Scale armour consists of many small scales attached to a backing material of either leather or cloth. It is similar to lamellar armour but distinguished by the presence of the backing material and being more flexible than lamellar. Scale armour was known to the ancient Romans as Lorica squamata, the Romans also had a variant called lorica plumata in which the scales were attached to chain mail.
Scale armour is sometimes erroneously called scale mail.
Scale armour is usually distinguished from related armours by the fact that the scales are exposed and visible. For example, the Brigandine and Jack of plate armours are made of small plates between cloth or leather. And it should not be confused with jazerant.
The material used to make the scales varied and included: bronze, iron, rawhide, leather, cuir bouilli and horn. The variations are primarily the result of material availability.
Scale armour is not of frequent occurrence on the grave monuments of the German frontier, but on the tombstones of the Sertorii at Verona—one that of a centurion, the other that of a standard-bearer—both figures are represented wearing a tunic of scale armour which covers the shoulders and comes down below the belt. The Carnuntum monument of Calidius (a work of the middle of the first century) shows also a scaled tunic of a centurion. Again, in the collection of marble portrait-busts from the great Gallo-Roman villa of Chiragan near Toulouse, the Emperors Antoninus Pius and Severus both appear wearing corselets of scale armour.
During Roman times scale armour (lorica squamata) was a popular alternative to mail (lorica hamata) as it offered better protection against bludgeoning. It was also widely used in Middle Eastern empires such as Persia and Byzantium. In these areas scales were commonly dished (an armouring term used to describe hammering a depression into a flat piece of metal in order to create a 'bowl' effect) in order to benefit from the extra protection offered by a rounded scale.
According to the statement of Herodotus, the ancient Persians wore tunics with sleeves of diverse colours, having upon them iron scales of the shape of fish-scales; and this comparison leaves no doubt that scale armour, and not chain mail, is meant.
Comparison with other armour types
Scale armour offers better protection from blunt attacks than mail. It is also cheaper to produce, but it is not as flexible and does not offer the same amount of coverage. Forms other than brigandine and coat of plates were uncommon in medieval Europe, but scale and lamellar remained popular elsewhere.
Modern forms of scale armour are sometimes worn for decorative or LARP purposes, and may be made from materials such as steel, aluminium, or even titanium.
A similar type of modern personal armour is Dragon Skin body armour, which uses ballistic fabric and high-impact resistant ceramic plates to protect against pistol and rifle fire. However, its "scales" are not exposed.