Like the section of hoplite armour, this section provides advice on making armour, along with some general discussion of the armour type.


I have heard many pedants correct people who say "chainmail", by saying that mail is the correct term for this kind of armour, which is made up of many linked rings of metal. There is a period of the past sometimes referred to as the "chainmail" period, because, in Europe at least, this was the type of armour worn by knights and soldiers. When a knight of the period (which lasted from the late Roman to the later crusades, about a thousand years) asked for his mail, he meant his armour, as these were synonymous. Today, however, it is possible to be confused between one type of mail and another. Some people use terms like scalemail, and even worse, platemail, so as I see it, the term chainmail is acceptable, since it is unambiguous.

What does it look like?

In close-up, it looks like this:

Here we see part of the sleeve of a Moghul example of European-pattern mail armour. Note that every link is joined by a rivet.

close-up picture of mail armour

Is it any good, then?

Well, given that I've just said that it was used for a thousand years to the exclusion of other armour types, and given further that it was used in the iron age, and as late as this century in some parts of the world, I'd say that it must be pretty good. People are not entirely stupid. Chainmail is very labour-consuming to make, and people do not go to all this trouble, for so long, if what they were labouring to produce was of little use. In truth, chainmail is very good indeed.

First, it can be bought off-the-peg. A single mail shirt will fit a wide variety of people. It has a figure-hugging quality which means that an army can be equipped without every man needing to be measured by tailors, and father can lend son his armour. This, when one thinks of the expense of armour, and the logistics of big campaigns involving thousands on men, is a very big advantage of mail over other types of armour.

Second, it is well-ventilated. The gaps in the mail allow free passage of air and sweat. Mail also acts as a sort of heat-sink, which keeps you cool in summer, as it soaks up your body heat, and cold in the winter (so wear something warm underneath). It will heat up in direct strong sun, but this is avoided by wearing something over the top of it. Unlike other sorts of armour, it is easy to wear things both under and over chainmail. That man you can see out of your window now, just across the street, might be wearing mail, and you'd never know.

It is quiet. True, where it hangs loose, able to flap about, it makes a bit of noise, but if it is worn with clothing over it, preventing over-much beflapment, it is near enough silent.

It is comfortable. If the rings are small enough, then the body cannot feel the individual links, and the coat generates a nicely-dispersed load on the body. It does not dig in as the edge of plates can. Mail was worn by crusaders and others all day. I have worn mail for as much as three days at a time with no ill effects.

It is self-cleaning. The rings, free to rotate and rub against each other, clean each other. When mail gets rusty, the easiest cure is to wear it for a while. True, your clothes might get orange stains, but it won't be long before the mail gleams again. Well-used mail is silvery with its own polishing.

It is beautiful. When you hold a piece of it in your hand, the eye sees an intricate and regular pattern of whirling curves, and the hand feels a piece of solid quicksilver. It has a way of flowing about which makes a little patch of mail far superior to Greek worry-beads or the like, as a fiddle-thing.

It is flexible. A piece of mail, properly made, with roundish-section wire links, will not just flex, but actually fold and fold again onto itself. It does not restrict the wearer's movements one tiny bit. I remember reading a book when I was grass height to a knee-hopper, in which the author assured me that Vikings fought with straight arms, because they wore mail sleeves. What fools get published.

It stops you from dying. I mention this one last, but it is important. A sword or axe will not cut through mail. True, a strong thrust from spear or arrow might burst some links and pierce the armour, but only after a lot of the energy from the thrust has been absorbed. If arrows went through mail as though it weren't there, as some claim, then why did people who used bows or faced bow-using foes, continue to prefer mail over other types of armour for a millennium? Many tests have been done which show that a bow can pierce mail. However, these are carried out against a piece of mail stretched out flat on a flat solid surface, often without any padding underneath, and the arrow, often of armour-piercing kind, is shot at it at close range, to hit perfectly perpendicular to the armour. Under these circumstances, an arrow will pierce. In a real battle, many wounds from arrows are caused by arrows falling from the sky, at an angle, at long range, hitting a flesh-covered moving man. Under those circumstances, mail will keep an arrow out. Even at closer range, men would often survive being shot several times. There are accounts of crusaders looking like pin cushions, after many arrows had pierced their mail, but then got caught in the padding worn underneath. The mail had done its job.

One drawback I can think of is that mail can hang heavily from the shoulders, if the garment is very long, such as a hauberk, which is like a chainmail dressing gown. The solutions to this include riding a horse, and wearing a military belt, which was a wide and very stiff belt, stiffened with metal strips. The mail would hang not just from the shoulders, but also from the military belt.

Will making some mail armour make me happy?

Well, these people seem to be happy in their mail.

On the left we see how your friends and family will be affected by trying on your mail. On the right we see the dangers to avoid. I'm afraid that the rest of the kit is not so authentic, as this photo' was taken at a live action role play event.

Lloyd, happy with his mail
smiling girl in mail

Birthday girl treated to mail

Emma here seems delighted to be in mail. A slinky, but rather heavy, evening dress. All girls in Jesmond wear mail on their twenty-first birthday. A fine tradition.

It all sounds top. How do I make some?

Well, this page is getting a bit long, so I think that it is time to divide the making stage into a few sections. Click on the following sections in the correct order to win a fictitious prize:


You might like to visit Erik D. Schmid's site, which is an interesting American mail-related website (years ago he used to call it 'maille', but now he has gone over to 'mail'). He has a page of links. One which caught my eye was one for a company which trains horses for use in medieval re-enactment. Only in America would such a company call itself "Warhorses R Us".

The Armour Archive is a site to which many people send their tips for making armour. You might also want to go to the Maille Artisans International League which is, I'm told, quite a hive for all panzermachers.


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