Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Fighting: weapons and armor

A great example of what Nephite armor didn't
look like. [source: Lds.org]
Often we see Romanesque swords and armor when looking at older  illustrations of Captain Moroni, Ammon, the 2000 stripling warriors and Mormon the warrior prophet. (see left for an example.) Thankfully more recent art and films have moved away from the heroic but fairly inaccurate portrayals of our favorite Book of Mormon Stories. I've gathered images, videos and illustrations that show that warfare in the Book of Mormon looked a bit different than we used to think.

The Nephites Wars
Once Lehi and his family and fellow travellers arrived in the Promised Land, the rift between Nephi and his brothers grew. They sought to kill him and he and his family fled to another part of the land because of a warning from the Lord. Before too long the Lamanites found the Nephites and because of their immence hatred for the Nephites they fought many battles.
The Nephites had the advantage when they were righteous but also because they wore armor. When they were wicked, the Lord took away His strength and even their armor couldn't help them and many lives were lost. Eventually the Lamanites caught on (they weren't stupid) and started wearing some armor themselves.
In parts two and three of our movie trilogy we'll be covering some of the greatest Nephite battles. Captain Moroni, Helaman and the stripling warriors, Gigggiddoni and the Gadiantons and the Final Nephite Battle. Check out my synopses of the three movies soon. (And even a bonus 4th movie about the Jaredites!)

Nephite Armor
Nephite armor is described as: breastplates, shields, armshields, bucklers, headplates, and thick clothing -- Alma 43:19. That description closely correlates with Inca or Aztec armor. The general Church has updated their old ideas:
Captain Moroni [source: Joseph Brickey - Journey of Faith]
Warrior Prophet
[source: Joseph Brickey - Journey of Faith]

Nephite armor as portrayed in Church films [source: LDS Church]
Helaman with his headplate 
Captain Moroni 
Helaman's thick quilted clothing armor

Aztec "Nephite" Quilted Armor
(for comparison)
[source: ]
Captain Moroni's Vambraces

Full Captain Moroni armor

From Church art or publications:

Captain Moroni waves the Title of Liberty
[source:Walter Rane]

Captain Moroni from the Book of Mormon stories
[source: lds.org]

Lamanite warriors
"Now the army of Zerahemnah was not prepared with any such thing; they had only their swords and their cimeters, their bows and their arrows, their stones and their slings; and they were naked, save it were a skin which was girded about their loins; yea, all were naked, save it were the Zoramites and the Amalekites"- Alma 43:20

"Lamanite" Warrior  from Apocolypto
[source: Icon Distribution]   
Warriors from Apocolypto [source: Icon Distribution]

[source: Icon Distribution]

"Weapons of War"
This is phrase is mentioned many times in the Book of Mormon, and only a few times does it actually list out the weapons: "they did arm themselves with swords, and with cimeters, and with bows, and with arrows, and with stones, and with slings, and with all manner of weapons of war, of every kind." -Alma 2:12

Spear is only referred to twice in the Book of Mormon, once in the context of quoting other scripture, and another time when the sons of Mosiah travel to teach the Lamanites. Spears must have been used widely as they are a very common "weapon of war"  throughout most ancient civilizations and were used by the civilizations in the Americas.

Nations tend to adopt the weapons of the nations that they fight, so all weapons are listed together here, although I think that the Nephites probably had more knowledge about metallurgy and armor, so I still have labels on the photos I think were more "Lamanite" or "Nephite."

custom made Macuahuitl [Warriors: source]

The Inca had many similar weapons
to the Nephites. Cross-culture diffusion
probably occurred.
"Nephite" warriors- notice the metal clubs
and spear heads.
Sling [source: wikimedia commons]

Atlatl spear thrower [Precolumbianwood.com: source]

Aztec "Lamanite" Weapons- note the
obsidian blades as spear heads. [source]
"Lamanite"Mayan Warrior
with Atlatl ready to throw [source: Warriors]

Illustration of pre-columbian Inca warriors
fighting with swords, clubs, axes, spears--from the
"The First New Chronicle and Good Government" [source info]
Bows and Arrows
[source: Peter Frey/Survival]
Summary: It's interesting to note that the Inca had many weapons and armor similar to the Nephites, and the Aztec and Maya had more in common with how the Lamanites lived and fought. Historic remnants from both groups? Perhaps. The Inca also had swords, I don't know which material but probably a copper alloy, maybe bronze.A split off group from the Nephites maybe seeded the Inca civilization, and that is why they have so much  that matches Nephite warfare. Even more so than in Mesoamerica, which doesn't seem to fit the Nephites. Just a theory.  The primary lands for the Book of Mormon were most likely in Central America and all we have is what historical records and weapons are available, until more comes to light, like a  voice speaking  from the dust.

I learned much of what I know about  the Maya and Aztec or "Lamanites" as we will call them by watching these clips from History Channel's Warriors:

Another Journey of Faith Youtube clip; this time about warfare in the Book of Mormon:
Please support the filmmakers and purchase the full DVD from Deseret Book here.
(I already have:))


  1. Tim, thanks for going so in deapth in describing the armoir. I really liked the pictures choice and the explanation to them.
    Would be great if in one of your posts you would explain more historic information about the Inca (Nephites)and the Aztec and Maya (Lamanites). Because I, for example, don't know the differences between them and I am sure many people would agree with me.

  2. I don't think they are exactly the same groups, just that some of the similarities are worth noting.

  3. This is good, I think the 'apocalypto' costumes are the best to suit BOM movies. Including what the priests wore on the temples esp, the masks look pre-classic era, and I think give the right vibe for Lamanite priests. The dissenters from the Nephites did drink in the Lamanite traditions, and abominations, this last word seems to suggest some pretty dodgy stuff.
    Something they find evidence of is bloodletting, and it may not have been confined to the Lamanites, this is a very Israelite and old world thing: look what these Israelite idol worshipers did: 1 Kings 18:28. "28 And they cried aloud, and cut themselves after their manner with knives and lancets, till the blood gushed out upon them." This is how they prayed to Baal. Lehi's people would have known of this.
    Baal worshipers would have done this in Jerusalem, and it wasn't so far from the true religion, they still made sacrifice. It was just apostate that brought other things in, so when we read of Nephites such as Alma the younger, before his conversion, being an idolatrous man, maybe they practiced similar things in Zarahemla from time to time.
    I think what we should see is the plumed backrack style of thing on the Nephite Captain's backs, they are depicted in BOM era staela like the beheading one at Izapa. Which also has a more American looking style of helmet than the more Roman and Greek looking ones depicted above. I don't think that Mayan style of helmet makes the wearer Lamanite rather than Nephite, even in our era warplanes have shark teeth or similar painted on the noses.
    I'm curious, what do you think an epic BOM movie trilogy should be about? Who would be the best main character? What do you think would work for a Hollywood audience? I don't think you can preach religion at them.
    The reason I'm curious is because I've been writing screenplays and wonder if you'd come up with the same idea.

  4. The Nephites did some pretty horrible stuff when they fell away from the gospel and even though I did not see Apocolypto, the visuals would be great in a Book of Mormon film. We know they later ate human flesh, I don't think I'd put that in my movie. (going for PG-13, not R)
    The feather plume would have been seen I am almost certain. I have written many posts on what I think the trilogy should be about. Part I: http://bit.ly/12qJLP7, part II: http://bit.ly/VRgRTb and part III: http://bit.ly/XU7YWE.

    My films would be more of adventure films with common themes like forgiveness, sacrifice and faith and not mention the more religious parts, only as flashbacks, as stories or refer back to them after they happen. Another Idea would be to make a movie based on the stories but to take out the religion entirely. I don't agree with this for my interpretation, but it may work better to reach a broader audience and open them up to the ideas in the Book of Mormon. You may want to check out www.endofanempire.com for this type of approach. I think both are appropriate and both will work. I though, want to do something with enough religion that Mormons would be happy, but with enough adventure, action and fighting with no preaching to keep Hollywood interested. Kind of a middle ground, in the end we have to remember that members of the church will be the most interested audience and we can't alienate them. Kind of Like the Other Side of heaven, but with less preaching and more action.

  5. I figure action and drama are the things that can work, it doesn't matter if its set where people are fairly religious so long as its different and interesting and not preachy, I show temples often, including parts of the ordinances (OT type, sacrifice etc)and show a temple marriage, but its just there in the story and it will raise more questions than answer any. What I figure is, if somethings a bit surreal to our modern culture and not easily or completely understood it invites curiosity, which is a real plus with an audience, where as spelling something out clearly, invites resentment at being preached to. Anyway my screenplays are based on Teancum, I have two complete except for tuning, and a third partly done only, its a fair bit of work to say the least. I've been getting Hollywood analysis on the two for a couple of years and now they do not generate any critisism on religious content, the predominant view is; it is a plus being based on an historical figure and on the Book of Mormon. I've actually been nominated for a Culture and heritige award for them in one screenwriting comp. Just lately both screenplays went through to the semi-finals in two US screenwriting comps and I found out today the first one has gone through into the finals of 'Screenplay festival's' comp putting it in their top 10-15% so it's pretty encouraging. The latest feedback from another comp, they sum up with:'I feel that you have a very strong story here, a great lead character, and a visually stunning landscape to play on.' They describe the battle scenes as 'fantastic' but I know on its own that's not enough and what I'm focusing on now is the emotional connection, because thats where the power is. I like the way they explained this because this is what I need to do: 'for a film to get a hundred million dollars and up, it needs to scream gold to everyone it touches.' That's my goal, then maybe we'll get something happening.

    1. Mark-
      Great job. I think showing it as part of their life is really a great part. It invites curiosity like you said and gives the story a richer meaning and canvas. (I feel like I am repeating the feedback you already have.) although you are much closer than I am at this point. I think we really need to flood the earth with the Book of Mormon, so every movie that is worthwhile should be made.

      Would you consider letting me read one of your scripts? I won't be stealing the ideas as you can see from my movies. Besides I am hoping to work with others on these films because there are many talented people working on scripts right now.

  6. Send me your email, to parkerd@acr.net.au
    I was looking at your costume part, and I wonder why the LDSs depict Nephites with head-bands? Where do they get that from? Is there any historic basis for it? I cannot think of any reference in Mesoamerican art. Have you watched 'Dawn of the Maya' because that is the civilization I'd set movies in, and try to make everything visual authentic to that.

  7. You'll notice that the natives wear head ornaments or headbands too. I think in the LDS movies they show too many headbands. I haven't seen it. I'll check it out. Have you seen Warriors: Maya Armageddon? Great documentary on weapons. I have the first part embedded above in the article.

  8. This is a link to the Izapa stela, BofM era, it shows a be-heading, a weapon, a litter in the background and head gear and back rack ornamentation or maybe battle standard. The headgear may give some head protection as well as represent something. I would not be suprised if Nephites wore this sort of stuff. And I think depicting them more like this would be the best. Just like two pre-classic mesoamerican kingdoms at war. If it's wrong then it's wrong but at least it could look very authentic.


  9. I don't think you are far off. No one really knows exactly where it was, all we have is educated guesses until someone finds something very significant, and that may not be for a while. Your guess is as good as mine, and it's better to go with what you think, then have too many cultures and things mixed up. That looks cheap and everyone will be lost. I can't wait to read your script.

  10. I could believe it if they where from south America but these things took place on the plains of the mid west and Appalachia so I am inclined to think more hopewellish garb.