The weight of armor increases in linear proportion with its thickness, but the effective protection it offers rises geometrically (about t1.6). To balance the needs of protection with those of mobility, armorers used thinner metal in areas where injuries were less likely to be lethal (such as the greaves protecting the legs or the vambraces protecting the arms), and also in areas where full-force blows were less likely to land. For example, backplates and the sides of breastplates were thinner than the centers of breastplates or the tops of helmets. Thanks to its sophisticated design, this entire suit (including the mail) weighs only 18.6 well-distributed kilograms.
Before contact with Europeans, Native Americans used heavy stone tomahawk heads like the one shown above. Steel tomahawks-ranging from broad-bladed weapons similar to English boarding axes to more common narrow-headed styles-were superior in every respect. They were inexpensive, multi-functional tools as well as weapons of war. Native peoples went to great lengths (including warfare with other tribes) to gain beaver pelts they could trade for tomahawk heads, guns, and other European manufactured goods. This tomahawk, from the Great Lakes area, has a tobacco pipe built into it, and the wooden shaft has been artfully decorated with the form of a beaver outlined in beadwork.
Colonists also appreciated how useful tomahawks could be, and during the Revolutionary War a tomahawk was included in the standard equipment of many American soldiers.
Iroquois raiders often aimed to capture rather than kill their enemies. Prisoners could be used to carry plunder back to the warriors’ home, and then might be enslaved or “adopted,” or (especially with European captives) sold, traded back to their countrymen, or used for diplomatic leverage. Wooden ball-headed clubs like this one were specifically designed to knock an opponent out.
European settlers in North America were accustomed to economically developed regions with roads, canals, and relatively open terrain. They could not match the mobility of Indian warriors who used light canoes to travel over inland waterways and snowshoes to facilitate overland travel in winter.
In the early fifteenth century, most plate armor was still made with relatively low-carbon, air-cooled steel. The very best Milanese armor, however, was quenched high-carbon steel with a much greater Vickers hardness, which required roughly twice as much kinetic energy to penetrate as cheap steel. By the late fifteenth century the increasing availability of high-quality plate armor greatly reduced the effectiveness of English longbowmen—or any other soldiers employing muscle-powered weapons—and encouraged the shift towards gunpowder weapons, which could generate the kinetic energy needed to defeat even the best armor.
This warrior carries a “trade musket” topped by an enemy’s scalp. These weapons, manufactured specifically for exchange with Native Americans, had smaller bores than most European muskets, so they required less lead and powder per shot. They also had shorter barrels made with thinner walls. This made them lighter to carry, handy for use in the woods, and less expensive, but also somewhat prone to burst and significantly less effective at long ranges.
The red velvet covers a torso defense composed of several large plates riveted together. In later plate armor, the breastplate was usually a single piece of bare, polished metal, which presented a better glancing surface to an enemy’s weapons.
The Six Nations of the Iroquois Confederacy controlled the borderland between New York and Canada. During the French and Indian War they initially remained neutral, but joined the British with around 1,000 warriors for the decisive campaign of 1759. During the American Revolution, the Iroquois (like most Native Americans in the frontier areas) sided with the British: some 1,500 of them fought for King George. Devastating raids on the New York backcountry provoked a powerful counterstrike by 4,000 Continentals in 1779. Nonetheless, Iroquois raids hit New York hard in 1780 and 1781.