Today, when most of us think of chainmail, we think of chivalric knights and the crusades. Well, chainmail started a millenium or so before that and went through a lot on its way there. The Romans used and adapted it to their armor and gave them furthur protection from those nasty barbarians. And contrary to what you may have heard, chainmail was NOT the downfall of the Roman empire ( little joke) but I'll tell you what I think it was (a little Roman history in here too, lucky you!). If you know anything about the Roman legions and their tactics, you will know that they fought in close combat after throwing their javelins and would fight in tight ranks with their shields (covered entire body, ankles to top of head) and their gladius, a short stabbing sword. With these tactics and strict discipline, no one could match their strength. They continued to defeat enemies but they began to hire mercenaries from other areas and their discipline began to slack. They hired too many mercenaries and did not have the mental or physical means to maintain such strict ranks. This fault led to their destruction and in my opinion, the fall of the Roman empire. Anyway, back to chainmail. After the Romans colapsed, the western world fell into a dark age. Not much is known about this time but when the land came out of this period, you then see the return of mail.
The Orient began to use mail in their wars but their mail was the complete opposite of the Europen style. When you look at European mail, you see the uniformity of it and if you've ever handled it, it rolls and is smooth to the touch. Europe's mail was used to deflect weapons by rolling them off the soldier. In the Orient, their mail was not flat nor smooth, but had edges and pieces that you could easily catch your sword in. That was the plan, the enemy would catch their weapon in your chainmail and you would have several seconds to strike him without having to worry, that is if you were not crushed, mangled, hacked or mutilated by his blow. The Oriental mail looks good but seems inpractical to me for they have made blades there that you cannot even touch to this day without special gloves, so how would chainmail hold up to that? You figure it out.
Now in Europe, chainmail was very expensive and only the rich could afford it. Funny though, that the rich could only afford it because they took all the money away from the peasantry! Those who could afford to buy a horse and chainmail were sent on the ever glorious quest of the Crusades. For those of you who do not know what they are about, the Crusades (there were 5 major campaigns, and many smaller ones) were quests to capture and hold the Holy Land (The Catholic church deemed it worthy to take these citites), and again for those who don't know what the Holy Land is, it is the place where Jesus Christ was born, and if you don't know who that is.....well, whatever. Anyway, the knights (who were simply mounted men) rode off to the Holy Land and fought against the 'heathens'. They managed to hold the city of Jerusalem for several crusades, but if you know your present day history, could not hold it.
Later in history, chainmail was used in tournaments but was gradually replaced by plate armour which was lighter and offered more protection. Chainmail was still used however for celebrations and feasts, so there are some nice suits out there. Mail was simply fancy wear in the Rennaissance, used in plays, under shorts, or was not used at all. And that brings us to present day knitters, yes knitters, but metal knitters, not yarn! These fine craftsmen have a labour of love (well, at least I do) and work to bring chainmail from the Celtic moors, the Roman empire, the Orient, the Crusades, and finally, to your own breakfast table as part of a balanced diet. I hope this text I wrote helps you with your understanding of mail and it seems that my 'A brief history of mail' has turned into a rather lengthy one. P>
August 15, 1997
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