At the dawn of human civilization, one of the first ancient hunters throws a crude spear, no more than a sharpened stick, and by some miracle brings down a sickly animal at the back of a herd. The warrior drags it back to his camp where he quickly finds what is edible or useful on the animal. He discovers bones, skin, and teeth don't taste very good and decides to find other uses for them. Bones become weapons, teeth trinkets. Without much imagination the warrior uses the hide for the same purpose the animal used it for, protection from the elements and the environment. Over time the hide dries out naturally and the ancient man notices the hide is tougher and lighter. He'll think he won the prehistoric lottery until it rains or he falls into a river. Once the hide gets wet again it will start to rot and smell something awful.
No one is really sure when man first discovered to use tannin to tan hides and turn them into leather. Leather is hide that has been treated so it won't putrefy when it gets wet again. As you can guess, being able to make clothes and armor, out of something that is readily abundant was a great boon to civilizations. Leather afforded very good protection in its basic form but as time progressed people learned different ways to make the leather stronger and more suited for protection against weapons.
The second type of better leather was a regular suit of leather armor coated with lacquer. Lacquer of yore was generally red or black and was usually obtained from resinous or sappy trees. Lacquered armor was popular in China, and some lacquered scale leather armor was created elsewhere. Lacquered leather was extremely strong and could have given later plate armors a run for their money. Although it was a great invention and surely saved a lot of lives lacquered leather did have some downfalls. The armor was quite heavy and not very flexible. Also the people applying the lacquer to the armor would have probably had about the same chance getting a life insurance policy as a modern day asbestos remover.
The last type of leather armor had a very small probality of being used in combat. It involved heating wax and applying it to the leather armor. Doing this would produce an effect similar to Cuir Bolli armor. An additional benefit of the wax creation process is because of the wax's properties, there would be almost no chance of overheating, shrinking, or destroying the leather. Waxing the leather would have been making the armor virtually waterproof. The two main reasons waxed leather might not have been widely used for combat are as follows. Although wax would have increased the armor durability against blunt weapons it would have acted as a lubricant for arrows and other piercing weapons. Also wax in olden days was used for candles, most historians have no idea how expensive wax could have been in ancient times. Finding or buying enough wax to outfit an army could have been a very costly affair.
Leather armor, being one of the oldest armor types, held up very well to the test of time and is used even to modern times. Leather is a biological material though and due to decomposition we have very little remnants or evidence of ancient leather armor. Most of the information we have is from texts or from picture interpretations. We do know all different types of leather have been used throughout time. Deer, buffalo, bison, rhinoceros, ostrich, zebra, antelope, cow, goat, sheep, and alligator are some examples of leather has been used. Leather is an extremely durable material and even today continues to protect people not from combat, but in dangerous work or protective riding gear.
Illustrated by Cyrus "killacaravagio" Hunter
Until the benefits of curing leather were discovered, soldiers were often smelled before they were seen.