-- Chain Mail
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Chain Mail
Time Period: 5th century BC to present
Location: Worldwide
Common Construction: Wrought iron and later steel rings riveted together

Chain mail is a general term for armor composed of interlinked metal rings. The coverage of the mail is primarily based on the thickness of the rings; when the rings are thin, there is a lot of open space between the links for piercing weapons such as arrows or spears to penetrate. When the rings are thick, they push against each other and leave much less open space, therefore providing greater coverage. Chain mail was initially created from wrought iron rings, but metallurgical advances in the 14th century allowed pieces to be created from steel, greatly improving their protective value.

Chain mail could be worn as head protection in the form of a coif. However, the coif alone was insufficient because even if it were able to turn aside a blow, the impact would transfer through the chain mail to the target. Therefore a helmet was typically worn over the coif. Eventually, the coif and helmet combined into a basinet with an aventail. The basinet covered the head, and the aventail was attached to the bottom of the helmet and covered the neck. Chain leggings also existed, called chausses.

However, chain mail was primarily used as body armor. A suit of mail that extended down to the waist was called a birnie, if it extended to the thighs a haubergeon, and if it extended down to the knees a hauberk. Hauberks were often split to allow the wearer to ride on horseback, and usually covered the entire arm. Some hauberks had a coif built in and even extended to enclose the hand in a muffler, or chain glove.

The first evidence of the hauberk dates back to the Bayeux Tapestry, which shows Norman soldiers wearing them in the 11th century. However, the invention of chain mail dates back to the 5th century BC and certainly it had been worn in some form ever since that time period. Use of chain mail in Europe declined in the 14th century with the advent of plated armor, but it continued to be used in other parts of the world such as the Middle East much later.

In modern times, chain mail has extremely limited applications, but it is still worn by butchers to protect their hands and has obvious appeal for movies, renaissance festivals, and reenactments.

Armor, General Term, History, Present, Torso

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