Dates Back to: Hellenistic and Roman times

The Cuirass is a piece of armor covering the torso and consists of a chest plate and a back piece. It’s formed of single or multiple pieces of metal or other rigid material that covers the torso.

Originally a thick leather garment covering the body from neck to waist, Middle-Ages cuirasses usually stopped somewhere around the midriff or bellybutton to allow a proper movement range to the wearer. 

During the 14th Century, cuirasses became more popular due to chainmail being phased out among the nobles. In Canterbury Cathedral, the Black Prince’s effigy, dated 1376, displays a cuirass covered by a royalty-emblazoned jupon.

History of the Cuirass

The cuirass was used in Hellenistic and Roman times, usually representing an enhanced musculature of the male torso and sometimes embellished with symbolic representation in relief. Cuirasses and corsets were made of bronze, iron, or leather.

During the 13th and 14th centuries, the cuirass gradually comes into general use connected with plate armor for the limbs. Plates were initially directly attached to a surcoat. In the early 15th century, plate armor began to be worn without a surcoat, but later a tabard was in general use over the armor. 

Components of the Cuirass

A cuirass consisted of:

  • A breastplate, a piece of armour covering the chest. True breastplates reappear in Europe in 1340 first composed of wrought iron and later of steel. 
  • A backpiece, fastened to the breastplace with straps and buckles. 
  • A gorget, or collar protecting the throat. 
A cuirass from Augsburg, Germany, c. 1590. Image courtesy of The Wallace Collection (CC).
A cuirass from North Italy, c. 1580. Image courtesy of The Wallace Collection (CC).
A cuirass from North Italy, c. 1570. Image courtesy of The Wallace Collection (CC).

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