Medieval Eastern and Central European armor in films? Mih?
October 20, 2006 4:40 PM   Subscribe

MovieFilter: A friend of mine needs to see some examples of Central and Eastern European armor from about a thousand years ago. What movies could you recommend which display such sorts of armor?

She refuses to ever see Kingdom of Heaven again, as would any right-thinking person, so don't bother with that one.
posted by Sticherbeast to Media & Arts (14 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Might these be of interest?

The Crusades (1935)
The Crusades and the Knights of Malta (1999)
The Crusades: Crescent & The Cross (2000)
posted by ericb at 5:02 PM on October 20, 2006

Not a film, but here's some info from the Met on armor of the period.
posted by scody at 5:04 PM on October 20, 2006

The Fall of Otrar. It's a mighty grim movie, but boy does it have armor. (If Central Asia is within the geographic bounds, that is.)
posted by languagehat at 5:38 PM on October 20, 2006

Just as a heads up, if the movie shows them wearing any kind of plate armor it's bullshit. After the collapse of Rome breastplates or other forms of plate armor did not come back into use until the late 13th century.

Until the mongols slapped em down the Georgians had good heavy cavalry (by the exceedingly low standards of european cavalry that is) but you'll be looking at chain mail and leather armor.
posted by Riemann at 5:59 PM on October 20, 2006

The Gary Oldman-Winona Rider version of Dracula features several early shots of Oldman wearing what I believe to be Central and Eastern European armor. It's set in Romania, obviously.

I think the color and helmet are movie-fied, but a friend told me once that the particular style of ribbing to the metal is accurate, even though it looks pretty wild.
posted by frogan at 7:42 PM on October 20, 2006

Yeah, the Germans invented armor like that during the 1500s (I think, might have been late 1400s) so it's about a half a thousand years too late. This was also one of those inventions that, while quite impressive in it's own way (allow for a drastic reduction in weight with no loss of strength) was obsolete as soon as it was invented.
posted by Riemann at 7:56 PM on October 20, 2006

obsolete as soon as it was invented

Because crossbows and guns started showing up, or for some other reason?
posted by frogan at 8:28 PM on October 20, 2006

Generally speaking, movies are a terrible choice for trying to look for historical armor. Movie makers choose stuff that looks good, not stuff that's period.

For instance, in the movie "Excaliber", most of the armor being shown in nominally 8th century England is actually from about 14th century France. Some of it's even later than that.

If you want to really find out what it was like, you're better off with books or museums. But prepare to be disappointed: armor from the middle ages looks a lot less impressive than you think. (That's why the movie makers don't use it.)
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 8:40 PM on October 20, 2006

Response by poster: If you want to really find out what it was like, you're better off with books or museums. But prepare to be disappointed: armor from the middle ages looks a lot less impressive than you think. (That's why the movie makers don't use it.)

Noted, but my friend works in stage costuming, and she winds up looking for those creative spins on somewhat obscure times and fashions. Totally accurate leather armor would look shabby, totally inaccurate plate armor would look stupid, but an even somewhat vaguely accurate middle ground or some creative spin thereof might be nice.

I'm just trying to scare up some Central and Eastern European medieval war movies as a reference point for how others have solved the problem of letting that period look both distinct and at least somewhat impressive.

That, and I'm all of a sudden curious myself as to how many movies of that ilk there actually are. I'm especially curious as to how Central and Eastern European filmmakers deal with it.
posted by Sticherbeast at 9:19 PM on October 20, 2006

Because crossbows and guns started showing up, or for some other reason?

In a large part because of guns yes, but also because of economics. Creating high quality plate armor required hundreds of man hours of extremely skilled labor. Essentially, the only people who could afford it are not the ones who are going to be on the front line of a battlefield*. Considering that weapons which could nullify the benefit were becoming command and the cost was astronomical armor like this was essentially for show. It was the 16th century equivalent of George Bush wearing a flight suit.

Earlier in the middle ages it had been more common for commanders to take the lead in the charge. Especially the French. This pretty much always led to disaster. EG: The English - despite being outnumbered, surrounded and low on food and ammunition - capturing the French king at the battle of Poitiers in 1356. It took the better part of the hundred years war to do it but the various monarchs and noblemen eventully got it through their thick skulls that this kind of thing could be prevented.
posted by Riemann at 9:41 PM on October 20, 2006

As to the question about costuming, the armor is not as impressive as show-pieces from the renaissance but that doesn't mean the actors have to look fugly. Over their mail they tended towards elaborate and colorful tabards (sort of a long flowing overcoat). Might want to look into the various coats-of-arms from eastern Europe during the time in question.
posted by Riemann at 9:44 PM on October 20, 2006

Actually, the big changes that affected knights on the battlefield was the development of the bodkin point and the Swiss pike.

Instead of having a wide flat arrowhead with hooks on the back, the armor-piercing arrow's bodkin point was quite narrow, making it much more easy for it to penetrate plate or chain mail.

Spears and pikes were hardly unknown; the Greeks used them. But in the 15th Century the Swiss developed a new way for infantry to use the pikes which made them effective against knights both for attack and defense, and that was when cavalry's effectiveness on the battlefield started a slow and continuous decline.

By the time infantry firearms became common enough, and effective enough, to really make a difference on the battlefield (middle of the 16th century) the amount of armor being worn by cavalry was already considerably reduced.

Armor was expensive and heavy, and as infantry weapons improved it became less and less effective. If you tried to use too much you couldn't field as many cavalrymen, and they'd be slower and thus easier targets. The tradeoff led to ongoing reduction in the amount of armor as time went on.

By the Napoleonic wars, all that remained was the cuirass, which surrounded the chest on heavy cavalry. (And some, but not all, cavalrymen wore metal helmets.) It was pretty effective protecting against bayonets and sabers and could stop musket balls at long range, and that was about it. Rifle fire, or artillery (ball or canister), or muskets at short range, were deadly even with that amount armor. (And of course the horse was vulnerable, too.)

In the American Civil War, no cavalry on either side wore armor at all, because no reasonable armor was capable of stopping a .52 caliber Minie Ball fired from the contemporary rifled muskets.

So the height of gorgeous and elaborate armor in Europe was the 14th century. Before that the metal-working skill and wealth weren't there to do it, and after that it was a waste of money.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 10:32 PM on October 20, 2006

Here's a nice multi-page site I found which contains French infantry armor over a period of about 800 years, that permits you to see how it evolved. Some of it's deceptive because it's ceremonial armor created for kings and princes, which is much too elaborate for actual use on the battlefield.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 10:47 PM on October 20, 2006

SInce your profile shows you are within MTA distance of the Met, I would heartily encourage a visit. Being able to see the armor from different angles for long periods of time without wearing out the pause button would probably be helpful. Most of the pieces there are ceremonial or dress armor that is highly ornamented.
Plus, hey, it's the Met. Go see some of the other stuff while you're there. She might find inspiration in an entirely different field.
Also, I vaguely remember El Cid (1961) had alot of creative armor design and was set in the eleventh century.
posted by leapfrog at 7:12 AM on October 21, 2006

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