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Chainmail Armor History

ChainmailChainmail (also maille, often called as chain mail or chain maille) is a type of armor consisting of small metal rings linked together in a pattern to form a mesh. The word chainmail is of relatively recent coinage, having been in use only since the 1700s; prior to this it was referred to simply as mail. The word itself refers to the armor material, not the garment made from it. A shirt made from mail is a hauberk if knee-length, haubergeon if mid-thigh length, and byrnie if waist-length. Mail leggings are called chausses, mail hoods coif and mail mittens mitons. A mail collar hanging from a helmet is camail or aventail. A mail collar worn strapped around the neck was called a pixane or standard.The use of chainmail was prominent throughout the Dark Ages, High Middle Ages and Renaissance, and reached its apex in Europe, in terms of coverage, during the 13th century, when mail covered the whole body. In the 14th century, plate armor began to supplement mail. Eventually mail was supplanted by plate for the most part. However, mail was still widely used by many soldiers as well as brigandines and padded jacks. Several patterns of linking the rings together have been known since ancient times, with the most common being the 4-to-1 pattern (where each ring is linked with four others). In Europe, the 4-to-1 pattern was completely dominant.

Chainmail was also common in East Asia, primarily Japan, with several more patterns being utilized and an entire nomenclature developing around them. Historically, in Europe, from the pre-Roman period on, the rings composing a piece of chainmail would be riveted closed to reduce the chance of the rings splitting open when subjected to a thrusting attack or a hit by an arrow. Up until the 14th century European mail was made of alternating rows of both riveted rings and solid rings. Later it was almost all made from riveted rings only. Chainmail is believed to have been invented by the Celtic people in Eastern Europe about 500 BC. When these Celts moved West they took mail with them. Most cultures who used chainmail used the Celtic word Byrnne or a variant, suggesting the Celts as the originators. The Roman Army used chainmail for almost all of its history. After the collapse of the Western Roman Empire in 476 AD the infrastructure to make plate was largely lost in Europe, as a result mail was the best available armor during the ensuing Early Medieval period.

History of Arms and Armor | Arms and Armor Glossary


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