Chainmail
Overview
 
Mail is a type of armour
Armour
Armour or armor is protective covering used to prevent damage from being inflicted to an object, individual or a vehicle through use of direct contact weapons or projectiles, usually during combat, or from damage caused by a potentially dangerous environment or action...

 consisting of small metal rings linked together in a pattern to form a mesh.
Mail was a highly successful type of armour and was used by nearly every metalworking culture.
Mail first appeared some time after 300 BC. Its invention is credited to the Celts. It may have been inspired by the much earlier scale armour
Scale armour
Scale armour is an early form of armour sometimes erroneously called scale mail consisting of many individual small armour scales of various shapes attached to each other and to a backing of cloth or leather in overlapping rows. Scale armour was worn by warriors of many different cultures as well...

. From the adoption by the Romans
Roman Republic
The Roman Republic was the period of the ancient Roman civilization where the government operated as a republic. It began with the overthrow of the Roman monarchy, traditionally dated around 508 BC, and its replacement by a government headed by two consuls, elected annually by the citizens and...

 of Celtic mail to its decline in the 17th and 18th centuries the history of mail was one of proliferation.
Encyclopedia
Mail is a type of armour
Armour
Armour or armor is protective covering used to prevent damage from being inflicted to an object, individual or a vehicle through use of direct contact weapons or projectiles, usually during combat, or from damage caused by a potentially dangerous environment or action...

 consisting of small metal rings linked together in a pattern to form a mesh.

History

Mail was a highly successful type of armour and was used by nearly every metalworking culture.
Mail first appeared some time after 300 BC. Its invention is credited to the Celts. It may have been inspired by the much earlier scale armour
Scale armour
Scale armour is an early form of armour sometimes erroneously called scale mail consisting of many individual small armour scales of various shapes attached to each other and to a backing of cloth or leather in overlapping rows. Scale armour was worn by warriors of many different cultures as well...

. From the adoption by the Romans
Roman Republic
The Roman Republic was the period of the ancient Roman civilization where the government operated as a republic. It began with the overthrow of the Roman monarchy, traditionally dated around 508 BC, and its replacement by a government headed by two consuls, elected annually by the citizens and...

 of Celtic mail to its decline in the 17th and 18th centuries the history of mail was one of proliferation. From its start in Europe it came to be used in North Africa, the Middle East, Central Asia, India, Tibet, Korea and finally Japan. Through trade, mail spread around the world yet its basic design remained the same although certain features of mail armour started to change during its journey eastward.

Mail continues to be used in the 21st century as a component of stab-resistant body armour
Personal armor
Personal armor is the whole of protecting clothing, designed to absorb and/or deflect slashing, bludgeoning, and penetrating attacks. They were historically used to protect soldiers, whereas today, they are also used to protect police forces, private citizens and private security guards or...

, cut-resistant gloves for butchers and woodworkers, shark-resistant wetsuit
Wetsuit
A wetsuit is a garment, usually made of foamed neoprene, which is worn by surfers, divers, windsurfers, canoeists, and others engaged in water sports, providing thermal insulation, abrasion resistance and buoyancy. The insulation properties depend on bubbles of gas enclosed within the material,...

s for defence against shark bites, and a number of other applications. Mail is also used in reenactments, decorative uses and jewelry.

Etymology

In the Dark Ages, mail was often referred to as "ring maille" to distinguish it from other types of mail, such as plated mail
Plated mail
Plated mail is a type of mail with embedded plates. Armour of this type has been used in the Middle East, Japan, China, Korea, Central Asia, Greater Iran, India, Eastern Europe, and by the Moors.-Types of plated mail:In Russia there are three known varieties of this armour...

. In the Middle Ages
Middle Ages
The Middle Ages is a periodization of European history from the 5th century to the 15th century. The Middle Ages follows the fall of the Western Roman Empire in 476 and precedes the Early Modern Era. It is the middle period of a three-period division of Western history: Classic, Medieval and Modern...

, scale armour died out, but mail remained under the French term "maille" or "mayle", meaning "mesh" or "net", which derived from Latin macula, or "mesh in a net". In the Victorian period, interest in the Middle Ages was rekindled, and the Gothic revival began. Civilizations that used mail had different terms for the individual types of garments. In the English language, European garments made with mail are leggings (chausses
Chausses
Chausses are armour for the legs, usually made from mail. They could extend to the knee or cover the entire leg. Chausses were the standard type of metal leg armour during most of the European Middle Ages. Chausses offered flexible protection that was effective against slashing weapons...

), mail hoods (coif
Coif
A coif is a close fitting cap that covers the top, back, and sides of the head.- History :Coifs were worn by all classes in England and Scotland from the Middle Ages to the early seventeenth century .Tudor and earlier coifs are usually made of unadorned white linen and tied under...

) and mail mittens (mitons). A mail collar hanging from a helmet is camail or aventail
Aventail
An aventail or camail is a flexible curtain of mail on a helmet that extends to cover the neck and shoulders. The mail could be attached to the helm by threading a leather cord through brass rings at the edge of the helm. Aventails were most commonly seen on bascinets in the 14th century and...

. A mail collar worn strapped around the neck was called a pixane or standard. A shirt made from mail is a hauberk
Hauberk
A hauberk is a shirt of chainmail. The term is usually used to describe a shirt reaching at least to mid-thigh and including sleeves. Haubergeon generally refers to a shorter variant with partial sleeves, but the terms are often used interchangeably.- History :The word hauberk is derived from the...

if knee-length and a haubergeon if mid-thigh length. A waist-length coat in medieval Europe was called a byrnie, although the composition of a byrnie is unclear. Noting that the byrnie was the ″most highly valued piece of armour″ to the Carolingian
Charlemagne
Charlemagne was King of the Franks from 768 and Emperor of the Romans from 800 to his death in 814. He expanded the Frankish kingdom into an empire that incorporated much of Western and Central Europe. During his reign, he conquered Italy and was crowned by Pope Leo III on 25 December 800...

 soldier, Bennet, Bradbury, DeVries, Dickie, and Jestice indicate that:
"There is some dispute among historians as to what exactly constituted the Carolingian byrnie. Relying... only on artistic and some literary sources because of the lack of archaeological examples, some believe that it was a heavy leather jacket with metal scales sewn onto it. It was also quite long, reaching below the hips and covering most of the arms. Other historians claim instead that the Carolingian byrnie was nothing more than a coat of chain mail, but longer and perhaps heavier than traditional early medieval mail. Without more certain evidence, this dispute will continue".

Mail armour in Europe

The use of mail was prominent throughout the Dark Ages, High Middle Ages
Middle Ages
The Middle Ages is a periodization of European history from the 5th century to the 15th century. The Middle Ages follows the fall of the Western Roman Empire in 476 and precedes the Early Modern Era. It is the middle period of a three-period division of Western history: Classic, Medieval and Modern...

 and Renaissance
Renaissance
The Renaissance was a cultural movement that spanned roughly the 14th to the 17th century, beginning in Italy in the Late Middle Ages and later spreading to the rest of Europe. The term is also used more loosely to refer to the historical era, but since the changes of the Renaissance were not...

, and reached its apex in Europe, in terms of coverage, during the 13th century, when mail covered the whole body.
The earliest finds of mail are from the 3rd century BCE from Horný Jatov, Slovakia, and a Celt
Celt
The Celts were a diverse group of tribal societies in Iron Age and Roman-era Europe who spoke Celtic languages.The earliest archaeological culture commonly accepted as Celtic, or rather Proto-Celtic, was the central European Hallstatt culture , named for the rich grave finds in Hallstatt, Austria....

ic chieftain's burial located in Ciumeşti, Romania. It is believed that the Roman Republic
Roman Republic
The Roman Republic was the period of the ancient Roman civilization where the government operated as a republic. It began with the overthrow of the Roman monarchy, traditionally dated around 508 BC, and its replacement by a government headed by two consuls, elected annually by the citizens and...

 first came into contact with mail fighting the Gauls in Cisalpine Gaul
Cisalpine Gaul
Cisalpine Gaul, in Latin: Gallia Cisalpina or Citerior, also called Gallia Togata, was a Roman province until 41 BC when it was merged into Roman Italy.It bore the name Gallia, because the great body of its inhabitants, after the expulsion of the Etruscans, consisted of Gauls or Celts...

, now Northern Italy
Northern Italy
Northern Italy is a wide cultural, historical and geographical definition, without any administrative usage, used to indicate the northern part of the Italian state, also referred as Settentrione or Alta Italia...

. The Roman army adopted the technology for their troops in the form of the lorica hamata
Lorica hamata
The lorica hamata is a type of mail armour used by the Roman Republic and the Roman Empire. During the 1st century it was starting to be supplemented by lorica segmentata, but had been reintroduced as sole standard-issue armor by the 4th century. It was issued for both primary Legionary and...

 which was used as a primary form of armour through the Imperial period.
After the fall of the Western Empire much of the infrastructure needed to create plate armour
Plate armour
Plate armour is a historical type of personal armour made from iron or steel plates.While there are early predecessors such the Roman-era lorica segmentata, full plate armour developed in Europe during the Late Middle Ages, especially in the context of the Hundred Years' War, from the coat of...

 was lost and it was replaced by mail armour in most regions. Eventually the word "mail" came to be synonymous with armour. It was typically an extremely prized commodity as it was expensive and time consuming to produce and could mean the difference between life and death in a battle. Thus, it was usually only worn by chieftains, nobility, and wealthier soldiers or mercenaries. A Viking haubergeon was said to cost the equivalent of twelve milk cows and a suit often cost as much as a small house. Mail from dead combatants was frequently looted and was used by the new owner or sold for a lucrative price. As time went on and infrastructure improved it came to be used by more soldiers. Eventually with the rise of the lanced cavalry charge, impact warfare and high-powered crossbows mail came to be used as a secondary armour to plate for the mounted nobility.

By the 14th century, plate armour
Plate armour
Plate armour is a historical type of personal armour made from iron or steel plates.While there are early predecessors such the Roman-era lorica segmentata, full plate armour developed in Europe during the Late Middle Ages, especially in the context of the Hundred Years' War, from the coat of...

 was commonly used to supplement mail. Eventually mail was supplanted by plate for the most part as it provided greater protection against windlass crossbows, bludgeoning weapons, and lance charges. However, mail was still widely used by many soldiers as well as brigandine
Brigandine
A brigandine is a form of body armour from the Middle Ages. It is a cloth garment, generally canvas or leather, lined with small oblong steel plates riveted to the fabric....

s and padded jacks. These three types of armour made up the bulk of the equipment used by soldiers with mail being the most expensive. It was quite often more expensive than plate armour. A mail shirt interwoven between two layers of fabric is called jazerant. Mail typically persisted longer in less technologically advanced areas such as Eastern Europe but was in use everywhere into the 16th century.

During the late 19th and early 20th century mail was used as a material for bulletproof vests, most notably by the Wilkinson Sword
Wilkinson Sword
Wilkinson Sword is a brand name for companies that make gardening tools and razors. Wilkinson Sword's origins are in the manufacture of swords. The company was founded in London in 1772. The brand is currently owned by Energizer Holdings. Past product lines have included guns, bayonets, and other...

 Company. Results were unsatisfactory, Wilkinson mail worn by the Khedive of Egypt's regiment of "Iron Men" was manufactured from split rings which proved to be too brittle, the rings would fragment when struck by bullets and further aggravate the damage. The riveted mail armour worn by the opposing Sudanese Madhists did not have the same problem but also proved to be relatively useless against the firearms of British forces at the battle of Omdurman
Battle of Omdurman
At the Battle of Omdurman , an army commanded by the British Gen. Sir Herbert Kitchener defeated the army of Abdullah al-Taashi, the successor to the self-proclaimed Mahdi Muhammad Ahmad...

. During World War I Wilkinson Sword transitioned from mail to a lamellar design which was the precursor to the flak jacket
Flak jacket
thumb|300px|The two components of an obsolete British military flak vest. On the left, the nylon vest. On the right, the several layers of [[ballistic nylon]] that provide the actual protection...

.

Also during World War I a mail fringe, designed by Captain Cruise of the British Infantry, was added to helmets to protect the face. This proved unpopular with soldiers, in spite of being proven to defend against a three-ounce (100 g) shrapnel round fired at a distance of one hundred yards (90 m).

Mail armour in Asia

Mail Armour was introduced to the Middle East and Asia through the Romans and was adopted by the Sassanid Persians starting in the 3rd century AD, where it was supplemental to the scale and lamellar armours already used. Mail was commonly also used as horse armour for cataphracts and heavy cavalry as well as armour for the soldiers themselves. Asian mail was typically lighter than the European variety and sometimes had prayer symbols stamped on the rings as a sign of their craftsmanship as well as for divine protection. Indeed, mail armour is mentioned in the Koran as being a gift revealed by Allah to David:

21:80 It was We Who taught him the making of coats of mail for your benefit, to guard you from each other's violence: will ye then be grateful? (Yusuf Ali's translation).

From the Middle East mail was quickly adopted in Central Asia by the Sogdians and by India in the South. It was not commonly used in Mongol armies due to its weight and the difficulty of its maintenance, but it eventually became the armour of choice in India. Indian mail was typically light in construction and was often used with plate protection. Plated mail
Plated mail
Plated mail is a type of mail with embedded plates. Armour of this type has been used in the Middle East, Japan, China, Korea, Central Asia, Greater Iran, India, Eastern Europe, and by the Moors.-Types of plated mail:In Russia there are three known varieties of this armour...

 was in common use in India until the Battle of Plassey
Battle of Plassey
The Battle of Plassey , 23 June 1757, was a decisive British East India Company victory over the Nawab of Bengal and his French allies, establishing Company rule in South Asia which expanded over much of the Indies for the next hundred years...

 and the subsequent British conquest of the sub-continent.

The Ottoman Empire
Ottoman Empire
The Ottoman EmpireIt was usually referred to as the "Ottoman Empire", the "Turkish Empire", the "Ottoman Caliphate" or more commonly "Turkey" by its contemporaries...

 used plated mail widely and it was used in their armies until the 18th century by heavy cavalry and elite units such as the Janissaries. They spread its use into North Africa where it was adopted by Mamluk
Mamluk
A Mamluk was a soldier of slave origin, who were predominantly Cumans/Kipchaks The "mamluk phenomenon", as David Ayalon dubbed the creation of the specific warrior...

 Egyptians and the Sudanese who produced it until the early 20th century.

Mail was introduced to China
China
Chinese civilization may refer to:* China for more general discussion of the country.* Chinese culture* Greater China, the transnational community of ethnic Chinese.* History of China* Sinosphere, the area historically affected by Chinese culture...

 when its allies in Central Asia paid tribute to the Tang Emperor
Tang Dynasty
The Tang Dynasty was an imperial dynasty of China preceded by the Sui Dynasty and followed by the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms Period. It was founded by the Li family, who seized power during the decline and collapse of the Sui Empire...

 in 718 by giving him a coat of "link armour" assumed to be chainmail. China first encountered the armour in 384 when its allies in the nation of Kuchi arrived wearing "armour similar to chains". Once in China mail was imported but was not produced widely. Due to its flexibility and comfort, it was typically the armour of high-ranking guards and those who could afford the import rather than the armour of the rank and file, who used the easier to produce and maintain brigandine and lamellar
Lamellar armour
Lamellar armour was one of three early body armour types made from armour plates. The other two types are scale armour and laminar armour.-Description:...

 types. However, it was one of the only military products that China imported from foreigners. Mail spread to Korea slightly later where it was imported as the armour of imperial guards and generals.

Mail armour (kusari) in Japan

The Japanese had more varieties of mail than all the rest of the world put together. In Japan
Japan
Japan is an island nation in East Asia. Located in the Pacific Ocean, it lies to the east of the Sea of Japan, China, North Korea, South Korea and Russia, stretching from the Sea of Okhotsk in the north to the East China Sea and Taiwan in the south...

 mail is called kusari which means chain. When the word kusari is used in conjunction with an armoured item it usually means that the kusari makes up the majority of the armour defence. An example of this would be kusari gusoku which means chain armour. Kusari jackets, hoods, gloves, vests, shin, shoulder, thigh guards, and other armoured clothing were produced, even kusari tabi socks.
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