The Zeughaus Armoury in Graz

by NAA

Amber in Zeughaus ArmouryGraz is home to a fully authentic armoury, with pieces spanning the 15th through 17th centuries. Large numbers of weapons and armour were needed to defend the duchies of Carinthia, Carniola and Styria against invading Turks from the East, and the capitol of Graz became the main storage center for weaponry. Built in 1642 to accommodate the increasing need for weapons, the “Provincial Armoury” (Zeughaus) in Graz loaned suits and weapons to peasants and farmers who could not afford to commission their own.

The Zeughaus, located just down the street from the Hauptplatz or main square in Graz, still exists in its original form, so over the New Year, our friend Peter, David and I took a tour of the Zeughaus armoury.

Here are few things we learned:

1. A full chain mail ‘shirt’ would take a blacksmith six months to complete. There were a lot of chain mail suits in there.

2. When soldiers greeted one another, they would lift the hinged face masks on their helmets to reveal their faces. This is the origin of the more modern tradition of the ‘salute.’

3. Jousters cheated. They weren’t really holding those enormous lances, because they actually had it secured to their armour with a small hook near the armpit.

4. You probably won’t see it in most museums, but back in the day every suit of armour came with a protective cup, perhaps a precursor to the modern jock strap. The Zeughaus has only one of these in the entire collection. Apparently the Empress Maria Theresa decided she didn’t like these pieces and had them all destroyed. When we asked why, our tour guide responded, “Well, she had sixteen children. Maybe that had something to do with it.”

5. The all-wood inner structure of the Zeughaus serves to absorb moisture and prevent the collection pieces from rusting. (The museum also oils each piece twice per year).

6. Armour provided a vehicle for psychological warfare, which apparently played a large role in combat. The helmets are pointed at the top to make soldiers appear taller, stronger and more formidable. Likewise, chest pieces would be inflated and rounded to make a soldier appear large, healthy and muscular. Many of the protective face masks had eye slits designed to appear frightening or intimidating.

7. Soldiers borrowing armour from the Zeughaus could choose from sizes Small, Medium or Large.

8. A Morning Star is a spear-like multi tool for foot soliders. It has a hook, with which a soldier could pull a calvalry soldier off his horse. The foot soldier then used the flat blade of the Morning Star to remove the cavalryman’s armour by slicing the armour’s leather straps. Finally, the Morning Star includes a long, pointed blade used to “finish the job.”

9. If a rider fell off his horse, he would be in serious trouble. Most cavalry armour covered the thighs and knees and could only flex slightly at the knee. Further, these suits weighed up to 40 kg (much heavier than a foot soldier’s). Once off his horse, a soldier in this armour was effectively immobile.

10. The Zeughaus is home to one of the only complete horse armours preserved in the world. In 1699 it housed the maximum number of weapons (185,000) and today contains over 32,000 pieces.

David with medieval helmet in Graz Zeughaus.