Essentially in my world I have a large and mountainous kingdom, but I have always envisioned them wearing leather armor with cloaks etc.

Is there a valid reason I could state for why they don't wear metal armor? Because I feel like if the option is there, for the time period my world mimics, they would be wearing metal armor realistically.

Is it possible to simply have mountains that don't have much metal in them? Or any other reasons why a kingdom doesn't wear metal armor.

I know this is a fantasy world but I don't want to just say 'No there is just no metal in the mountains' if this isn't a realistic possibility.

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    $\begingroup$ Metal armor is expensive. Metal armor is heavy. Metal (iron) rusts. $\endgroup$ – Alexander Jul 20 '17 at 23:23
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    $\begingroup$ @Alexander Y'know what I spent so long overthinking it that I just completely overlooked the finances of it, cheers dude. $\endgroup$ – Chimpion Jul 20 '17 at 23:26
  • $\begingroup$ One reason a mountainous region might not have much in the way of metal ores (not just iron - see answers below re iron mining) is that they are sedimentary rock, like e.g. the Jura mountains. $\endgroup$ – jamesqf Jul 22 '17 at 5:16
  • $\begingroup$ Leather armor is a bad dnd stereotype. But then your mountainous kingdoms wouldnt produce much flax for linen too. $\endgroup$ – Nick Dzink Jul 22 '17 at 12:05
  • $\begingroup$ @Nick Dzink: Why bad? Leather "armor" is widely used today, for instance by motorcycle riders. $\endgroup$ – jamesqf Jul 23 '17 at 4:24

I can think of two options.

Lack of extensive forests, you need a lot of fuel to smelt iron, in medieval times that basically means wood (or charcoal made from wood) If they do not have much timber to spare they will not be smelting iron, but they can always sell the ore.

No ferrous metal ores. Of course many mountain ranges are not particularly ore rich. So yes you are completely fine to say they do not have much in the way of metal deposits, or the deposits they do have are things like precious gems or metals useless for armor, like silver or tin. Valuable for trade but not strategic.

Not enough labor surplus, As an example the norse had iron mines and produced limited amounts of metal armor in the form of chainmail and helmets, but the vast number of fighting men would not have had metal armor with the possible exception of an metal helmet. Only the wealthy could afford a chainmail. They did use iron weapons however. This was actually fairly common in societies without a standing army, metal armor is expensive.


Cost, as suggested, is definitely a means of preventing the use of metal armour, but if you absolutely, positively have to have a region or culture not do something that would otherwise make sense, you can't beat...


Assuming that it's not set in our own world, have the local religion forbid encasing the body in metal, which cuts the soul (inside the body) off from the deity/deities/nature (outside the body). Anyone disobeying the taboo faces social or political (depending on the standing of the church) censure.

Et voila, you can have the kingdom export iron ore but not wear a scrap of metal armour.

  • $\begingroup$ That's actually a pretty cool idea, which although doesn't fit with the kingdom I was asking about, will actually be applicable to a different kingdom, thanks man $\endgroup$ – Chimpion Jul 20 '17 at 23:33
  • $\begingroup$ haha, the old religion thing. Yes, you can basically claim anything to be true with religion, it is reason enough for itself. $\endgroup$ – Doomed Mind Jul 21 '17 at 15:53

While other answers deal with availability of metal armour, there is also another aspect to your question: usability. Carrying a dozen kilograms of metal may be only mildly annoying on a flat road, but carrying the same amount while alternately climbing and descending at a steep rate and in the thin air of few kilometres of elevation will either force you to severely limit your marching speed, or exhaust your to the point of being unable to fight.

Simply put, warfare in mountains often favours smaller, faster units of lighter skirmishers, which makes heavy metal armour not as desirable. If your kingdom does not seek to expand into flatlands, and adopts hit-and-run tactics, it doesn't really make sense for them to use metal armour beyond protection of their leaders.

Another reason for leather armour would lie in the (relative) abundance of leather. Most mountainous societies relied on hunting significantly more, than other countries, simply because there was less arable land (even with quite advanced alpine agriculture techniques some of them used, like Inca). And with hunting, you get not only meat, but leather as well.

So, a kingdom of leather-clad hunters in the mountains is quite plausible. In fact, you can just take a look at the medieval kingdoms of Caucasus for an inspiration of just that.


Iron doesn't come from the mountains

Iron ore was most commonly found in ancient times in 'bog iron' which is deposited in current and former swamplands. Mountainous terrain, especially if it is dry, doesn't have to have many, or any, bogs.

The biggest iron mines in the world don't really correspond to mountains at all. Of Kryvvy Rih and the Kursk Magnetic Anomoly in Russia/Ukraine, Mesabi Range in Minnesota, the Carahas mines in Para, Brazil, and Pilbara, Australia; none of these are in mountainous areas.

There is no reason that your mountainous region has a lot of iron available. If the world is in an iron based timeframe (say, an Iron Age), then your land will be relatively metal poor. Even if it has the materials for making bronze, if there is little bronzecraft in the rest of the world, your land might not have the skills needed to make weapons or other everyday items from bronze.

About bronze...

Copper deposits are generally found in the mountains; however, bronze needs both copper and tin. Tin is pretty rare, and can't just be found everywhere. There are plenty of areas of Earth with no nearby tin, mountainous or otherwise.

If you want an additional reason for your people to not be using bronze, then lack of tin is it. Copper by itself is barely better than wood and stone, given how malleable it is. Your people will probably make do with wood and stone where they can, and import iron where you can't do without it; like swords, blacksmith's tools, carpenter's tools, and ploughshares.

  • $\begingroup$ Define "at the time" because stripming was fairly common in the middle ages, and bell pit, and tunnel mining of iron was common in the 12th century europe, also iron deposits are as common in mountains as they are anywhere, its not more common in mountains but it is not less common either. . $\endgroup$ – John Jul 21 '17 at 22:59
  • $\begingroup$ @John No one tunnel mined iron in the 12th century, it wasn't that valuable and mining technology wasn't that good. As I demonstrate, big iron deposits are always NOT in the mountains. Iron depends on laterite, and laterite develops in tropical lowlands. The act of forming mountains will break up the laterite. $\endgroup$ – kingledion Jul 22 '17 at 2:32
  • $\begingroup$ Who told you laterite is where iron ore comes from? Hematite, magnetite, and banded iron formation are far better sources of iron. Laterite is only used when no other source is available, or when modern mechanized high volume mining is possible. As an example the 4-5th largest iron mine on earth, mount whaleback mine, is a mountain hematite mine. As for the development of mining technology I am quoting English Medieval Industries: Craftsmen, Techniques, Products, John Blair, Nigel Ramsay 1991, particularly the chapter on iron processing. $\endgroup$ – John Jul 22 '17 at 3:00
  • $\begingroup$ @John Pilbara is all laterite, Mount Whaleback included. How do you figure there are any mountains in Pilbara at all? 'Mount' Maherry is 1200 meters. There are no iron mines in the mountains. $\endgroup$ – kingledion Jul 23 '17 at 3:26
  • $\begingroup$ No it really isn't all laterite, there are marine deposits, volcanics, metamorphics, I invite you to look at any map of the region's geology. I also don't think you understand what a mountain is. If you want another examples of iron mines in mountains , you have the Iron Mountain mine in california. Another would be the famous Embarrass Mountain range which was the largest iron producing site of its time. Another would be Kiruna in Sweden notable for being a hydrothermal iron deposit in which the miners literally cut the top of the mountain off to access the ore. $\endgroup$ – John Jul 23 '17 at 6:47

Even say you have iron rich mountains (as kingledion pointed out, this isn't necessary to assume just because you have mountains) - mountains don't tend to be the best environments to support large specialised populations which can be bothered with or even have the need for extensive metallurgy. Much arable farming is unlikely - a hunting based society much more likely - they will have loads of leather lying around.


The most common armor in the Middle Ages was the gambeson, made of wool. It offered a very good protection and it was wonderful for cold weather.

Your kingdom is, in fact, more historical than one with everybody wearing maille. And if they have a lot of sheep that produce good wool or horses with thick hair, it is the only logical reason.

Usually, the natives use the best armor for their terrain and/or climate. The cotton armor of the Aztecs, hardened in a brine, doesn't look very good. But the Spanish conquistadores preferred it to their own metal armor. The same with their wood helmets, many Spaniards died from an arrow to the head because they took off their helmets as much as possible (one survivor was happy to have promised his wife that he would use always his helmet).

In the 15th century, the most common armor was the bringandine, a leather armor with reinforcements of steel on the inside. Your kingdom could use them, or if you don't want them to have metal, even reinforcements made of bone, horn or wood.


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