African Armored Infantry

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Hey everyone. I just had a question about how common it was for infantrymen in Pre-Colonial Sub-Saharan Africa to wear body armor. Now I know that in the Sahelian states it was quite common for cavalrymen to wear various forms of armour, from padded cloth to chain mail and even iron cuirasses.


I also know that in the Kingdom of Benin, noblemen (who fought as infantry) would wear armor made from materials such as padded basketwork, pangolin scales or coral beads.


However, I am unsure whether this armor was commonly worn in battle or if it was purely ceremonial? I would also like to know if other African peoples made use of armored infantrymen? The only other reference I could find was of Balui pirates on the Ubangui river (in the modern day DRC) wearing leather armor, and I could only find that reference in the army lists for a wargame called "Death in the Dark Continent".
Thank you for any replies


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:wink: Ceramonial armor is a misleading concept, all societies with access
to armor would use it on both the battlefield and in ceremony. In many
occasions armor was mostly available only to those who can afford it
like kings, chieftains, nobility, elite troops and guards ... etc.
As a result, it was more often adopted by cavalry, than infantry.

Moreover, African modes of warfare didn't require a lot armor. Wide scale deployment
of armories requires metal sources via mining or trade, and outside pressures
to adapt to more brutal forms of combat, which is why armored troops were more
commonly seen in the East and North of the continent, rather than in Sub-Saharan Africa...

illustration of Angus McBride showing a war-dance being performed by warriors and
noblemans in one of the great ritual compounds of the Zimbabwe kingdom

African Armor Timeline (updated)

Ancient Nubians and Ku****es

Phoenicians traders trading with Mandé merchants of the Pre-Imperial Mali
of the Tichitt-Walata cliffs of Southern Mauritania - 10th or 8th century BC

Ethiopian and Nubian warriors in linothorax
serving the Achaemenid empire - 5th century BC

statue of a Nubian horseman in Ptolemaic service
from the Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe, Hamburg

Numidian Cavalry, serving the
Carthaginian empire 3rd century BC

Ku****e Kingdom of Meroe, Nubia - 2nd century AD

East African and Middle Eastern armored infantry,
in chain mail and crocodile armor - 3rd century AD

Nubian and Ethiopian Royalty - 3rd to 6th centuries AD

Nubia and Sudan - 9th to 11th centuries AD

Afro-Saharan warriors serving in Spain - 12th to 13th centuries

Djenne terracotta warriors,
Mali Empre -  13th to15th centuries

Mansa Musa emperor the Malian Empire - 14th century

Oba (king) of the Benin empire receiving 
Portuguese ambassadors - 16th century

Portuguese in Ethiopia - 16th century

Central Africa Sultanates -  16th to 20th century

Northern Sudan - 16th to 20th century

Ring Armor from Sudan


Crocodile breastplate from Southern Egypt, Pitt Rivers Museum
Founding Collection. Given to the Museum in 1884

Crocodile skin armor and
Quilted jacket from Cameroon

Fulani cavalryman with similar Quilted jacket

Asante empire, Ghana - 19th and 20th centuries

Sotho, Basotho and Pedi, brass gorgets

Zulu brass armbands