Mail: Unchained
An article by Dan Howard

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Fig. 1—The Martyrdom of St. Nicaise, circa 1220-30, showing mail armour

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Fig. 2—A 13th century depiction of mail from the Maciejowski Bible

For many years, the study of mail armour has been relegated to the sidelines in favour of its more flamboyant cousin. The number of texts dedicated to mail is few in number and difficult to access when compared to those on the subject of plate armour. According to Robert Woosnam-Savage, Curator of European Edged Weapons at The Royal Armouries, Leeds, there are only around 40 specific entries relating to mail armour in the extensive library of the Royal Armouries1. There are a number of reasons why this might be the case: the sculptural qualities of plate armour are generally more aesthetically appealing to art museums than the more mundane mail hauberk; the metallurgical skills required to produce plate armour have been considered superior to those required to produce mail; the wide variety of plate styles and designs are considered far more interesting than the perceived uniformity of mail; and the ultimate battlefield warrior was considered to be the knight in shining full plate harness while the mailed warrior was considered inferior.

There are also many misconceptions about mail armour, leading scholars to disregard its effectiveness on the battlefield: it was heavy and cumbersome; it was highly susceptible to piercing attacks—especially arrows; it was cheap and relatively simple to produce; and mail was superseded by "superior" plate as soon as it was technically possible. All of the preceding statements are demonstrably false. One should keep in mind that mail saw continuous use in virtually every iron-using culture in the world for the best part of two thousand years2. It is, without a doubt, the most successful and versatile type of armour ever devised.

Mail consisted of a two-part composite defense. The first part was the mail itself—a flexible metal "fabric" made from interlocked rings that form a mesh. The second part was the padding worn underneath3. When worn in this fashion, mail offered very good resistance to cuts and punctures and helped to reduce the effects of blunt trauma. For mail to have been used for such a long period and remain virtually unchanged during that time suggests that it was an extremely effective form of protection. If a weapon had been devised during that period that could reliably penetrate mail, one of two things would occur—either the armour would have been augmented until it protected against the new threat, or it would have been discarded because the reduced protection no longer justified its weight and expense. Since unaugmented mail remained the armour of choice in Europe for those who could afford it one must conclude that it offered good protection against all contemporary weapons. Mail's effectiveness against weapons will be discussed in more detail later.


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Fig. 3—The 4-in-1 pattern illustrated

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Fig. 4—Each of these images from the Bayeux Tapestry are believed to represent the same type of 4-in-1 patterned mail

Many of the problems we have today with mail terminology can be traced back to scholars of the 18th-19th centuries. Today, armour scholars define "mail" as it was defined in the Middle Ages. It consists of a "fabric" of interlocked metal rings that form a strong, flexible, mesh armour. Each ring is linked through four others, two in the row above it and two below. Although there were variations, this "4-in-1" pattern was by far the most prevalent. The word "mail" is derived through the Old English mayle, the French maille, and Italian maglia, from the Latin macula, which refers to the mesh of a net. This definition of mail was not the one used by Victorian scholars though. They used the word in a more general sense—to describe any sort of metallic body armour (i.e. "mail" is "armour"). One of the first to use this inaccurate terminology was Francis Grose, who wrote in the late 18th century4. It is common to see the word in translations of early texts in instances where it is clear that the subjects could not have been wearing mail (see below for some examples of this). Other instances of the misuse of this word include using "plate mail" and "scale mail" instead of plate armour and scale armour. Because of this overly generic use of the term, a word was needed to differentiate true mail from other types of body armour—hence, the term chain mail. If the word "mail" is used in its correct context, then the word "chain" is superfluous and does not need to be used at all.

The other major problem with mail terminology came from initial attempts to interpret contemporary illustrations. Samuel Rush Meyrick, writing early in the 19th century attempted a very "literal" interpretation of the armour depicted in contemporary effigies and illustrations (such as the Bayeux Tapestry) and invented a variety of constructions to resemble them closely5. These constructions included banded mail, tegulated mail, mascled mail, rustred mail, and trellised mail. Most of Meyrick's proposals have since been demonstrated to be either impractical or could not be physically reconstructed to resemble contemporary representations. Doubts about Meyrick's work began to be expressed later in that century by scholars, such as Hewitt, Laking, and ffoulkes. However, some writers, such as Ashdown6 and Viollet-le-duc7, perpetuated Meyrick's inaccuracies into the 20th century, which were picked up and used by many modern writers, including the authors of fantasy role-playing games. The final word on this subject is attributed to Claude Blaire in the middle of the 20th century8, and since that time, no armour scholar has seriously considered Meyrick's theories to be valid. The general consensus today is that the difficulties involved in realistically illustrating medieval mail led to a variety of stylistic conventions and that all of the contemporary illustrations and effigies are depicting nothing more elaborate than typical 4-in-1 mail. Blair quoted from F. M. Kelly, who wrote:

And at the start let me define plainly what I mean by "mail". I hold that in the Middle Ages and, indeed, as long as armour continued...the term applied properly, nay, exclusively, to that type of defence composed...of interlinked rings. Only through a late poetical licence did it come to be extended to armour in general. "Chain-mail" is a mere piece of modern pleonasm; "scale-mail" and still more "plate-mail" stark nonsense. As for Meyrick's proposed classification of mail—"ringed, "single", double-chain, "mascled", "rustred", "trelliced", etc.—it may be dismissed without further ado. His categories, in so far as they were not pure invention, rested wholly on a misinterpretation of the evidence; the passages he cites to support his theories...all refer to what he calls "chain" mail; otherwise MAIL pure and simple.9

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Fig. 5—From the Golden Psalter of St. Gall, 9th century, showing Carolingian cavalry in mail shirts

Mail was originally thought to have originated in the Celtic regions of Europe around the beginning of the 4th century BC. This was confirmed by Roman authors who also believed that the Celts invented mail. Strabo refers to mail as Gallic, and Varro suggests that the Romans adopted it from the Gauls [de Lingua Latina, V, 24, 116].10 One of the earliest examples was found at Ciumesti in modern Romania. The wire used to make the links was between 0.8mm and 1.8mm thick and each link had an outside diameter (O.D.) between 8.5mm and 9.2mm (corrosion is likely to have distorted these figures).11 However, the Ciumesti find has recently been re-dated to the 3rd century BC and is no longer the oldest example.12 A find from a burial of Horny Jatov in Slovakia has been dated to the first half of the 3rd century BC, which makes it earlier than Ciumesti and currently the earliest confirmed example of mail armour. An earlier example was allegedly found at the Hjortspring boat bog sacrifice and dated to the 4th century BC, but later work suggests that the find was not armour at all but natural deposits of iron that form around plant roots in bogs.13 The earliest Celtic example of mail was found at Vielle-Tursan in Aubagnan has been dated to the beginning of the 2nd century BC. A find at Tiefenau, Switzerland, is another 2nd century example of Celtic mail.14 Celtic statues found in Southern France are also likely to depict mailed warriors and date slightly earlier, to the end of the 3rd century BC.

There are mentions of "mail" in texts dating even earlier, but most of them can be discredited as inaccurate translations. As already discussed, "mail" was commonly used by Victorian scholars to describe many types of metal armour, including scale and plate. One well-known example is the Biblical description of Goliath wearing a coat of mail weighing 5,000 shekels of bronze [Samuel, 17.5-6]. The use of the word in this instance was not meant to be specifically referring to "true" (4-in-1) mail but as a general term to describe armour—in this case, bronze scale armour. Another example is the use of the word "mail" by Austen Henry Layard to describe the Assyrian armour he found at Nineveh. However, he later identifies the armour in more detail and confirms that he is describing scale armour, not mail:

The Arabs employed in removing the rubbish from the chamber with the kneeling winged figures, discovered a quantity of iron, in which I soon recognized the scales of the armour represented on the sculptures. These scales were from two to three inches in length, rounded at one end, and square at the other, with a raised or embossed line in the centre, and had probably been fastened to a vest of linen or felt.15

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Fig. 6—An effigy of the Elector Palatine, c. 1318

When the inaccurate translations are discounted, there is still one plausible reference dating back to the time of King David (10th century BC). According to Niese16, in Antiquities of the Jews, Josephus recounts an incident in which David is confronted by a Philistine wearing a thôraka halusidôton [5.7.299], which Liddell and Scott16a translate as "armour wrought in chain fashion." At first glance this seems to be a credible source, but it should be remembered that Josephus was writing around nine hundred years after the event in question. It is likely that the oral tradition upon which his work ultimately relied would have changed during those intervening nine centuries. It is also possible that he confused armour worn during his own time with that worn during the time of David. He may even have done this deliberately in order to make his work more accessible to his Gentile audience. Without some supporting evidence, it is impossible to determine whether mail was in use that early. The physical evidence only dates to the 3rd century BC.

Given the available evidence it seems that mail first originated in central Europe in the 3rd century BC and was quickly adopted first by the Celts and then the Romans. Since mail would have been very expensive to make, it is likely that its early use was restricted to the aristocracy—even in Rome. Bishop and Coulston wrote that "before the 1st century BC body armour was very closely linked with social status and wealth."16b

Manufacturing Mail
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Fig. 7—15th century mail maker at work

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Fig. 8—Even the earliest fragments of mail can be found consisting of alternating rows of riveted and solid rings as shown in this reconstruction

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Fig. 9—This reconstruction consists of alternating rows of flattened punched rings and flattened riveted rings with wedge-shaped rivets (common in Germany between the 13th and 16th centuries)

Riveted mail links are fashioned from wire. The most common method of making wire is by means of a draw plate but there are other ways. Williams describes two of these: "[1] Small fragments of iron (perhaps from an imperfectly consolidated bloom) can be hammered into swages, or [2] strips cut from flattened pieces and then twisted."17 Some have argued that wire drawing was not known until the Middle Ages because it is first mentioned by Theophilus in his 11th century text, On divers arts.18 However, the dimensional consistency of Roman mail, a thousand years earlier, suggests that at least part of the Roman process of making wire involved the use of a draw plate.19 This device consists of a block of stone or metal with a series of tapered holes. Each hole has a slightly smaller diameter so that the diameter of the wire gradually decreases (and its length increases) as it is pulled through successively smaller holes. There have been at least two draw plates found that date to the Roman period. One was found at Vindolanda in Northern Britain and the other at Altena near Dusseldorf in Germany.20 Microscopic analysis of the slag alignment in mail rings also suggests that Roman mail was made from drawn wire. The wrought iron used for wire drawing must be of a high quality. Too many large slag inclusions will cause the wire to break continually during the drawing process. If the slag is finely distributed throughout the iron, breakage is less likely to occur.

Once the wire is of the desired diameter, the next step is to wrap it around a cylindrical rod called a "mandrel" to form a coil. According to Erik D. Schmid,21 the individual links were then cut off the coil with either a hammer and chisel or with a pinching-type hand cutter. During this process, the iron had work-hardened, so it needed to be normalized before any more work could be performed on the links. Normalizing was performed by stringing the links on a length of wire and laying them in a bed of hot coals until they were of a yellow heat and allowed to cool slowly. Once softened, the links had their two ends "lapped" with a pair of tongs and either the entire link or just the lapped area was flattened with a hammer. This flattened area is needed in order to pierce the link with a highly tapered and hardened drift to make a rivet hole. The flattened and pierced link was then placed into the mail weave and a rivet was inserted into the hole. A special set of tongs with a dimple worked into one side of the jaws was used to peen the rivet and close the link. The rivet-hole could be different shapes, depending on the type of rivet used to join the link. Roman mail utilized round-sectioned rivets in round holes. So did early Medieval mail. Later, in some regions, such as in Germany between the 13th and 16th centuries, wedge-shaped rivets were inserted into ovoid holes. Some types of mail made use of two rivets in adjacent holes through each link to increase the strength of the link.22 Other rare examples of mail links are closed by means of a U-shaped "staple" that passes through an elongated hole and is folded over.23

The vast majority of mail since the earliest samples found was made of alternating rows of riveted and "solid" rings—i.e. links with no riveted join. Some solid links were forge-welded closed but the vast majority were punched out of a flat sheet of iron. After microscopic analysis, Biek (1963) was the first to suggest that solid links were made with a punch and die,24 and later analysis of extant links support this suggestion. Dr. David Sim reasonably argued that the high quality of Roman coins indicate that the Romans could easily have manufactured a punch and die set for making solid mail links, and he proceeded to reconstruct a set using simple tools and techniques.25 The advantage of making mail in alternating rows of solid and riveted links is that it dramatically reduces the manufacture time. If an armourer has a supply of prefabricated links, he can insert two links at a time and only has to rivet one of them closed. The time saved in "weaving" the mail could be up to fifty-percent. This method of construction remained largely unchanged until the end of the Middle Ages in Europe and even later in India and the Middle East.

Lorica Hamata
According to Connolly, there are several statues of armoured warriors from Southern France and Italy depicting two different styles of mail. The first has what appears to be a short cape draped around and overhanging the shoulders. A bronze clasp was riveted to the shoulder sections of the mail and hooked together to hold the mail cape in place. The second style had wide straps coming from the back over the shoulders to fasten on the chest with no overhang (see Figure 10).26 The former style was Celtic in origin27 while the latter was Greek. Connolly speculates that due to the large shield carried by Roman legionaries and the low combat stance used for close formation fighting, the most accessible area to an enemy would be over the top of the scutum to hit the shoulders and upper back. He suggests that this may have been why the Romans added shoulder doubling to their mail.28 However, it is equally plausible for it to have been done simply because that was the current Greek fashion. It is likely that the Romans and the Greek colonists in Italy would have adopted mail from the Celts and modified it to conform to Greek fashion—hence the similarity with other types of Greek armour. There is a remarkable resemblance between the Greek linothorax29 and the Roman Republican hamata.

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Fig. 10—Reconstruction of a Roman lorica hamata made of alternating rows of riveted and punched links. The overlapping shoulder sections provide two layers of protection for the upper body

The Romans used mail extensively, and today the generally accepted Latin term for it is lorica hamata. The term apparently refers to armour that has been "hooked" (or linked) together. However, there are very few instances of this term in contemporary accounts. The earliest occurrence of the term lorica hamata is in St. Jerome's Vulgate [1.17.5], written in 405 AD. Virgil's Aeneid (1st century BC) mentions armour in which rings, linked or hooked (hamis) into one another, were of gold [III.467, V.259, VII.639].30 Sidioius uses a similar phrase [Carm. ii. 322].31 Arrian [l.c], Polybius [6.23.15, 30.25.3], and Josephus [5.7.299] all use the Greek term, halusidotos, (ἁΛυσΙδωΤος) which refers to the armour being "made in chain fashion." The only Latin term used in most texts is simply lorica, which is a general term for any type of armour. Earlier period Roman mail seems to have had smaller links than later examples with inside diameters (I.D.) as small as 4mm. Second century Roman mail consisted of larger links with an I.D. of 7-7.5mm and a thickness of about 1mm. They were slightly flattened and riveted with round rivets. There are many similarities between various finds suggesting at least partially centralized production.

Once mail was adopted by the Romans, it quickly spread to the Aegean and the Middle East. By the 3rd century AD, mail was very common in Europe and the Aegean, throughout the Middle East, and on the Indian subcontinent. There is a misconception that when the Roman armour of segmented plates, called lorica segmentata by modern scholars, was developed in the last half of the 1st century BC,32 that it supplanted mail. This was not the case. Mail saw continuous use before, during, and after the period in which segmentata was being used.

Mail has many advantages over segmented plate:
  • It is more flexible and more comfortable than segmentata
  • It provides better coverage—segmentata cannot protect the armpits, stomach, groin or thighs the way mail can
  • Mail is easier to store, transport, and clean
  • It is easier to tailor to individuals—an arsenal would only need to stock a few standard sizes to fit the vast majority of legionaries
  • Mail is quicker and easier to don
  • Mail is less susceptible to damage—the fittings on extant segmentata are very fragile, to the point that reconstructions do not attempt to replicate them
  • Mail has a longer lifespan—there are many extant examples of mail that have been repaired multiple times with patches of different types of mail from different time periods33
  • In the field, all that is required to repair mail is a piece of wire—there are extant examples in which a piece of wire has been wrapped around the damaged section several times to hold it together. Even in the workshop, all that is required to make most repairs is some replacement links and rivets and a peening tool
Given mail's ease of repair and its long life span, it is reasonable to conclude that the reserves of Roman mail continued to grow during the period of the Roman Republic and later the Empire, and that more and more of it was available for troops to wear.

Segmentata does have advantages though:
  • It is less expensive and faster to produce than mail, which is probably why the armour was developed in the first place
  • Segmentata is lighter than mail—but it also provides less coverage. If mail was reduced so that it only covered the same areas as a segmentata, the weight difference would not be so great
  • Segmentata offers better protection against blunt trauma than mail. Many assume that it also provides better protection against other attacks, but it will be shown that this may not have been the case
Mail Outside of Europe
Middle East
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Fig. 11—3rd century rock carvings of Firuzabad depicting Persian and Parthian warriors wearing mail armour

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Fig. 12—Swedish helmet found at Valsgärde and dating to the 6th century AD. It is very similar to Persian helms dating to the same period

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Fig. 13—Remains of 16th century Japanese Armour in Madrid including sections of mail

By the 2nd century AD, mail was widespread in the Middle East. The excavations at Dura-Europos, Syria, (destroyed 255-56 AD) reveals many fragments of mail.34 Although this was a Roman fort and most of the mail here is likely to have been Roman, at least one of the mail samples appears to have been Sasanian. Item #379 is a thigh-length mail shirt with sleeves that reach below the elbow. The rings have an I.D. of around 6mm (8mm O.D.) and are about 1mm thick. On the chest is a pattern of copper alloy links in the shape of a trident. According to James, "This device, unparalleled on Roman mail, is similar to the 'heraldic' devices seen on early depictions of Sasanian warriors' armour (most notably at Firuzabad, on a helmet and horse trapper)."35 In addition, remains of a felt undergarment can be seen on the inside of this armour.36 Robinson showed drawings of the 3rd century rock illustrations of Firuzabad in which Parthians and Persians are both clad in mail (see Figure 11).37 Robinson also described several silver dishes that are embossed with illustrations of mail and scale-clad Sasanians.38

Rock carvings at Taq-i-Bostan (620 AD) depict King Khusru II armed in a mail shirt, and a long aventail of mail hangs down from his helmet, covering his face and only revealing his eyes. This helmet is remarkably similar to the Swedish helm found at Valsgärde (#VIII) and dated to a similar time period (see Figure 12).39 Robinson observed that there was little change in Persian armour for many centuries.40 Mail seems to have been more common in the southern regions while scale or lamellar was more common elsewhere. Howarth wrote that in 1393, Persian soldiers were dressed in mail (zereh baktah) with some sort of scale or lamellar construction covering the torso.41 According to Robinson, there was very little to distinguish between the armour of the Persians with those of the Turks or the Mamluks during this time.42

In Russia, mail was known as kol'chataya bronya or kol'chuga. The term bronya is a likely derivative of the Germanic brunja and French broigne. A mail hauberk was called baidana, apparently derived from the Arabic badan. One type of Russian and Turkish hauberk overlapped at the front and was fastened at the sides. This created a double layer of mail on the front. Some types of Russian mail were made of rings of varying diameters and weights. The main type of link was used on the front and back. Larger links were used on the shoulders, arms, and hem. The thickest, heaviest rings were used on the vulnerable right side while the largest, lightest links were used on the left side—the area protected by the shield. Mail leggings or chausses were known as nagavits. The pozdor was a padded garment designed to be worn under the mail. It could be made of anything, including felt, a thick canvas rubakha (shirt), or multiple layers of quilted cloth called tyegilyai.

Robinson wrote that "mail has no real place in Chinese military history."43 It was certainly known by the Chinese, but they acquired it through trade or war booty rather than making it themselves. He notes that a General named Hau Shi-chung is credited with inventing a type of mail that was resistant to arrows—called lien so kia ("chain connected armour").44 For more on the ability of mail to resist arrows see Weapons vs. Mail below. According to Finkleshteyn, mail was sometimes worn by Northern Chinese cavalry—often in addition to scale or lamellar armour.45

Other Parts of Asia
According to Finkleshteyn, by the 12th or 13th century AD, mail had spread to Korea—probably as a result of the Mongol invasions. Bottomley and Hopson wrote that it was introduced into Japan during the Nambukucho period (1336-1392).46 The Japanese developed far more mail variants than other cultures but they also used "regular" or 4-in-1 mail. Another odd fact is that Japanese mail was rarely riveted—most of it was butted together. However, it was rarely used as a stand alone defense. Japanese mail was often stitched to a textile or leather backing, and it was almost always lacquered—usually in black. Occasionally, they would make a jazerant-type armour where the mail was sandwiched between layers of cloth.47

Mail Variants
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Fig. 14—A 15th century kazaghand from the Askeri Müze

According to Blair, the jazerant is a type of European mail armour that has been sewn between two layers of padded fabric. A similar type of armour called a kazaghand was worn in the Middle East, and Blair suggests that jazerant may have been a derivative of that word. He further writes that the same armour continued to be used into the 15th and 16th centuries in Europe but was called a gestron—probably a derivative of one of the many variant spellings of jazerant.48 Nicolle suggests that the kazaghand may have spread westwards from its origins in Iran or Central Asia during the 10th century.49 Robinson shows a photo of an excellent 16th century Turkish example from the Topkapu Museum in Istanbul (plate VIII, B). Usamah Ibn-Munquidh talks about wearing a kazaghand constructed of two layers of mail during an incident when Saladin admonishes him for not donning his armour before a battle. He replies, "By Allah I can not put on anything more. We are in the early part of the night and my kazaghand is furnished with two coats of mail, one on top of the other. As soon as I see the enemy I shall put it on." After the battle he demonstrates the armour's construction to Saladin. "I pulled out my knife and ripped it at the breast and disclosed the side of the two coats of mail. The kazaghand enclosed a Frankish coat of mail extending to the bottom of it, with another coat of mail on top of it reaching as far as the middle. Both were equipped with the proper linings, felt pads, silk stuffing (al-lasin) and rabbits' hair."50

Double Mail
While it is fairly certain that a type of armour known as "double mail" existed, nobody has presented a conclusive argument as to what form it actually took. Here are six possibilities. An argument for all of these can be made from the available evidence:

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Fig. 15—The 6-in-1 pattern illustrated

  • Mail made from links that are twice as heavy as regular mail
  • Mail with links that have been fastened with two rivets instead of one
  • Two separate mail hauberks, one worn on top of the other (a light layer of padding would be required between the layers to prevent the links from binding with each other)
  • Mail made from smaller links, such that twice as many links are required
  • Mail made from a different weave, e.g. 6-in-1 or 8-in-2, such that twice as many links are required
  • Mail that is tailored such that the garment overlaps and is fastened at the side (see Russia above) resulting in two layers of mail protecting the front
Double mail is mentioned in many sources. Usamah describes a Frankish knight wearing "double linked mail" who was dealt multiple blows in the back by a Turkish warrior with a sword but remained unharmed.51 Carpini recommends "double mail" to resist the armour piercing arrows of the Mongols.52 ffoulkes wrote that "double mail" appears in various French inventories under entries such as haubert doublier, haubert a maille double, and haubert clavey de double maille.53

Bar Mail
Occasionally used in India, it is sometimes called "theta mail" because the links in question resemble the Greek character Θ. In bar mail, the solid links are made with a strip of metal horizontally crossing the center. There are two ways to make this link type. The easiest was simply to make a die and punch it out of a flat plate of metal. The second method was to bend a small section of wire into an S-shape. The ends were then pressed closed into a circle with a cross-bar and forge-welded together. Just like regular, solid links, theta links formed alternate horizontal rows with riveted links in between. It is unclear what purpose the cross-bar served on these links. It is possible that it enabled the mail to provide similar resistance to attacks as a much finer mesh made from smaller links without the additional labour involved in making this finer type of mail.

Banded Mail
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Fig. 16—Period art depicting mail that might erroneously be labed as "banded mail"

According to some scholars, "banded mail" consisted of mail with strips of leather woven horizontally through alternate rows. Mail hauberks exist where a leather strip is woven through some specific rows of links. The Vancouver Anthropology museum has a Middle Eastern example dating to the 15th century. In this particular example there are both fragments of existing strips as well as rust stains indicating other strips woven through various rows. However, in order for this to be indicative of the illustrations in question the leather must be laced through every alternative row and there is no evidence to suggest that this was ever done except on the collar. Leather strips were used in this manner in India, Russia, and the Middle East to create a collar that stands rigid around the neck. In Europe, this effect was usually created by using a denser weave of mail. The other problem with using this interpretation is that the majority of illustrations during the time period in question indicate some sort of "banded" construction. If one makes a literal interpretation of these illustrations then one must conclude that the majority of armour consisted of banded mail. This contradicts all available evidence. More likely is that this banded typology was a misinterpretation of iconographical evidence. In a previous work, this author demonstrated that regular 4-in-1 mail can often have a "banded" appearance and that the proposed banded mail never actually existed in the suggested form.54

Mail and Plates
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Fig. 17—An example of Persain mail and plates (qeiebe/joshan) where the mail armour is augmented with iron plates protecting the torso

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Fig. 18—An Ottoman cuisse (thigh guard) made from mail and plates and incorporating a knee cop

The next innovation for mail armour was the development of the mail and plates (sometimes called combined mail) construction. It begins to appear in the Middle East, India, and Russia from around the 14th century onwards. In Persian, it was called qeiebe or joshan (see Figure 17). In Russian it was called kalantar or kolotar. Butted mail was more often used in this construction than in regular mail, yet riveted mail was still the most common. This type of armour consisted of slightly convex metal plates of various sizes and shapes joined together with sections of mail to create a defense that was more protective than mail but not quite so flexible. Sometimes the plates overlapped vertically. Occasionally, each individual plate was separated by a section of mail. If the smaller plates were stamped out rather than individually cut, it is likely that this construction was much quicker to manufacture than regular mail. Finkelshteyn's Web site contains some excellent illustrations.55 Mail and plates was also used in the Philippines and is unusual in that brass was far more common than iron—both for the plates and the mail.56 Sometimes, kabau horn was used for the plates instead of brass. Elsewhere, copper alloy mail was usually reserved for decoration.

A subset of this armour consists of a type of Roman scale armour in which tiny scales are attached to a fine mail backing instead of textile or leather. The top of each scale is bent back at a right angle and four holes are punched through it, through which the rings of the mail pass.57 Presumably this type of armour was very time consuming and expensive to produce. It has erroneously been called plumata by some scholars, but this term was more likely reserved for scale armour in which each scale had an embossed vertical medial ridge to increase strength. Armour made of embossed ridged scales was very attractive and bore a strong resemblance to feathers—hence the term (pluma means "feather"). This author can only find one Roman reference regarding this type of armour—Justin's Epitome of Pompeius Trogus's History [XLI.2.10] in which he attributed this armour to the Parthians: "Loricae plumatae are the armour of the man and his horse, which armours protect the entire body."58 It is highly unlikely that the Parthians would have covered a horse with this extremely intricate and expensive type of armour. Why call something plumata if it did not resemble feathers? The backing material makes no difference to the outward appearance of this armour. The medial ridge is what gave the armour its distinct "feather-like" appearance. This author believes that lorica plumata (feather armour) was reserved for armour with scales with medial ridges while lorica squamata (fish scale armour) was reserved for those with no ridges. A more accurate term for scale armour with a mail backing might be simply mail and scales or even scale mail. Martijn Wijnhoven proposes the term lorica hamata squamataque.58a

Weapons vs. Mail
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Fig. 19—A crossbow being shot from above into a mail-clad opponent, 14th century

A common misconception is that mail was highly susceptible to arrows—particularly the bodkin arrowhead. Further, some have argued that plate armour was developed specifically to counter these arrows because of the ineffectiveness of mail. Recent scholarship, however, suggests that this may not have been the case. The vast majority of experiments that have involved the testing of arrows against mail were done using mail that was not representative of that worn by contemporaries. Rivets were poorly set (or the links were merely "butted" together without riveting),59 inadequate padding was used (if employed at all),60 the links were generally too large, and the metallurgy was incorrect61—all factors that may lead to a reduction in the armour's protective capability. Recent experiments performed against more accurate mail reconstructions indicate that contemporary mail and padding provided excellent defense against all types of arrows under battlefield conditions. Nielson was one of the first to conclude this in 1991.62 An experiment conducted by the Royal Armouries concluded that a padded jack worn over a mail haubergeon (a common combination during the 15th century) was proof against Mary Rose longbows. Another conducted by Alan Williams concluded that mail worn over quilted padding could resist longbow arrows but not crossbow bolts,63 but these tests may have underestimated the strength of English longbows. Strickland commented that there has yet to be a test that uses accurate reconstructions of both armour and bow.64

There are many contemporary accounts that demonstrate the effectiveness of mail against arrows. During the Siege of Amida (359 AD), Ammianus Marcellinus described Roman archers attacking the Persians:

The Persian infantry found it hard to avoid the arrows shot from the walls by the artillery, and took open order and since almost no kind of dart failed to find its mark, even the mail-clad horsemen were checked and gave ground.65

The above passage suggests that the Roman arrows, while effective against the poorly armoured infantry, did little to harm the Persian cavalry. One could surmise that the arrows had little effect on the armoured riders but caused some distress to their mounts, causing the cavalry to give ground.66

Anna Comnena wrote that during the Battle of Duazzo (1108 AD), the Byzantines resorted to shooting the Frankish horses because their arrows were ineffective against Frankish mail.67 Joinville describes his servants donning him in his jousting hauberk as he lay ill on the deck of a ship to protect him from incoming Saracen arrows.68 Joinville later recounts an incident involving Walter of Ch‚tillon in which Saracen missiles were ineffective:

...and whilst the Turks were fleeing before him, they (who shoot as well backwards as forwards) would cover him with darts. When he had driven them out of the village, he would pick out the darts that were sticking all over him; and put on his coat-of-arms again... Then, turning round, and seeing that the Turks had come in at the other end of the street, he would charge them again, sword in hand, and drive them out. And this he did about three times in the manner I have described.69

Odo of Deuil wrote about King Louis VII in an engagement during the 2nd Crusade. After losing his bodyguard he was forced to flee the enemy by scaling a rock face:

The enemy climbed after, in order to capture him, and the more distant rabble shot arrows at him. But by the will of God his armour70 protected him from the arrows.71

During the 3rd Crusade, Bahā'al-Dīn, Saladin's biographer, wrote that the Norman crusaders were:

...drawn up in front of the cavalry, stood firm as a wall, and every foot-soldier wore a vest of thick felt and a coat of mail so dense and strong that our arrows made no impression on them... I saw some with from one to ten arrows sticking in them, and still advancing at their ordinary pace without leaving the ranks.72

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Fig. 20—Taking on arrows from the towers, as shown in the Maciejowski Bible

The above passage demonstrates the increased effectiveness of mail when worn in conjunction with a padded defense. It is unclear whether the felt was worn underneath or over the top of mail in the above example. What is clear is that the combination is very effective at resisting arrows.73 Russ Mitchell believes that felt is especially effective against bodkins because it has no woven structure for the point to open up and slide through. The felt deforms around the bodkin and pushes it back out of the target.74 Broadhead typologies, on the other hand, have cutting edges that can allow them to slice through felt. So felt would be less protective against these arrowheads. However, mail is extremely effective against cutting edges. The combination of mail and felt provide good protection against both bodkins and broadheads.

Here are some more brief examples: at the Battle of Byland (1322), Scrymgeour, Robert the Bruce's standard bearer, took a longbow arrow in the arm that did no harm because of his mail hauberk. During the Battles of Dupplin Moor (1332) and Halidon Hill (1333), the English longbowmen inflicted few casualties because of Scottish armour but caused great disorder by attacking the faces and heads of their foes, many of whom were either not wearing helmets or did not have visors.75

Finally, the following passage written by Galbert of Bruges describes a formidable archer named Benkin and demonstrates that while mail might protect the wearer from being pierced with arrows, it did not necessarily save him from blunt trauma:

And when he [Benkin] was aiming at the besiegers, his drawing on the bow was identified by everyone because he would either cause grave injury to the unarmed or put to flight those who were armed, whom his shots stupefied and stunned, even if they did not wound.76

It can be seen from the above examples that mail provided a good defense against arrows. Although there were occasions when arrows penetrated the mail itself, the arrow was often halted by the padding. One should also note the effects of blunt trauma—even if an arrow failed to compromise the mail, it was still possible to cause discomfort to the wearer underneath.77

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Fig. 21—Attack and defense of a castle by soldiers in mail armour

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Fig. 22—Assault on a tower, early 14th century, facing crossbow fire

Contemporary sources note that there were different types of mail, and some were considered more protective than others. In the sources, there are references to hauberts de joute (jousting hauberks) and hauberts de guerre (field hauberks) as well as double mail, haute cloueur, demi-clouer, botte, and botte cassee.78 To this day, nobody has conclusively demonstrated the kinds of mail to which these terms are referring (see the section on Double Mail, above, for an example). ffoulkes believed that the phrase de toute botte referred to mail that was proof against all blows—from projectiles, lances, swords, and axes.79 If this is true, one can infer that some other types of mail were not proof against all these weapons. Another source is the Chronicon Colmariense (1398) in which the author states that men at arms wore " iron shirt, woven from iron rings, through which no arrow fired from a bow could cause injury."80 The very need to make this distinction implies that some other types of mail were not as capable at resisting arrows. The Franciscan friar, John of Plano-Carpini (who was an envoy to the Mongols) described how the Mongols made their arrows: "...according to the Tartars' custom, dip them red-hot into salt water, that they may be strong enough to pierce the enemies' armour." He later recommended that "double mail" be used to protect men from these arrows.81 One can infer several things from this passage. Firstly, that it was not normal practice in Europe during this time to harden arrowheads. Secondly, it was believed that hardened arrowheads stood a greater chance of penetrating mail. Thirdly, a type of mail known as double mail was considered arrow-proof, even against arrows specifically designed to be armour-piercers.

Persian sources also talk about different types of mail. Shahidi distinguishes between two different kinds of mail. The first one was called zereh davudi ("davudi style mail") or zereh mikh gerd ("mail with rounded rivets"), and the second type was called zereh mamuli ("common mail").82 The latter was not as sturdy as the former, but it is uncertain how the two differed. It is possible that different types of rivets were used and/or that zereh davudi utilized smaller links. According to Zeller and Rohrer, the better quality mail was made in either Isfahan or Iraq.83 Kobylinsky distinguished between heavier and lighter mail variants. The former had larger outside diameters of 10-15 mm and was less flexible, whereas the latter had link diameters as small as 4 mm.84

There are some sources indicating that arrows could, on occasion, penetrate mail far enough to kill the wearer. During the Battle of Nicaea (1097), Albert of Aix wrote, "Walter the Penniless fell, pierced by seven arrows which had penetrated his coat of mail."85 One must conclude that at least one of those arrows penetrated far enough to prove fatal. In another account, Saxo wrote that the Gotlanders strung their bows so hard that their arrows could penetrate shield, hauberk, and helmet.86 During the 1st Crusade, Girard of Quiercy was killed by a Moslem arrow that punched through both his shield and his armour.87 Gerald of Wales recounted an anecdote told to him by William de Braose in which a Norman was hit at close range by a Welsh arrow that penetrated his mailed leg, through his saddle, and far enough into his horse to kill it.88 Abu Bakr Muhammad ibn al-Walid al-Tartushi, wrote in the 11th century that elite archers were capable of piercing mail.89 During the Battle of Acre (1291), William de Beaujeu, Master of the Temple, was accused of cowardice when he retreated from the fighting. He lifted up his arm and replied, "Seigneurs, I can do no more, for I am dead; see the wound."90 An arrow had pierced him through the mail beneath his armpit—only the fletches were visible.91

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Fig. 23—Mail faced many forms of vicious attack, as graphically shown in the Maciejowski Bible

Based on modern experimental results and contemporary accounts one must conclude that, while not impervious, mail and its associated padding offered good protection against arrows. It is evident, though, that some types of mail offered better protection than others and that it was possible to make mail that was arrow-proof, yet these variants may have been too heavy or not flexible enough for prolonged wear on the battlefield. Even the much-vaunted bodkin did not guarantee penetration. It seems that bodkins are more capable than other arrowheads of punching through the mail links but have difficulty penetrating the layer of padding underneath. Bodkin-type arrowheads have been used since the Bronze Age and were common during the Roman period and right through the so-called "Age of Mail." Considering the frequency with which knights faced arrows on the battlefield, if mail was highly susceptible to them, then it would not have remained the preferred type of body armour for so long. One might argue that a type of armour more resistant to arrows, such as plate or lamellar, would have been more extensively used in Western Europe during this time. It has also been demonstrated that some types of mail (such as "double mail") were considered proof against arrows. If one was concerned about arrow fire, this sort of mail was available to those who could afford it. Therefore, one must conclude that plate armour did not become widespread in the 14th century simply because of the susceptibility of mail to arrows.

Regarding mail's vulnerability to other weapons, it is generally acknowledged that sword cuts are largely ineffective against mail.92 Modern experiments indicate that it is extremely difficult to shear through mail with any sort of sword—especially if combined with padding.93 Despite its apparent ineffectiveness against mail, there are plenty of reasons for the widespread use of the knightly sword during the so-called "Age of Mail" (ignoring the fact that the sword was never the knight's primary weapon). The sword was a status symbol, a demonstration of one's knightly position in society. The sword was a symbolic depiction of the cross and representative of the knight's Christian faith. The sword was also extremely effective against poorly armoured troops (the majority of any host on a medieval battlefield). Even against mail-clad opponents the sword could inflict injury by striking at areas that were not covered with mail (such as the face) or through the infliction of blunt trauma. Because mail is flexible, it does not stop the impact of a blow. Some of the force of an attack is carried through the mail and padding to the wearer underneath. The wearer is especially vulnerable to attacks against hard, exposed body parts including the shin, knee, elbow, shoulder, clavicle, and skull. Many recreationists today attest to the ability of a blow to one of these areas breaking the bone and incapacitating the wearer even when the mail and padding is not compromised. It is for this reason that concussion weapons were used such as maces, axes, and hammers. Edge and Paddock wrote:

Such weapons of percussion were especially effective against mail armour; repeated blows could shatter bones and kill the victim without even breaking a single riveted link of his hauberk. In this situation the flexibility of mail, an advantage in other respects, was a positive disadvantage."94

Various experiments also indicate that blunt trauma could be an effective means of inflicting injury through armour, but bruising and cracked bones were preferable to a fatal sword cut. No armour guaranteed invulnerability, but it greatly lessened the chances of getting injured and often reduced a potentially fatal blow to an injury far less serious.

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Fig. 24—Foot soldiers in mail armour. The Psautier de St. Louis, 1270

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Fig. 25—Battling knights, Vita Caroli Magni of St. Gall, late 13th century

Regarding sword and knife stabs, Dr. Williams presents a convincing argument that it was far more difficult to thrust a blade through mail than many assume.95 He tested two samples of mail (placed over padding) and found that the energy required to compromise either sample exceeded the maximum amount of energy that a person can generate with a one-handed thrust—even over-handed. He tested the amount of energy required to penetrate his samples with a simulated halberd blade, a lance head, and a bodkin arrowhead. The halberd and lance required more than 200J to penetrate the first sample; the bodkin required only 120J to penetrate. Against the second sample, the halberd required 170J, the lance 140J, and the bodkin 120J. From this, it would seem that a bodkin-shaped spike is the most efficient design to compromise mail, which is consistent with other experiments.

Williams also cited an experiment by Horsfall et al.,96 who concluded that the maximum energy a person could deliver in an over-arm stab was 115J and an under-arm stab only 63J. If the data from the two experiments are combined, it seems that it was not possible for a person to punch through mail (at least the two samples tested by Williams) with a single-handed thrust—even with a spike that was optimized for the task. A lighter variant of mail or an extremely strong person may result in the armour being compromised with an over-arm stab since there is only 5J between the two sets of data, but from the available evidence it seems to be virtually impossible to penetrate mail with an under-arm thrust. Those who believe that certain blades were designed to punch through mail with an under-arm thrust are clearly mistaken. One weapon that immediately comes to mind is the Indian katar, which is optimized for an under-am thrust. Some have speculated that those blades with reinforced points were so modified in order to help them punch through armour. Reinforcing the point makes it less capable of punching through armour, not more, since there is more material to push through. Since even a spike, specifically optimized for compromising mail, would have no chance with an underarm thrust, one must conclude that a reinforced point has another purpose. The most likely reason would have been to prevent the blade from breaking when it failed to penetrate armour or bone.

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Fig. 26—Knights in mail hauberks wearing helmets with rigid nasals, circa 1180

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Fig. 27—Saracens and Christians, 1218

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Fig. 28—The Bayeux Tapestry indicates that the couched lance was in use by 1066 AD

Spear thrusts, too, are generally ineffective against mail but become more devastating if wielded from horseback (i.e. the mounted lance). The previously-mentioned haubert de joute (jousting mail) was specifically designed to be worn during tournaments in which the wearer expected the armour to protect him from repeated blows from sharpened lances. The fact that sources distinguish this type of mail from hauberts de guerre (field mail) implies that the latter was not so resistant. The only conclusion one can draw as to why jousting mail was not worn in battle is that it must have been unsuitable for such use. Either it was too heavy or perhaps not flexible enough. Another type of mail was called "double mail,"97 and this was also considered heavier and more protective than regular mail. Some have opined that "jousting mail" and "double mail" are, in fact, the same variant. The problem with this is that the texts are clear that double mail was worn in battle while jousting mail seems to have been reserved for the tourney. It is possible that jousting mail was "cut" differently to field mail and, if so, this armour term may have nothing at all to do with the type of link used.

Regarding the protective qualities of field mail against lances, there are a few contemporary sources. The memoirs of Usamah ibn Munquidh (1095-1188) recount an anecdote in which he jumped his horse over a hedge and solidly struck a Frankish knight with his lance such that:

He bent sideways so much that his head reached his stirrup, his shield and lance fell off his hand, and his helmet off his head...he then resumed his position, erect in the saddle. Having had linked mail under his tunic, my lance did not wound him.98

Over the page, Usamah describes how he charged at what he perceived to be an enemy and hit the man in the armpit with his lance, knocking him off his horse. It was fortunate that the man's mail saved him from injury because he turned out to be a friend.99

In another battle, Usamah's cousin named Khitam was attacked by Frankish lancers and unhorsed. They then reversed their lances and began to thrust into him while he lay on the ground. However, Khitam was wearing "a coat of mail the links of which were so strong that their lances could have no effect on it."100

In case a reader might doubt the martial prowess of Usamah, an earlier anecdote involved him thrusting his lance through the back of a knight named Philip, such that it went through his armoured body and projected about "a cubit" in front of him. Apparently Philip survived the injury since later a companion of the wounded knight made a special trip to the Moslem camp to see...

...the horseman who struck Philip the knight, for verily the Franks have all been astounded on account of that blow which pierced two layers of links [back and front] in the knight's coat of mail and did not kill him.101

It is unclear whether the Franks were astounded because the lance penetrated two layers of mail or because the wound was not mortal.

Usamah describes another occasion when mail armour failed:

A Kurd named Mayyah smote a Frankish knight with a lance, which made a piece of the link in his coat of mail penetrate into his abdomen, and killed him.102

Michael Psellos' Chronographia talks about an attack on Isaac Komnenos (1057 AD) in which his armour protected him from two lances striking simultaneously:

Some of our men saw him (they were Scyths from the Taurus district, and not more than four at that) and attacked him with lances, driving in on both flanks, but the iron shafts proved ineffective... Meanwhile he budged in neither direction, for as they pushed him with equal force this way and that, he remained poised and balanced in the middle. To Isaac this seemed a favourable omen, when attacks from right and left both failed to dislodge him...103

Plate Development
Despite the apparent effectiveness of mail armour, there is no doubt that plate armour provides better protection. The very fact that mail began to be augmented with plate during the 13th-14th centuries suggests that the hauberk was inadequate against some of the threats faced by the knight during this time and he was vulnerable without additional protection. Although mail was by far the dominant type of armour in Europe before the 14th century,104 smiths were capable of manufacturing armour made of large plates of iron during that time. This is demonstrated by the existence of helmets that had been raised from single large plates of iron—not a simple task. The most famous example is the helm of St. Wenceslaus, dated to the 9th or 10th century.105 It would have been an easy matter to transfer these skills to the making of solid breastplates, and it seems that it was done on rare occasions. One likely example is the "plate of worked iron" described by Guillaume le Breton and worn by Richard of Poitou (later King Richard I of England) under his hauberk during his joust with William de Barres.106 There are also a couple of surviving examples of iron plate armour dating back to the Hellenistic period. The most famous is attributed to Philip of Macedon, the father of Alexander the Great. The cuirass was made of wrought iron and trimmed with gold.107 Blair believed that some form of plate armour was always known during the so-called "Age of Mail,"108 but despite the early evidence for an occasional piece of European plate armour, mail was by far the most common type of metal armour. Blair wrote that: is probably safe to say that during the period circa 600—circa 1250 when anything other than soft [textile or leather] armour was worn it was in ninety-nine cases out of a hundred made of mail.109

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Fig. 29—Three hauberks and a mantle at the Cleveland Museum of Art

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Fig. 30—Detail of a 1400s hauberk at the Cleveland Museum of Art

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Fig. 31—A bascinet with mail aventail, Deutsches Historisches Museum

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Fig. 32—Bishop's mantle, probably German 1500-50, St. Louis Art Museum

Most assume that plate armour was developed to counter weapons such as the couched lance, crossbow, and longbow—that it evolved because of an "arms race" between weapons and armour. This is a very modern viewpoint heavily biased because of the rapid development and counter development of military technology during the 20th century. This rapid technological advancement is unprecedented in history, and although it occurred in the Middle Ages, it may not have been the main driving force for change. During these earlier times, it is likely that warfare was driven by changes in society as much as technological advances. To begin with, the weapons that were supposed to have been responsible for the development of plate, namely the longbow, crossbow, and couched lance, had been used on the battlefield at least a century before the transition from mail to plate began.110 If the primary reason for this augmentation was because of these weapons, one would expect the process to have begun soon after the weapons in question appeared on the battlefield. Despite the slower rate of change during this time, it is unreasonable to expect a delay of many generations before developing adequate armour—especially since armourers were perfectly capable of fashioning plate protection during this time.

Other factors that need to be considered include technological innovations in mass production, namely the water-powered trip hammer and the blast furnace. These technologies enabled iron plate to be manufactured in much larger quantities and much more cheaply than previously. In addition, labour costs dramatically increased after the Black Death (14th century), and the technologies previously mentioned meant that mail actually cost more to produce than all but the finest of plate armour. Williams compares the cost of 12 oxen for a 9th century helmet, mail and leggings with the cost of only 2 oxen for horseman's plate armour at the end of the 16th century.111 At Iserlohn in the 15th century, a mail haubergeon cost 4.6 gulden while plate armour only cost 4.3 gulden.112 Kassa's archives (Hungary 1633) record a mail shirt costing six times that of a "double breastplate." These records also indicate the huge difference in labour involved. The mail required 2 months to be completed while the breastplate, only 2 days. If plate armour was cheaper, quicker to produce, and offered better protection than mail, one could argue that it would have become popular even if weapons such as longbows, crossbows, and lances never existed.

There were also social changes occurring at the time. By the time plate had been introduced, the replacement of feudal levies with scutage ("shield money") as payment in lieu of service enabled commanders to make much greater use of mercenaries and professional soldiers, who were generally better armed and armoured than earlier peasant levies, were more experienced and better disciplined, and did not have to be home in time for the harvest. The "armour industry" expanded because more men were willing and able to pay for better armour and a higher percentage of any host was likely to be wearing decent armour on the battlefield. In addition to this, the primary goal of the knight in battle was shifting away from an emphasis on capturing fellow knights for ransom and more towards killing them (the difference between so-called "good war" and "bad war"). At the same time, town militias were becoming more organized and proved themselves capable of withstanding the knightly cavalry charge with disciplined ranks of infantry. Examples include Genoese crossbowmen, Scottish schilltrons, Swiss halberdiers and Flemish pikemen. The English longbow, while not as effective against mail as heavy crossbows or hafted weapons could definitely cause injuries simply through the huge numbers of arrows that were fired at the enemy. Even the small percentage of arrows that penetrated mail far enough to incapacitate the wearer added up to a very real threat. In addition, the longbowman did not drop his bow and retire from the field when he ran out of arrows. He was an integral part of the infantry who drew hand weapons (axes, mauls, knives, and so on) and waded into the melee alongside the men-at-arms. The best work on the subject is by Kelly DeVries, who surveys the importance of infantry in nineteen different battles in England and Europe during the first half of the 14th century—many of which resulted in infantry defeating heavy cavalry.113 Note that none of the weapons discussed here were particularly new innovations (except perhaps the superseding of self crossbows with composite ones). It is the organized manner in which they were used that proved decisive. Clearly, the infantry, who were not seen as much of a threat in earlier times by the knight, were becoming a force with which to be reckoned.

This article has attempted to address the history and development of mail armour. It has shown that the use of mail was extremely widespread and prolonged—being used by more cultures and for a greater period of time than any other type of body armour. One can also see that mail was not as susceptible to damage as many assume, proving resistance even to the bodkin arrowhead—a design allegedly developed specifically to punch through mail.

It is evident that there were many different types of mail, some more protective than others, but if even the lightest mail did not provide good protection the knight would not have bothered with the weight and expense of it. One must keep in mind that the interlinked metal mesh was only one half of this armour. Mail becomes far more effective when worn in conjunction with some sort of padded defense. Regarding the reason why plate armour superseded mail at the time it did, there are far more issues than the simplistic "arms race" that has been bandied about by historians. Although the development of certain weapons was one reason for plate development, it is unlikely to have been the main one, and certainly was not the only one. The initial development of plate was influenced more by the sociological, economic, and industrial factors discussed above than by an "arms race" between weaponsmith and armourer. However, once plate was introduced, one sees a constant attempt by armourers to improve its design over the next few centuries—both in terms of encumbrance and flexibility, and in terms of defense and protection—and it is clear that the threats posed by various weapons played a role in the continuing evolution of plate armour. In order to gain true understanding, one must examine this subject within industrial, social, and economic contexts. Simply studying the technological aspects without taking into consideration other related factors will lead to flawed analysis and equally flawed conclusions.

About the Author
Dan Howard is a writer from Newcastle, Australia with a BA in History and Classical Studies and is an independent scholar in Experimental Archaeology. He has had a long standing interest in body armour from the Bronze Age through to the Renaissance with a particular interest in Ancient Greece. His collection includes accurate reconstructions of various types of armour from the early Bronze Age through to Classical Rome.

1. Journal of the Mail Research Society, Vol.1, No.1, July 2003. 1
2. One of the strange exceptions is China. For some reason, mail was never widely used there despite exposure to it from other cultures. The samples that have been found in China seem to be of Persian origin
3. Common European under-armour protection includes aketons and pourpoints. The Roman equivalent was called a subarmalis or thoracomachus. The Persian equivalent was the jivrak. In some cultures, a thick woollen or felt tunic would suffice
4. Francis Grose, A Treatise on Ancient Armour and Weapons, London, 1786
5. Samuel R. Meyrick, A Critical Inquiry into Ancient Armour, as it Existed in Europe, but Particularly in England, from the Norman Conquest to the Reign of King Charles II: with a Glossary of Military Terms of the Middle Ages, (London, 1824)
6. Charles Henry Ashdown, British and Foreign Arms and Armour, (London, 1909). (Reprinted as European Arms & Armour)
7. Eugène Emmanuel Viollet-le-duc wrote in the 19th century. Two of his books were Encyclopédie Médiévale and Dictionnaire Raisonne du Mobilier Francais de l'Epoque Carlovingienne a la Renaissance. Unlike Meyrick's work, Viollet-le-duc's work continues to be reprinted today, so new generations of armour students are exposed to Victorian inaccuracies in regards to medieval armour scholarship
8. Claude Blaire, European Armour, (London: Batsford, 1958). 35-36
9. F. M. Kelly, "Chain Mail," Apollo (Nov, 1931), pp. 264-270. Footnote to p. 267
10. "Lorica, quod e loris de corio crudo pectoralia faciebant; postea subcidit gallica e ferro sub id vocabulum, ex anulis ferrea tunica"
11. Rusu, M., "Das Keltisch Furstengrab von Ciumesti in Rumanien," Bericht der Römisch-Germanischen Kommission, Vol. 50, 1969. Römisch-Germanischen Kommission Des Deutschen Archšologischen Instituts. 1971
12. A. Rustoiu, "A Journey to Mediterranean. Peregrinations of a Celtic Warrior from Transylvania," Studia Universitatis "Babes-Bolyai," Historia 51, no. 1 (June 2006): 42-85
13. Arne Jouttijärvi, Early Iron
14. B. Boryie-Fenie "Les Landes," Carte archaeologique de la Gaule 40, (Paris, 1994)
15. Austen Henry Layard, A Popular Account of Discoveries at Nineveh. (New York: J. C. Derby. 1854). 221
16. B. Niese, Flavii Iosephi Opera. (Berlin: Weidmann, 1892).
16a. H. R. Liddell & R. A. Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon. Revised by H. S. Jones & R. McKenzie. (Oxford: Clarendon Press), 1940
16b. M. Bishop & J. Coulston, Roman Military Equipment from the Punic Wars to the fall of Rome, 2nd edition, (Oxford: Oxbow), 2006. 63
17. Alan Williams, The Knight and the Blast Furnace: A History of the Metallurgy of Armour in the Middle Ages & the Early Modern Period, (Boston: Brill, 2003). 29
18. C. Smith & J. Hawthorne, (trans. & ed.) Theophilus Presbyter, On divers arts, (New York, 1963)
19. D. Sim & I. Ridge, Iron for the Eagles: The Iron Industry of Roman Britain, (Charleston: Tempus), 2002, 102
20. E. Thomsen & H. Thomsen, "Early Wire Drawing through Dies", Transactions of the ASME. Journal of Engineering for Industry. (Nov 1974), Series B. 96 (1). 1216-21
21. Erik D. Schmid, "Link Details from Articles of Mail in the Wallace Collection." Journal of the Mail Research Society, Vol.1, No.1, July 2003. 2-20
22. ffoulkes, The Armourer and his Craft: From the 11th to the 16th Century, 62
23. An example resides in the British Royal Armouries in Leeds
24. L. Biek, Archaeology and the microscope: the scientific examination of archaeological evidence. (London: Butterworth), 1963
25. D. Sim & I. Ridge, Iron for the Eagles, 98-101
26. P. Connolly, Greece and Rome at War, (London: Greenhill), 1998. 124
27. There was a clasp found at Cuimesti that closely resembles the clasp depicted on the mailed statues, suggesting that most Celtic mail corselets were made in a similar style
28. Peter Connolly (Interview), Current Archaeology, Vol 177 (2002), 374-381
29. For more on the linothorax see Connolly's Greece & Rome at War, 57-58
30. Loricam consertam hamis, auroque trilicem
31. Circulus inpactis loricam texuit hamis
32. The earliest fragment of a segmentata was found in Dangstetten and dated to the year 9 BC
33. Bishop even suggests that the small scraps of mail that have been found in the archaeological record may represent damaged fragments that had been discarded from the original armour during repairs. Bishop 1992a, 2. Mail Repairs: cf Rusu, 1969, 278. One fragment was found in a cauldron at Carlingwark Loch, Kirkcudbrightshire, suggesting that it had ended its life as a pot scourer
34. S. James, Excavations at Dura-Europos 1928-1937, The Final Report: The Arms and Armour and other Military Equipment. (London: British Museum Press), 2004. 116-120
35. James, Excavations at Dura-Europos 116
36. James, Excavations at Dura-Europos 113
37. Robinson, Oriental Armour, 21
38. Robinson, Oriental Armour, 23
39. D. Tweddle, The Anglian Helmet from Coppergate. (Council for British Archaeology) 1992. Also see The Valsgärde Helmets, "Valsgärde 8 Helm"
40. Robinson, Oriental Armour, 25
41. H. Howarth, History of the Mongols, Vol. III, (London) 1888. 712
42. Robinson, Oriental Armour, 33
43. Robinson, Oriental Armour. 145
44. Robinson, Oriental Armour. 145
45. N. Finkelshteyn. Silk Road Designs Armoury
46. I. Bottomley & A. Hopson, Arms & Armour of the Samurai. (London: Bison). 1988. 58
47. I. Bottomley & A. Hopson, Arms & Armour of the Samurai. (London: Bison). 1988. 58
48. Blair, European Armour. Footnote to p.23
49. D. Nicolle, Armies of the Caliphates 862-1350. (Oxford: Osprey), 1998. 15
50. Usamah Ibn-Munquidh, An Arab-Syrian Gentleman and Warrior in the Period of the Crusades: Memoirs of Usamah Ibn-Munquidh, Philip K. Hitti (trans.) (New Jersey: Princeton), 1978. 130-31
51. Memoirs of Usamah, 104
52. John of Pian de Carpine, History of the Mongols, (Ch 16) from Contemporaries of Marco Polo, ed. J. Cape (London: 1928)
53. ffoulkes, The Armourer and his Craft, 45
54. D. Howard, Demystifying Chainmail and Ringmail (2004)
55. N. Finkelshteyn. Silk Road Designs Armoury
56. Robinson, Oriental Armour. 123
57. Several Web sites give relatively decent instructions for making "mail and scales" with butted mail rather than the more historically-accurate riveted mail
58. Munimentum ipsis equisque loricae plumatae sunt, quae utrumque toto corpore tegunt
58a. M. Wijnhoven, "Lorica Hamata Squamataque: A Study of Roman Hybrid Feathered Armour", Journal of the Mail Research Society, Vol.2, No.1 (2009), 3-29
59. Butted mail is commonly used by modern re-enactors but historically it rarely had a place on the battlefield. It offered virtually no protection against the most common threats, i.e. arrows and spears. Even the earliest mail seems to have been made of riveted links
60. Examples include the tests conducted by Saxton Pope—"A Study in Bows and Arrows", Publications in American Archaeology and Ethnology. (University of California, 1923)
61. Modern homogenous mild steel has different mechanical properties to historical wrought iron. It is unknown whether mail made from mild steel performs better than that made from good-quality wrought iron
62. O. Nielson, "Skydeforsog med Jernalderensbuer," Eksperimentel Arkaeologi, (1991) 134-46
63. Alan Williams, The Knight and the Blast Furnace, (Boston: Brill, 2003). 942-3
64. M. Strickland & R. Hardy, The Great Warbow. (Stroud: Sutton), 2005. 278
65. Ammianus Marcellinus, The Siege of Amida, Bk 1, Ch VII. Trans. J. Rolfe (London: 1935)
66. The same tactic to counter a cavalry charge was used by English longbowmen against the French during the Hundred Years War
67. Anna Comnena, The Alexiad, trans. E. A. Dawes. (London: Penguin, 1928). XIII.8
68. The Memoirs of the Lord of Joinville: A New English Version, (Ch.14). trans. E. Wedgwood. (New York: Dutton and Co., 1906). 157
69. The Memoirs of the Lord of Joinville, (Ch.17). 197-8
70. Berry actually uses the word cuirass in her translation but in the original latin the word is lorica which more accurately translates simply as "armour." A mail hauberk is the most likely form of armour worn by Louis, not a plate cuirass
71. Odo of Deuil, The Journey of Louis VII to the East, (Bk 6). trans. V.G. Berry, (New York: Columbia University Press. 1948)
72. Bahā'al-Dīn, "The Life of Saladin" (Ch. CXVII), in What Befell Sultan Yusuf, by Abu el-Mehasan Yusef ibn-Rafi ibn-Temun el-Asadi
73. Similarly, the Byzantines developed the felt kabadion to be worn over mail to help resist arrow fire
74. R. Mitchell, "Archery Versus Mail: Experimental Archaeology and the Value of Historical Context," The Journal of Medieval Military History, Vol 4, (Sep. 2006)
75. Chronicon de Lanercost, ed. J. Stevenson (Edinburgh: 1839). 268; 273-74
76. Galbert of Bruges, The Murder of Charles the Good, trans. J. B. Ross. (Toronto: Medieval Academy of America, 1982). 165
77. A living history group associated with the Higgins Museum has confirmed that, even though an arrow may not penetrate armour, the physical impact can cause blunt trauma
78. ffoulkes discusses some of the various types of mail and their levels of proof in The Armourer and His Craft, 62-3
79. Charles ffoulkes, The Armourer and His Craft: From the 11th to the 16th Century, (London: Methuen, 1912). 63
80. "...camisiam ferream, ex circulis ferreis contextam, per quae nulla sagitta arcus poterat hominem vulnerare"
81. John of Pian de Carpine, History of the Mongols, (Ch 16) from Contemporaries of Marco Polo, ed. J. Cape (London: 1928)
82. E. Shahidi, Taziyeh va Tazieyekhani: Az Aghaz Ta Payan Doreye Qajar Dar Tehran, (Tehran: Khojaste) 2001 (1380). 405
83. R. Zeller and E. F. Rohrer, Orientalische Sammlung Henri Moser-Charlottenfels (Bern: Wyss), 1955. 35
84. L. Kobylinsky, "Persian and Indo-Persian Arms." In Persian and Indo-Persian Arms and Armour of the 16th-19th Century, from Polish Collections, A. R. Chodynski (ed.), (Marlebork), 2000. 68
85. Albert of Aix, Historia Hierosolymita, ed. August. C. Krey, in The First Crusade: The Accounts of Eyewitnesses and Participants (Princeton, 1921)
86. Saxo, Gesta Danorum. From The Nine Books of the Danish History of Saxo Grammaticus, trans. Oliver Elton. (New York: Norroena Society. 1905). VIII.12
87. J. France, Victory in the East. A Military History of the First Crusade, (Cambridge: CUPress), 1994, 143
88. Cambrensis, The Itinerary of Archbishop Baldwin Through Wales (Ch IV)
89. D. Nicolle, "Medieval Warfare: The Unfriendly Interface", The Journal of Military History, Vol. 63, No. 3
90. "Seigneurs, je ne plus, car je suy mort; vees le coup"
91. The Templar of Tyre, The Deeds of the Cypriots, P. Crawford (ed.), Ashgate: "Crusade Texts in Translation," 6 (2003)
92. While sword edges can twist, deform, and even shear through an occasional link, the damage is rarely enough to cut the wearer underneath
93. ARMA has conducted a number of test-cutting experiments against various types of armour, and the videos can be viewed here. It should be noted that none of the mail tests actually involved mail or padding that was representative of that worn on the medieval battlefield. Despite the doubtful quality of this armour, it still proved extremely difficult to compromise
94. D. Edge and J. Paddock. Arms and Armour of the Medieval Knight, (London: Bison), 1988. 32
95. Williams, The Knight and the Blast Furnace. 942-43
96. Horsfall, I. et al., "An Assessment of Human Performance in Stabbing," Forensic Science International, 102 (1999). 79-89
97. "haubert doublier," "haubert a maille double," "haubert clavey de double maille"
98. An Arab-Syrian Gentleman and Warrior in the Period of the Crusades: Memoirs of Usamah Ibn-Munquidh. Philip K. Hitti (New Jersey: Princeton) 1978, 90
99. Memoirs of Usamah, 92
100. Memoirs of Usamah, 88
101. Memoirs of Usamah, 69
102. Memoirs of Usamah, 79
103. Michael Psellos, Chronographia E.R.A Sewter (trans), (New Haven: Yale University Press), 1953. VII.13
104. The "Age of Mail" is generally defined as the period in European history in which mail was perceived to be the dominant form of metal body armour—from circa 600 AD to circa 1250 AD—though the Romans (and other cultures) made extensive use of this armour before this time
105. Currently located in the Prague Cathedral
106. Guillaume le Breton (d.1225), Philippide, Lib III, lines 494-8
107. M. Andronicos, Vergina: The Royal Tombs & the Ancient City. (Athens: Ekdotike Athenon. 1991)
108. Claude Blair, European Armour. (London: Batsford, 1958). 19
109. Claude Blair, European Armour. (London: Batsford, 1958). 19
110. For example, the Bayeux Tapestry indicates that the couched lance was in use by 1066 AD and in the following century, composite crossbows began to pose a greater threat to mail armour
111. Williams, The Knight and the Blast Furnace. 43
112. Williams, The Knight and the Blast Furnace. 910
113. Kelly DeVries, Infantry Tactics in the Early Fourteenth Century: Discipline, Tactics, and Technology. (Woodbridge: Boydell), 2000

Armourer and His Craft: From the XIth to the XVIth Century, The, by Charles Ffoulkes
Armour of Imperial Rome, The, by H. Russell Robinson
Arms and Armor from Iran: The Bronze Age to the End of the Qajar Peroid, by Manouchehr Moshtagh Khorasani
Arms & Armor of the Medieval Knight, by David Edge, John Miles Paddock
European Armour, circa 1066 to circa 1700, by Claude Blair
Excavations at Dura Europos: Final Report VII: Arms and Armour and other Military Equipment, by Simon James
Greece and Rome at War, by Peter Connolly
Infantry Warfare in the Early Fourteenth Century : Discipline, Tactics, and Technology (Warfare in History), by Kelly DeVries
Iron for the Eagles, by David Sim, Isabel Ridge
Journal of the Mail Research Society, Vol. 1, No. 1. St. Cloud. 2003
Journal of the Mail Research Society, Vol. 2, No. 1. St. Cloud. 2009
Knight and the Blast Furnace: A History of the Metallurgy of Armour in the Middle Ages & the Early Modern Period (History of Warfare, 12), The, by Alan Williams
Memoirs of Usamah
The Memoirs of the Lord of Joinville, by Ethel Wedgwood
Oriental Armour, by H. Russell Robinson
Roman Military Equipment: From The Punic Wars To The Fall Of Rome, by M. C. Bishop

Thank you to Doug Mullane for providing editing assistance and to Erik D. Schmid, Todd Hoogerland, Roel Renmans, Chad Arnow, and Micha Hofmann for providing photographs to compliment this article. Illustrations by Nathan Robinson.


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