armor, apparatus for defense of persons, horses, and such objects as vehicles, naval vessels, and aircraft. Body armor developed early as protective suits made of such materials as leather, shells, wood, and basketwork, later supplemented by metal. Armor was made specifically for war, was often very costly, and could be an index of social status. A Greek hoplite's armor confirmed that he was a citizen, the Japanese warrior's armor and weapons revealed him as a samurai, and the full suit of armor worn by the European nobleman made him a knight. Around the world many of the same basic elements of armor developed, especially the shield, the helmet, the cuirass (or other chest protection), and shin guards. Some armor was flexible, with metal attached to cloth or even woven in mail. Other armor was made in plates or large pieces worn as a garment. The evolution of warfare, with increased mobility, diminished the importance of personal armor even before firearms speeded its disappearance from battle (17th cent.). In the wars of the 20th cent., steel helmets were reintroduced, and there were some experiments with various types of protective clothing. With the development of new composite materials, such as kevlar, the number of soldiers, police, and even civilians wearing body protection is increasing. Armor has also been used to protect vehicles for hundreds of years, a use that became much more important with the invention of the tank. Ships were sometimes armored against ramming even in ancient times; they are still armored, as are many military aircraft.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.