Last week I talked about weapons that are in-show. This week, we do armor, and if I have time I'll dive into speculation about both weapons and armor.
There’s the Canterlot Guard armor, of course, with two variants the golden ‘Day Guard’, and the gray ‘Night Guard’. Shining Armor, as captain of the guard has an identical suit, but primarily purple rather than gold or gray. The guards of the Crystal Empire show up in identical designs, as do Luna’s personal guard (despite their batpony differences). The armour worn by the pegasi actors in the Hearth’s Warming Eve episodes are effectively identical to the Canterlot Guard armor, which makes sense as they are likely borrowed from the guard for purposes of the play. However, the armor worn by Fluttershy and Rainbow Dash in the jousting scenes are also identical. Which means that this design of armor has remained identical for just over a thousand years. This is, to put it frankly, highly unlikely.
The helm is a classic shaffron and crinet from horse armor, blended with a roman praetorian guard helm, complete with the horsehair crest. Half of the crinet is missing, however, as there is normally articulated (or mail) pieces that protect the underside of the horse's neck. The plated breastcollar (called a peytral) may be different in appearance on each of these armours, but they follow the same fundamental design. The back plates resemble the roman lorica segmentata armor again, with earlier Crystal Empire sets having additional decoration and complete with pteruges (the leather strip 'skirt'). Also there is apparently a 'saddle' plate that is considered to be extra, not used when higher mobility is required (scouts, messengers, pegasi). This isn't that unusual, as most late-period harness (what a full suit of armor is called) would include several 'exchange plates' that were worn for specific combat situations and removed as needed to minimize weight. Just like modern military flak jackets that have removable ceramic and steel plates for vital areas.
Nightmare Moon’s body armor has less coverage than the Canterlot Guard missing all of the back plate protection, and the helm is structurally quite different. Solid construction with no articulated crinet. Keeping with the semi-roman theme, I would compare it to the Gallic helm. Given the lack of coverage, likely this is parade armor, meant for appearance not for actual use.
Ah, here we go, Sombra’s Armor. No helmet to examine, but the plating for the neck and body is quite different. We’re dealing with far more coverage, and what looks like a more advanced articulation system. He has a full plate crinet, in a 16th century Spanish design. Sombra’s armor is made for actual use, and is only missing a helm.
And finally, Tank, as @@CITRUS KING46 reminded me. While we haven't seen any tanks yet in Equestria, we do have a reference thanks to Rainbow Dash's pet tortoise; Tank. It's pretty obvious that he's named after the war machine, as the other usages of the word make even less sense. Now the concept of tanks go back to the 15th century but it wasn't until the mid 19th century that industry reached the point that they could start building armored vehicles. But they still weren't called tanks, as they were called Landships or Land Ironclads until 1915. It was then that Britain started to build the first modern tank as a secret project. To protect the secret, the machines were built under the false public identity of all-terrain water trucks, or 'Water Carriers' which was a big deal for a military supply line at the time, so it was a quite believable lie. Unfortunately, just like today projects became known by their acronyms, and this led to the project being called the 'W.C.', which in England is also the short form for 'Water Closet' or toilet. This caused a bit of a to-do, and they changed the name of the plans from Water Carriers to Mobile Water Tanks, which was quickly shortened to just 'Tank'. Because this use of the word is pretty darn recent, and we haven't actually see any tanks or other armored vehicles in-show, I'm not entirely sure what to do with this information. The only self-propelled vehicles we've seen at all were the floats in the harvest parade, and the train (only later in the series, as at first the train was pulled by ponies).
I'll start with my conclusions and speculation over armor, as it's quicker. What we are seeing is the devolution of armor. Due to the lack of true warfare in Equestria during Celestia's rule and Luna's exile, the various 'unnecessary' parts of the armor have been discarded, in much the same way that guard armor in Europe shifted from full harness to just the breast-and-back as it became increasingly obvious that the type of combat the guards were going to face wasn't going to be helped by full plate. Likely the original guard helms had some form of visor, articulated in some way like human gauntlets to allow for mouth-weapons. An a underneck crinet of plate, mail, or leather, plus a skirting of mail and/or leather all around to protect the legs.
Something like this:
This is based on extending the roman-esque design of the Guard's current armor, putting back all the pieces that would be removed over time as being 'useless' and 'unnecessary'. The mouth area is a bit off, I can see it clearly in my head how it would work, but I can't figure out how to draw it that doesn't just look like a mess of lines.
Of course, the rich would have full plate much like Sombra. It's possible that even during the Crystal Empire at the time of Sombra that his armor would have been considered an antique, that he wore as a symbol of authority. Or that it was cutting-edge armor technology that he wore to symbolize his willingness to take the field personally. Which I think is more fitting to what little characterization we've seen for Sombra.
Now back to weapons. The first thing you have to get into your head is that our ancestors weren't stupid. They may not have had access to the materials we have now, but if a weapon didn't see use on a battlefield there was a reason. They could have made those silly swords with all the spiky bits, or giant mallets and the like. You could have had lines of meteor hammers, or double-ended flails. It was well within their technology to build that stuff, but they didn't because they just don't work the way you want a real weapon to work.
There are very few weapons that started life purely as ‘weapons’, and those few are usually fancy training tools used to demonstrate principles of martial arts rather than real weapons intended for battlefield use. Real weapons are usually developed from a variety of handtools (hammers, axes, scythes, etc.), or are adapted from hunting (spears, bows & arrows, slings, etc.) Real weapons are also fairly light, as you are supposedly using them against targets that are actively trying to not get hit, and therefore if you can’t change the direction of your swing reasonably easily and hit what you're actually aiming at (and nothing else) you’ve already lost.
Here’s where the first break happens. Ponies, if they are herbivorous as the series presents them, do not ‘hunt’ as such. They have no reason to develop hunting implements at all to derive weapons from. So any weapons derived from hunting tools would need to be ‘borrowed’ from other cultures that hunt. The only races we have seen that are likely tool-using hunters are griffons, and maybe diamond dogs and dragons depending on what their dietary requirements really are. There’s some speculation that diamond dogs actually eat the gems, and as such are more dragon-like and just have the appearance of canines.
So archery is probably borrowed from the griffons, especially since griffon talons are more likely to be able to do archery in the first place. Ponies would have been playing catch-up in that regard, adapting the aggressor’s tools to use against them. Historically eastern horse archers do use a special tool known as a thumb-ring. This special odd-shaped ring allows them to pull, aim, and stabilize bows that they would normally not be able to. It wouldn’t be inconceivable for the ponies to have a similar tool, more a bracelet than a ring, which works in a similar manner. It would be designed quite differently, of course, but the *concept* is usable.
Spears, javelins, darts (meaning short javelins, not the darts you go down to the pub to play), and possibly even slings would have originated with the hunting griffons. Once you have slings it’s not that far of a jump to bolas, and honestly if you’re dealing with flying creatures I could see bolas and related weapons being way more useful as a way to tangle those huge wings.
Improving the versatility of spears by adding scythe blades (guisarme), picks (bec du corbin), axes blades (pollaxe), or mixes of them, would also be popular, especially if the ponies engaged in formation fighting.
Regular short tools such as axes, hammers, sickles, and the like would have been adapted into weapons. As we’ve seen, they do use these tools in their mouths rather than on their hooves, so that’s how their fighting style would evolve. Short, fast movements of the head to use the strength of their neck muscles. Short movements, as big, grand swings would mean difficulty in maintaining sight contact with your target. EDIT: Mind you, horses, and likely ponies, have a much larger 'arc' of vision than humans. Being a prey animal, horse eyes are on the sides of their heads rather than facing forwards like ours. This allows them to see a much wider range around them without moving their heads. If pony eyes are really that large, and situated on their heads the way the art style has them, then they too will have a larger visual arc and can swing weapons farther to match while still maintaining sight contact.
Horses in real life stamp, kick, and bite, and do so quite effectively. As such weapons that can increase the effectiveness of these attacks would be common. While the use of mouth-weapons replacing the bite, the pony equivalent of cesti or brass knuckles would be popular, especially on the back hooves where the punishing double kick would be improved. However, these would not be military weapons in the same way brass knuckles and knife boots aren’t here. Backup weapons used by individuals, perhaps, but not for primary use on the battlefield. Military weapons rely on extending the soldier's reach, not just improving the impact of the blow. If it was, then spiked gauntlets would be more popular than swords.
Which brings us to the wingblade. Described by fanfiction writers as a pegasis-only weapon, turning the leading edge of their wings into a cutting surface. This isn’t that unreasonable as a dueling weapon really, but the craftsmanship of the blades would need to be very high to be workable. Likely early wingblades would be small blades spaced along the wing, possibly only on the tip of the wing, with a tough but light fabric connecting the blades. Full wingblades would be *very* thin, in order to be light enough, and would need to be of extremely consistent quality steel to be durable enough for use. So a relatively late-period weapon. And due to the fact the weapon does not in any way extend the soldier's reach, requiring the wielder to at minimum slide the edge of their wing across their opponent and disrupting their *own* flight, this is extremely unlikely to ever see use on the battlefield. A dueling weapon to be sure. Pity, for it is a cool concept.
However, all of this is ancient news. Ponies know what firearms are, but they obviously don't think of them first. When presented with what they believe is a credible threat, they arm their soldiers with spears, not guns. So either there is something we don't know reducing the effectiveness of guns in this world, or they have deliberately abandoned the technology. There must be some counter to guns easily available in Equestria, that does not affect bigger, slower missile weapons like spears and arrows. Funnily we ran into something similar to this in real life. Bullet proof vests are only proof against arrows if they include the optional metal or ceramic plates. Relatively slow moving sharp blades go right through Kevlar. Which is why I get a lot of questions from bouncers in rough bars about where they can find good quality but inexpensive mail, as they are more likely to encounter knives than bullets.