Lamellar armor was one of three early body armor types, made from rectangular or vaguely rectangular armor plates laced into horizontal rows. The other two types are scale armour and laminar armour. Lamellar armor was used over a wide range of time periods in Eastern Europe, the Middle East and across Asia, including Japan.
One example of how lamellar armor is laced together
Close up view of Japanese (samurai) hon kozane, lamellar armour constructed with small individual scales/lamellae known as kozane.
Lamellar armor consists of hundreds of small rectangular iron, leather (rawhide), or bronze plates (scales or lamellae) which are pierced in various locations and laced together into horizontal rows to the proper length needed to construct a particular armor item. When the lamellae are made of leather they can be hardened by a process such as cuir bouilli or lacquering. The rows of lamellar armor resemble scale armor, but differ by not needing a cloth or leather backing for the lamellae, and the lamellae are pierced in many more locations. Lamellar armor eventually overtook scale armor in popularity as lamellar restricted the users movements much less than scale armour.
Lamellar armour was often worn as augmentation to existing armour, such as over a mail hauberk. The lamellar cuirass was especially popular with the Rus, as well as Mongols, Turks, Avars, and other steppe peoples, as it was simple to create and maintain.
Lamellar is pictured in many historical sources on Byzantine warriors, especially heavy cavalry. It is thought that it was worn to create a more deflective surface to the rider's armour, thus allowing blades to skim over, rather than strike and pierce. Recent studies by Timothy Dawson of the University of New England, Australia, suggest that Byzantine lamellar armour was significantly superior to mail armor.
Lamellar armour has been found in Egypt in a 17th-century BC context.Sumerian and Ancient Egyptian bas-reliefs depicting soldiers have been argued as portraying the earliest examples of lamellar armour, particularly on chariot drivers, but it is not until the time of the Assyrians (circa 900–600 BC) that possible examples of lamellar appear in the archaeological record. Among finds of Assyrian armour (often individual or unconnected scales), there are examples that can clearly be classified as scale armor as well as others that appear to be lamellar, and there exist a large number of finds whose function has proven difficult to determine.
The extent to which either type was used is a debated topic. Lamellar was used by various cultures from this time up through the 16th century. Lamellar armour is generally associated with the armour worn by the samurai class of feudal Japan, although it came to Japan from Korea. Lamellar armour is also associated with Mongolia, Eastern Russia[disambiguation needed], the tribes of Siberia and the Sarmatians, evidence of lamellar armour has also been found in various European countries.
Lamellar armor reached Japan around the 5th century. The pre-samurai Japanese lamellar armour was called keiko. These early Japanese lamellar armours took the form of a sleeveless jacket and a helmet. The middle of the Heian period was when Japanese lamellar armor started to take the shape that would be associated with samurai armor. By the late Heian period Japanese lamellar armour developed into full-fledged samurai armour called Ō-yoroi. Japanese lamellar armours were made from hundreds or even thousands of individual leather (rawhide) and/or iron scales/lamellae known as kozane, that were lacquered and laced together into armour strips. This was a very time consuming process. The two most common types of scales which made up the Japanese lamellar armours were hon kozane, which were constructed from narrow or small scales/lamellae, and hon iyozane, which were constructed from wider scales/lamellae .