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Among the armors excavated in Gaya areas, Mongol bowl-shaped helmets and rectangular plate armor were typical of the fourth century, while Mongol bowl-shaped helmets and mail armor were typical of the fifth century.

gaya armor

As early Gaya armor was likely made from organic matter such as wood or leather, no remains have been found of the first types of armor used by the people of Gaya. However, as Gaya later began to use iron to make armor, many later pieces of Gayan armor have been unearthed in the lower basin of Nakdong River at Gimhae, Busan, Ulsan, and Gyeongju. Most of the pieces date from the fourth and fifth centuries.

Among the objects found in the Nakdong Basin are narrow rectangular plate helmets tied by string, bowl-shaped helmets, rectangular plate body armor, mail body armor, triangular plate body armor, and leather-tied square plate body armor. Each type of armor and helmet is distinct and comes from a specific time period.

Typical iron armor from the fourth century at Geumgwan-Gaya includes Mongol bowl-shaped helmets, vertical rectangular body plate armor, mail armor and leather-tied square plate armor. Some leather-tied square plate armor excavated from Tomb No. 64 at Bokcheon-dong in Busan dates from the latter half of the fourth century, but it is atypical of that time period. More representative of the fourth century are Mongol bowl-shaped helmets, vertical rectangular body plate armor and mail armor.

mongol bowl-shaped helmets

Mongol bowl-shaped helmets and mail armor originated among the northern nomadic peoples. Many historians believe that these types of armor entered the region in the fourth century, after northern culture flowed into the lower basin of the Nakdong River.

Vertical rectangular plate body armor was unique to the Gyeongsang-nam bukdo region as similar examples of armor have not been confirmed in any other places, including any areas of China.


Likely this armor was made of organic matter during the Three Han States era, but was made of iron once Mongol bowl-shaped helmets and mail armor flowed in from the north.

Mongol bowl-shaped helmets and mail armor were panoplies for use on horseback and were peculiar to the northern nomadic peoples. Vertical rectangular plate body armor was for use by foot soldiers, as horse riding was not practiced during the Three Han States era. As mail armor was difficult to make, vertical rectangular plate body armor made of iron was also used for cavalry battles. That Mongol bowl-shaped helmets were used on horseback was confirmed when these helmets were discovered with mail armor, vertical rectangular plate armor and horse bits in several old tombs together. For the Gaya people of the fourth century, but not for the northern nomadic peoples, Mongol bowl-shaped helmets and vertical rectangular plate body armor were most commonly used in battles.

Mail armor was in limited use in Gaya during the fourth century. This was mainly the case because mail armor was so difficult to manufacture. Thus, only those with high social positions had the privilege of wearing such armor. Therefore, the fourth century might be called "the age of plate armor."

Plate armor

Even if the iron armor of the fourth century was influenced by northern traditions, the armor was not manufactured in the north. Northern armor styles did not influence Gaya armor styles throughout the history of the Gaya kingdoms. Northern culture's influence was felt for only a short period at the end of the third century.. Furthermore, we should consider that although northern armor styles flowed in, the armor was manufactured in Gaya. This was so because of the advanced ironware culture of Gaya. Gaya's superior iron technology manifested itself in the form Gaya's vertical rectangular plate body armor--armor which was originally made of organic materials, but which was made of iron by the first half of the fourth century.

Gaya armor of the fourth century was not only standardized throughout Gaya, but it was also manufactured in vast quantities. The fact that the iron armor was standardized and mass-produced indicates that a specialized class of ironworkers manufactured the armor and that soldiers were well equipped.

This all suggests the Gaya had created a sophisticated and highly organized military. As harnesses for horse riding have been excavated with armor, we know that the Gaya used cavalries in their military campaigns. The existence of well-armed cavalry soldiers suggests that Gaya had emerged as a developed military state by this time.

During the fifth century A.D., armor in Gaya underwent a major transformation. Vertical rectangular plate armor decreased in use, while the mail armor that previously had been used exclusively by the ruling classes began to be used widely by members of all classes. This change may have been the result of Goguryeo's large-scale military incursions into Gaya in the beginning of the fifth century. Mail armor was superior to plate armor and the times warranted the use of higher quality armor.

Mail armor Bone mail armor

Vertical rectangular plate armor ceased to exist by the middle of the fifth century. In its place, the Gaya began using plate armor from Japan. As evidence of the spread of Japanese imports, Japanese armor from the fifth century A.D.--such as triangular plate body armor, horizontal rectangular plate body armor, and pointed helmets--has been found in Gaya tombs. Nonetheless, it was Mongol bowl-shaped helmets and mail armor that were the most common panoplies from the fifth century on.

If the fourth century could be called "the age of plate armor" in Gaya, then the fifth century in Gaya could be called "the age of mail armor." The change in armor styles indicates that Gaya society by the fifth century had become a militaristic society that wielded considerable power on the Korean peninsula.