|oman mail found at Carlingwark Loch, Kirkcudbrightshire. (Robinson 1975: 172)|
ail was also known as lorica hamata by the Romans. It is generally accepted that the Romans acquired their knowledge of mail-making from the Celts, who were the original fabricators of this form of armour. Mail consists of metal rings, each one linked through four others, two in the row above it and two below (Robinson 1975: 164). The fine mail of the 1st century could be made from bronze or iron rings measuring, "...in some cases, as little as 3 mm in diameter" (Simkins 1994b: 18). Only fragments of mail exist in the archaeological record but the sculptured record indicates that there were many variations of lorica hamata. The best known example of a Gallo-Roman mail shirt surviving is the sculptured representation of a Gallic officer of auxiliaries in Roman service in the Musee Calvet at Avignon (see image MA1). Although this sculpture dates from the late 1st century B.C., it shows a hip-length mail coat with long-sleeves. The large shoulder doubling straps with cut-aways at the outside corners are bound with what appears to be leather edging. Buttons or rivets secure the shoulder-straps to the front of the shirt (Robinson 1975: 164). Simkins (1994b: 18) suggests that auxilia of the 2nd century wore armour of much the same appearance as the preceding century's hauberks. These were variations of the lorica hamata with shirts consisting of short, or no sleeves, with or without shoulder doubling. In the latter case their place taken by short leather pteruges. The exception was the mail of cavalrymen who worn hip-length mail shirts with a short slit on either side to allow for horse riding (Bishop & Coulston 1993: 85, see image MA2). This feature is also depicted on the base of a column from the Praetorium at Mainz.
|MA1 - MARBLE|
|MA2 - METOPE|
he method of construction of mail rings in Roman times is similar to that of later periods (Simkins 1994b: 18). Warry (1980: 135) says that mail could be made from rings of two sorts: solid rings or opened, linked rings which could be either butted or riveted shut. Robinson (1975: 164) proposes that the oldest and quickest method of construction is where every alternate row of rings is punched out of sheet metal and the rows connecting them are made from wire, with their ends flattened, overlapped, punched and riveted. However, there is little evidence of punched rings in the archaeological record (Bishop & Coulston 1993: 85). There were a number of methods of constructing mail; for the sake of brevity only the most common method is outlined here. The fabrication of riveted wire rings has been described by Simkins 1994b: 20):
...first, wire of the desired gauge had to be made by pulling a rod through progressively smaller holes in a plate...The next step was to coil the wire around a core and chisel along the resulting spring form, producing rings with offset ends. These were then forced through a tapering hole which caused the ends to overlap. In that form, the individual ring was placed in a special pair of tongs and the overlapping ends flattened for piercing with a second pair of tongs with a claw device in the jaws .
The ring was then inserted into a shirt, and secured with a sliver of bronze placed into the pierced hole. This was then riveted by a third pair of tongs with recesses in the jaws (Simkins 1994b: 20). The Romans appear to have always riveted the ends of the rings together, the result being that the mail was much stronger than the butted (alternative) variety, made by simply butting the wire ends together and which could be torn open quite readily (Balent 1989: 87). Rings in Roman mail could be alternately riveted and stamped, as shown by pieces of mail found at Newstead (see image MA3). However (Bishop & Coulston (1993: 190) argue that mail may have also been manufactured using riveted and welded rings (see image MA4). These rings could vary in size from an outside diameter ranging between 3mm to 9mm, the latter being found in post 1st century A.D. sites (Peterson 1992: 42).
|MA3 - STAMPED|
|MA4 - DRAWING|
here were advantages and disadvantages in using mail armour. The rings provided excellent defence against slashing cuts and was also effective against thrusts, whilst remaining very flexible. As there was only interlinking rings to give it form the armour suffered little from wear and could be repaired even when badly damged. Small pieces of mail in the archaeological record may represent damaged fragments which had been replaced (Bishop & Coulston 1993: 60). If properly maintained, Simkins (1994b: 20) argues that it may be possible that some of the mail worn by soldiers during the Claudian invasion of Britain in A.D. 43 had been used by Caesar's legionaries a century earlier. Mail armour could be easily recycled and passed down from the legion to the auxiliary, as it would still remain functional as armour regardless of its age or even if superseded by another type (Simkins 1994b: 18). This may be indicated by the sculptured record from later periods such as Trajan's column, which shows that earlier cuirass types were in use with the western legions during the Dacian campaigns (Simkins 1994b: 18).
A disadvantage of mail over other cuirasses is that its manufacture is extremely labour intensive perhaps taking as much as 180 hours to make a complete mail hauberk of the simplest type worn by auxiliaries from 1/4 inch stamped and butted wire rings (Simkins 1994b: 18). Clearly armour of this type must have been a costly exercise to manufacture. Whilst it afforded reasonable freedom of movement, it was also very heavy, weighing perhaps as much as 15lb (Simkins 1994a:15). The weight may have been countered by the use of a cingulum militare (military belt), which could be drawn tightly about the waist, thereby distributing part of the weight onto the hips and relieving the shoulders of some of their burden (Simkins 1994a: 15). Moreover, tests using contemporary arrow types by Massey (1994: 36) suggest that most arrowhead types consistently penetrated the mail to a depth that would prove lethal to the wearer. However, bunching of the mail at suspension points prevented penetration of the mail beyond a depth of 3-5 cm. "This [implies] that the doubling of mail shoulder defences known to be practiced by both Romans and Celts may have saved the life of their owners"(Massey 1994: 37). These observations are consistent with Plutarch's (Plutarch's Lives: Crassus) in writing of the life of Marcus Licinius Crassus who in 53 B.C. at the Battle of Carrhae whilst his army engaged the Parthians in the deserts of Mesopotamia, was not exaggerating when he spoke of arrows:
...which could pierce armour and pass through every kind of [defensive] covering, hard or soft alike" (Plutarch 1971: 293) or of "... hands [pinioned] to their shields, and their feet nailed through into the ground, so that they [were capable] neither fly nor flight (Plutarch's Lives: Crassus 1971: 294).The armour in question was most probably mail as it was used extensively by legionaries during the late Republic until the introduction of the lorica segmentata in Claudian times. Massey's testing also showed that arrow shafts were occasionally locked into place by the deformed mail rings through which these had passed, which would have made difficult to remove and considerably more difficult to treat (Massey 1994: 37). Mail would not absorb the impact of a blow, unless extremely well padded by a thoracomachus (padded doublet), and the mail could be driven into the flesh of the wearer (Bishop & Coulston 1993: 85). The use of a padded doublet underneath armour may have been a common practice with all types of metal armour.
Bishop and Coulston (1989: 32) argue that finds of small clumps of rings which occur from time to time in the archaeological record demonstrate that mail defences continued to be worn in the first and second centuries by both legionaries and auxiliaries (see image MA5). Peterson (1992: 39) suggests that this type of armour was the most prolific of all forms of Roman armour. This is supported by the tombstone of C. Valerius Crispus of Legio VIII Augusta from Wiesbaden which illustrates mail in use by a legionary in the Flavian period. Adamklissi metopes also confirm its continuation amongst some Trajanic legionaries (Bishop & Coulston 1993: 85, see image MA6). Sculpture evidence indicates its use was widespread amongst the auxilia, worn by both cavalry and infantry. Bishop & Coulston (1993: 85) say that mail appears to have been more common than scale armour, but this may be a false impression due to the nature of the sculptured record. It may have been easier for the artist to represent mail using a drill than to depict scale. Documentary evidence provided by Statius, born in the reign of the Emperor Domitian (A.D. 81-96), refers to mail in his epic poem The Thebais: "The little chains join the many-folded thorax" (Statius in Robinson 1975: 173).
|MA5 - FRAGMENTS|
|MA6 - STELA|
he evidence of decoration used in conjunction with mail is unclear. The archaeological record does not support the existence of decoration used in conjunction with mail. Simkins (1974: 33) proposes a number of conjectural reconstructions of decorative elements used with mail. For example, he based a reconstruction on the representation of aquilifer Musius of Legio XIV Gemina of Mainz who appears to have worn a jerkin over mail with applied strips; which may have been made from soft hide. This jerkin supports a single row of pteruges with the upper parts crossed with straps into which are fastened a pair of Celtic torcs and nine phalerae, awards for particular acts of valour which may or may not have been worn in combat (Simkins 1974: 33 , see image MA7). On Musius' shoulders are depicted a series of apparently overlapping metal plates with short pteruges over the sleeves of the lorica (Robinson 1975: 169). The Adamklissi monument depicts auxiliary infantry which in addition to a short mail skirt, a simple kilt of one or two layers of pteruges could be attached to the mail or to a corselet under this mail. This may have also been applied to non-sleeved loricae, the upper arm defence of pteruges, of one or two layers (see image MA8). Further, a 'sporran', which made its appearance early in the 1st century, consisting of an 'apron' of metal discs riveted to leather straps, hung from the belt over the groin region. "These devices are thought to have been introduced to counter fear of emasculation" (Simkins 1994a: 31). Bishop and Coulston (1989: 35) also suggest that the dangling 'apron' may have been dangerous for a man running, and probably did not offer much protection to a soldier's lower abdomen but, may have been valued for the jingling sound that it may have made to intimidate enemies. Warry (1980: 186) proposes that mail of the 1st and 2nd centuries could be highly decorated with silver, and black enamel inlay (niello) but he provides no evidence to substaniate this claim. From all the evidence which is available it is clear that this type of armour would not have had much decoration because of the lack of any flat surfaces to emboss or engrave, thus use of extraneous decoration may have been limited in its use. In addition it is also apparent that after the introduction of segmental armour, mail was probably largely confined to the auxiliary troops.
|MA7 - STELA|
|MA8 - METOPE|