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

Background

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. 

Cavalry

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.

 

 

Armour

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.

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