Chain mail, maille, or mail armor are just a few names that this style of armor goes by. Characterized by interlocking rings forming protective armor, it was the defensive clothing of choice for hundreds of years.
Many accredit the Celtic people with inventing this style of armor , however there are some examples of chain mail armor from the Etruscan period from around the 4th century BCE.
So what makes chain mail armor so amazing? Well, ever since mankind discovered that metals could be forged and worked into both weapons and armor, an eternal game of catch-up has been played between weapons makers and armor makers. From animals skins, to copper and bronze breast plates, to scale armor, the evolution of armor began as weapons such as better swords, arrows, spears, and axes were created. However, the main problem with the armor to date was that they usually lacked the full range of motion the human body can make. So that meant that certain parts of the body such as the shoulders, neck, and legs or hips were left unprotected because they needed full range of motion of those parts.
This is where the ingenuity of chain mail armor comes in. Because chain mail is a series of metal rings interlocked together, they can be arranged in millions of combinations to form haubergeons, coifs, leggings, etc. Also, the way they are woven together can vary from the basic 4-in-1 pattern to 6-in-1 and even 8-in-1 patterns. Coupled with advances in metallurgy, such as the move from iron to steel, the world now had an extremely effective and non-cumbersome form of armor.
Also, one distinction to note is that while the European style of chain mail weaving is the most well known for their alternating rows and columns, the Japanese also have their own distinctive style of chain mail armor.
Above is an extremely elaborate and well put-together 8-in-1 chain mail weave. European style chain mail armor can usually be discerned by characteristic rows and columns being formed from the weaving.
Pictured above is an antique Japanese style 6-in-1 hexagonal weave. The Japanese are actually credited with more chain mail weave patterns and styles than all the rest of the world put together
Some differences between Japanese kusari (chain mail armor) and European armor are that Japanese weave patterns usually made geometric shapes such as square 4-in-1 or hexagonal 6-in-1 patterns versus European row and column styles. Also, Japanese chain mail usually were made with smaller sized rings.
So that's the basics on chain mail armor. European and Japanese style chain mail were the predominant cultures using chain mail style armor in their history, which led to amazing advances in armor technology at the time.
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