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In my fantasy setting in development,tin is significantly more common than in our world. Leading to bronze armour and weapons being much cheaper. Due to metallurgy not being as advanced iron is still not commonly used in armour. Being too difficult to work with much as it was in our own history for quite some time.

However,due to the threats faced by the peoples of this era and their natural desire to provide further protection to their elite warriors;full plate harnesses were created.

My question is how good would quality bronze be for this purpose and would it be as widespread as normal plate armour was in our own history as a result?

Edit:Requested since people may not see the comments.

As many people have pointed out,the Dendra Panoply was indeed bronze plate armour. I am also aware of the use of bronze for breastplates & helms well into the early medieval period. Keep in mind I am asking asking IF given how common tin is in setting (directly lowering the price of bronze & its value substantially) bronze would be a good alternative to cheap iron for use in a full plate harness. These people may not have metallurgy as advanced,but that does not mean they are exactly like our bronze age. They are closer to the Early Medieval era but their metallurgy lags behind comparatively

As such they can and do create chainmail. With bronze and even iron being used. The main issue is that they cannot properly forge large plates of iron. Limiting the usefulness of it for use in plate or segmented plate. Hence bronze is used instead due to its abundance.

The knights in question can serve both on foot (as foot knights) or as heavy cavalry. This does not mean they wear the same armour for both,much like in our own history. However I will mention that most knights could and would fight on foot even if unhorsed. For it was only post-gunpowder that armour began to get extremely heavy in an attempt to proof armour versus firearms. (which had varied results and proved overly encumbering for a full set of armour)

The knights here use bronze plate much in the style of the Early Medieval period. (A time where most plate was bronze and not iron in history)

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    $\begingroup$ Do you have the knowledge in your world to make chain mail $\endgroup$ – Carl Witthoft Dec 13 '19 at 12:40
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    $\begingroup$ Bronze is expensive. Very much more expensive than iron; think one hundred times more expensive. (Hint: bronze is valuable enough to make small denominations coins with intrinsic value.) There is no way for bronze armor to be "widespread". Iron replaced bronze not because it was better (it isn't better), but because it was cheap. Moreover, to make bronze one needs a source of tin, and tin deposits are rare. $\endgroup$ – AlexP Dec 13 '19 at 13:52
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    $\begingroup$ @DKNguyen: Iron and steel are sort-of synonymous in casual speech, mostly because nowaday actual iron is very seldom used. (It does have its uses, but most people rarely come in contact with it.) But for a very long time steel was either unknown or simply not available in any quantity larger than a dagger. Most certainly, throughout the antiquity, iron swords and iron pots and iron helmets were actual iron, not steel. It is said that after a battle, a Roman camp was full with the clanging of hammers straightening the bent iron swords... $\endgroup$ – AlexP Dec 13 '19 at 14:37
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    $\begingroup$ @AlexP iron is also lighter than bronze. (Copper is HEAVY.) $\endgroup$ – RonJohn Dec 13 '19 at 20:27
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    $\begingroup$ @AlexP regarding cost/tin rarity: did you miss the first sentences of the question where it is stated in this world tin is much more common resulting in bronze being cheaper? $\endgroup$ – Mr.Mindor Dec 13 '19 at 23:08
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However,due to the threats faced by the peoples of this era and their natural desire to provide further protection to their elite warriors;full plate harnesses were created.

Bronze plate armour did exist... have a look at the Dendra Panoply:

The original (photo from wikipedia) and an artistic impression of unknown origin (appears all over the place with no source information):

Dendra Panoply Panoply artistic impression

Whilst it might not have looked as neat as fancy modern plate does, it wasn't particularly restrictive and would have worked OK (right up until someone stabbed you in the knees, presumably).

would it be as widespread as normal plate armour was in our own history as a result?

Note that this stuff was expensive. Really expensive, and hence somewhat unusual. Upper class nobles would have used it, which isn't quite the same as "elite warrior" (though you can handwave that detail in your story, I'm sure). Less elaborate and all-covering getups would have been used by less wealthy combatants. Note also that this is an infantry outfit; cavalry would wear equipment that was even lighter and less restrictive... no equivalent of medieval knights on horseback (if nothing else, the horses would probably not be strong enough!).

Quite how common medieval full plate armour was is perhaps something for a different question, but remember that it, too, was very expensive and far from commonplace.

My question is how good would quality bronze be for this purpose

Good enough I'm sure, given that it would be facing brozen weaponry. Imperfect, as armour designs were still very much in their infancy (check those knees!) but fine, until your neighbours started deploying iron, or merely very large armies.

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  • $\begingroup$ as far as i know this is not for infantry its for charioteer or at least not full infantry, because this thing is heavier and cumbersome. $\endgroup$ – Li Jun Dec 13 '19 at 13:33
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    $\begingroup$ @LiJun no more than 18kg, and it is reasonably flexible and balanced; it would have been fine for combat on foot. People have made reconstructions to see what it was like. The Ancient Greeks weren't that keen on chariots in warfare (they had lots of chariot-hostile terrain), though they did have regular cavalry. $\endgroup$ – Starfish Prime Dec 13 '19 at 14:02
  • $\begingroup$ not for mycaenean though (thats where this armor originate from), and i mean not full infantry is they drop from the chariot that carry them and then fight rather than full walking on foot like light cavalry do, beside even full plate knight mostly wont goes on foot they ride horse (i know its not that heavy but it still a chore or cumbersome to walk on foot, they are not rome or modern infantry afterall and beside it give charging momentum and protection to the charioteer) $\endgroup$ – Li Jun Dec 13 '19 at 14:22
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    $\begingroup$ Attacking the knee is actually rather difficult in a melee, it only becomes popular once you have more fighting on horseback. Armor with no gaps is a very very late invention. $\endgroup$ – John Dec 13 '19 at 14:55
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    $\begingroup$ @LiJun that specific example is Mycenaean, and is principally interesting in that it dates back to the 15th century BCE, eg. the ability to produce and use substantial plate armour dates back at least that far. Substantial bronze panoplies were certainly used elsewhere in Greece but postdated that particular example. Furthermore, wearing 18kg of gear is not unnecessarily restricting, and walking around with it would be straightfoward for a fit soldier. $\endgroup$ – Starfish Prime Dec 13 '19 at 15:52
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A poster pointed out the Dendra armour, which is provides pretty comprehensive protection. High quality reproductions show it is a very effective suit, even to the point of having asymmetric arm holes so the weapons arm has more freedom of movement. While there are some opinions that this was designed for a person fighting from a chariot, tests with high quality reproductions indicate it is easy to us fighting dismounted as well. If the Iliad is any indication, chariots seem to be more a method of getting around the battlefield rather than a fighting platform in that particular place and time, but that neither negates or supports the idea of the Dendra armour being "chariot" armour or infantry armour.

enter image description here

Dendra armour

A second way to look at how effective bronze armour is would be to look at weapons of the period, since they are specifically designed to defeat armour.

Both historic descriptions and depictions of weapons and archaeological finds show that weapons were already highly evolved, with multiple choices for the warriors from long rapier like swords (evidently to go through joints in the armour or seek out weak points like striking at the neck area with a downward thrust), long thrusting spears, axes, maces and so on, most of which would be recognizable to knights in the middle ages. Projectile weapons like javelins, slings and bows were also available. This comprehensive weapons load out suggests that warriors knew they were up against well protected opponents, and needed multiple tools to achieve their goal of killing or disabling an opponent.

Taken together, all these things should establish that bronze armour was very effective at protecting people. A full suit of bronze armour would be very expensive, and the Dendra armour was likely for a very high ranking person, but most war leaders, nobles, personal retainers etc. would be able to have a fairly effective level of protection, even if not an entire suit like the Dendra armour.

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Plate mail was common in the late bronze age. Greek nobility often wore platemail that was very comparable to the the steel full-plate later worn by knights.

enter image description here

While it is true, that bronze was replaced by iron, this actually had very little to do with its quality as an alloy. Contrary to popular belief, bronze armor was in many ways superior to iron and most pre-industrial steels; however, tin and copper were really hard to come by in the same regions meaning long trade routes made it very expensive. Modern recreations show that even the high quality 18th century folded steel weapons would just bounce off of spartan armor leaving nothing more than a dent behind. And Greek shields were laminated in a way that made them absorb impact better than just about any shield design in history. In the bronze age, wars were generally fought between citizens who at the time were typically the upper 10% most wealthy people in the country because the middle class could not afford weapons and armor. Even most citizens could not afford more than partial platemail.

Iron ores however can be found basically anywhere which made weapons and armor affordable for the middle class. This made iron aged armies bigger, and opened up the possibility for professional armies which was their real advantage.

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  • $\begingroup$ Ooooooh. :D I like! $\endgroup$ – Obelisk Dec 14 '19 at 5:59
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    $\begingroup$ the other big upside iron had for armor was mail one of the few things you can't make well with bronze. we even see combinations of iron chain and bronze plate. $\endgroup$ – John Dec 14 '19 at 7:16
  • $\begingroup$ @John That makes me curious - Do you know what made bronze impractical for chain mail? $\endgroup$ – cmaster - reinstate monica Dec 14 '19 at 21:07
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    $\begingroup$ Its just not workable enough, it does not bend and stretch as well as steel, so making the rings is much harder. this is were the difference in properties starts to matter. bronze mail did exist but always as butted mail which is largely worthless. bronze is also expensive so if you are going to spend the money on bronze you use it were it works best as plates and use something else for flexible sections like scale or layer cloth. $\endgroup$ – John Dec 14 '19 at 22:06
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    $\begingroup$ @cmaster Iron has a wide temperature range between when it become hot enough to manipulate and so hot that it becomes molten. Bronze, however goes from rigid to molten very quickly. This makes forging iron easier whereas bronze is easier to cast. Casting chainmail is not very practical but casting platemail and scale mail is. That said... chainmail was pretty bad armor all things considered. It sacrifices a lot of piercing resistance in exchange for simplifying how to armor joints. But again, this points back to how iron won at being more economical. $\endgroup$ – Nosajimiki - Reinstate Monica Dec 15 '19 at 6:43
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In our history we have a period called bronze age for the very reason that the leading civilization of those time were those mastering bronze production, since it was better than any other available material.

Then it came the iron age, where people mastering iron manufacturing could easily defeat the bronze equipped enemies.

Since you state that iron is not common you are in the same scenario as our bronze age, with bronze being the best choice among the available materials.

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    $\begingroup$ Iron is in no way intrinsically better than bronze. In fact, for most purpose, it is decidedly worse. (Steel is indeed better than bronze. But steel was not available until much later.) The advantage of iron is that it is one hundred times cheaper; an iron-age king could equip one hundred times more soldiers than a bronze-age king, and numbers matter. $\endgroup$ – AlexP Dec 13 '19 at 13:46
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    $\begingroup$ @AlexP I think you need to clarify that iron replaced bronze because it was more abundant (cheaper), not because it was better. Then later we learned how to make steel which was better in various ways. Iron is synonymous with steel for many. $\endgroup$ – DKNguyen Dec 13 '19 at 14:26
  • $\begingroup$ @DKNguyen That is just a result of our western historic bias. Traditional Japanese sword smithing was already based on steel. That steel was rather expensive, which is probably why they didn't use it it make full plate armor, but they definitely had the knowledge to make it. And they used it because it's the best material they had to make swords. $\endgroup$ – cmaster - reinstate monica Dec 14 '19 at 20:59
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First, since your society has limited access to iron for making armour, they also have limited access to iron for making weapons, so you're talking about bronze swords/spears, stone and obsidian spears/axes, and various projectile weapons. The fact that a bronze plate would be easily penetrated by an iron sword is no more relevant than that a steel plate would be easily penetrated by a lead shot.

Standard tin/copper bronze is a similar density to steel, so plate armour of similar thickness would weigh similarly to steel plate. Bronze is easier to work by hammering and casting than steel, so your armourers would be able to make plate thinner (hence lighter) if appropriate, and also to vary the thickness across the plate more carefully.

Bronze is not as hard as steel, which means it won't hold an edge as easily, but is also more ductile, which means it will deform under stress (like being hit) more easily. So a clash of a bronze sword vs a bronze plate is going to be more like a clash between a very dense piece of hardwood and a steel plate: unlikely to cut through, but probably quite a lot of deformation damage. A bronze sword is at a disadvantage compared to a common-or-garden club here because bronze is also quite brittle, so the chance of the sword shattering against plate (of any material) is quite high.

As such, bronze plate would be quite effective against bronze (or obsidian/flint/etc) edged weapons such as swords or spears, and would confer a tactical advantage in melee combat. It would be of limited utility against blunt impact weapons like clubs and maces (better than nothing, but probably not much better) and next to useless against projectile weapons like slings and arrows, which would penetrate with ease unless the plate was made impracticably thick.

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    $\begingroup$ I think you overestimate how soft bronze is, bronze plate will deflect a clubs and arrows just fine, it is bronze not copper. bronze has a modulus of rupture similar to low carbon steel. bronze makes for a poorer weapon but comparable armor, if a bit heavier $\endgroup$ – John Dec 13 '19 at 15:18
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It doesn't matter how common tin is, bronze plate will still be really expensive.

You're missing a couple key points here.

First: The expense of armor isn't based on the raw materials at all, really. It's all about the armorer's TIME. It isn't going to be significantly quicker and easier for someone to make a suit of plate out of bronze than it would be out of steel, it's just going to be heavier and/or less protective.

Second: The other important element of full plate armor is that it only started really becoming worth the trouble of making it when you had horses that could carry a guy wearing it in battle so, metallurgy aside, neither bronze NOR steel plate are going to be worth the trouble and expense of making it unless the civilizations doing so ALSO have advanced far enough in horse-related technology to have developed the stirrup and bred stronger horse.

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  • $\begingroup$ You could make a lot of bronze armor cheaply and quickly if you cast most of the pieces instead of forging them. $\endgroup$ – Brizzy Dec 14 '19 at 6:57
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    $\begingroup$ "neither bronze NOR steel plate are going to be worth the trouble and expense of making it unless the civilizations doing so ALSO have advanced far enough in horse-related technology to have developed the stirrup and bred stronger horse." Chariots were a thing that existed. $\endgroup$ – nick012000 Dec 14 '19 at 7:18

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