ELI5: How did soldiers in hot countries in middle east and India survive the heat during wars wearing a metal body armor when temperatures in these regions touched 35 degree celcius (95f) in summer days?

Read the Story

Show Top Comments

Reminder: Top-level comments (direct replies to OP) are reserved for explanations. Anecdotes and off-topic comments will be removed. You do not need to comment on how hot it gets in the Middle East. You are not the first person to do so. You are also not the first person to remark on modern soldiers serving in the Middle East and the gear that they wear.

RhynoD

One of the popular theories is the surcoat, a light cotton coat worn over the armor. This would keep you a bit cooler because it would stop the (heat absorbing) metal armor from being exposed to sunlight while also shielding you from the sun, especially if it’s a lighter color. Typical Arab clothing, even in the modern day, consists of a full-length white coat for exactly this reason. If you look at historical images of Persian, Turkish, and Mamluke warriors they’re often wearing a surcoat or robe over their armor. Even more interestinglly if you look at the Bayeux tapestry, the Norman Knights are not wearing surcoats, but later depictions of English and French knights, from after the crusades, do show them wearing surcoats, suggesting it was a fashion the knights picked up in the middle east.

MercurianAspirations

The thing that hurts in that area of the world is the sunlight at the time you’re describing. The cultures of that part of the world often employed cloth and chainmail as much as they could, as it is light, climate resistant, and it’s adequate protection against the weapons of the ancient era, where metal armor worn by soldiers was actually common. Now, it’s a different story because full metal armor doesn’t often see combat unless mounted to a vehicle, which means you might be cooked alive inside it, but you aren’t carrying it yourself. But essentially, ancient middle eastern armor was only metal when it was necessary because of how much of a pain in the ass it was to use. So to answer your question, they *didn’t* survive wearing full metal body armor, because it wasn’t really what they wore. Hell, even Persia, a country that could *afford* to outfit their troops in steel, never bothered with metal armor or shields and instead used cloth and leather armor, and they used wicker-woven shields, but used metal weaponry.

AsuraBoss1

It was a huge problem, the battle of Hattin was won by the Muslims in large part because they cut off the crusader’s supply of water and didn’t attack until the next day. The armor they were wearing was a huge problem and they were roundly slaughtered and lost the cool cross they were trundling along. It was after that battle that Rayanald de Chatillon was executed by Saladin for speaking out of place, and multiple massacres of Muslim civilians. So the answer is muli-pronged. Arab armies eschewed the kind of heavy armor that was popular in Europe and earlier Grecian armies. Roman armies would wear modified armor in battle, this was true of the Eastern Roman army that was dominant long after Rome fell. Leaders needed to make sure their armies had easy access to water and to shade. If they didn’t, armies failed. This was true even in WWII where a bunch of logistical resources were spent trying to get water on these arid and hot Pacific Islands. Veterans talk about the experience of being truly *thirsty* for the only time in their lives.

Leucippus1

Chainmail is surprisingly heat resistant. There would also be frequent changing of guards so they could remove armour and helmets on breaks and get water to drink. The guards were also acclimatised and conditioned to work in these conditions. Solid plate armour was a much more western design and occured later in the development of armour than most other types (though there are some very early examples of basic plate origin armour). This meant it was only for a relatively brief part of history that it was used. Further it was far more expensive than your average guard could afford, or that they’re lord could afford to equip them all with. Therefore only the wealthy lords (read knights) would be equipped with full plate armour. Most western troops would wear chainmail (internecting rings to form sheets that can be connected into armour that is very effective against slashes but can be pierced with thrusts or pointed weapons, giving rise to the more pointed swords and polearms) or gambesons (surprisingly effective cloth armour known to stop arrows and sword strokes). Obviously it varies massively from time period to time period even within the realm of “medieval” and the location in question, so please take everything said with a pinch of salt with whatever you have imagining in your mind and do some research to verify what you now believe. 🙂 TL;DR – They wore cooler armour, took breaks and got used to it. Plate armour wasn’t common, long-winded explanation about western armour unrelated to the question.

MatchedFlyer133