ARMOR and HELMETS                          12/24/05

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       Body armor is NOT required  for fighting!  Most soldiers and warriors in the middle ages had no body armor, since that was a very expensive commodity.  The vast majority of men went to war with a spear and a shield, and thought nothing of it.  There are numerous examples of laws requiring men eligible for military duty with spear and shield, and many contemporary illustrations show combatants equipped in that way.
       Armor was worn by the wealthy and by their retainers, and the most common armor of the time was mail.  Also known today as maille or chainmail, it is made of thousands of interlinked iron rings, forming a completely flexible metal fabric.   Typically, half the links in a shirt of mail (hauberk or byrnie) were solid (either punched from sheet iron or wound from wire and forge-welded shut) while the rest were riveted shut with a tiny rivet.  That's what made it so expensive that only the upper classes could afford it.  In about the 13th century, mail began to be made with all riveted rings.
       Most modern reproduction mail is made from regular steel wire (16-gauge being typical), and the rings simply butted shut, not riveted.  It requires only a couple simple tools to make, and quite a bit of time!  Mail can also be purchased, and riveted mail is becoming more available if you are looking for the best.  Below is a list of websites showing how to make mail.

      Mail was made into a shirt or tunic called a hauberk or byrnie.  In the 11th century it reached almost to the knees and the sleeves were about elbow-length.  The front and back were split to allow riding.  Often a hood or coif was attached.  That square "reinforcement" seen on some hauberks in the Bayeaux Tapestry is certainly permitted, though exactly what it might be is still debated (but see http://www.geocities.com/egfrothos/Bib1.html and  http://www.angelfire.com/empire/egfroth/HastingsCoifs.htm ).  A few of the highest-ranking men on the Bayeux Tapestry are shown with separate pieces of mail covering their forearms and legs.

       Above left, a sample of mail made by Erik D. Schmid and 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, and the rivets are round.  This would be very typical of mail from the early middle ages, into the 13th century.

       Below is a section of typical butted mail by Matthew Amt, made of 16-gauge wire.  The rings are just under 1/2" outside diameter, and the inside diameter is c. 3/8" (the wire was coiled on a 5/16" steel rod).

       Mail was much more resistant to weapons than was once thought!  It is becoming clear that the weapons of the day were simply not capable of breaking open any significant number of rings under normal combat circumstances.  Now, the body under the mail can still be smashed even if the mail itself is not penetrated!  So padding is definitely required to absorb impact.  But mail was impervious to all sorts of cuts and jabs that would badly wound or kill an unarmored man.  See this link for a brief test: http://www.forth-armoury.com/photo_gallery/Damage_Test/damage.htm

       Other sites on medieval mail:

Excellent page on tools (for sale!) for making riveted mail, with instructions, http://home.tiscali.be/klauwaer/malien/


The Gjerermundbu Mailshirt--http://www.angelfire.com/wy/svenskildbiter/armsandarmour/mailshrt.html

The Construction and Metallurgy of Mail Armour in the Wallace Collection, by David Edge

      Scale, lamellar, and any other form of armor will be judged case-by-case (you will want to get some documentation ahead of time).

       See the Suppliers page for places to buy mail, or rings for making it.  More links below.

       The padded garment worn under mail (or without mail by later medieval commoners) was called a gambeson or acketon.  Oddly enough, there is almost no evidence for the existence of padding under mail until about the 12th century.  Its use (and certainly its form) before then is hotly debated.  It might have been as simple as a thick tunic, or it might have been a lining attached to the mail, and therefore not though of as a separate garment.  For our purposes, padding may be worn with pre-12th century mail, but it should be generally tunic-shaped.  It may be sleeveless, shortsleeved, or longsleeved.

       A fascinating heavy leather item dated to approximately the 9th century (?) has been found in a Scottish bog. At first interpreted as a tunic or jerkin, it is now thought to have been a bag, possibly for books: http://www.travels-in-time.net/e/scotland20moneng.htm.

        The gambeson shown at right (36 K) is a 13th century style--earlier types probably lacked the high buttoned collar.  It is made of two layers of linen with cotton batting between (four layers in the body and two layers in the sleeves).  All the quilting was done by hand, and the edging is red wool.    Avoid polyester movers' pads, they are too obviously modern.  Other materials used for padding included felt, horsehair, tow (fibers leftover from flax processing), rags, and multiple layers of linen (20 to 30).  Those worn alone by soldiers who could not afford mail were apparently quite stout and stiff, very resistant to arrows and blows from hand weapons.

       Helmets are required by safety rules, though they were certainly not worn by all warriors.  The typical helmet in the 11th century was somewhat conical and had a nasal or noseguard.  It could be made from a single piece of iron-- modern replicas are typically welded from two or more pieces of steel (center), with the welds ground smooth on the outside.  Others were riveted from four panels (the one at left also has a band around the rim) or constructed as a "spangenhelm", meaning a framework of bands with the openings filled by iron or leather panels (right).

       Helmets from earlier periods are more rounded in shape and are usually spangenhelms.  Up until about the 8th century they sometimes had earflaps and/or neckguards (suspended iron plates or strips, or mail), and a few very early Scandinavian helmets have face masks or eyeguards called oculars.  These obviously earlier styles should be avoided for later reenactments such as Hastings and Stamford Bridge, though an ocular can be useful for concealing eyeglasses (if you need them to fight with).
       Unless it is worn over a padded cap, your helmet will need a lining.  Both of these are shaped in four triangular sections, joined at the top by a drawstring.    That at far left is a padded linen, stitched through the metal rim.   There is also a drawstring at the rim, the bow for which is visible to the left of the buckle.  The buckle is for the chinstrap.

       The right-hand lining is leather.  It was riveted in place while hanging down out of the helmet, then folded into place over the rivet ends.  There is a folded strip of wool around the brim between the leather and the rivets as padding.    The chinstrap is a simple leather thong.

       Have some pride in your helmet!  If it is rusty brown, grab a piece of fine sandpaper, steel wool, or Scotchbrite and shine it up!

Links to more Helmet information:

Egfroth's Helmets--http://geocities.com/egfrothos/MyHelmets

Halvgrimr's Helmet Pages--http://www.vikingsna.org/HelmResearch/home.htm 

Spangenhelm patterns and how-to links:

       Gloves are also required for fighting, though they are exceedingly rare in the early Middle Ages, at least in combat.  A simple pair of sturdy leather work gloves will suffice, though you may reinforce them with mail or metal scales.  When you are not fighting, stow your gloves away out of public view, unless they are of a documented historical type.

       Any other protection that you feel you need, such as a cup or kidney belt, must be concealed beneath your clothing.

Some websites on making mail:

Butted Mail: A Mailmaker's Guide

ChainFire Maille and Armor Construction

Sara's Chainmail Connection

And some links on armoring:

Some Aspects of the Metallurgy and Production of European Armor, by Craig Johnson

An Armourer's Basic Safety Guidelines, by Eric Slyter

Basic Spangenhelm construction

The making of a nasal helmet on the Anvilfire site--WOW.

Raising a Kettle Helm, by Jacob Selmer

The Pioneer Anglo-Saxon Helmet

Ultuna helmet reconstruction

The Armour Archive--Patterns, essays, and discussion boards

The Arador Armour Library--Patterns, essays, and discussion board

Also see the Links page!

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