The ancient world wasn't exactly a barrel of laughs. In fact, there's a pretty good chance that "barrel of laughs" was the name of some kind of old-timey weapon of war that involved the catapulting of enemy cities with barrels filled with cave spiders that have been trained to be sexually attracted to human eyeballs. We just assume that this existed because ancient warfare was as brutal as it was balls-out weird. To get an idea of just how weird it could get, just check out these real armors seemingly straight out of a Game of Thrones fanfic written under the influence of an eye full of cave spider venom.

We've Been Buffalo Bill-Ing Animals Into Armor For Millennia Now


Some of the best human inventions were inspired by nature. It's how we got bird-shaped airplanes, flipper-like swimming fins, doggy-style sex, or, best of all, the combination of all three, known as a "Mile-High Cousteau." But ancient people didn't have time for all of that. When they saw a particularly tough animal, they didn't sit around trying to recreate their impenetrable hides using technology. Instead, they got out their knives.

In Zhou Dynasty (1045 - 256 BC) China, for example, soldiers from the state of Chu apparently wore armor made from multiple layers of sharkskin or rhino hide. Books from the time say that the getup was "as hard as metal or stone" but interestingly didn't feel it was important to mention that its centerpiece kinda looked like a drunk lion about to fellate the Incredible Hulk.

Drawing of rhinoceros hide and buffalo hide armour.

William Raymond Gingell

Try to figure out how they wore this. While you're distracted, a Chu warrior impaled you.  

We do acknowledge that the armor probably looked a lot more intimidating on a person currently shish-kebabbing your kidneys. But outside that very specific context, all we see is a face screaming for all eternity at the person who took the skin of a gentle and noble rhino and crafted it into this scrotum-chinned ... thing. It's like a shitpost that you can wear.

Between skinning them into armor clairvoyantly based on mid-2000s memes and grinding their horns to improve their own horns, we're getting the feeling that China may just dislike rhinos in general. Ancient Roman soldiers stationed in Egypt were even worse, though, because when they asked the occasional croc to help them load a couch onto the back of their truck, the resulting crocodile-skin armor was supposed to be used for religious ceremonies of a local crocodile-worshipping cult. But the finished product looked less like a fearsome tribute to your reptilian deity, and more like a trash-heap biker jacket and one of those old-timey British judge wigs. All rise for the honorable Judge Shotgun Mike.

For their sake, we hope that those guys' religion was wrong because if it wasn't, they're definitely in crocodile hell now.

The Infamous Horned Helmet Is So Awful, It's Angered Entire Generations Of Historians

Holy crap, look at this thing:

Look at it. There is a 1000% chance that this helmet is named Milton but it insists on going by something awful like Slasher or Thunder or whatever he named the fantasy character he drew on the back of all his textbooks. Yes, of course, the character is holding a flaming sword and of course the textbooks in question are college textbooks. Look at the helmet. That is the face of an adult flaming sword drawer who has been banned from no fewer than three bowling alleys for shoe-sniffing.

Those are all things any reasonable person would agree with but that's where our venture into Agreement Land ends. This thing is just so bizarre, it's like no historian can concentrate on it long enough to figure out what its freaking deal is (outside of it having to clear its browsing history with holy water and dynamite.) We know that it wasn't used for actual combat and that it's the work of Konrad Seusenhofer, a famous 16th-century Austrian armorer, who was supposedly commissioned to make it by Emperor Maximilian I as a gift to Henry VIII. But some researchers doubt this because of the horns, which back then were a universal sign of the cuckold. If there was proof that Max also sent over a box of extra small condoms with the armor it could mean he was looking to start a war or something, but as of right now, no one can agree on the armor's true origin.

The glasses are a part of it. Circumstantial evidence shows that they may have been part of the original helmet but we also know that Henry VIII was nearsighted and had a collection of glasses, so maybe he had them added on later? Possible but improbable, because we can't picture anyone looking at this face and going "Yes, I know that it already looks like someone who constantly thinks about walking naked around the school for the blind, but I think that we can do worse." The helmet looks so spectacularly, magnificently wrong that for years people assumed that it actually belonged to Henry's jester. But even jesters have their dignity.

The weirdest thing about this helmet, though, is that it was originally part of a whole armor set, which has since been lost. And judging solely from what was left, we are left to assume that the rest was deliberately destroyed because of how unsettling it was. How unsettling are we talking about here? Probably somewhere between nipple-dicks and graphic depictions of koala S&M orgies painted on the front.

Chinese Paper Armor Was Like Being Decked Out In Hundreds Of Post-It Notepads


Paper may seem weak but there is strength and power in it, and we're not just talking about the image we're about to implant in your head of getting a papercut on that piece of skin between your thumb and index finger (you're welcome!) We're talking about how paper can actually make pretty good armor.

China apparently figured this out 600 years before the birth of Jesus. The most effective kind of paper armor was the Zhi Jia, which involved taking a bunch of flexible paper and then layering it into paper bricks that would then be fastened together with studs, sort of like shingles on a roof. This created a durable armor that could protect you from most major forms of attacks, excluding someone sneaking up on you and writing "TO DO: Stop being such a massive dweeb" on your post-it Kevlar. No one could recover from that.

The MythBusters actually tested this, building their own set of paper armor, which in tests protected the wearer from sword and arrow attacks. It didn't do so well against blunt-force blows, proving once and for all that Rock, Paper, Scissors is a dumb game for dummies who probably only ever beat us by cheating. The MythBuster armor didn't even need to be reinforced with resin, which some researchers think is what the ancient Chinese did.

But it was really more of a single-use armor because it would start to disintegrate from repeated blows or from getting wet. To say nothing of your soul disintegrating from enemy soldiers coming up to you, handing you an envelope, and saying: "Look, the lads and I chipped in, and we want you to buy yourself some real armor instead of hastily making one from stolen office supplies." And then they'd pat you on the shoulder and say "Chin up, things will get better," which would hurt way more than simply getting stabbed.

Mycenaean Greeks Fought In Bronze Turtleneck/Devo-Hat Armor


The "Dendra Panoply" armor, first discovered in the village of Dendra, supposedly dates back to the Bronze Age Mycenaean Greece (1600 - 1100 BC) but everything about it screams 1980s fashion. Gaudy as hell? Check. Giant shoulder pads that would give any stressed-out businesswoman the confidence to believe that she CAN have it all? Double check. Do we secretly really want it and would wear it every day if it was socially acceptable? Just call us Garry Kasparov because that is one huge check, mate.
The armour from Dendra

Schuppi/Wiki Commons

Definitely some Prince-style puffs around the midriff there. 

We honestly can't decide what we love more about it: the Devo Hat/energy dome/flowerpot lower part, or the battle turtleneck. The ... battleneck. It's impossible to choose because they both work so perfectly together. We can't get the image out of our heads of soldiers squatting and disappearing into their armor like turtles, only for their enemy to come closer, peek inside the bronze shells, and get poked in the eyes like in a Three Stooges skit. And, look, obviously all of those design choices had a logical purpose. If someone was trying to stab us, we'd consider anything less than a fully functional Hulkbuster suit encased in diamond to be taking an unnecessary risk.

But literally every picture of the Dendra Panoply makes the wearer look like a high-school pot dealer who knows that soon everyone will figure out he's really been selling them pencil shavings mixed with oregano. And getting to dress like a Bronze Age Jay or Silent Bob was bizarrely some kind of reward, as the getup was only worn by elite chariot troops. The chariots were apparently sometimes operated by a second person, meaning that there's a high chance that a man in a full Devo Hat armor once turned to his horse handler and said in all sincerity: "Whip it! Whip it good!" and we think that is just beautiful.

Animal Armor (The Non-Skinning Variety) Was Everything


Elephants are actually very gentle creatures, but for centuries they have been used as instruments of war all around the world. Probably because elephants care for their dead and injured, so getting them angry would only take an off-hand comment like "Oh, there's the guy that killed your best friend and used his severed trunk for autoerotic asphyxiation. Yup. Saw it myself." But elephants are so awesome that even then, all they'd probably want to do is give the guy a stern talking to (which they can do because 
elephants can use human language). What do you do then? Easy, you strap a bunch of HUGE-ASS KNIVES TO THE ELEPHANT'S TUSKS so that it slices and dices a bunch of guys as it tries to reach one of them while saying "Sir, SIR, can we please have a word?"

These war elephant tusk swords used by the Indian Mughal Empire were sometimes also covered in poison because the word "overkill" apparently doesn't exist in Persian and Urdu (though we're betting they have a bunch of synonyms for "up yours, buddy"). The sword prostheses were actually part of a massive elephant armor that covered the entire animal to help protect it in battle. No full sets have survived but there is a partial one composed of 5,840 individual plates weighing 260 pounds displayed in the Oriental Gallery at the Royal Armouries National Museum of Arms and Armour in Leeds.

Photo of Mughal elephant armour dating from around 1600

Geni/Wiki Commons

Still only counts as one. 

Even incomplete, it's still the Guinness World Record holder for the largest animal armor in existence. Those things actually used to be quite common in Central and Western Asia. The Seleucid Empire and a few other nations, for example, had units called Cataphracts. These heavily-armed cavalry troops were decked out in brass and iron scales from head to hoof, because their gear always included a chainmail set for their horsey partners. History would not see so much chainmail in one place until centuries later when your grandma discovered the internet.

Finally, let's talk about Japanese dog armor. Given Japan's ... not great history with dogs, you would be forgiven for assuming that dog armor involved tying a bunch of live dogs to a samurai who really didn't feel like doing a lot of dodging that day. But thankfully, this is just armor for a dog, which was meant to be purely decorative and probably commissioned as a joke/novelty in the 19th century. It included a copper plate covering the animal's back and a lacquered wooden mask, and remains the only known example of dog armor in Japanese history despite something like that being able to make things fairer in that sport where samurai shot corralled dogs with padded arrows. Again, this old-timey doggy Halloween costume notwithstanding, Japan really doesn't have a great history with dogs.

Follow Cezary on Twitter.

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