There is no evidence to suggest that arm-guards were routinely used in the early medieval west. As with combat gloves, they are encouraged as safety features – but they should not be worn visibly, even if they are of authentic construction.
Armguards may be constructed from a sheet of stout leather at least 6mm thick and then laced up the inside of the arm. Alternatively, modern materials may be used – hard plastic drainpipe may be useful, though sports shops sell wholly modern elbow and arm protectors. While a solid armguard will stop a sword cutting your skin, the impact can still be painful. It can be very helpful to line your armguards with padding of some sort, for example modern foam, or else thick sheepskin.
Armguards should cover the area of the arm from the elbow to the wrist. Tunics should be made extra wide on the forearm and wrist in order to accommodate them as the armguards should not be visible.
Vambraces and 'splinted' limb armour
There is no evidence at all for limb armour made from 'splinted' metal plates in British Isles in the period and regions covered by the Vikings Society. Such armour may not be used.
A thorough discussion of the topic (with detail of relevant finds and depictions) can be found thanks to an article by Peter Beatson the New Varangian Guard .
There is some limited evidence that some tenth and eleventh century Byzantine regular soldiers wore vambraces on their arms, made from a series of metal plates running along the arm, sewn or riveted onto a cloth or leather backing. These seem to have been restricted to better-equipped heavy cavalry, modelled on the heavily-armoured elite cavalry of the steppes, ultimately going back to Hunnic and Avar models of the fifth and sixth centuries. We would not expect them to have found their way into use elsewhere in any numbers.
Earlier Byzantine military manuals (notably the early seventh-century Strategikon by Maurikos) mention armguards (manikellia or cheiropsella) and greaves (podopsella or chalkotouba) made of iron or wood. The Tactica of Emperor Leo VI (c.900) drew heavily on such texts, and describes both heavy cavalry (kataphraktoi) and heavy infantry (skutatoi) wearing arm-guards. Leo clarifies the cavalry armguards as cheiromanika sidera ('iron armguards'), possibly indicating that the infantry version used wood.
The idea of the Varangian Guard wearing splinted limb armour seems to be a re-enactorism, owing much to one of the early Osprey volumes, and subsequently perpetuated as 'received wisdom'.
- Byzantine vambraces should be restricted to the best-equipped regular infantry and cavalry. As such, they may not be used in the British Isles.
Steppe splinted armour
There is both pictorial and archaeological evidence of militarily advanced steppe tribes employing arm and leg armour made from 'splinted' metal plates in the seventh to eleventh centuries - in particular the Khazar khaganate deep in what is now Russia.
- Rus vikings of the very highest status (ie the druzhina bodyguard of a powerful prince) adopted steppe-style armour in the later tenth and eleventh centuries.
Vendel period splinted armour
Examples of arm and leg protection made from 'splinted' metal plates have been found in the Vendel and Valsgärde burial mounds in Sweden, dating to 635-650. There is no evidence at all to suggest that it continued in use beyond the seventh century.
- 'Splinted' limb armour made from metal plates had fallen out of fashion long before the viking age. It may not be used in the Vikings Society.
Late medieval vambraces
In the second half of the thirteenth and the fourteenth centuries, western knights began wearing vambraces. These protected the forearm with leather guards for the forearm and upper arm, articulated with rivets at the elbow and protected by a small metal disc. The leather protection was often highly decorated.
- Late medieval vambraces are not appropriate for the core period we cover - they are mentioned for completeness.