Would it be possible for a sword to pierce plate armor?


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Would it be possible for a sword to pierce plate armor?

Dez 3, 2007, 5:51 pm

I'm writing a medieval fantasy book, and I've reached a bit of a dilemma concerning a character death.

Anyways, back in the middle ages, was it possible for a sword thrust to pierce through plate armor? I read that sword edges couldn't pierce plate armor, but they didn't specify if that was with a slash, thrust, both, or something else.

All answers appreciated, and thanks!

Editado: Dez 3, 2007, 7:49 pm

No, it couldn't. A person doesn't have the strength to do that, even if the sword could (which it couldn't, unless the plate armor was really weak). Even early guns at close range won't pierce quality plate armor, though obviously it would dent it. It's often said that a crossbow or longbow arrow will, but I don't know if that's true or just fantasy being fantasy.

There are, however, gaps in the armor where the pieces fit together, where a sword could fit through and pierce a person, but you'd have to look at a picture or actual armor to find out exactly where they are.

Dez 3, 2007, 7:57 pm

English and Welsh longbowmen won many a battle, even though vastly outnumbered, because their longbow arrows could pierce armor and had the advantage of being loaded swiftly; whereas a (mid-14th century) crossbow required a minute or more to reload, a longbowman could get off an arrow every five seconds or so. At the battle of Crecy, Edward III's meager forces defeated the vast French army because his longbowmen were literally able to rain steel-tipped, armor-piercing arrows upon them.

(I just finished a book about Edward III's reign, so the longbow's performance is fresh in my mind. Good luck with your book!)

Dez 3, 2007, 11:25 pm

A particularly large/heavy sword, like a Claymore, wouldn't pierce the armour but in the hands of a very strong man it could reasonably dent the armour seriously enough to cause major damage, in the right spot (like the helmet, shoulder, etc.). Ditto your heavier axes.

Editado: Dez 3, 2007, 11:55 pm

Well, if armor didn't protect against most of the major weapons of the day, what point would there be to wear it?

A sword thrust wouldn't pierce through plate armor. But you could still hit the person inside the armor if you were to use a thrusting sword and aimed for the chinks and seams. Plate armor isn't all one piece, after all, so there will be weak points.

And also, just as a point to remember, the heaviest swords out there that have been found weigh in around six or seven pounds. I know it isn't related to the armor question specifically, but it is something to keep in mind.

Dez 4, 2007, 12:01 am

5 shadrach -

Well that was something I sure didn't know! I had bad information about sword weight (I know more about armor, I've studied it a little, and about metal in general) and my first reaction to your comment was 'no way!' But I googled around and...well! That's cool.

I wonder how many authors of fantasy or historical fiction research armor before writing those kinds of scenes, because I have definitely read some very wrong stuff before. FeegleFan, well done you for asking the questions!

Dez 4, 2007, 4:24 am

Karen Miller is researching by actually learning to wield a sword. It's in her blog.

Probably also depends on the condition of the armour. After a couple of months in the field being hit every day it won't be quite the same as fresh from the blacksmiths.

Dez 4, 2007, 4:35 am


From what I remember of Mary Gentle's ASH (she took a masters degree in War Studies before writing the book) I think that forces used to take their own armourer with them on a campaign - which would solve some of the larger dents. But also many soldiers didn't have full plate and most didn't have made to measure armour. Some even used the armour of the fallen soldiers of both sides - the armourer would make modifications so that it gave a semblance of fitting.

Dez 4, 2007, 5:14 am

The answer is, probably, it depends on the sword, the armour and all kinds of things.

But, there was a reason things like pollaxes (or pole axes as they're more normal spelt these days) evolved very quickly alongside plate armour - they let you concentrate a lot of force into a small area and so dent, smash etc. armour in a way that a sword wouldn't.

If you read Medieval Combat, which was written pretty much at the time, there is also a lot of description of the "thunderbolt stroke" or similar. What this more or less entails is reversing your (two handed) sword, holding the blade and smacking the (hopefully stunned or floored) opponent in the head with the end of a quillion. This rather suggests that the swords were not that sharp, and again you've got that concentrating force concept. A misericorde does a similar thing.

That said, "denting armour" shouldn't be underestimated. Remember there's soft flesh and brittle bone under it. You don't necessarily have to directly cut someone to injure them, and face it, enough people did get badly injured and die in combat it must have been possible to do *somehow*.

Dez 4, 2007, 5:24 am

I thought pole arms were an anti-cavalry weapon. They let you reach the rider/horse* before they could reach you.

*no need to be civilised about it, horses were easy targets too.

Dez 4, 2007, 5:34 am

>10 reading_fox: - that's a valid point, once you had the knight on the ground they were vulnerable; hence many pole weapons had a "grappling" hook blade as well.
Often you didn't want to kill a knight anyway, capture meant a ransom.

Dez 4, 2007, 6:44 am

reading_fox, pole arms such as pikes, were used against cavalry and foot, but they more or less evolved as anti-cavalry weapons yes.

However, the clue is in the original spelling. Pole axes used to be poll axes. Poll as in election, meaning head - in this case the head of the axe rather than the head of the victim. A typical poll axe is about an arm and a half long or so, often with a butt spike a headspike, and an axe blade and quite often something that looks like a steel meat-tenderiser. The axe blade or "meat tenderiser" can be replaced by a hook. There's a nice picture at http://www.armor.com/pole010.html (no hook on this one), and a much longer article with period pictures of men at arms fighting with poll axes at http://www.the-exiles.org/Article%20Le%20Jue%20de%20la%20Hache%20Lesson.htm. Whilst it may also have been used against cavalry, it is clearly depicted as a weapon for foot soldiers in lots of armour against other foot soldiers in lots of armour, or for use in the melée at tournament.

Dez 4, 2007, 8:54 am

I remember reading about knights training for battle & one of the things they practiced over & over was spotting the gaps in the armour & running their swords thru the gaps.
Also in tournements, one of the objects was to knock the knight off his horse, because on the ground, the knight was helpless. Armour covering the front & back did protect the vital organs & those who couldn't afford steel armor wore heavy padded cloth. In China & Japan, warriors wore quilted fabric as protection.Now, in today's wars, body armor is still saving lives

Dez 4, 2007, 9:14 am

There was also hardened leather armor, scale (not certain about the terminology) which was smaller pieces of metal attached to cloth or leather in rows, and mail (chainmail). Mail was good against slashes and the like but could be penetrated by particularly strong a thrust from a pointed weapon.

I'm not sure how relevant this all is to the original post now, but it's sure an interesting discussion.

Dez 4, 2007, 10:36 am

The weaponized axes that had the point on the back were designed to punch holes in plate armor. All the weight was in the head and could have a lot of force focused on a little point, or denting /smashing joints was also an effective technique. Axes were one of the deadliest close range weapons on the battle field.

Dez 8, 2007, 9:28 pm


Here's a paragraph froms swordsandarmor.com "The word "knight" kindles our imaginations and brings to mind a romantic and exotic former way of live, dedicated to finding pure maidens to woo and evil dragons to conquer. Yet the harsh realities of daily living for the knights of earliest history was far from our flights of fancy into the land of King Arthur and Merlin.

Imagine trying to wear forty pounds of chain mail, a helmet that had no air flow, and carrying a sword strapped to your hip and a shield through mostly desert terrain. Now walk thousands of miles over two to three years wearing this getup, hungry and thirsty most of the way while battling enemy warriors who were much better dressed for the occasion. If you have envisioned this or done it, you are beginning to have a glimmer of life on the road during the Crusades!

This does not include the weight or discomfort of the armor worn over the chain mail or the care of horses that were both friend, ride or food for the ones lucky enough to survive the barbaric warriors of battle. Although more knights were lost to the harsher truths of dysentery and infections picked up along the way than fighting, they continued to pour in from all over Europe to protect their Church, their families and their way of life from strange and foreign civilizations . The occupation of a knight was expensive and no one paid the knights for their services. At best, the lucky ones became fiefs to landowners who would exchange military service for land."

Most of these knoights were 5' to 5'6" tall and the swords averaged about 36" to 40" with shields that were about 18' wide by 30 inches long.

If I were a Knight in armor, I'd be more worried about axes, halberds and crossbows than I would be about swords.

Editado: Jan 31, 2008, 9:00 am


When plate armor became popular, spears and maces became popular.

Spear-type weapons were ideally used to dismount the knight or driven into the non-plated crotch or arm pits to injure.

As to maces, imagine being inside sheet metal while someone bangs on it with a hammer. There is a great documentary available on what a 5-10lb on mace can do to a man wearing plate. Crunchy and gooey in the end.

Longbows were the cause of plate retiring if I remember correctly because the allowed projectiles that could pierce the heavy armor to be launched at a greater speed than did crossbows.

Edit to add:

In fact, I seem to recall that when a longbow man was captured, the opposing knights held the longbow man in such great contempt (they were believed to be cowards) that they cut off the longbow man’s middle finger so that he could never shoot a bow again. As a result when a force using longbow men was victorious, they would walk by the enemy forces with their middle finger held up. This is why, today, we “shoot the bird” at people.

The 5-10lb mace documentary may have been a program on the History Channel or Discovery.

Jan 31, 2008, 10:01 am


That note you added is almost certainly false. Why? Well the middle finger thing is historically not a big thing in the UK or Ireland but a recent import of US culture. We tend to flick the Vs. Which I have also heard attributed to victorious bow-men. Again this is probably false as there are no primary sources for the French cutting bowmen's fingers and precious little (certainly not enough to support the claim) in support for English archers flicking the Vs.

Jan 31, 2008, 10:09 am

ALthough I've repeatedly heard the V claim, snopes the debunking website, denies both versions.

No clear evidence offered, but the prisoners argument makes a lot of sense.

Jan 31, 2008, 11:26 am

Again im no expert but you do shoot a bow with your forefinger and middle finger and ive always heard that that is the reason for the V sign (usually acompanied by 'I've still got my bow fingers!').

I think we are getting a bit off topic though :D

Jan 31, 2008, 12:01 pm

Off-topic and I cannot defend something seen in a documentary for which I cannot remember the name. There was, however, a very memorable display of a 5-10 on baton being used to crush plate armor. Of course, who knows how well the armor or the baton was made. If the armor was too soft a metal that would have cause poor performance.

I would like to see a non-dwarf/non-barbarian wield a mace and not be a villain in a movie or book.

Fev 1, 2008, 4:42 am

"I would like to see a non-dwarf/non-barbarian wield a mace and not be a villain in a movie or book"
- plenty of warhammers in all sorts of fantasy novels. The elenium has a few. DnD banned priests from using sharp waepons for some reason, so anything influenced by that will likely have good guys using maces/hammers as priests.

I wonder how many fantasy authors do actually reserach these sort of intersting questions? - a couple are mentioned upthread. Anyone know of any more?

Editado: Fev 1, 2008, 5:10 am

Sorry to pop in without introduction, but I saw this thread and thought I can give my US$0.02:

When I was younger I was part of a medival society, so I know a little bit about weapons used in combat: Swords often were not used to cut or pierce the armor, it was enough when the blow was strong enough to break some bones. Many soldiers had next to their normal weapons a knife called "Panzerstecher" in German. It had a very long and stable blade and was used to pierce a hole into the armor (like a can opener).

It was considered as not very honorable to use that weapons, but in the middle of combat not too many people really cared.

Edited to say: I found this article on wikipedia:


The weapons described there are pretty big. The one I was talking about was only 40 cm long and carried as secondary weapon.

Abr 1, 2008, 5:44 pm

>13 MarianV: Just a note - the thing about the knight being helpless after being knocked off his horse in a tournament applies _only_ to tournaments. When knights were actually fighting in the field in armor, they wore lighter armor and were able to get around and fight on foot (because otherwise they'd all have been dead in no time! Horses are big targets). It was only after the main 'fighting' done by knights was charging at each other with lances, in a controlled joust, that armor could be made so ridiculously heavy.

In re: the OP - armor is specifically made not to allow piercing. So - a very good sword against very poor armor, with a ferocious thrust - barely possible. Armor and sword of equivalent level - nope, not without magic. However, as others have said, a thrust or even slash against a joint (which includes the arms and legs and the neck) has a much higher chance of penetrating, and blunt-force damage could cause serious injury or death without the plate being penetrated.

>22 reading_fox: Elizabeth Moon fences, I know - saber and possibly other types of blade. I don't know how well that applies to her paladin Paksenarrion - Paks' sword is probably considerably heavier - but at least she knows some of it.

Nov 24, 2020, 7:14 pm

There is a special type of sword made back then called a Damascus sword that could but through rocks without effort and I assume with effort (although very little) it could pierce armor. The secret was they heated the blade and accidentally and unknowingly created the worlds first Nano-material.