Protecting the Crew: Thorin & Company's Armor

Packing around a whole mess of swords, axes and sundry other weapons is all well and good . . . but what happens when the Enemies get past your poorly-timed thrust, or you accidentally drop your oh-so-pretty axe? Well, my friend, that's when you call in the heavy armor. Designed to stop a sword or piercing arrow, armor is a necessity for Thorin & Co. if they hope to reach Erebor in one piece. Luckily, we're talking about dwarves, and Middle-earth has never seen a people more skilled at making (and wearing) armor.

Read on past the break to learn about the various types of armor Thorin and his crew have chosen to see them safely through to the broken gates of the Lonely Mountain!

The Brigandine

Close up of the brigandine-style armor protecting Thorin's arm
Thorin and Kili favor a specialized form of armor known as a brigandine. The brigandine is constructed by riveting small oblong plates of metal to an article of clothing--generally constructed from leather or thick cloth--almost always a shirt or long tunic of some sort.

Thorin's full brigandine
Most brigandines feature simple rectangular metal plates arranged in a simple linear fashion. Thorin's brigandine armor is slightly more complex: the plates are diamond-shaped and arranged in diagonal rows. Additionally, the plates are not simple flat metal slabs; rather, the exterior edge of each plate is features a raised bevel and the center of the plate features a raised diamond-shaped feature. While these extra embellishments may seem purely artistic, they are actually an important component of the armor: the raised and angled centerpiece on each plate acts as a tiny deflector and helps to slightly angle a sword thrust or striking arrow, diminishing the impact.

In terms of complexity, the brigandine is a transitional piece of armor, falling somewhere in between chain mail and plate armor. Unlike plate mail, a brigandine is easily repaired, and while the dwarves undoubtedly possessed the skills to repair plate mail, carrying the necessary tools and supplies (forge, anvil, hammer, tongs, raw iron, etc.) would have proven difficult. It is possible the Thorin--knowing that their quest would carry the company far from civilization--opted for the brigandine to make repairs easier and faster.
Kili's brigandine collar

The fact that Thorin and Kili are wearing brigandine armor may also offer us an insight into the society of the Exiles from Erebor: the dwarves in the Ered Luin have apparently amassed enough skill and wealth to move beyond ordinary chain mail armor, but have not yet reached the point where plate mail is a feasible/economical armor solution.
Brigandine cuff on Gloin's surcoat

A final note: it is interesting to see how metal seems to play an important role in dwarven fashion. In human and elvish cultures, metal is rarely incorporated into clothing except for ceremonial clothes. Unsurprisingly--given their normal occupation--dwarves seem much more ready to incorporate metal into every-day clothing. Perhaps--as was discussed in the post on weapons--this is a reflection of the dwarves' practicality. As can be seen in the figure to the right, Gloin's surcoat features a brigandine cuff that is at once decorative and functional.

Leather Armor

Dori's leather vambrace
Surprisingly, most of the dwarves in Thorin's company make use of leather armor instead of any metal protection. There may be several reasons for this: the dwarves may not have anticipated just how dangerous the quest would be; they may not have had funds available for outfitting every member of the company with expensive metal armor; another possibility is that the dwarves opted to carry less armor so that on the return journey from Erebor they could carry more treasure. Knowing dwarves, the later possibility may be the most likely.

Leather armor offers several advantages over chain or plate mail: leather is relatively cheap and easy to come by; leather is easier to replace and/or repair than metal armor; armor constructed of leather is lighter and easier to wear for prolonged periods of time. Any or all of these factors may have played into the dwarves' decision to choose leather armor.

Inner side of Nori's leather vambrace
To be of any use against edged weapons, leather armor must be boiled. The most simple leather armor is created by boiling thick leather in water. Other, more complicated techniques, include the addition of oil or wax into the boiling liquid to further refine the leather. More rarely, ammonia distilled from animal urine was added to the water. When the leather is first removed from the boiling water it is very supple and can be molded into a variety of shapes: rounded pieces for protecting the arms and legs, and broader, gently-curving pieces for protecting the chest and back. As the leather cools it gradually hardens, forming a rigid pieces of armor; however, one of the drawbacks of leather armor is that after boiling, the leather becomes more brittle and can be prone to cracking if not properly cared for.

Gloin's vambrace
The leather armor is fastened to the body via a series of straps and clasps, as can be seen in the photo (above) of Nori's vambrace. Larger pieces may have required the help of a second dwarf to fit and adjust properly.

Bifur's vambrace
Most of the dwarves in Thorin's company use leather armor mainly as protection for their forearms. Dwarves do not often carry/use shields (mainly because so many of the weapons they prefer require two hands), so the vambraces are most likely an attempt to provide more protection without packing on a lot of extra weight. Often these vambraces are composed of multiple sections of leather, some boiled and hard, others soft. Gloin's vambrace (left) is an excellent example of this. The boiled leather lining the top of the vambrace provides protection to the portions of Gloin's arms that would be most exposed during a battle, while the softer leather cover his palms provides more range of motion.

All of the dwarves' vambraces are detailed with the geometric patterns typical of dwarven decoration. Bifur's vambrace is an especially beautiful piece: A woven pattern of leather thongs forms a glove to protect the backs of his hands. This glove is attached to a stiff guard of boiled leather that has been tooled with a repeating pattern of thick leather bands and stippled triangles.

Lamellar Armor

Fili's plate mail belt
Both Fili and Dwalin wear small samples of plated armor, though nothing approaching a full suite of plate mail. The armor the two dwarves have might best be described as lamellar armor (though in Dwalin's case that classification is only barely applicable). Fili wears a massive belt that has small, angular metal plates stitched onto its outer surface. Just how effective this bit of armor would be at protecting the dwarf is debatable; it covers only a small part of his body, but the gut region is a vital area to protect . . . so what little protection the metal-plated belt does offer is surely welcome.

Dwalin's plate mail gauntlets
Unlike most of the dwarves in Thorin's company, Dwalin does not wear leather vambraces to protect the backs of his hands and his forearms (as can be attested by the large number of scars you can see in the image to the right). Instead, this warrior dwarf has chosen to wear strange gauntlets composed of loosely connected metal plates. Even more interesting, the two gauntlets are distinctly different from each other. While the broad plates of these gauntlets would provide exceptional protection for the back of Dwalin's hands, they leave his forearms exposed (as his numerous scars can attest).

As we can see, Thorin's crew is outfitted with several types of armor offering differing levels of protection. It will be interesting to see how will the dwarves are protected from the dangers they will face along the way to the Lonely Mountain.

Thoughts and comments? Let us know below!


  1. Fascinating summary! Their armor is interesting in it's dearth of metal. Dwarves are known to be prominent metalsmiths, so all this leatherwork seems a little lacking in protection. But I agree it may have to do with the anticipation of a long journey, and the need to move swiftly, or it an attempt by the filmmakers to show their relative poverty (although they have a lot of embellishments for paupers!)

    We now know Thorin carries with him a small shield through part of the film, which might be just as much a burden as a benefit considering he's also carrying a large sword and axe, but it works more as an arm guard than anything else (how this thing originally saved his life I can't imagine!)

    But overall, (and in light of the latest spoilers) I think their neglect of heavier protective items shows they were in a hurry to get to the Mountain before someone else did, and also being hopeful about what they would find.

    1. I read your post on his "oaken shield" . . . it looks great. Does it strap onto his arm in some way so that he doesn't have to just hold it like a club?

      Yeah, my assumption is that the dwarves' armor is deliberately understated at the beginning of the story so that when they get all decked out in their armor from Smaug's treasure they'll look just that much more amazing.

  2. I still have no images of the shield in real life aside from the blurry ones in the vlog, but new toy images show it is used just like an ordinary shield, presumably with straps (which in toy form probably snaps on or something).

  3. dwalins and guards are not gauntlets, in the book about the film it says that they are "knuckle dusters" that are permanently attached to his wrist

    1. *wrist gaurds*

    2. By definition, a gauntlet, which protects the hands and forearms would also be a "wrist guard" . . . but you make a good point about the knuckle dusters. I was interested to see, however, that gauntlets often had built-in knuckle dusters: