to have much expertise in metalworking, and I would assume that their exposure to European style armor was very limited. Commented Jan 21, 2013 at 23:33
  • hmm, shells fixed onto rattan sounds surprisingly like the boar tusks fixed onto wicker that were used in the middle east (I think it was) at one point.
    – jwenting
    Commented Feb 13, 2013 at 7:29

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