The Cleveland Museum of Art

Preliminary Analysis of Mail Armour

by Jason Wisnieski
Original at: The LycaeumAppendix

Due to the length of this full essay, I will begin with some informal statistics. My analysis of the pieces is in the following sections.Each begins with the text from the plaque in the museum. Unfortunately, current CMApolicy is to not allow photography in the armour court without specialarrangements due to the large number of pieces on loan from other museums. Allreferences to ring sizes are relative to 16ga (.063") wire with a5/16" inner diameter, and are only approximate due to the display cases inwhich the pieces were held.

Item Description ID* OD* Rivet Style Solid Links
1) Hauberk Larger to ~same Larger to ~same Round Yes
4) Bishop's Mantle ~Same Lighter Triangular No
7) Hauberk ~Same ~Same Round No
8) Bishop's Mantle ~1/8 - 1/16" ~18-20ga Triangular No
10) Hauberk Smaller Undetermined Round Yes
13) Hauberk Smaller Smaller Triangular No
* Relative to 5/16" ID, 16ga (.063") links

I would also like to note that in the course of my research, I havecome to believe that most mail was made of iron. The Museum of Art lists thesesuits as being made of steel. I have decided, however, that without evidence tothe contrary or at least knowledge of what techniques were used to examinethese pieces, I should defer to their judgement. Please keep in mind that allmetals listed as steel may, in fact, be iron. I will update the essay as soonas further information becomes available.

1) Hauberk (MailShirt)
European, 1400s
Riveted steel rings
Gift of Mr. and Mrs. John L. Severance 1916.1543

As the description states, this is a full hauberk. The sleeves arethree-quarter length, extending down to or just past the elbows. The top of thehauberk extends to the neckline, but not onto the neck. The bottom of thehauberk is knee or lower thigh length, and has a horseman's slit (that is, it isslit in the front and back).

The suit is constructed so that if the arms are extended fully to thesides, the weave direction is the same as on the body. Today, this is commonlycalled the T method (as opposed to the 45 degree method). There are two slits inthe front of the armour. The first is the horseman's slit, as mentioned earlier.The second is at the top, running from the middle of the chest to the neckline. Unlike the bottom slit, the sides of this one overlap, and wouldpresumably be held closed with some sort of buckle and strap. Unfortunately thishardware was not present on the display piece. This slit at the top would allow acloser fit at the neck, as the final neck hole would not need to be large enoughto fit over the head.

Upon inspection, it can be seen that this suit is made of alternatingrows of riveted and solid links. Both links varied in gauge and inner diameter throughout the piece, being thickest across the chest and thinnest atthe ends of the arms. The change in the links is visible but subtle, consistingof approximately three sizes of links. The largest is on the chest, back,and front of the shoulders and upper arms. The second largst covers the lowerabdomen, remainder of the back, and most of the arms (including the back of theupper arms). The smallest links are placed only at the ends of the arms. Thelarge links are larger in both gauge and inner diameter to my (.063", 5/16") links, and the smallest have approximatelythe same inner diameter with a lighter gauge.

At a glance, the riveted and solid links are almost indistinguishable,however there are differences. The solid links are of a slighty smaller gaugewire, but wound to the same inner diameter as the riveted links. They are alsoslightly flatter than the riveted links. The solid links are flattened such thatthe top and bottom surfaces are still rounded, but the inner and outer edgestend to come to a point. These solid links appear to be made from wire in asimilar fashion as the riveted links, which leads me to postulate that theywere first welded, then flattened.

The riveted links, on the other hand, are flattened such that the innerand outer edges are still rounded. The ends are overlapped forapproximately 1/3 the circumference of the ring. The excess material from the overlapped endsbeing flattened to the same total height as the rest of the ring tend to pushinwards. That is, that the outside of the links tend to be very circular, whilethe inside has a 'bulge' where the rivet is.

The rivets themselves are very nicely rounded on top and bottom. Boththe top and side views of the rivet show a round shape, although the tops ofthe rivets tend to be slightly flat. The rivet shaft is also round. Evidence ofthis can be seen on several links that have lost their rivets, plainly showing acircular hole. These circular holes can be seen on the largest and smallestsized links.


4) "Bishop's Mantle"(Cape)
European (German or Swiss?), about 1520-30
Riveted steel (some brass) rings
Gift of Mr. and Mrs. John L. Severeance 1921.1256

The second piece in the CMA exhibit is indeed a version of what we calla Bishop's Mantle. This is a rather large specimen. On the sides, thecape extends to cover the upper arms. There are two large dags centered on the frontand back, of equal size, such that the front dag would cover the upperabdomen. The top of the garment extends upwards to cover the neck. There is a slitin the back for dressing into the mantle, however due to the piece'splacement, it is impossible to tell how far down the slit extends. There is also abuckle on the left side of the neck, but no corresponding strap exists.

The pattern of this piece is different than the modern replicas that Ihave seen. This mantle is not crafted using the 'expanding rings' method, orat least not entirely so. Centered on the front (and perhaps some of the back,see above) is a 45-degree seam, exactly as is used on some modern hauberkreconstructions. This seam runs from the bottom point of the dag up to the neckline, butnot onto the neck itself. The sides would then have presumably used some form of expanding rings to be shaped correctly, but the use should not be assignificant as if the entire mantle was constructed in this manner. The neckcovering is interesting in that it does not follow the body weave pattern, butstays consistently horizontal around the entire neck. There is a small amountof brass trim at the top of the neck, and remnants indicate that thebottom of the garment was also brass at one point.

This mantle is made entirely of riveted links. The wire gaugethroughout the body is relatively constant, but the rings covering the arms arenoticeably thicker than those across the chest. The inner diameter of these ringsappears to be only slightly less than the modern pieces I have been using for comparison, but the gauge is significantly lighter. This combination,along with the 'density' at which the piece was woven, draws the mail very tight.As a result, this piece has the appearance of being very flimsy, especiallyas compared to the other items on display.

The links on the body appear to have a round crossection, although thegauge is light enough to make this an uncertain observation. The neck, on theother hand, is made entirely of flattened links. The gauge of these links appearsto be slightly heavier than the body, although the difference in flatteningmakes this only a guess. The neck is made of links that are much smaller thanthose of the body. The outer diameter of these links is smaller than the innerdiameter of the rest of the links in the suit.

While the links on the body are mostly round, it still appears that theentire ring was flattened, not just the overlapping ends. There is only asmall amount of overlapping, perhaps less than one quarter of the entirecircumference. Unlike the previous hauberk, the inside of these rings are round andthe displaced metal from the overlapped ends tends to the outside of thelink. As seen from several links with missing rivets, the rings were punchedwith a thin, rectangular hole.

These rectangular holes leads me to believe that this mantle wasconstructed using the triangular rivet style. Unfortunately, none of the survivingrivets can be clearly seen. This is because all the rivets appear to becovered in some sort of solder-type melted metal. This covers the entire rivet and mostof the overlapped section of the ring. It also protrudes noticably from thelink; the rivets in this piece are much more noticable than the round rivets from1).

Although it is difficult to tell on the smaller links around the neck,they appear to have been made in the same fashion, only without the solder.As has been noted in other historical pieces, the brass links appear to havebeen closed with steel rivets.


7) Hauberk (MailShirt)
European, 1400s
Riveted steel rings
Gift of Mr. and Mrs. John L. Severance 1916.1817

Compared to the other items on display here, this hauberk appears to bevery standard in design. Like them, it has the three-quarter sleeve, T-style design. It has the dressing-slit in the front of the neck, but nohorseman's or footman's slits.

This suit is made from the same gauge and diameter links from the neck downwards. The neck does, however, change the weave direction in thesame manner as the mantles (4 and 8). Once again,there is a buckle on the left side, presumably used to close the neck-slit in thefront. There is also brass trim around ends of the neck, sleeves, and bottomof the suit.

Moving down the suit, the next interesting design feature is the arm construction. The ends of the arms have flaps on the outside that makethe outer face approximately three inches longer than the inside. While thiswould offer greater protection on the arms, applied only where necessary to reduceweight, these flaps must have been fastened down in some way during use.Otherwise, they are long enough to just hang uselessly from the arm.

The last obvious peculiarity in design is the lack of a walking slit atthe bottom of the piece. While this suit appears to have been at leastknee-length, there are no breaks as are commonly seen to aid in walking or riding.This leads me to believe that this was a foot soldier's armour. Instead of slits,the suit widens out considerably from the waist downward, like a dress.While close analysis was not possible, this seems obvious by looking at the lay ofthe links. There is a noticable 'V' along the front that almost looks likea 45 degree join, but which must be where many of the added rings are.

This piece of armour is made entirely using riveted links. While theymost likely do not have a rectangular cross-section, these rings are secondonly to the next hauberk (10) in flatness. The ends of the ringoverlap only a very small amount, so little that I dare not guess at thepercentage of the circumference. The small overlap area combined with the extremeflatness of the links leads to a prominent bulge from the displaced metal towardsthe outside edge of the ring. These rings all appear to be made ofapproximately 16 ga, 5/16" inner diameter wire with a larger outerdiameter from flattening. These links are extremely regular with very circularinner edges.

Throughout the piece, the holes are not punched in the center of the overlapped area, but very close to the inside edge. Often, I had to double-check rings to make certain that the rivet was not in fact clamped around the link on the inside edge. The links on this suit are punched with round holes for the rivets. Many of the brass links in the bottom are missing their rivets, and each of these has a round hole. It is difficult to tell if any rings with rivets are raised in a similar manner. Since no steel rings were visibly missing their rivets, one can only assume that they were made in the same manner. The brass rings appear to be shut with steel rivets.


8) Collar
European, 1400s
Riveted steel rings
Gift of Mr. and Mrs. John L. Severance 1916.1584

Although listed as a "collar," most modern recreationists would callthis a bishop's mantle. The museum lists this as a collar, I presume, becauseit is much smaller than the other mantle on display. Like thatone, this piece covers the neck and shoulders, but stops short of the arms.In the front, there is a single dag that is not mirrored in the back whichextends down approximately the length of the sternum.

Despite the difference in the size of the two mantles, they areconstructed in a very similar manner. The weave on the neck is just like the otherpieces, staying horizontal around. This collar also uses the 45 degreeconnecting method that the first mantle uses, where the joint runs directly downthe front to the end of the dag. Once again, there is a dressing slit in the backand the seemingly-standard buckle on the left side of the neck; like the firstmantle, the length of the slit in back cannot be seen. This piece also hasbrass trim as the top two rows around the neck and the last four rows around thebottom edge.

The links used in making this mantle are the smallest I have ever seen in riveted mail. The links used on the neck of the other mantle are small, but even they are larger than the rings used for the entirety of this piece. My estimation, which is admittedly rough, is that the inner diameter ofthese links is between 1/8" and 3/16"and the wire is between 18ga and 20ga. They are mostly flat, but the extent ofthe flattening is difficult to tell from such small links. It is mostlikely that they have a rectangular cross-section. The overlapped ends aredisplaced to the outside of the ring, leaving the inside edge mostly round.

Also like the other mantle, this one was made using triangular rivets.Again, there are links missing with thin, rectangular slots that lead me tothis conclusion. The brass in this piece is very interesting, though. First,the brass links in this mantle appear to be closed with brass rivets.Although the links are small, from my vantage point I could not see any of thetelltale silver marks that indicated steel rivets in the other pieces. It isalso interesting that although the bulk of the piece seems to be made ofriveted links, the last row of brass at the top and bottom appear to be solidrings.


10) Hauberk (MailShirt)
Germany(?), about 1400-50
Riveted steel and brass rings; modern buckles and straps
Gift of Mr. and Mrs. John L. Severance 1923.1120

This suit is made in the style that one might expect from thiscollection: three-quarter T-sleeves, knee length. It is also not surprising to find horseman's slits, a dressing slit, or the weave direction on the neck.What is surprising, however, are how some of these features are implemented.

The most striking irregularity with this suit is that the entire frontis open. Instead of a 'dressing slit' that all of the other pieces have, thisexample has the slit running the entire, right down the center. The suit is heldclosed with a series of straps and buckles that run down the front. These arereplacements, but are presumably similar to the originals in function. Oneinteresting effect of this arrangement is that this suit has very little slack in it ascompared to the others and should be considerably lighter because of this. The backstill has the horseman's slit, although it is a small one.

Another interesting feature of the design is the weave around the neck.The rings around the neck are woven horizontally, just like the otherpieces that have this style, but the height of the region running in this directionis only three links. Once again, there is brass trim, but only for the last tworows of the arms and the bottom edge.

This suit is made of alternating rows of solid and riveted rings.Except for the rivets, which can be easily seen, the two types of rings are completely indistinguishable; the basic shape, size, and gauge appear to be thesame. The links are of a slightly smaller inner diameter but a larger outerdiameter than the mail to which the other pieces are also compared. The ringsthemselves are completely flattened, to the point that there is no noticable roundingon the tops and edges. By all appearances, this wire should have a completely rectangular cross section.

In many ways, these rings look like modern washers. The width of thewire, once flattened, is not extraordinarily less than the inner diameter of therings. The width to which the rings have been flattened is also similar to that ofmodern washers compared to the other dimensions. They differ from washers,however, because neither the outside nor inside edges of the links areparticularly round. Overall, the rings are fairly irregular, with large flat edgesthat often make the links look more polygonal than circular. The dimensionsof the rings give the weave enough overlap that from a distance it looks likea solid sheet of iron molded to fit a person. Even up close there are very fewvisible holes in the weave.

Round rivets were used in the making of this suit. Around the holes,the brass rings are indented on one side and raised on the other. Any assumptionsmade about the punching process from this are suspect, however, since it maybe that the rivets pulled through the links and created these raisings at thattime.


13) Hauberk (MailShirt)
European, 1400s
Riveted steel rings
Gift of Mr. and Mrs. John L. Severance 1916.1552

This hauberk follows all the standards set by those before it. It hasthe popular neck piece, with both a horsman's slit and a dressing slit inthe front. The horseman's slit is in the front only because the front of the shirtextends about four inches further than the back. This is certainly to allowcoverage of the most exposed part of the leg while still adding the least amount ofweight. One other spot of difference is that the buckle is not present, butthat is not to say that it was not there originally. This suit also has three rowsof brass trim at the top of the neck.

The rings that make up this suit are mostly the same gauge and innerdiameter, but the abdomen is covered by slightly thicker links. The entire piece,though, is made of rings with a slightly smaller gauge and inner diameter thanthe 5/16", 16ga (.063") wire. The links are flatteneda bit, but still are mostly round. The displaced metal from the overlappedends is evenly distributed to the inside and outside of the rings. The neck onthis suit is considerably covered, and the links used in that area are muchsmaller than the rest of the suit.

The rivets on this suit are covered with the same sort of 'solder' usedon the first mantle, 4). On this piece, however, some of thesecoverings have cracked off, revealing exceptionally round rivet heads. Thiscaused me, at first, to conclude that the rivet shafts were also round, but thisappears to not be the case. The links that are missing rivets clearly showrectangular slits, which makes me think that triangular rivets were in fact used.The similarities between the 'soldered' rings and the rings with the roundheads lead me to believe that they are all original, however without closerinspection I cannot rule out the possibility that they are replacement links. Iwas unable to determine what material was used to close the brass links.


Works Cited
All pieces analyzed and plaques quoted are from the Cleveland Museum ofArt.
 1) 1916.1543
 4) 1921.1256
 7) 1916.1817
 8) 1916.1584
10) 1923.1120
13) 1916.1552

Plaque text is copyrighted © by the Cleveland Museum of Art, andis used without permission.

Document History

22 March 1999 : First draft completed.
20 March 1999 : Updated through third piece.
18 March 1999 : Updated through second piece.
17 March 1999 : Essay written through first piece.

This essay is copyright © Jason Wisnieski, 1999, all rightsreserved. This essay may be reproduced and distributed in digital form, as anHTML document, provided:

Site hosted by Build your free website today!