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Does silk have the strength to make an armor as the Mongols used to have?
Question Date: 2020-06-23
Answer 1:

The types of armor or other protective clothing worn by Mongol warriors depended on their role.

Silk alone would not be strong enough to equal any of the types, but silk was worn by Mongols for additional protection. The lightest armor, worn by those who needed to be fastest and most maneuverable on their horses, consisted of thick coats and leggings made of animal skins (essentially leather before it is cured into leather) and possibly cotton or wool. Some also used a series of leather or hide strips layered together to provide more protection while still being flexible.

Heavier (and stronger) armor was made of hard plates stitched to a thick fabric or leather backing. Plates of hardened leather, bone, and metal are believed to have been used. Both the light armor and the heavy armor provided protection from various battlefield weapons.

Interestingly, chain mail, as worn by many other European armies, was not used as frequently. One reason was the high cost of mail, but also important is that mail provides less protection against arrows and piercing weapons commonly encountered by the Mongols. This is where the silk "armor" comes into play: whether clad in light or heavy armor, Mongols would wear an inner layer of a tightly-woven silk shirt. The silk essentially caught arrows and prevented them from penetrating deeply into the warriors' flesh. It also may have helped to clean such wounds and made removing the arrows easier.

If this silk layer is considered armor, then (modern) silk presumably has sufficient strength to make some parts of "Mongol-style" armor.

[Sources: Wikipedia , A to Z of the Mongol World Empire , Site 1 , Site 2 ]

Answer 2:

Overall- yes, people have often incorporated silk (or artificial materials with similar properties) to try to make armor. Silk is very strong (more on this below), and unlike metal, it is soft and flexible, making it much more comfortable to wear.

But a detailed answer is a little bit more complicated. Part of the confusion: there are multiple definitions of "strength" for a material like silk. People often describe the strength of a single strand of silk: if you pull on it, how much force do you need to break it? It turns out that a strand of silk can be as strong (or stronger) as a strand of steel of the same size. But you wouldn't make armor out of a single strand of silk: you would need to weave many threads together. The strength of a woven silk material depends on how densely that material is woven, and the direction of the fibers. It also depends on how the force is applied: pulling the fabric at the ends, twisting it in opposite directions, or puncturing it from the side.

The Mongols are thought to have worn thin silk vests under more traditional armor. This thin layer of silk wouldn't have been very effective armor on its own, but may have given a tiny bit of extra protection against cuts, and wouldn't have added much extra weight. Effective armor made of only silk would need many many more layers to provide protection. The first bullet-proof vests (developed in the early 1900s) used many layers of silk, about 1 cm thick.

Source: the future of silk.

Answer 3:

Hi Adrienne, another interesting question! I had to do a little research to find out more about Mongolian silk armor and I think the purpose of the silk has to be clarified. From my understanding, a silk vest could be worn as armor because an arrow was unable to tear through the silk. However, the arrow was still able to penetrate flesh. So, silk was useful for later removing the arrow because the silk wrapping over the arrowhead made it easier to slide out of the wound. This means that although silk is strong enough to not tear when an arrow is shot at it, it doesn't stop the arrow. If it could stop the arrow, a material scientist would call it a "hard material" and would want to find out about its hardness.

It is still impressive that the silk manages to stop the arrow from tearing through it. The reason silk is so strong is that some important long molecules called proteins (can you think about some foods that have a lot of protein?) align themselves to make a really strong and resistant fibers. If you want to understand more about the strength of steel, I recommend you look into another question that was answered in the past on why silk is so strong.

Answer 4:

Wow! There is genetically modified silkworm silk now that is strong enough for bulletproof vests! I'm surprised! It's called 'Dragon Silk.'

Spiders make stronger silk than silkworms, but silkworms are easier to raise and give more silk.

When I worked on spider silk in the 1990's, they didn't have 'Dragon Silk' yet. I put spider silk on a plastic frame like this and hung tiny wire weights on the spider silk to see how much it stretched before it broke.

1. Becker, N., et al., Molecular Nanosprings in Spider Capture Silk Threads. Nature Materials, 2003. 2: p. 278-83.

From this site: "Dragon silk is a material created by Kraig Biocraft Laboratories of Ann Arbor, Michigan from genetically modified silkworms to create body armor. ... It has the tensile strength as high as 1.79 gigapascals (as much as 37%) and the elasticity above 38% exceeding the maximum reported features of the spider silk."

And this site , says "Genghis Khan was once said to have issued all his horsemen with silk vests, " and "Most armour was made of hardened leather and iron, laced together onto a fabric backing, sometimes silk. "

Answer 5:

Not by itself, no.

Mongol armor generally consisted of leather or iron scales or lamellar over silk. The armor's ability to survive getting hit with a weapon is provided by the iron or leather pieces, not the silk underneath. The silk just holds it together.

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