Unfolding a piece of history straight out of the chivalric tales, a team of archaeologists hit the jackpot in the heart of Spain. They uncovered a complete 16th-century suit of armor , lost in the forgotten armory of the early 14th century Castillo de Matilla de los Caños del Río. Not only is this discovery a feather in the cap of Spanish archaeology, but it also serves as a priceless symbol of Spain’s powerful military legacy.
The Castillo de Matilla de los Caños del Río is an early 14th century castle located near the village of Matilla in Salamanca, Spain. This region was inhabited as early as the fourth millennium BC, evident in the proliferation of stone dolmens and other funerary megalithic monuments. Nestled on a hilltop overlooking the vast countryside, the castle’s battle-scarred walls and towers stand as testament to numerous fierce battles, with the suit of armor echoing stories of valiant knights and epic sieges.
Until recently, the castle was incorrectly thought of as having been constructed after the 8th century Arab conquest of the Iberian Peninsula. However, a team of archaeologists from “ Arbotante patrimonio e innovación SL ” say the castle’s architecture has “no Arab or Moorish influences” and it was designed and built by the Christian’s that ruled the region in the 14th century.
It was deep beneath this castle, in a lost armory, that archaeologists discovered a hoard of weapons and a full suit of plate armor.
The ruins of Castillo de Matilla de los Caños del Río, Spain. Source: Municipality of Matilla de los Caños del Río
Digging Into the Castle’s Foundations
The team of archaeologists from Arbotante patrimonio e innovación SL have been excavating the castle’s interior and exterior since the beginning of 2023. A recent report on Salamanca24horas says the researchers have so far identified “the possible gateway entrance, a cistern, circular towers, and an armory containing the remains of weapons and pieces of armor”.
Within the lost armory, the researchers first found a crossbow and a knife, and beside them the complete 16th century suit of armor. Comprising almost 50 individual parts, Aborante archaeologist Iván García Vázquez told Salamanca24horas that the armor has all its functional pieces, including “a helmet, breastplate, trellis, elbow pads, greaves and other protections for arms and legs”.
When Craftwork Resulted in Life Or Death
Known as “armaduras” in Spanish, in the 16th century Spanish suits of armor underwent significant changes in design and functionality, reflecting the evolving tactics and technologies of warfare at that time. Armaduras were skillfully crafted from high-quality steel and they featured a full plate construction, providing the most extensive protection for the wearer. They were also equipped with articulated joints allowing greater mobility in battle.
Symbolically, armor was often decorated with intricate etchings, engravings, and embossments. And knights often wore ostentatious feathers or plumes in their helmets to make themselves even more visually awesome, and to further enhance their perceived status and wealth.
Spanish suit of armor. Source: CC by SA 4.0
A National Symbol of Military Might
The latest season of excavations at Castillo de Matilla de los Caños del Río also unearthed numerous pieces of cannonballs known as stoneshot, or in Spanish: bolaño. Beside the cannonballs the researchers found crossbow bolts, and some of the bolts were of the “socketed head.” This type of bolt was popular during the medieval and Renaissance periods as it was specifically designed in response to plate armor. With heavy spiked points, specifically designed to penetrate chain mail, socketed head bolts provided a powerful and effective ranged weapon for both infantry and cavalry units.
Returning to the full suit of armor which dates to the 16th century: at this time Spain played a significant role in the exploration and colonization of the New World and Spanish conquistadors often wore suits of armor, just like this one, during their expeditions. So, while the discovery of the suit of armor is archaeologically significant, symbolically, on a national level, it represents a powerful symbol of the military might of the 16th century Spanish Empire.
Top image: The suit of armor found at Castillo de Matilla, Spain. Source: Municipality of Matilla de los Caños del Río.
By Ashley Cowie