AskDefine | Define breastplate

Dictionary Definition

breastplate n : armor plate that protects the chest; the front part of a cuirass [syn: aegis, egis]

User Contributed Dictionary



  1. A piece of armor that covers the chest.
  2. A piece of horse tack designed to prevent the saddle slipping backwards.



Extensive Definition

This can also refer to a piece of riding equipment: see Breastplate (tack).
A breastplate is a device worn over the torso either to protect the torso from injury, or as an item of religious significance, or as an item of status. A breastplate was sometimes worn by mythological beings as a distinctive item of clothing.


In medieval weaponry, the breastplate is the front portion of plate armour covering the torso. It has been an armour mainstay since ancient times and was one of the last pieces of functional armour to be used on the battlefield because it protected the vital organs without limiting mobility.


In Judaism, the Breastplate (Hoshen) is a sacred garment worn by the High Priest, woven out of multiple fabrics and set with twelve precious stones representing each of the tribes of Israel. Traditionally, it had a fold containing the Urim and Thummim. The Breastplate is described in some detail in Bible verse |Exodus|28:13-30|HE and Bible verse |Exodus|39:8-21|HE. It is placed over the Mantle (Me'il).
In modern Judaism, there is a breastplate, usually silver gilt, which is placed over the Torah Scroll when it is placed in the Aron Kodesh (ark). This breastplate is removed when the Torah is read during synagogue services.
Christian tradition, particularly Roman Catholic and Anglican, uses a hymn entitled the "Breastplate of St. Patrick", or "Lorica" (ostensibly written by St. Patrick himself), which is a lyrical prayer to God for protection. It is found in an Old Irish text from the 8th century. The English translation was made by Cecil Frances Alexander and set to the melody "St. Patrick" by Charles Villiers Stanford.
The morse (clasp) on a cope, particularly one worn by a bishop, is said to symbolize the breastplate worn by the High Priest. In the Roman Catholic Church, this was especially true of the morse on the mantum previously worn by the pope.
The breastplate is also of significance in the Latter Day Saint Movement, as one is believed to have been maintained anciently, along with other sacred artifacts, by Book of Mormon prophets (cf Doctrine and Covenants 17:1, and Joseph Smith History 1:35, 42, 52).


The hair-pipe breastplates of 19th-century Plains Indians were made from bones from the West Indian conch, brought to New York docks as ballast and then traded to native Americans of the upper Missouri River. Their popularity spread rapidly after their invention by the Comanche in 1854. They were too fragile and expensive to be considered armor, and were instead a symbol of wealth during the economic depression among Plains Indians after the buffalo were exterminated.


In the Bible, the word Breastplate is used figuratively to describe protecting oneself from unrighteousness (cf, Bible verse |Isaiah|59:17|HE, Bible verse |Ephesians|6:14|KJV, etc).


Both Zeus and Athena are sometimes depicted as wearing a goatskin shield or breastplate called an Aegis. At the center of Athena's shield was the head of Medusa.


breastplate in German: Brustpanzer
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