Chain mail (originally simply known as Metal Mail) was a type of armor worn mainly in Europe, although there are accounts of Asian societies using it. Believed to be invented by the Celts , the earliest known example, being found in the burial site of a Celtic chieftain, it was highly effective at stopping slashes as well as most arrows, while a very fine point such as a Bodkin arrow could pierce light chain mail. It however offered little protection against blunt force trauma and stabbing from a thin blade. While taking a great deal of time to make, it was highly effective due to the flexibility it offered over solid plate or Lamellar.
There are two methods of fabricating chain mail: riveting and butting. Riveted mail rings (often combined with solid punched rings to save labor) is highly resistant to both slashing and stabbing. Butted chain mail has the rings bent together with no mechanical connection holding the ends together. This results in links that come apart relatively easily, while it does offer mild protection against slashes if the rings are heavy enough. Riveted mail was historically used by societies like the Celts and Vikings, while butted is normally used for modern day reenactment and is typical of DIY hobbyist mail and jewelry. In Eastern Asia chain mail was used occasionally used but the rings weren't riveted like its European counterparts, and was similar to butted mail. However, it wasn't used in large amounts like in Europe and was normally paired with other armors (like lamellar) to cover joints.
Chain mail started to rise to prominence in middle to northern Europe, where it is commonly believed to be invented by the Celts. Early on only well to do warriors could afford to use it, meaning it was also a symbol of status. The Romans, after seeing how effective the Celtic armor was, started to use it in place of their older, more expensive, bronze plate cuirasses (lorica musculata) and small bronze discs and plates (cardiophylax). As time went on chain mail became more and more common, eventually being used as standard armor for all warriors in Europe. Knights never stopped using it, even when they adopted plate armor, as it was a good way to keep them from being cut, there by reducing the risk of an infection.
In West, Central and South 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. 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 armor of choice in India. Indian mail used by warriors like the Rajput and Sikh used butter link and typically light in construction but were reinforced with plate protection . There are accounts of riveted mail and plate coat named "zirah bagtar" armor, an armor type that was introduced into India under the Mughals. @thatdognoodle
The Ottoman Empire 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 Mamluke Egyptians and the Sudanese who produced it until the early 20th century.
In East Asia
Imported chain mail was used in China and Korea by high ranking officials or elite soldiers, but it never saw widespread use there. The Japanese used many different mail weave methods including: a square 4-in-1 pattern, a hexagonal 6-in-1 pattern and a European 4-in-1 . Most of the chain mail links used by the Japanese were butted mail and was lighter and less effective compared to European mail. Though mail in Japan was mainly used in conjunction with another armor set to cover the gaps between different armor parts. It was also used to produce "armored clothing" from jackets to socks. However there are documents that the Japanese not only knew how to make riveted mail and manufactured it.
In the show, most if not all chain mail tested is butted, which is not historically accurate to what warriors who used chain mail would use, with the exception of Ivan the Terrible, who did have a shirt of riveted mail on the show.
Chain mail alone is highly effective against slashes. Even a heavy claymore or a diamond hard katana will deliver no laceration to their target behind the mail. In conjunction with a padded undergarment (gambeson) it will reduce blunt force damage as well, and it is thought that most warriors wore a gambeson, or some kind of leather garment, to enhance the effectiveness of their mail. With flexibility similar to cloth and greater than hardened leather, mail allows for excellent mobility. Due to the way it drapes over the body, its weight is evenly distributed, making it less fatiguing than most other armors. Because it was made of individual links, it is relatively easy to repair if a link is broken, only having to replace the broken link.
Mail is typically made of iron wire (often augmented with punched solid rings) which was much easier to obtain than iron plates throughout the Ancient and Medieval periods.
The largest drawback is the labor-intensive time needed to assemble a complete mail-shirt and other components. As stated earlier, it is excellent protection against slashing weapons and of limited value versus blunt force trauma -- unless backed up by a padded gambeson or similar. Specialized arrows with extremely narrow heads could easily penetrate the armor as well, though this was not a serious issue historically. Although chain mail can stop a stab from a fat blade, a thin blade can push through some chain mail hauberks (mostly those of low quality).
As a complete armor system (mail+gambeson), chain mail was fairly warm to wear. This caused problems for the Crusader armies and the 1066 Norwegian army that invaded England. In the latter case, the Norwegians left their armor at their ships on a particularly warm Autumn day and were left at a serious disadvantage when a fully-armed English army showed up!
- The ancient world, Richard A. Gabriel, Greenwood Publishing Group, 2007 P.79
- Weapon: A Visual History, Paula Regan, Covent Garden Books, 2006 P. 268
- Ian Bottomley& A.P. Hopson "Arms and Armor of the Samurai: The History of Weaponry in Ancient Japan" P.57