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The Gjermundbu Mail Shirt
by Stephen Francis Wyley 
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Figure 1. The Gjermundbu Mail Shirt.

This article is a revised version of a similar article which appeared in the thirty fourth issue of the Varangian Voice (FEB 1995). This article was made necessary after receiving information via Peter Beatson entitled 'Catalogue of Scandinavian Mail' by Sonia A. O'Connor2, which counters some of the information supplied by Irmelin Martins, the Senior Curator at the Universitets Oldsaksamling in Oslo, Norway.

The Gjermundbu Mail (figure 1.) is the only Viking Age mail shirt to be found in Scandinavia. There are other finds of mail but they are small, or date from the earlier Vendal period or can not be dated for certain. The mail shirt was a part of a rich male cremation grave which also contained the only Viking Age 'spectacle helm' to be found in Scandinavia (figure 2.), along with; weapons, riding gear, cooking implements and other artefacts dating from the 10th century. The mail shirt was found in Gjermundbu, Norway, and now resides at the Universitets Oldsaksamling in Oslo, Norway, Reference No C273171. 

Figure 2, The 'Spectacle Helm' from the Gjermundbu find.

The mail shirt was found in some eighty five fragments or rather lumps and had been in the ground from about a thousand years after a cremation burial. The form of the mail shirt has been reconstructed to produce the front of a mail shirt of about fifty five centimetres in length from bottom to shoulder.1. O'Connor questions the positional relationship used in the reconstruction suggesting some of the fragments have been placed inside out or upside down. Also according to Martins there are still some mail rings attached to the lower edge of the helm which would indicate an aventail (similar to the Vendal helms 2), this would mean that some of the mail fragments originally attributed to the mail shirt could actually have come from the helm's aventail. 3.

O'Connor gives a much better idea of the dimensions of the rings used, having actually taken measurements of a number of the rings. The mail is constructed of rings with an anticlock-wise lap, oval rivet hole and high domed rivet head with prominent oval tail of wire with a subcircular cross section, with alternating rows of rings of an unknown closure type, circular in shape but with flats on the external circumferences and wire of subrectangular cross section.

Dimensions of rings measured (measurements are in millimetres).

Riveted rings:

Ring diameters; 7.4, 7.7, 7.7, 7.7,8.3.

Wire; 1.09*1.24, 1.35*1.45, 1.38* 1.38, 1.39*1.68, 1.44*1.50.

Unknown rings:

Ring diameters; 8.35 (sd=0.3, n=5).

Wire; 1.2*1.4, 1.7*1.5, 1.7*1.5, 2.0*1.4, 2.0*1.52.


1. From Viking to Crusader. The Scandinavians and Europe 800 -1200, Nordic Council of Ministers and Authors, 1992.

2. Catalogue of Scandinavian Mail, Sonia A. O'Connor, The Archaeology of York, Volume 17: The Small Finds, York Archaeological Trust for Excavations and Research 1992.

3. Letter form Irmelin Martins, Senior Curator, Universitets Oldsaksamling in Oslo, Norway, 16/11/94.

Author's Note: There is no definitive answer to any question, when new information comes to light it is pertinent to change one's own ideas to take account of the new information. 

Mail Shirt from Kungslena

This page was last updated on the 21st May 2002

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