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Dwarvish Armor
By TurnerMohan   |   Watch
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Published: May 7, 2014
© 2014 - 2019 TurnerMohan
a couple harnesses of the first-age dwarves, as would have been worn by Azaghal's host at the Battle of Unnumbered Tears (complete with their "hideous" dwarven war-masks) This one, along with my recent numenorean studies, is another entry in the "middle-earth historic costume in pictures" book that I would make if I planned on living to a thousand (honestly though, since discovering this pen-and-marker medium, making such a volume seems infinitely more possible, I'm kicking myself in the head for not having ventured into markers sooner)

The First Age in Beleriand seems to have been something of a golden age for Dwarven craftsmanship; between them the artisans of Belegost and Nogrod had the building of Menegroth and Nargothrond, the Nauglamir, the Dragon Helm of Dor-Lomin, the knife Angrist, the sword Narsil and, perhaps most significantly in the long run, the invention of chainmail (more on that below) to their credit. I see it as this Italian Renaissance-like time of heated competition between the two dwarven city states, resulting in a lot of never-to-be-equaled high notes in weapons, armor, architecture and finery (I can imagine some magnificent but sadly not-remembered geniuses among the craftsmen of Belegost, living their whole lives and carreers in furious competition with the insurmountable Gamil Zirak and later his brilliant pupil Telchar) it was also a time of rare cooperation between the Dwarves and other free folk (I suppose having the Evil of the World incarnate and living a few days march away will do that) evidenced perhaps most compellingly by the dwarves' apparently open use of their khuzdul names (unheard-of in the later ages, even during the days of friendship between the dwarves of Khazad-Dum and the Noldor of Eregion)

The warriors who took part in the battle with Glaurung and his brood represent an all-time high water mark for dwarven strength and courage, and I wanted their armor to match. In the silmarillion it is remarked that the dwarves wore masks into battle as part of their custom, but I like to imagine that, in response to the first generation of fire breathing dragons (perhaps in later generations the dragons simply grew too big and their fire too hot for any armor) the dwarven armorers created a new style focused on effectively fireproofing the face and figure, with the traditional war-masks rendered as these elaborately detailed forge visors, and offering full body coverage (with the armor probably worn over some pre-modern type of asbestos cloth) I can see it as a proud, fearsome style, with many armors (once they'd been proven affective against dragon fire) adorned with mocking images of the beasts, gold teeth and mustaches, even horns, claws and fangs of the monsters themselves (probably cow horns in reality for the most part, meant to represent dragon-trophies, but perhaps one of the lesser members of glaurung's brood had been brought down under similar circumstances to Fingon's mounted hunt)

design-wise, I see dwarven armor as both eastern and western stylistically. They invented chainmail and are the best at making it, so I think they probably would have played around with all styles, from the simple, classic four-in-one weave pattern, to denser six-in-one, to those crazy intricate patterns you see in indian and persian chainplate (they came up with the stuff, i think they can play around with it some ;)) and since middle-earth is pretty much an all-chainmail world, I like to think (and this is my attempt at sort of retroactively assigning a consistent art history to a fictional universe) that you can sort of tell -very broadly speaking - where someone is from by the style and make of their maille; whereas the elves and the men in the west favor that classic european style four-in-one, guys out east are more inclined toward persian/turkish style chain plate, or more exotic weaves. Dwarves are the real geniuses when it comes to armor and, being far flung as they are out into the east and south, chainmail is their big "gift to the world" (kind of like Russia with the AK-47) so i like to think that in their armor you can see the origin of a lot of styles imitated (usually by less-skilled human craftsmen) by people and cultures all over the world, both good and evil.

Part of the Weekly Tolkien Sketchblog (now in technicolor!)
Image size
2273x3191px 2.28 MB
IMAGE DETAILS
Make
Canon
Model
Canon MX890 series Network
Software
QuickTime 7.7.1
Comments100
anonymous's avatar
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CrimeanDoodler's avatar
I love the angle of the axe -- it makes the whole thing look lifelike, like he might take a step.
DGraymanFanatic's avatar
yep, their masks are hideous just they were said to be. And I can of course see how they would absolutely protect them from dying. 
TurnerMohan's avatar
TurnerMohanProfessional General Artist
it's basically a welding mask. i think i'd prefer to face a blasting firestorm with one of those than without
DGraymanFanatic's avatar
yeah, I would as well. I mean more dwarves actually lived through the Nirnaeth because of that armor while the elves I think were said to " wither" before the dragon flame. So yeah, that hideous so called armor saved the day. 
Basement-Aviator's avatar
Basement-AviatorHobbyist Digital Artist
Very, very cool armor designs. It's hard to put my finger on what it is about your work, but something about it seems more 'real' than a lot of depictions of Tolkein's creations... these seem as though they could belong to an actual culture.
TurnerMohan's avatar
TurnerMohanProfessional General Artist
 Sorry for the long response time. I appreciate that, a credible "historical" feel is something I (mostly) try to shoot for when depicting middle-earth, glad you think these are hitting the mark :)
Basement-Aviator's avatar
Basement-AviatorHobbyist Digital Artist
No need to apologize. I think Tolkein would appreciate the effort towards credibility, given how much thought he put into his world.
Axei's avatar
Horns and concave ridges on a helmet are a very very bad idea. The main purpose of a combat helmet is to protect the skull and neck by deflecting the force of impact away from the central axis of the skull and spinal cord.

Horned helmets can and will get you killed by crushing your atlas vertebra, since the stupid horns will catch the opponent's attack, preventing the compound curve of the helmet from doing its job.

Also, horns make very convenient handles for your opponent to grab and easily control your head in hand-to-hand fighting.

Hence why horned helmets were never worn in battle, ever, for the entirety of human history.
MonsterToad's avatar
Horned helmets and crested helmets exist throughout history and cultures. The crest is generally not designed to stay on no matter what, but will snap off if hit. Hitting at the horns or grabbing them with the expectation of them being rigid will be a waste of time at best, or will get you killed. And central ridges on helmets were used extensively in the bronze age, by Greeks, and even the Romans.

An exception to the snap-off crests is horns that serve purpose as armour, catching blows that would otherwise come down potentially on the gap between the neck and shoulder. That's why Japanese helmets had those "ear guards" that stuck off at an odd angle.

"Hence why horned helmets were never worn in battle, ever, for the entirety of human history."
You have been horribly, grossly mislead. I don't blame you, as there are a lot of idiots in the historical community who make statements like this to get attention. Generally, it is disputed how much Vikings wore horned helmets. The bronze-age Norse did, but we only have one Norse picture from the Viking age showing a horned helmet in a ceremonial context. Some people made up a bunch of rubbish to try and prove you could never wear a horned helmet in battle, the same as idiots who tried to say katana were made of glass and would break on bones.

en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Horned_h…
Lambique's avatar
I think it can pass for officer helmets. Sometimes distinction can override practicality, especially when it comes to higher ranked soldiers. Romans are a prime example of that.

On the other hand, i don't see concave ridges on these helmets?

EDIT: Oh yeah, I overlooked the thing at the very top of Mr. Left Dwarf. Well, it can still use the same explanation.
TurnerMohan's avatar
TurnerMohanProfessional General Artist
in general I'm with you both about this; horned/crested helmets have probably been in the minority on most historic battlefields, and probably always limited to the high-visibility officers of the armies of those cultures that produced such helmets. they're over represented in the common mental image of, say, ancient greek or feudal japanese warfare (and always in fantasy art) because they stand out, they're more likely to be preserved though history than more common or less artfully made helmets, they're over represented in art, in museum collections, history paintings, osprey books, etc. because they look cool. And yeah, for the most part "adorned" helmets were only worn in battle by back-of-the-line commanders, so in Tolkien's world, in which the armies of "good peoples" are mostly commanded not by impersonal generals but chieftains and shield-princes who lead from the front, it seems like impractical adornments to armor/helmets would be even less a thing. but bear in mind this is fantasy, and there are no shortage of remarked upon wings/crests/plumes adorning helmets in middle-earth (the discussion about the difference between "light" adornments like these and catching concave surfaces is one i'd rather not get into, rest assured plenty of historic helmets did in fact have catching concave surfaces). Oftentimes when doing a sketch like this I'll let the design step out a bit too far in a particular direction, as a thing to be pared back in future drawings (that I may or may not ever get around to making)
MonsterToad's avatar
Absurd decorations on helmets were more common than would be practical, for two reasons.  One was psychological, that it freaks out your opponents.  The other is communication, as they were rank markings, and used by their own side to tell who their leader was, and possibly where their other friendlies were, in the confusion. Horns are a pretty extreme example, but all kinds of crests and animal skins and whatnot were also used.

As mentioned in my other comment about, their impairment on your fighting ability is highly exaggerated.
Lambique's avatar
"so in Tolkien's world, in which the armies of "good peoples" are mostly commanded not by impersonal generals but chieftains and shield-princes who lead from the front, it seems like impractical adornments to armor/helmets would be even less a thing."
I don't get this part. It would rather seem to me it would add more of that kind of helmets, since nobility would presumably also wear standout armors.

For a precision on the historical part, ancient Greeks are an exception, as the crest was most probably standard for hoplites.
TurnerMohan's avatar
TurnerMohanProfessional General Artist
kabuto
Axei's avatar
Good point. I guess horned helmets wouldn't be much of an issue for fighting on horseback, since a vertical strike to the top of the head would be unlikely.
TerraNovan's avatar
One thing the Hobbit did well was giving them impressive (much better than those Gondorian armors - they always felt cheap lazy to me, except for helmets) armors, though probably not very canon accurate with all those plates and relative paucity of axes.

Giving them lambs and boar to ride were a bit too much, though. Or giving Dain II Scottish accent for some reason.
TurnerMohan's avatar
TurnerMohanProfessional General Artist
the portrayal of the dwarves in the hobbit movies, and the designs of their armor/weapons/steeds/war machinery seemed to me to be making a lot of nods to "dwarfs" in game culture. I've never been a gamer, and I don't like much about the portrayal of dwarfs in those, or that that impacted the hobbit films' portrayal of the dwarves. that said, gimli was also played with a scottish accent, which i never minded, and his portrayal definitely owed a bit to the tropes of "dwarfishness" given to us by things like warcraft. Also many of the dwarven armor designs for the hobbit movies, especially those done by Nick Keller, are brilliant and are some of my favorites in fantasy armor design (his armor for dain and balin in particular are worth a long, high-rez looking over) so it's a mixed blessing i suppose
Gurdim's avatar
i like a lot the mix of scales and Vendel-like helms and the overall design, and i totally agree with your sight of the Middle Earth's style (well not 100% totally, but for sure i always seen it as a pre-platemail world, and actually in fact it is xP)

you talked about eastern style, but you know what, too? the big scales style, and the horns and that peculiar kind of tail (i dunno the word in english T_T crest?) reminds a lot of some pre-Indoeuropean cultures panoplies, and of Achean armors too :D 
TurnerMohan's avatar
TurnerMohanProfessional General Artist
glad you like it. when tolkien refers to "mail" i think its a safe bet that he almost always means chainmail, though the line "armor like fishes' mail" shows up in one of his poems (think it might be gimli's verses about durin's time) Chainmail seems like it had its heyday from antiquity through the adrk/early middle ages, and to the crusades (the norman knights of the Bayeux tapestry, sighted once by Tolkien as a good visual reference for the rohirrim,  are about as near to us in time as i think middle-earth armors should draw their basic form from, atleast in the west) But in that time-frame there was definitely much overlap with "scaled" armors of various types, and those i have no problem characterizing as "mail" for design purposes. as for chainplate, yes the inspirations for the platemail/chainplate look here comes mostly from persian/indian armors that are much later in time, but for one those are definitely still "mail" armors by appearence, and the dwarves being the originators and masters of the craft would i think engage in a lot of experimentation with it. designing armor for tolkien's world that feels true to his descriptions while also diverse and interesting to look at is not an exact science, but in general if a thing can be described as "mail" or "mesh" even if some pieces in it are big enough to stray into plate territory, i'll atleast give it a decent looking over.
Gurdim's avatar
i think you made a amazing job depicting the style, moreso considering as you said that it's not quite easy many times to be super precise about Tolkien's visual style (and in my personal case, i should at last find that epistolary collection was published years ago... not easy, unfortunately, in my country :| in there there are some more insights on about everything in Arda, as mr. JRR had the great habit of answering literally metric tons of letters sent by curious fans and readers... i recon in a letter's answer he talked more about the Numenor crown and even made some sketches of it, for example)

just a last thing about the Bayeux tapestry... and yes, regretfully as much as a masterpiece it can be, the style cant make it quite clear, but it's very likely a number of those knights are in scale armors, together with their companions in normal mail.

there are a bunch of really curious things on that tapestry, for example there is a segment in which you can see a volley of javelins and arrows... and among them... a mace xD... a thrown mace, or someone had a quite slippery hand grip xD

-swissh!- "... where may minet mace be??!!"
ncorva's avatar
ncorvaProfessional Digital Artist
Wow this is great! nice job. And great work on the armour research!
Jared7777's avatar
nice i like it kinda reminds me of a samurai only with an axe
TurnerMohan's avatar
TurnerMohanProfessional General Artist
means i did my job right :)
anonymous's avatar
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