LORICA HAMATA--MAIL              3/15/11

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       Mail was the "standard" armor before the introduction of the lorica segmentata, and it continued in use among auxiliaries and legionaries throughout the imperial period.  It is not known what the ratio of hamata to segmentata might have been in the mid-first century AD, but either is acceptable. Mail was also worn by standard-bearers, musicians, and centurions, and of course by auxiliary troops.

       Roman mail was generally made of iron, with rings as small as 1/8" in diameter, in the common "4 in 1" pattern.  Usually, half the rings were solid--either punched from sheet metal, or cut from wire and welded shut--while the rest were riveted shut.  The solid rings were roughly square in cross-section, i.e., the difference between the ring's inner and outer diameter was the same not much greater than the thickness.  The wire for the riveted rings could be round (usually) or square.  While it was long believed that some Roman mail rings may simply have been butted shut, closer analysis of surviving fragments has not revealed any definite proof of that.  There is evidence that the rings could be tinned or even gilded!

      Roman rings with an inside diameter of c. 5 mm and an outside diameter of c. 7 mm were apparently very typical.  An outside diameter of 10 mm or 3/8" seems to have been about the maximum, but for our purposes an outside diameter of about 1/2" will be accepted.  Steel wire of about 16 gauge is typical for reproductions, though thinner is better particularly for smaller or riveted rings.   PLEASE DO NOT BUY BUTTED MAIL FOR LEGIO XX USE!  Save your money for the better stuff--riveted mail is available from several suppliers.  See the suggestions below, and consult the Commander.

       Note that wearing mail does NOT mean that you are limited to wearing a Coolus helmet!  This is a modern stereotype, and any acceptable Imperial-Gallic or Italic helmet is an option.

       While galvanization protects against rust, especially during construction, it should be removed when the shirt is done, for a more authentic appearance (zinc galvanization is NOT the same as tinning!).  This can often be done by soaking the mail in vinegar for 12 to 24 hours--do this outside, as hydrogen gas can be given off.  Rinse the mail VERY WELL immediately upon removing it from the vinegar, dry it off as much as possible, and oil it against rust.  Battery acid has also been used, as well as hydrochloric/muriatic acids such as "ZAP" tile cleaner.  Rolling the mail in a barrel of sand should also work, though it will leave the mail very dirty.

        The typical mailshirt is sleeveless or has short sleeves (c.5"), and reaches to about mid-thigh.  The shoulder doubling, shaped like a square-bottomed U (at right), was probably backed by leather (c. 2-3 ounce), which is folded over the edges and stitched through.  On most modern reconstructions the doubling is attached to the body by a row of rings along the back bottom edge, but two surviving Roman shirts from Britain have small buckles riveted to the back, presumably to secure the shoulder doubling.

       Riveted to the center of the chest is a pair of S-shaped hooks of iron or brass, which hook onto a button or stud on each flap.  For auxiliary cavalry and some officers, the shoulder doubling has wider flaps which drape over the shoulders.  This is apparently a Celtic variation, as shown here.  It could be more of a circular cape, attached around the neck opening, but the evidence for this is shaky.   At some point in the later first century most auxiliaries began to wear shortsleeved mailshirts without shoulder doublings, though the doubling is still seen on legionaries on the Trajanic Adamklissi monument.  The zig-zagged edges seen on the mailshirts on Trajan's Column might be only an artistic convention.

      There does not seem to be any direct evidence that the Romans "tailored" their mail, adding or subtracting rings from certain rows to shape the shirt.  Since mail naturally conforms to the body, any hamata will fit a number of different-sized people, even without tailoring.

       The chest hooks were frequently cast brass, but they were also sometimes made from sheet brass or iron.  Studs were often cast as well, but can be made simply by riveting discs in place, not tightly but with some extra length on the shaft of the rivet.  Solid brass or pewter buttons have also been used, and some sort of large-headed nail might work.

       You will need a subarmalis to wear between your hamata and your tunic.  Not only does this keep your tunic clean, but it has become clear that some fairly stiff padding and/or leather is essential to allow mail its full protective potential.  When properly made and properly padded, mail has been shown to be a far more effective defense than was once thought.  It is extremely difficult to cut or break any of the rings under battlefield conditions, though of course it is possible to damage the wearer without actually cutting through the mail.  The shoulder doubling may have been backed with leather (or padding), which would have to be cut so that the flaps flair outwards in a slight curve as on the ancient Greek linothorax (linen cuirass).  This prevents them from sticking up strangely at the shoulders.  (The mail itself can be cut straight because it flexes easily to the proper shape.)

       Samples of reproduction mail.   Those at top were made by Erik D. Schmid.  The finer one on the left can be considered very typical of Roman mail, with rings just under 7 mm in outside diameter.  The riveted rings are made from round-section wire but have been slightly flattened.   The sample at upper right was  graciously donated by Arthur Hendrick.  The punched rings are about 7/16" outer diameter and 5/16" inner diameter, and are about 1/16" thick.  The riveted rings are made from iron wire of about 1 mm diameter.   Erik points out that the rings are too large to be typical, and their ends overlap right-over-left while all the Roman samples he has seen overlap left-over-right.  We will still consider mail of this quality to be very acceptable for our purposes!

       Across the bottom is butted mail made by Matthew Amt.  The wire is 16 gauge, and the rings are just under half an inch in outside diameter, c. 3/8" inside diameter (the wire was coiled on a 5/16" diameter rod). 

       All the pieces are the standard "4 in 1" pattern, also known as International or European.  Each ring is linked through 4 others, 2 above and 2 below, but never to one in its own horizontal row.

       Thanks to Erik D. Schmid for much of the information on this page! 

       For a PDF file with DETAILED analysis of several original pieces of Roman-era mail, click here:

       For a brief article about a complete lorica hamata excavated in Britain, click here: http://www.armatura.connectfree.co.uk/arma/mail.htm

       Photos of original pieces of lorica hamata on the Roman Hideout site, http://www.romanhideout.com/armamentarium.asp, and at the Online Collection of Roman Artifacts, http://www.roman-artifacts.com/.

       Find-It Armory --http://www.finditarmory.com.    Great lorica hamata only $425!  Alternating rows of riveted and solid rings, 8mm inner diameter (c. 10mm outer diameter), proper shoulder doubling with leather edging, and reasonable brass chest hooks.  They also offer an even better hamata with 6mm inner diameter rings for c. $800.

       Get Dressed For Battle may be a good source--their mail is reportedly quite good though we have not seen it yet.  Their Indian manufacturers, Indian Handicrafts & Textiles Syndicate, assure us that they are producing excellent mail with 6mm inner diameter rings.  They also retail through Battle-Merchant in Germany, http://www.mittelalterwaffen.com/ , and may also sell direct from India:  ashok AT syndicate-group DOT com

       The best reproduction mail available at the moment is custom-made by Erik D. Schmid, though it is expensive.  Unfortunately, he is not taking new orders at the moment.

       Deepeeka offers a reasonably properly-shaped hamata, apparently in a variety of ring sizes, combinations, and metals.  The main complaint is that their rings are all riveted, rather than half riveted and half solid.  The rings are also a tad large, and the flattened ends are exaggerated.  The chest hooks could be better, too.   This may all be improved in the next few months, but currently Find-It Armory and GDFB are better options.

       Several other suppliers sell medieval-style mailshirts with butted rings that might be modified into a lorica hamata by using rings from the sleeves and possibly the hem to make the shoulder doubling.  Riveted shirts would be harder to modify, though a few lines of butted rings where joints are necessary might not be very noticeable.  And Forth Armory sells loose rings and rivets (and riveting tongs) for repairs and adjustments.  (Beware of galvanized mail.)

       Obviously, you can also make your own mail! 

Making Roman-Like Riveted Maille

Riveted Maille

       Butted mail is the simplest type of armor to make, requiring only wire and a few simple tools, though it does take time!  We are also trying to phase butted mail out of use in Legio XX, so if you are planning on being an active member you should get riveted mail instead.   Here is one of the numerous websites which show the process:

Butted Mail: A Mailmaker's Guide

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