Korean armour

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Gaya armour and helmet (5th century)

Korean armor is armor that was traditionally used in ancient times by Koreans, those fighting in and on behalf of Korea, or Koreans fighting overseas. Examples of armor from the Korean Peninsula date back to at least the Korean Three Kingdoms period. Depending on the tactical situation, Korean armor also included horse-armor and other kinds of early anti-ballistic armor before the 20th century.

Introduction[edit]

Korean armour

Korean armor was largely focused on protecting against missile warfare, since the mountainous terrain made field battle relatively rare in comparison to other countries; taking fortifications was the typical way of warfare. Metallic armor was relatively widespread during the Three Kingdoms period due to constant warfare, but its usage declined when Korea was united. By the Joseon Dynasty, common provincial troops were equipped with padded armor while central units could afford metallic armor.

Korean warfare was often based on harsh terrain and the firepower imposed on the enemy from high ground usually in the form of composite bows and later gunpowder weapons, while cavalry superiority was favored against the constant Jurchen raids during the Joseon dynasty. Fighting against much larger forces as China and Japan, Koreans favored mobility and ranged tactics which limited the reliance upon vastly armored units despite a strong inclusion of melee training.

Korean armor during the Korean Three Kingdoms Period consisted of two major styles: a lamellar armor sharing the style of Chinese armor at the time and the armor of the steppe hordes, and plate armor, found in the Gaya Confederation and its vicinity. The lamellae were often of hard materials such as bronze, iron, bone, or stiffened leather; plates were always of iron, steel or bronze.[citation needed]

During later periods, Korean armor also included forms of brigandine, chain mail, and scale armor. Due to the cost of iron and steel equipment that were often too high for peasant conscripts, helmets were not always full steel and stiffened leather caps were not uncommon.

Korean armor pieces, from top to bottom, typically consisted of a helmet or a cap, a heavy main armor coat with pauldrons or shoulder and underarm protection, leg coverings (supplemented by the skirting from the main coat), groin protection, and limb protection. In terms of armament, Korean militaries employed heavy infantry equipped with swords or spears along with shields, pikemen, archers, crossbowmen, and versatile heavy cavalry capable of horse archery. Korean naval warfare saw large deployments of heavy wooden shields as a means of protecting personnel on the top decks of Korean ships.

It is suggested[citation needed] that during a period of rule under the Mongol Empire, Korea (then under the late Goryeo Dynasty) began to see a number of changes to its military, some of which endured through the Joseon era that followed the end of the Goryeo Dynasty in 1392. Japanese paintings of Korean/Mongol warriors during the two Mongol invasions of Japan (1274 and 1281 AD) show Mongol forces made largely of Korean and Chinese conscripts with shields and Mongol-style armor elements. The shields do not appear to have lasted as an influence, but examples of Joseon-era Korean armor often show adoptive influences from the Mongol period.

After the rise of the Joseon Dynasty, Korean combat armor saw change once from mainly using chainmail, plated mail and lamellar to mostly brigandine.

Three Kingdoms Period[edit]

A Daegaya soldier

The best preserved armors from the three kingdoms period originate almost exclusively from the Gaya confederacy. The armour from Gaya are the best examples of plate armor from ancient times rivaling those of Mediterranean basin from the same period. These Gaya style plate armour are categorized into three types- one is made by joining vertical steel bands to form a single plate, another by joining horizontal bands, and the other by putting small triangular steel pieces together. The first type is found in Gaya and Silla, while most examples for the other two are found in Gaya but some have been found in northern Baekje. Similar styles have been also found in Kyushu and Honsu, Japan.

Goguryeo armor was a type of lamellar armour, made of small steel plates woven together with cord. Ancient tombs of the Jjoksaem District of Hwango-dong, Gyeongju, North Gyeongsang uncovered the first example in 2009. Goguryo murals found in North Korea also shed light on how Goguryo armour looked like.

Joseon dynasty armour[edit]

Armour displayed at the Danghangpo Battle memorial site.

Armour from the Joseon dynasty can be be classified into roughly two time periods, the early dynasty(c.15~16th centuries) and the late dynasty (c. 17th~19th centuries). The exact transition point from the early to late dynasty armour is still unresolved, but appears to be around the Imjin War and the Manchu invasion of Korea, the two and only total wars that Korea faced during the Joseon Dynasty. Throughout both periods, however, padded armor (Hangeul:엄심갑, Hanja: 掩心甲) was popular among the common soldiers, as the Joseon dynasty required peasant conscripts to provide their own equipment and padded armour offered body protection at a low price. Metallic armour was largely seen within units stationed in the capital, which formed the main striking power of the Joseon dynasty's land forces.

In the early dynasty, chainmail and plated mail that were used during the late Goryo dynasty remained in usage, while lamellar armour, the traditional form of Korean armor, also persisted with some influences from the Mongols received during the 13~14th centuries. A full metallic armour set was composed of a helmet bearing much resemblance with regards to European kettle hats with attached neck defences of mail or lamellae, a body armour reaching down to the thighs or knees, and a set of shoulder guards which protected the upper arm as well.

In the late dynasty brigandine became the primary Korean metallic armour and often reached below the knees when worn, and the helmet assumed a conical shape. The rest did not change much as the dynasty did not experience any war after the Manchu invasions. In the mid-19th century, however, there was an attempt to develop anti-ballistic armor made by sewing sheets of textiles along with cotton and combining them into a thick vest as a response towards the overwhelming firepower of rifles fielded by Western powers such as France and the United States. Although this attempt was partially in line with the current method of producing anti-ballistic vests, it does not appear to have proved effective.

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