Chainmail Armor

Medieval chain mail was a special kind of armor that consisted of small metal rings joined together to form a closely linked protective mesh.

Medieval Hauberk Chainmail

Chainmail Hauberk

The word chain mail was a combination of the English word chain referring to a series of metal rings and “maille” (The French Term) which meaning is (mesh of a net) *Going even further back its origins come from Latin word “macula”.

Anglo Saxon Armour

Anglo Saxon Armour

History of Chainmail

While the use of chain mail became popular during medieval times, it was also used before that and its history can be traced back to the 4th century BC.

Historically, it was inspired by previously existing scale armor which consisted of individual small metal plates attached to each other on a leather cloth. Throughout history, chain mail was used in many parts of the world including India, China, North Africa, the Middle East, etc.

Early Medieval Chainmail and Plate Armour

Early Medieval Chainmail with Plate Armour attached


How was Chainmail Made?

Several methods were used for the manufacture of medieval chain mail and there were multiple patterns of linking the metal rings together. The most common pattern used for medieval chain mail was 4-to-1 which means that each ring was linked with four others.

French Chainmail close up detail

French Medieval Chainmail 4-1 linkage Chain Mail Close up Detail

Chain mail was made by putting together alternating rows of riveted and solid rings. Subsequently, riveted rings began to be used exclusively.


Chain mail Patterns

There were various types of medieval chainmail which depended on the patterns of forming chain mail sheets.

The most common patterns in medieval Europe consisted of alternating rows and columns of mail which is thought to have been invented by the Celts in the 4th century BC. Another type of chain mail was used in medieval Japan whose pattern was one of a repeating grid.


Ring Mail

While the term “chainmail” could be used for any metallic body armor, the special kind of medieval chain mail that made use of non-interlocking metal rings was called ring mail. These rings could be attached together in various ways, with the 4-to-1 pattern being the most common. This ring mail was quite popular in North-East Asia during ancient and medieval times.

French Chainmail close up detail

Detail of French Medieval Chainmail 4-1 linkage Chain Mail in close up detail

Chainmail Armor Advantages

Medieval chain mail was a primary device of defense and offered various advantages. The most immediate advantage was the protection against cuts made by the enemy blade. Besides, compared to actual armor or iron, chain mail took less material to make and was also flexible.

Finally, an important advantage of medieval chain mail was that it was relatively cheap and thus could be afforded by the common people other than knights.

Medieval longbowmen armour and helmets

Medieval longbowmen like this one wore chainmail armor

Chainmail Armor Disadvantages

The first and foremost disadvantage of medieval chainmail was that it took a lot of time to make since every ring had to be assembled and linked with other rings. While it provided reliable protection against slashing weapons, it was not very effective against blunt force trauma unless there was an added protection by some other material such as padded gambeson.

Besides, there were small holes in the armor that arrows of certain types could penetrate. Chain mail armor usually covered the upper body while the legs remained vulnerable to attack. Medieval chainmail could get seriously warmed up depending on the weather and this could result in a disadvantage.

Chainmail Summary

Medieval chainmail was popular clothing for protection during the battles. Chain mail had various types and designs which were prevalent in different parts of the world. It consisted of interlinked metal rings which would be arranged in various ways, although the most common way was an arrangement of rows and columns.

Medieval chain mail provided reliable protection against sword attacks but remained vulnerable to arrows.

  • The English word chain and the French word maille combine to make the word “chain mail”.
  • “Maille” is a French word that means a net of mesh.
  • The origins of medieval chainmail can be traced back to ancient times in the 4th century.
  • The favorite type of chainmail was to link each ring with four others (4-1 method).
  • Alternating rows and columns was the favorite way of making medieval chainmail.

Chainmail Fast Facts

  • The French word “Maille” is derived from the Latin word “Macula” which means “mesh of a net.".
  • Medieval chainmail has different names meaning the same thing, other common names are chain armor, ring armor, and mail.
  • Early medieval chainmail covered the body, later chainmail that also covered the head was also added.
  • Chainmail was flexible and lighter than plate armor and protected against medieval slashing weapons.
  • Chainmail was less expensive than plate armor and this is why it was used commonly by foot soldiers.
  • Plate armor was better than chainmail against blunt force weapons such as warhammers.
  • Chainmail was less effective against incoming arrows than plate armor.

We hope you enjoyed this article on medieval chainmail. Chain mail was an important innovation in the medieval armory and was commonly used by most medieval soldiers.

If you’d like to learn more about other medieval armor that gave protection to medieval soldiers such as chain mail please look at the links towards the bottom of this chainmail page which will take you to other medieval armory pages with information about other types of Medieval armor.