About Nonaka Kofun

Weapons and armor

Photo 1:
Collared cuirass discovered at Nonaka Kofun
Helmets and armor are the quintessential grave goods of 5th-century kofun, representative of elite culture in Japan. Incorporating what was then cutting-edge technology, it is believed that such helmets and armor were manufactured by the central authority at the time and distributed to influential leaders in each region. Nonaka Kofun yielded a total of 11 cuirasses and matching helmets, which is the second largest quantity of helmets and armor to be discovered in a single site in Japan.
The cuirasses are roughly divided into three types: the first two are riveted triangle-plate and horizontal-plate cuirasses, both of which are representative of the 5th century (photo 1).

Contemporary armor consisted of numerous iron plates fastened together. Until the technology of riveting was introduced in the 5th century from the Korean Peninsula, iron plates were bound together with leather straps. These cuirasses are accompanied by neck and shoulder guards, giving added protection for the whole upper body. Iron tassets, which provide protection for the waist and thighs, are a particularly rare find, their presence believed to shed light on the individual buried within.

The third type is a thonged triangle-plate cuirass with collar (photo 2), which provides additional protection for the upper back and neck. So far, only a dozen or so examples have been unearthed throughout the country, three of which were found at Nonaka Kofun. It is assumed that only a select few warriors were able to have such armor. Two kinds of helmets were also discovered: riveted lamellar visored helmets (photo 3) and leather keeled helmets, the latter of which have only ever been excavated from Nonaka Kofun. Attached to the leather keeled helmets were feathered helmet decorations with an iron base covered in gilt bronze (photo 4). These metal fittings were used to attach the tail feathers of a bird to the top of the helmet. One can imagine the bold figure of a warrior, wearing a collared cuirass with his head covered with animal leather and long bird plumage decorating his helmet.

Photo 2: Collared cuirass discovered at Nonaka Kofun
Feathered helmet decorations with iron base, covered with gilt bronze
Photo 4: Feathered helmet decorations with iron base, covered with gilt bronze

Reproduced from Nintoku Tennōryō Kofun Chikuzō (Building Emperor Nintoku's Kofun) (Sakai City Museum, 2009)

4:visored helmetNo. 7・4
Photo 3: Visored helmets discovered at Nonaka Kofun
Feathered helmet decorations with iron base, covered with gilt bronze
Photo 5: Iron daggers and iron swords

In addition to armor, as many as 153 iron swords, 16 iron daggers, and some 740 iron arrowheads were also found at the site (photo 5). These artifacts may very well indicate the existence of a mighty military force at the time.