Body Armor

Leather and wood armor, China. This example of armor of painted leather and wood was made by the Lolo, or Yi, people from China’s Sichuan Province near the Tibetan border. PM 30-55-60/D3501
Hide armor, Alaska, c. mid 1800s. This armor may depict the story of Kaats, the hunter, and the bear. Such armor was widely used when the Tlingit first encountered Russians around 1800. PM 52-36-10
Tlingit armor with Chinese coins, Alaska, c. 19th Century. This armor features rows of Chinese coins as well as traditional design elements such as the puffin beaks below the coins. PM 69-30-10/2065

People around the globe, from peasants to kings, have used armor as a form of protection in war. Made from bark, bone, wood, cotton and metal, armor typically shields only the torso. Complete suits that cover the entire body are exceptional. Although much armor is undecorated, the broad flat surfaces invite artistic expression that might announce the wearer’s culture or social position.

In societies in which only elite warriors could afford well-made, highly decorated body armor, elaborate artwork on the surface helped to confirm and signal their elevated status. With the advent of firearms, metal armor became ever thicker and heavier until it was finally abandoned. However, body armor continued to be used well into the 20th century in many parts of the world where firearms remained scarce.

Eight pieces on display