Imperial Austria: Treasures of Art, Arms and Armor from the State of Styria

Tournament and Ceremonial Armor

    Armor for the Plankengestech; made in Augsburg, 1570-1580; Joanneum Graz, Landeszeughaus. Photo: Lynn Diane DeMarco
    This example clearly shows the asymmetry of jousting armor. In the Plankengestech course, the participants rode along a wall-like tilt or fence, with their left sides facing. Combatants could only make an oblique blow directed against their opponents' left side; consequently armor on that side was thicker and more strongly reinforced.

Not all arms and armor were used for war. Specialized equipment was employed in the sporting combat known as the tournament. Tournaments were conducted in two basic forms: tourneys, which were combats between groups of contestants, and jousts, in which pairs participated. Both forms originally served as training for real war, but by the 15th century they were knightly games conducted for their own sake.

Specialized safety features were introduced, such as the tilt, a wall-like barrier separating combatants charging at each other, and the lists, a corral-like fence that restricted the combats to a confined area. Many varieties of jousts and tourneys were created, but in all safety was paramount, and in no case was the death of an opponent sought. Following the accidental death of Henry II of France in a joust in 1559, however, the man-versus-man combats declined, and the tournament gradually became more a test of equestrian skill than of prowess with arms.

    The Great Tournament in Vienna, by an unidentified artist after the woodcut by Jost Amman in Georg Ruxner's Turnierbuch from 1566; Joanneum Graz, Abteilung für Kunstgewerbe. Photo: Richard Margolis
    Tournaments were popular spectacles held in royal or public places. This painting illustrates a ceremonial joust held in Vienna in 1560 to honour the visit of Duke Albrecht V of Bavaria.

Arms and armor were also made for purely ceremonial purposes in parades or for the retinue of important officials, for whom they served as a demonstration of wealth. In such cases, they were lavishly decorated, or fantastic in form and construction, frequently devoid of any practical value as weapons or protection. Children, too, might use and wear arms and armor. They were not intended for war, but familiarized the child with arms.

Related resource:

The Legacy of the Horse: Tournaments

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Date created: November 16, 1995Last updated: July 13, 2001