When we think about the Middle Ages then we usually imagine knights in metal suits of armor riding to battle. But how much did weapons and armor cost during the Middle Ages? When we talk about the price of armor and weapons then the obvious question is „it depends“. But the price of armor and weapons did not only depend on the quality of the weapons or armor but also on the time we look at.
In the Early Middle Ages (500-1000) a warrior paid a total of 36-40 shillings, the equivalent of 18-20 cows, for a full suit of armor, his weapons, and his horse. That was a lot of money when we consider that a royal farm with 4942 Acres only housed 45 cows! The minimal equipment of an early medieval soldier was a spear and shield with a combined price of 2 Shillings, the equivalent of one cow.
Since the Middle Ages cover almost 1000 years of history you have stark differences when it comes to the prices of armor and weapons. So in the following, I would like to present the costs for different types of weapons and armor during the Early Middle Ages (500-1000) together with a small digression into the currency system and the buying power that money had during the Early Middle Ages while the effectiveness of the different types of medieval armor will be presented here.
Let`s take a closer look! But before we look at the prices for the individual parts of the equipment of an early medieval warrior I would like to briefly talk about the value of the shilling and the early medieval currency.
The Shilling – the early medieval currency & its value
Whenever it comes to converting medieval prices (or the pay of medieval soldiers) into today`s money we run into problems. Several different problems make it almost impossible to convert medieval prices into modern-day currencies. Because of that I usually prefer to present the prices for medieval armor together with the prices for daily goods or in this case farm animals.
Are you also interested in the pay of a medieval soldier and the answer to the question of why the pay of medieval soldiers was even lower than the pay of unskilled laborers? Then you might want to check out my article here where I also compare the pay of a medieval soldier with the prices for daily goods.
The Shilling was the currency used by the Carolingian kings. And luckily we also have some sources that tell us about the price of a cow.
In the year 800, a cow did cost 2 Shillings. Ok, so now we know the price of a cow in the year 800. But how does that help us figure out the value of 1 shilling?
Well, we also have an early medieval source in which a royal farm is mentioned. That farm had a size of roughly 4942 acres (2000 hectares) but did only have 45 cows on it. So that tells us that even just one cow was something that only wealthy farmers could afford.
And that ties in pretty well with the composition of an early medieval army. Let me explain. During the Early Middle Ages, the majority of an army was made up of men from the so-called expeditionary levy. These men were drafted for campaigns since they were eligible for military service because of their wealth. And the minimum requirement of weapons they had to bring with them was a spear and a shield (which did cost 2 shillings and is the equivalent of one cow)! Here can find out more about the wealth requirements!
So with the knowledge that even a wealthy farmer usually only had one cow and that that cow had a value of 2 Shillings, we can now take a look at the prices of early medieval armor and weapons.
How much did medieval weapons and armor cost?
Since the bulk of an early medieval army was made up of men from the expeditionary levy the degree to which these men were equipped with armor and weapons from the following list was dependent on the individual man`s wealth. You can find more information on what armor and what weapons were expected at which level of wealth in my article here. There you can also find out more about the organization of medieval armies.
But let`s now look at the prices for the equipment that an early medieval warrior had to bring depending on his wealth. Please note that all prices assume an average quality of the weapon.
- Spear and shield: 2 Shillings (the bare minimum for military service and the equivalent of 1 cow)
- Helmet: 6 Shillings
- Byrnie (shirt of mail): 12 Shillings
- 1 pair of greaves: 6 Shillings
- Sword with scabbard: 7 Shillings
- Stallion: 7 Shillings
- Mare: 3 Shillings
As mentioned, these prices assume that the piece is of average quality. Depending on whether the quality was above or below average prices could obviously vary.
You might have also noticed that the prices for stallions and mares were different. Generally, knights preferred stallions or geldings over mares since they grew larger and were more aggressive. When a knight could not afford to buy a stallion for 7 shillings he had to be content with a mare that usually didn`t cost half the price of a stallion.
So let`s assume that an early medieval warrior had enough money to buy a complete suit of armor, a sword, and a stallion instead of a mare. In that case, the equipment of an early medieval warrior did cost 40 Shillings which was the equivalent of 20 cows! Remember when I told you about the royal 4942-acre farm and how that farm only housed 45 cows?
When we consider that the full equipment of an early medieval warrior did cost the equivalent of 20 cows while a royal farm with 4942 acres only housed 45 cows then we get a good idea of how expensive medieval armor really was!
What the price doesn`t tell us is the effectiveness of medieval armor. But you can find out more about the effectiveness of Gambesons, Chain Mail, and Plate armor in my article here.
That by the way is also one of the reasons why early medieval armies were mostly made up of infantry, more precisely men of the expeditionary levy with varying levels of equipment. You can find more information about the composition (but also the organization) of medieval armies in my article here.
And if you are interested in the size of medieval armies then I would like to recommend you my article here.
Take care of yourself because you deserve it. You really do.
Until next time
David S. Bachrach: Warfare in Tenth-Century Germany (Woodbridge 2012).
Malte Prietzel: Krieg im Mittelalter (Darmstadt 2006).