Who Were The Samurai?

By Sophia Maddox | February 13, 2024

Armor

The samurai of premodern Japan is one of history's most famous warrior castes. Their strict adherence to a martial code, their renowned fighting skills, and their willingness to die rather than be dishonored has made them icons. Historical parallels may be the Spartans of Greece or the knights of Europe's High Middle Ages, but they aren't quite the same.

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Armor developed over time into a scale system of metal or leather called lamellar armor and then this developed into the classical style of armor called the yoroi. The yoroi was still a series of bound scales mixed with iron or leather. A suit entirely of iron was considered to be too heavy. It, with the ornate helmet, provided great protection but was rigid and restricted movement.

Samurai Have Long Had A Hold Over Our Public Consciousness

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Universal History Archive/UIG via Getty Images

With their fame, the samurai became subject to historic caricature as swaggering, arrogant, sword-wielding head-collectors, too. But the true samurai were more complex.

So who were the samurai of Japan?