A mail link from an Indian armour and a diagram showing its construction

An unusual form of oriental mail

The question

Mail armour (not chainmail as it’s popularly, but mistakenly, known) has a remarkably long history over a large part of the globe. Originating in Europe in the Iron Age, its use eventually spread as far as Japan, and it was still being produced in the Sudan in the 19th century.

Despite this widespread use the methods of manufacture are still hotly debated. Whilst links of Medieval European mail were generally closed with a rivet, in Asia riveted mail is less universal.

An unusual variation on the normal links are those from an Indian defence, shaped like the Greek letter theta, θ. Were these made by punching a sheet or welding fragments of wire?

Results of analysis

At high magnification weld lines could be seen on either side of the central bar, showing that the link had been formed by twisting a “wire” in a figure of eight then welding this in place.

However, metallography showed that the non-metallic inclusions were not aligned lengthways, as would be expected from drawn wire, but across it suggesting that the wire had been formed by cutting thin strips from a sheet.
It would seem probable that some form of die or swage was used to maintain the uniformity of the links.

Significance

Metallographic examination provided clear evidence of how one link of one particular type of mail was manufactured. However, the remarkable achievement of producing immense numbers of such tiny (in this case 4mm maximum diameter) links, remains impressive.

Output

The findings have been disseminated through presentations to the public within the museum and beyond.

Did you know?

The first Luger pistol

The very first Luger pistol manufactured at the Erfurt factory in Germany is in the Royal Armouries collection.