Elephant Armour

2009/07/25 at 3:41 pm | Posted in Elephant Armour | 3 Comments

Elephant Armour


From about the mid 1st millennium BC elephants were used in warfare in India, gradually ousting war chariots from the battlefield. The last recorded use of elephants was in the late 18th century, although they continued to be used as draught animals.

A war elephant was covered with a Caparison, a large square carpet, secured with a girth. The caparison almost invariably had red in its coloration, while the girth was made from thick rope or chains. An elephant usually wore a little bell on its neck and two more bells often dangled on the front part of the caparison. Elephants were sometimes decorated with additional bells hanging from the caparison or fastened all around the collar. In some pictures an elephant’s body is bound with ropes longwise or across, possibly to facilitate the driver getting onto its back. Umbrellas, flags or other objects were sometimes used to decorate or identify an elephant. There is also some evidence that an elephant’s head and trunk were painted bright in battle, for a combination of sacramental, aesthetic and martial reasons. (Osprey, New Vanguard 150)

War elephants of the Great Mughals 16th-18th Centuries

In the time of the Great Mughals in India (1526-1858) people either rode an elephant or sat in a ‘Howdah’. The most valuable elephants were protected by armour. Some were fully clad in armour, others had only their heads and parts of their trunk protected, others had no protection at all. Elephant armour was made of; plates and mail (As in the royal Armouries example), Scales sewn on a piece of cloth, brigandine (steel plates sewn in between layers of cloth), or just quilted cloth or leather. The armour also had a peculiarity – protective ‘ears’, two projections on the elephant’s head to protect the driver.

YouTube sequence from ‘Warrior Empire, the Mughals’, The History Channel

The very tip of the trunk was left bare as it had to remain mobile to grab foes. Various kinds of weapons were sometimes fastened to the trunk – Swords, scythes, maces and scraps of chain. Tusk swords were also sometimes attached.

 Elephant Tusk Swords







Goads used for elephant driving (Ankus)

Indo-Persian Elephant Goad (ankus) Rajput 18th century with 8.5″ spear point tip, forward hook with rear fluke terminating into a dragons head. Handle sectioned into six cage areas  containing a rolling bell. Bun shaped pommel to haft. 22″ overall length







Late 18th early 19th century steel and koftgari silver engraving Ankus.
Length: 18″ head: 6 1/2″ head width: 4 1/2″ handle: 11″
Elephant Armour at the Royal Armouries, Leeds 
Brought to England in 1801 by Lady Clive, it is reputed to have been captured by Clive at the Battle of Plassey in 1757.
Mughal, about 1600, the armour is made of sheet iron panels and chainmail. Some of the panels have designs of elephants, fish, peacocks and lotus flowers hammered out.
Some of the panels are missing, revealing the way cotton would have been used under the armour for the animal’s comfort.

The armour originally consisted of eight parts: three at either side of the body and one each for the head and throat. Only six survive: two of the three panels for the right side are missing.







The large circular gaps near the top of the head probably mark the place for the ‘ears’ (protection for the driver).

The armour is of mail and plate construction; small plates with scalloped edges alternate with large square panels decorated with embossed birds, trotting elephants, lotus flowers and
confronted fish; all these are joined with mail.








Other Examples

Some other examples of elephants found on the internet. Look like wargame  pieces, but could provide inspiration,…or not! 







Armour and helmets of the Army of Bengal

2009/07/23 at 7:17 pm | Posted in Armour and Helmets | 1 Comment

Armour and Helmets


The Mughals were the most successful Muslim conquerors of India. The empire reached its greatest extent under Aurangzeb Almagir (1658-1707), but declined until the last Mughal emperor was deposed by the British for his complicity in the Indian Sepoy Mutiny of 1857.

Siraj ud-Daulah was the last independent Nawab of Bengal, Bihar, and Orissa. The Nawabs of Bengal were the hereditary nazims or subadors (provincial governors) of the subah (province) of Bengal during the Mughal rule and the de-facto rulers of the province. 


The Mughals were the successors of the Timurids and their armies reflected their Mongol inheritance. They continued to use light cavalry, but became predominantly a heavy cavalry army composed of Turks, Afghans, Persians and Hindus. Their principal weapons were the composite bow, sword, and shield. The heavy cavalry wore mail and plate armour (zereh bagtar) with helmets (kolah zereh) and their horses were also protected by armour (bargustavan). The weapons they carried were the sword, composite bow, lance, mace (gorz) and the saddle axe (tabarzin), and a shield (dhal) was also carried. The main advantage the Mughal armies had over their contemporaries in India however was in firearms. They pioneered the use of artillery on the battlefield, in combination with infantry armed with matchlock muskets. (An Introduction to Indian Arms and Armour, Royal Armouries publication).

  Mail and plate armour for man and horse (zereh bagtar and bargustavan), Mughal about 1600. The shield, bowcase, bow and arrows are modern replicas (Royal Armouries)

The Nawab had approximately 15,000 cavalry. They were mostly Pathan tribesmen riding large horses armed with swords and long spears. Some of them wore armour of mail manufactured in Lahore.




Mail armour was probably introduced into India by the Arabs in the late 8th century and there was a Persian feel to much of it. The form of mail made with alternate rows of riveted and solid links became characteristic of Indian mail, and survived until the 18th century.

 Mail and plate armour (zereh bagtar), Mughal from Datia, about 1600 (Royal Armouries)

 It became the standard type of defence and continued to be used until the 18th century. The coat (zereh bagtar ), and helmet (kolah zereh) were constructed from small overlapping iron scales of various sizes connected by rows of mail links. The Mughal coats are distinguished from those of the Near East by the large plates at the front. Trousers of mail (pajama zirah) were worn on the legs.  All of this armour was originally fitted with quilted lining, which rarely survive.

Pair of arm defences (dastana) from Lahore, early 19th century. They are of steel plates joined by long hinges and lined with quilted velvet. Inside the embroidered velvet flaps that protect the hands are loops for the fingers and thumb. (Royal Armouries)


Four mirrors

The Royal Armouries give a date of the late 18th century for the appearance of this type of armour, but I think the dates are subjective. An article in Wikipedia states that this type of armour spread gradually to Central Asia and Northern India during the 16th-17th century.

This type of armour was copied from contemporary Persian armour in which a cuirass of four plates joined by straps called the chahar a’inech  or ‘four mirrors’ was worn over a mail shirt (zereh).


Helmets – Lots of them!

Most of the plumes are missing though.

Shields, Swords and Daggers

2009/07/22 at 9:44 pm | Posted in Shields and Swords | 8 Comments

Shields, Swords & Daggers


Shield (dhal)

‘The vast majority of medieval and later shields from India are of the same form; circular, sightly convex, and fitted with a central grip formed of two hand loops. They are held by four robust iron loops which are rivetted through the shield and secured by large bosses on the exterior. The two grips are held together in the left hand, rather than having the arm passed through them, so the shield can be moved around to block blows and missles dextrously and rapidly.  A fabric suspension loop was often attached to two of the loops so the shield could be slung over the shoulder when not in use. Most shields were of leather, either of buffalo hide or rhinocerous hide, or of steel’. (Royal Armouries, ‘An introduction to Indian Arms and Armour’)

Mughal shield of Buffalo hide, with steel bosses and decorative crescent overlaid with gold. Dated 1767/8. Lent by Her Majesty The Queen. Royal Armouries.


Reverse view of shield (dhal) made in Lahore about 1830-45, showing the lined interior with the central pad and the two hand grips retained by the loops on the inside of the four bosses. Royal Armouries.

‘This is an Indian shield of circular and convex form with four central bosses known as a dhal. It is made of Indian rhinoceros rawhide, which has been dried and lacquered, but not tanned. Rhinoceros hide was good for shield-making because it could take on a striking translucent quality, and was harder and more durable than buffalo leather.

This example has been painted with floral designs in red, black gold and white. It is a fine piece of weaponry and probably came from Sindh province in Pakistan, which was renowned for the quality of its shields in the 18th and 19th centuries. It would have belonged to a wealthy individual, perhaps an aristocrat’. Pitt Rivers Museum, Oxford.


‘The quintessential Indian round shield was known as a dhal. Made of steel or lacquered hide (as this one is), they have a convex shape. The handles are fastened by ring bolts, which are riveted to four bosses on the shield’s face. The large, smooth surface of the dhal gave Indian craftsmen an opportunity to indulge their passion for decoration. This example shows animal figures and floral designs painted in gold, white and black on a red ground.

The elaborately painted outer surface of this dhal places it in a style associated with the palace armouries of Rajasthan, and the Rajput dynasties. The Rajput rajahs were great patrons of the arts, and many of their fortified palaces contained the workshops and studios of painters, brassworkers, jewellers, and leatherworkers, each of whom contributed to the creation of a grand shield like this one. The Rajputs are a sub-caste of the Kshatriya (Warrior) caste, and historically developed a code of martial chivalry, which set them apart. Traditionally, only warriorhood and agriculture were considered honourable professions for a Rajput man. Even today, many of India’s soldiers are Rajputs. Rajput princes traditionally kept extensive armouries (silahkana) in their palaces, filled with rows and arrangements of elaborately decorated shields like this one’. Pitt Rivers Museum, Oxford.


Other examples  



There were probably various types of sword used at Plassey:


 With the introduction of central Asian cavalry warfare into India from the 13th century onward, the Asian curved blade sword became the preferred choice throughout much of India. Called the talwar in India, shamshir in Persia, pulouar in Afghanistan. They developed a distinctive north Indian form of hilt with a disc pommel, itself with regional variations, though the Persian form of hilt with a pistol grip was popular in some areas such as Sind and Lucknow.


YouTube sequence from ‘Warrior Empire, the Mughals’, The History Channel



Left, double curved sword (sosun pata) from north India, early 19th century (Royal Armouries)


Right, talwar, 19th century (Royal Armouries)





talwar with a hilt decorated in fine gold koftgari with garden scenes, Mughal, 17th century (Royal Armouries)








This Indian talwar dates from the late 18th or early 19th century. It has an Indo-Muslim hilt but the red silk brocade on the pommel and scabbard and the brass fittings depicting game animals, suggest an origin among the Hindu Rajputs. For Rajput men, their talwar was more than just a sword; it was also the embodiment of their honour, commitment and agency.

It is not unusual to see this mix of cultures in a single weapon since the talwar became widely distributed in India during the Islamic period and gradually supplanted older forms of sword, especially among the elite. Indeed, the talwar’s influence did not stop at India’s borders. It was swords such as this that inspired the curved cavalry sabre used by the British Army from the 18th century onwards. Pitt Rivers Museum, Oxford.



Very impressive 18th century Northern Indian talwar with Afghan style scabbard. This type of sword was used extensively in India and Afghanistan for several centuries. Traditional silver plated iron hilt with “D”-guard and a sealed bowl type pommel. Well balanced curved blade seems to be designed specifically for cutting. The blade displays a beautiful gold Arab calligraphy. Complete with Afghan style wooden scabbard covered with leather. The scabbard has Afghan style iron furniture. Overall length: 33 inch. Blade length: 28 inch







 Indo-Persian tulwar sword with knuckle-guard, and with serrated, wavy serpent style blade. Complete with leather-covered wooden scabbard.  Solid steel hilt, mounted with a 2-3/4 inch diameter disc pommel overlaid with a 17-Point ‘flower’ star, which is topped with a 1-1/8 inch diameter x 7/8 inch high button – The hilt wears a Decorative, ‘crane-head’ tipped knuckle-guard – Base of hilt (below the quillons) is mounted with two, 2-1/8 inch long languets (one on each side of the blade), that served a dual purpose; (1) They helped to secure the sword in the scabbard. (2) A good swordsmen could often catch the opponent’s blade in one of the languets and with a quick twist of his wrist, either flip the sword out of the enemy’s hand, or break their blade – Measuring 35-1/2 inches long overall in the scabbard. Sword measuring 34-5/8 inches long (straight-line measurements),


The indigenous Indian sword was called a khanda. It had a straight double-edged blade, usually with a basket hilt with a solid guard protecting the hand.

Right, Mughal khanda, dated 1632-3 (Royal Armouries).

Left, khanda and scabbard from Rajasthan, early 19th century (Royal Armouries).



From the early 17th century a fashion for carrying swords with European rapier or broadsword blades, usually with old Indian basket hilts grew up. These swords were commonly called firanghi.


 firanghi, with an Indian basket hilt and a European broadsword blade and scabbard, 18th century (Royal Armouries).




The katar, with its transverse grip, was unique to India, and was to be found across most of the sub-continent. It was fitted with a wide variety of blades, ranging from narrow wavy blades preferred in the south, to short, straight and broad blades in the north.

 Typically, katars were used in close range hand-to-hand combat, and were effective in piercing armour. The blade was often corrugated for additional strength. “Hooded katars” are katars with a shield extending over the back of the user’s hand. The handle sides were also used to block attacks, since all katars had an “H”-shaped handle. Because of the nature of the weapon, attacks were mainly direct thrusts that would easily pierce the enemies’ armor with a single but strong blow, possible because of the light weight and amazing attack speeds that could be achieved.  katars ceased to be in common use in the 19th century.


The khanjar is the commonest type of dagger, found in a variety of forms across the Muslim world. It has a double-edged and double curved blade, and in India often has a reinforced point to give strength to enable the blade to be used against mail armour. Rock crystal, nephrite (jade) and other hardstones usually form the hilts of these daggers, and they are often carved in the form of animal’s heads,  and set with precious and semi-precious stones in gold.


Found only in the north was the pushqabz, a dagger with a single-edged blade, either straight or double-curved, with a T-shaped back and a long taper to the point, which was sometimes reinforced 



Misc images 

Polearms, Axes, Maces, Flails

2009/07/21 at 7:32 pm | Posted in Polearms, The Army of Siraj-ud-daula | Leave a comment

Indian polearms

The use of the polearm in India continued long after it had become obsolete in Europe and it was still carried into battle during the 19th century. The long spear was a particular favourite and was used as a thrusting rather than a throwing weapon in massed infantry formations. Battle-axes and Maces were all brought into play during battles of the 18th and 19th centuries.


Spears (nezah) were also used by cavalry in close combat. Indian cavalry were famed for their skill in duelling with spears on horseback. Examples in the Royal Armouries collection are made of tapering bamboo, with small heads and relatively long butt spikes, so they balance very close to the butt (and have a velvet grip at that point for the purpose). Because the bamboo is hollow, the spear is very light in weight for its size.

Another form of spear found all over northern India is the barcha, a spear made totally of steel, used by infantry rather than cavalry. Another spear is the ballam, a short broad-headed spear.








The saddle axe (tabarzin) had exactly the same combat benefits, and was used by armoured cavalry as an alternative to the mace. Again these are short weapons intended for single-handed use.



The mace (gorz) was used extensively in Northern india. It was an effective combat weapon against an armoured foe. Most Indian maces are therefore quite short and designed to be wielded in one hand. Some are fitted with sword hilts, mostly of the old Indian basked variety.


Probably from Rajasthan, 18 Century. This mace is 47 inches long, brass haft carrying a huge spherical steel head about 6 inches diameter, mounted with more than 150 square sharp brass spikes and a long top spike. The haft is fitted with a Khanda type handle.

18th century battle mace from India. It is composed of two flanged heads, with 8 blades each, mounted on a 35 inches steel haft with a steel button at the lower end.


Short flails, with spiked balls attached to the shaft by chain, were also made as hand-to-hand weapons in north India.



Bows and Firearms

2009/07/20 at 10:33 pm | Posted in The Army of Siraj-ud-daula | 1 Comment

Bows and Firearms



The composite bow (kaman) was the characteristic missile weapon of both Indian cavalry and infantry before the 18th century. They are called composite bows because they were made from a combination of different materials; horn, wood and sinew, glued together. The horn, which is very springy under compression, formed the belly of the bow (the side held towards the shooter). The sinew is very elastic when stretched, and formed the back of  the bow. A wooden core served as a base for the other materials, and also formed the grip and the rigid ‘ears’ of the bow, into which were cut the nocks for the bow-strings. The combination of materials made them very powerful despite their short length, which in turn enabled them to be used easily from horseback. Bows of this type are also ‘recurved’, that is, they bend in their relaxed state in the opposite direction to the curve they hold when they are strung.

Right, composite bow (kaman) from Gwalior in eastern Rajastan. Presented by the East India Company in 1851

Quiver and arrows from Gwalior in eastern Rajastan. Presented by the East India Company in 1851

 Other examples of quivers


Mughal arrows 18th-19th century. Military arrows. Radial feather fletching, glued on and reinforced with sinew; two have white fluff inserted into the sinew bindings. Bulbous wood peg nocks. Four-sided bodkin type points with sinew reinforcement. Shafts are decorated with designs in red, yellow, and green paint. 74 cm long, shaft diameter 0.7 cm.



YouTube sequence from ‘Warrior Empire, the Mughals’, The History Channel



Thumb rings

Bows were shot using a thumb release (rather than the finger release practiced in most European archery). For this release a thumb ring (zeghir or shast) was used. The Mughal thumb ring was shaped with a characteristic extension to one side. The bow string was held under tension by the ring and a small movement of the thumb released the string, shooting the arrow forward. Because of the thumb release the arrow was shot from the right side of the bow, rather than from the left side as it was in western archery. Archer’s rings were made from stone, metal, ivory or bone. They were often decorated with gold, silver, and precious or semi-precious stones. The bowstrings (zel) were made of silk or of gut bound with silk.

 Jade Mughal thumb ring (shast) of the 18th century



Matchlock Musket

The matchlock musket was probably introduced into India during the Mughal invasions of the 16th century. It continues in use to the present day in remote places in India, despite the introduction of the flintlock and later percussion firearms by Europeans in the 18th and 19th centuries. The standard Indian form of matchlock musket or torador changed little from the 16th century to the 19th. It was a smooth-bore, muzzle-loading weapon, with a simple sprung and pivoted serpentine directly connected to the trigger, so that when this was pressed the serpentine, with its glowing match-cord, was moved forward into the priming pin to ignite the charge of gunpowder in the breach. The butt of the weapon was characteristically narrow and straight.


 Matchlock musket (torador) from Lahore, early 19th century. This gun retains its original slowmatch, wound around the stock and held in the jaws of the serpentine, as well as its vent picker, attached to the sling loop by a chain so it did not get lost, and used for cleaning out the vent connecting the priming pan with the breech of the barrel.


 Belt with silver powder flask and cartouche pouches (kamr), central Indian, probably from Hyderabad, early 19th century.   

Priming flask and cartridge pouches on a matching belt (kamr), made in Lahore in the early 19th century




I expect flintlock weapons would have been used, but I think it likely that these were mainly flintlock pistols.


Pair of flintlock pistols, northern India, possibly Lahore, first half of the 19th century

Foot Soldiers

2009/07/19 at 4:01 pm | Posted in The Army of Siraj-ud-daula | Leave a comment

Foot Soldiers

Obviously not much detail available on these.

I’ve included a few pictures that may help in imagining how they may have looked


                                   THE END!!!!

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