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Ancient Marine Armament


I'm developing a naval marital force that would board or defend galleys in a naval battle. What I'm wondering is, would any weapons be more suitable for such seaborne operations and would metal armor, if typical, be worn to sea? I understand that in the golden age, the cutlass became popular because it was smaller and more maneuverable on a ship's deck, however, armor was largely a thing of the past on land or not. Would, chain mail, for example, be undersirable in naval combat, or would the added protection outweigh potential drowning? The bulk of the land forces wear light chainmail and I'm debating whether to clad the sea forces with leather or nothing at all or perhaps the same chainmail.


Myth Weaver
First, call it mail, LOL. Okay, I'm not that big of a stickler on it, but had to get that out there.

Off the top of my head babble...

You can go either way in a fantasy environment. Any marine type force would surely have armor for going ashore. Wear it against attackers? I would choose a breastplate over nothing, I figure the odds of getting stabbed are better than falling overboard, and a strong enough swimmer can stay afloat in a breastplate. Short weapons would be the norm, mostly slicing because common sailors aren't going to have armor, and what they have would still avail plenty of vulnerable locations, and the ability to chop ropes is utilitarian. A rapier does one thing, poke holes. Armor for swimming, well, not that many folks would survive a dip in the sea without armor anyhow, so... personal choice. Sailors would tend to be poor also, no armor to speak of, too impractical in general. Soldiers onboard a vessel, no great reason not to have basic armor.


Being a Marine myself, I'll give you a little actual history from the USMC which came into being in 1775.

The Marines of the day when masted ships still ruled the seas wore little armor. What they did wear were thick leather collars around the neck to protect from swords slashes. That bit of history is the origin of the nickname "leatherneck".

Also, ship crow's nests & mast would have sharpshooters firing down on enemy sailors. To best coordinate fire, Marine officers wore a quatrefoil device on the tops of their covers (hats). This design, which looks like a + sign with loops, enabled the riflemen to watch commanders from above and receive proper commands.

Regardless of the age, I doubt metal armor would've ever been popular. Too heavy & likely to corrode with salt water.

Hope that helps a bit.

X Equestris

The Romans had marines that were equipped much like their regular infantry. So that would be a small, square bronze plate in the early Republican Era and chain mail in later eras, as I can't recall much info about Imperial era marines, but I'm doubtful they'd have worn the lorica segmentata.

It might be worth looking at the Barbary and Maltese corsairs of the Renaissance, if you're talking about galleys.


Several points so bear with me.

There is no right or wrong answer here. Keep in mind, metal armor will rust much faster in maritime conditions (salt water is havoc on iron and other metals). Romans used regular soldiers as marines because they were terrible at traditional naval combat, which involved ramming the opponent's ship. Instead, they would board the enemy vessel and fight like a land battle. This was for specific campaigns, however, and was not particularly common. Another factor to consider is if the marines/sailors can even swim. I know it seems odd, but most sailors throughout history couldn't swim, so they were likely to drown anyway, so they might as well wear armor. Also, a breastplate will fill up with water and send the wearer straight to the bottom. One final point, what about footwear? A wooden deck slick with blood and water will be difficult, if not impossible to maintain one's footing. Sailors would go barefoot, since this provided better traction than leather soled shoes. The British (and maybe others, I'm not sure) would sprinkle sand on the deck before a battle to absorb some of the blood and give better grip.

Actually bronze is much more resistant to sea water corrosion than steel because it tends to tarnish instead. So it might be suitable from that perspective. And breastplates can't fill up with water - metals are non-absorbant. The issue of weight is still problematic. A breast plate with straps and no back plate might be an acceptable compromise.

Cheers, Greg.
I could see leather being a possibility. Lighter than plate/mail, and still potential for maneuverability. If you are gonna have something heavier, I second the idea of using bronze plate that only covers one's front side.