How effective was chain mail armor?

Discussion in 'Western Martial Arts' started by slipthejab, Jul 24, 2007.

  1. slipthejab

    slipthejab Hark, a vagrant! Supporter

    I've always wondered how effective chain mail armor actually was. It's been worn by just about everyone. From the Japanese to the Gauls to European knights during the High Middle Ages - heck even in the modern world from divers dealing with sharks to butchers who cut meat wear mail of some sort.

    But I'm curious just what sort of stopping power it had.

    How did it fair against swords and daggers? :confused:
    (German broadswords etc.)

    What sort of protection would it offer against against battle axes? :confused:
    (I'm thinking against Viking battle axes)

    Was it it any sort of use against arrows? :confused:
    (say perhaps against the English longbow or the Mongolian compound bow)

    What about a bolt from a crossbow? :confused:
    (From European to Chinese)

    Surely WMA enthusiasts must have done some modern tests of this sort.
    Has anyone read much about this or seen video clips?

    What would a set of mail armor weigh in comparison to a set of plate armor? :confused:

    Was plate armor overall more effective than mail armor? :confused:

    Or was it horse for courses? Each one being used in a different time against different weapons? :confused:

    Bring on the discussion!!! :D

    Attached Files:

  2. 19thlohan

    19thlohan Beast and the Broadsword

    Chain mail isn't all that strong. Like most armor it would protect from glancing blows or lessen blows that could have been fatal but it's not going to stop a full on strike by a well made weapon. As for arrows it really depends on the range the arrow comes from. At a relatively short distance it wouldn't do much at all.
  3. inthespirit

    inthespirit ignant

    Was the strength not dependent on the size and quantity of the links that make the mail, i.e. the more the better.
  4. Yohan

    Yohan In the Spirit of Yohan Supporter

    What Lohan said. I believe chain mail was often used in conjunction with other types of armor, like leather or padded armor that would be worn underneath it. I think it offered the best protection against slashing attacks (I.E. swords and axes, but less protection against piercing. I believe it was pretty much useless against any kind of powerful crossbow or bow shot.

    Then again, the English longbow pretty much made all the old-style armors (plate, chain, etc) obsolete.

    EDIT: Yes, the english longbow pierced through all types of armor. Chain was pretty much useless.
  5. bcullen

    bcullen They are all perfect.

    That was another factor, the size and gauge of the links that made the armor. Also the pattern four-in-one, six-in-one etc...

    It was fairly comfortable and very flexible. Most of the weight is carried by the shoulders. An average shirt of mail weighs around 35lbs
  6. Polar Bear

    Polar Bear Moved on

    As 19thlohan says, it depends on the attack.

    Against slashing attacks it is ok. e.g. scimitar, katana.
    Against crushing attack not good e.g. mace, axe.
    Against stabbing attack some protection. e.g. knife , sword thrust.

    Arrows depend on the bow and arrowhead:

    A broadhead arrow it has similar protection to the stabbing.
    A bodkin on the other hand very limited protection.

    So it's better than leather but gimme plate any day.

    The Bear.
  7. Moi

    Moi Warriors live forever x

    My wife used to have a chain mail mini-skirt when we used to go clubbing. That was very effective :love: ;)
  8. bcullen

    bcullen They are all perfect.

    I think slip is just geeking out and wants to figure out his AC. :D :p
  9. Yohan

    Yohan In the Spirit of Yohan Supporter

    To penetrate chain mail armour, many war arrows had 'chisel' (or 'bodkin') heads and were quite massive. Bodkin arrows have tips like elongated pyramids, which result in a very sharp and very narrow point. With their bodkin points these massive war arrows probably weighed around 65 to 100 grams (1000 to 1500 grains, grain being a unit of measure often used for arrows and bullets). This is 2 or 3 times the weight of the wooden or aluminum arrows that are used today and 4 to 5 times the weight of modern carbon fiber arrows or pre 20th century 'flight arrows', used in distance shooting contests. In peacetime, in some regions, carrying chisel points was a hanging offence, because it was thought to threaten noblemen or they were taken as evidence that one was a highwayman. Specialist war-arrows were designed to tackle the problem of different types of armour. For example, arrows with thin and sharply slanted heads were used to pierce chain mail suits, breaking one ring and consequently 'popping' a huge hole in the armour as the force of the impact knocked the other rings out of place. Many war-arrows had heads that were only attached with a small blob of wax, so that if they were to be removed conventionally only the shaft would come out, leaving the head lodged in the victim which would almost certainly cause an infected wound.

    quoted from wikipedia - trying to find an article on how the longbow obsoleted old armor types - saw an episode of "connections" on this subject.
  10. Jang Bong

    Jang Bong Speak softly....big stick

    Thanks!! That made me laugh :D
  11. slipthejab

    slipthejab Hark, a vagrant! Supporter


    What is AC?
    Where I live AC stands for air-conditioning.
    I'm confused. :p
  12. adouglasmhor

    adouglasmhor Not an Objectivist

    Armour Class
  13. Polar Bear

    Polar Bear Moved on

    Could get confusing between 2nd and 3rd edition.

    The Bear.
  14. Raven Wing

    Raven Wing Valued Member

    Why? They are both awful everyone knows that "BJJ - The domination" by White wolf is a much superior role play game! :D
  15. Polar Bear

    Polar Bear Moved on

    BJJ vs. sword now there's a setup worth testing.

    The Bear.
  16. Raven Wing

    Raven Wing Valued Member

    Dunno about bjj vs sword, though I think I'd rather be the one with the sword but a friend of mine went out one new yrs wearing his ring mail (more primitive version of chainmail before anyone asks) as part of his costume. some guy decided to punch him a few times and cut his hand up pretty nicely before the pain got through the beer. :)
  17. Polar Bear

    Polar Bear Moved on


    The Bear.
  18. Stolenbjorn

    Stolenbjorn Valued Member

    The chainmail found in norway from medieval times are all made with 50% of the rings stanced out, and the other half riveted/welded together; all made by hand. The rings were roughly 11mm in diameter, but could vary in size, as the hand-made half were hand made :rolleyes:

    As for penentration, it mostly comes down to the quality of the iron. I've shot an arrow at my modern steel-chainmail, where the rings made an impression in the arrowhead (the arrow-iron was softer than the mail-iron, and thus could not penentrate) When I did the same with a jarvelin with a tip made from spring-steel; the rings gave way at once.

    A historical group called "Kongshirden 1308" does armor-defeating demoes on medieval-markets, and one of the things they do, is to shoot on chainmail with arrows from bows up to 80 lbs draw-weight. When you put textile armor (17 layers of linen sewn together) beneath, as we know it was done in later medieval times, the arrows have problems going through it all. The combo of textile armor and mail seems to have been a killer-combo, that was allso effective against crushing attacks.

    What I discussed this very weekend with a blacksmith that makes armor and weapons, is that the problem with theese modern tests, is that it's hard to obtain iron/steel with the same qualities as the old stuff was made with.

    A good example is arrow vs plate, as someone mentiones above in this thread. If you make a brestplate with modern high-quality-steel with modern tools, you find it hard to obtain any evidence of a normal long-bow-arrow that can even dent the armor; whereas in old times, when it was difficult to bake sufficiant amounts of carbon into the plate-metal, you might have gotten other results.

    One argument that I find good, is this:
    "They wouldn't bother wearing 40 lbs of metal and textile armor, if it didn't help"
    Flying Crane likes this.
  19. slipthejab

    slipthejab Hark, a vagrant! Supporter

  20. Stolenbjorn

    Stolenbjorn Valued Member

    Thanks for the link, it will be added to my "favourites". I'm currently making the outfit of one of the knights depictured in the article (the one called "Effigy of Walter von Hohenklingen, 1386"). It's interresting how they not only had textile armor beneath the metal to increase padding and comfort, but allso in some periods allso had textiles on top of metal, to show off wealt, to look smart and trendy, but allso because it protects the armor from rust. (The dude seems to have had a doublet+shirt on his chest, with a gamberson and chainmail on top of that. Then a Jupon, and finally a breastplate. Try and shoot through that chest with a longbow!) The last week-end, I walked around in my armor with a newly made jupon on top, covering the mail and plate. It was raining a lot, but to my astonishment, the plates on my arm looked as shiny on Sunday as they did on Friday! I suspect it's because the textiles stop the water from getting onto the plate, and because the constant movement of the textile works like polishing.
    Last edited: Jul 26, 2007

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