How is chain mail different from plate armor?

This is what a Brandenburg knight could have looked like around 1260.

The boots that you wear on your legs

They shouldn't be in the iron.

You must now wear a knight's dress.

The good boy was sorry for that;

He spoke with fierce reluctance:

What my mother gave me

That shouldn't come from me

May it be harmful or pious.

The wise man wonders in silence

And does the fool's will.

So he lets him on his boots

Pull two light iron trousers,

He then laces with noble braids

On him golden knight spurs,

Knit the pair of straps around the knees

And then hands him the neck mountain.

He kept quiet until his wish was granted:

Soon he was completely wrapped in steel.

Only one of the three knights is already wearing chain leggings - miniature from a Tristan manuscript, approx. 1240. Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, Munich, Ms. Germ. 51, fol. 86r. Taken from: German Medieval Armies 1000-1300.

The leg protection of the knight on the right is shown in a strikingly different way, possibly a different type of armor should be marked with it - miniature from a Parzifal manuscript, middle of the 13th century. 19, fol. 49c. Taken from: German Medieval Armies 1000-1300.

In this illustration from the early 13th century you can see the chain leg warmers, which are still open and only tied at the back. On the sole of the foot, too, the chain legs are only tied with straps - Christ's Descent from the Cross, the three women at the grave, sleeping guards. Detail from the Gloucester Psalter, Munich, BSB, Clm 835, fol. 26v. Taken from: Elisabethpsalter

The hands were covered with chain mesh Leather mittens protected, which were pinned to the arm ends of the chain mail. The palms of these mittens were not covered with chain rings and had an opening through which you could stick your hand out. There were longitudinal slits, large recesses, but also openings at the base of the mittens. The mittens clearly dominated the glove well into the 14th century. According to the sculptures and illustrations, it can be assumed that padding for additional protection of the fingers was not necessarily used, the gloves appear too thin and filigree.

On this French sculpture from the 13th century, the longitudinal slit on the inside of the chain mittens can be clearly seen. Only the outer surface is covered with chain mesh. (Musée des Antiquités, Rouen; from: Knight Hospitaller, I, 1100-1306. D. Nicolle and C. Hook. Warrior Series. Osprey Publishing, Oxford, 2001)

The Chain hoods (hauberk) were sometimes still attached to the chain mail. The chin and front neck area was protected by the so-called ventail, which can be closed separately. Should the chain hood be stripped off, the valve would have to be opened. At this time, however, the separate chain hood began to establish itself. In the German-speaking countries, in comparison to the rest of Europe, there is one shape that is particularly noticeable in which the neck and shoulder apron of the chain bonnet consists of two rectangular pieces of chain that hang down smoothly at the front and back. The "bibs" were worn over the chain mail or over the tunic, so that a second protective chain mesh layer existed in the endangered chest and back area. However, the shoulder area, which is also highly endangered, remained uncovered by this hood shape. This is probably why separate chain hoods from subsequent epochs have a circumferential collar that also includes the shoulders.

A padded one was worn under the chain hood Fabric hood (batwât, huetelin, hûbe, gupfe), probably also under the chain mail padded undergarment (Gambeson, doublet). It is noticeable in contemporary images that such heavily padded textile armor was worn mainly by foot soldiers without chain mail, while lighter upholstery apparently predominated under the chain gear. Only at the end of the 13th or beginning of the 14th century are more evidence of the heavily padded gambeson in combination with chain mail. Contemporary text but also image sources suggest additional or separate upholstery. This is what Ulrich von Liechtenstein calls one around 1250 Shoulder guards (spaldenier, espalier, spaliera) made of fabric. A sleeveless one was worn over the armor Coat of arms or tabard (wâpenroc). Presumably it was originally introduced as a protection against the sun's rays through experiences of the Crusades. It then acquired more and more an ornamental and heraldic character. This was perhaps also done in order to be able to distinguish the fighters who were unrecognizable under the armor. In the religious orders of knights, the tunic became a regular uniform at an early stage, the psychological aspect of which should not be underestimated for friend and foe.

Efforts had always been made to protect the trunk with the vital organs in particular. Chainmail obtained in this way shows that the ring diameter in the torso area was significantly smaller (and therefore safer) than the rest of the shirt. The density of the braid decreased below the waist and on the arms. This saved weight at the same time. Another method for the special protection of the upper body consisted in the already described deeply pulled down bib of the chain hood. Text sources suggest that two chain mail items were also worn on top of each other. Likewise were already Breastplates made of iron (plate) or a leather one Cuirass (French cuirie, from cuir: leather) worn over the chain mail, covered by the tunic. Appeared in the middle of the 13th century Plate skirts - Tabs with many incorporated plates - as protection over the chain mail.

As a knightly equestrian helmet (and symbol of status) the Pot helmet (helm, helmvaz), which completely covered the head and had only narrow viewing slits (venster) and ventilation holes. It offered excellent protection against arrows, but above all against lances. The disadvantage was the very poor visibility and ventilation. The flat top also offered cutting weapons a good point of attack, so that in the 14th century the top of this helmet shape was increasingly rounded off so that the weapons could slide off more easily.

The Rider shields had become smaller and smaller due to the improved armor, but still represented a very important part of the protective equipment. They were triangular in shape, about 80 cm high and between 54 and 75 cm wide.

The knight's main weapon of attack was not the sword, but the 3 to 3.5 m long one lance (gleve), which was preferably made of ash wood, as this wood has good elasticity. But hornbeam or fir wood were also used, the latter mainly for tournament lances, which should break easily for safety reasons. The shaft usually had a square or hexagonal cross-section and tapered towards the tip. Here the lance was provided with an iron point, which was usually double-edged or square. Handling the lance required a lot of practice. For example, the knight could easily hit a head-sized target with her. And the increased penetration power of the lance on impact due to the speed of the horse was enormous. The preferred tactic of the knight armies was to break through and dissolve enemy lines by means of concentrated cavalry attacks with an inserted lance.

Handling and armor-piercing effects of the lance, depicted in the so-called Maciejowski Bible (around 1250); Source: Old Testament Miniatures; S.C. Cockerel. Braziller, New York, 1969, fol. 11r

Lance tips 12/13. Century from Mecklenburg, length approx. 30 cm; Source: Schoknecht

If the enemy armies were wedged together, the knight could use various weapons. The typical sword this era usually had a one-handed handle with a brazil nut or disk pommel and a straight quillons. The length of the (double-edged) blade was just under a meter and the weight, depending on the version, between 1000 and 1400 g. The sword blades were forged from mono or stringy refined steel and had a wide groove for flexibility and weight saving. Except for the tang, they were hardened and tempered as hard as a spring (approx. 52 Hrc). This relatively low hardness already shows that the break resistance of these cutting weapons was more important than an extremely hard edge. The pommel and quillons were made of forged iron. The handle made of two wooden shells covered with leather.

Larger swords with longer handles, which were more likely to be wielded with two hands, have also been used. Some authors refer to these swords as saddle tree swords or hand and a half swords. Other weapons that were often used were the mace, ax and dagger (misericord), which had been part of the knightly armament again since the second half of the 13th century. The maces were in principle more developed clubs. In order to increase their weight and thus their striking power, they were equipped with striking heads made of iron or bronze. The hammer heads were provided with protruding bulbs or (in contrast to the maces of the infantry) with strikingly short spines. One of the author's assumptions: Perhaps they deliberately did not want to kill with these weapons, but rather just knock the enemy unconscious or incapacitated in order to collect ransom money. Such practices were the order of the day at the tournaments. The shafts of the maces were designed for one-handed use on horseback and were therefore relatively short.

Saint Mauritius also wore a dagger on his right side in the 2nd half of the 13th century. The unusual diamond-shaped pommel shape (here covered by the arm) is, by the way, identical to the pommel shape of his sword - an early evidence of the 14th century fad of wearing paired swords and daggers.

Depiction of an early iron hat from the Bamberg Psalter (around 1230). Its construction corresponds to an archaeological find, the so-called Wilnsdorfer Eisenhut. This consists of two parts, the riveted umbrella is still very short compared to later monkshood models, the dome, which is driven from one piece, is relatively high (original height of the Wilnsdorf iron hat find: 20 cm with a diameter of 27 cm; literature: W. Bauer, 1979 :)

Eisenhut, 13th - 14th century, place of discovery: Desert of Marsleben (Vorharz); composed of 4 parts (calotte made of two half-shells, above it a slightly arched iron band running in the middle, sloping brim; riveted), inside there are rivets and organic traces (felt or leather), which can probably be assigned to a helmet padding. (Literature: Demuth, 2006)

Only very few could afford chain mail in the period under discussion. They will have been reserved for well-paid professional soldiers and wealthy citizens. The padded gambeson was the rule here. In contrast to the designs worn under chain mail, these cloth armor could reach considerable thicknesses, which made them excellent protective clothing. The hands were rarely protected by gloves. As a shield, they often carried a small fist shield with a shield boss with them. But the large, outdated equestrian shield shapes were still used with them. The paverse, a large rectangular shield, was very popular with crossbowmen, behind which the archer could safely draw his crossbow. The most important weapon was the spear, but early war scythes were also used. A dagger knife, which was also needed as a tool, was also part of the equipment. Swords, including single-edged swords (e.g. falchion), were rarely used. As a firearm, the crossbow (still with a horn or composite tendon bow) was apparently much more popular than the bow in this country.

More information on high medieval crossbowmen

The obligation of the townspeople to do military service for the margrave was based on their town charter, some towns even achieved full liberation. The municipal contingent was under the supervision of the mayor, under whom the guild masters commanded.

The peasants were only obliged to serve in the army to a limited extent. During the war they had to follow the margrave into the field for three days in a four-horse cart. In the defense of the country, however, they were used as garrisons in castles and at river crossings and strategically important road points. They also had to help build the fortifications.

This is what a soldier with a gambeson, armor hood, iron hat and spear could have looked like.

This miniature from the world chronicle by Rudolf von Ems (late 13th century) shows a siege scene. What is striking is the use of large, actually outdated drop shields, which, due to their large area, apparently still enjoyed a certain popularity during sieges. The three arm cuffs on the small rider shields stand out. The crossbowman, of all people, wears a pot helmet, everyone else either wears an iron hat or only a chain hood. The use of archers can be seen very nicely on this picture. Library of St. Gallen Cathedral, Switzerland. Taken from: German Medieval Armies 1000-1300.

 

First version: Joachim Meinicke in January 2002

 

Many thanks to Uwe Winkler, Märkisches Museum (Stiftung Stadtmuseum Berlin) for support with research and access to the collection

 

Sources and literature:


Andreas Schlunk and Robert Giersch; The Knights - accompanying volume for the exhibition of the same name in the Historical Museum of the Palatinate in Speyer; Stuttgart 2009; Konrad Theiss Verlag GmbHt

Maurice Keen; Chivalry; London 1984; Rowohlt

Die Zeit der Staufer, Volume 2, exhibition catalog, Württembergisches Landesmuseum, Stuttgart 1977

Ortwin Gamber, Armament of the Staufer Era, in: Die Zeit der Staufer, Volume 3, exhibition catalog, Württembergisches Landesmuseum, Stuttgart 1977

Ulrich Lehnart; Early and high Gothic clothing and weapons; Wald-Michelbach 1998; Karfunkel Publishing House

Christopher Gravett, Graham Turner; German Medieval Armies; Oxford, Great Britain 1997; Osprey Publishing Ltd.

Pestalozzi Association of the Province of Brandenburg (ed.); The province of Brandenburg in words and pictures; Berlin 1900; Publishing house Julius Klinkhardt

The Mark Brandenburg - Issue 44; Berlin 2002; Lucie Großer Edition, Marika Großer Verlag

Adriaan von Müller; Nobleman ... citizen, farmer, beggar man - Berlin in the Middle Ages; 1979 Berlin; Haude & Spenersche publishing bookstore

Citizen, farmer, nobleman - Berlin in the Middle Ages; Exhibition catalog; Museum for Pre- and Early History Berlin; Nicolaische Verlagbuchhandlung; Berlin, 1987 Dr. Hermann, Brosien, Knowledge of the Present - Prussian History - History of the Mark Brandenburg, Greßner & Schramm, Leipzig 1887

German Medieval Armies 1000-1300. C. Gravett, G. Turner. Osprey Military 310. Oxford, 1997

English Medieval Knight 1200-1300. C. Gravett, G. Turner. Osprey Military 310. Oxford, 2002

Medieval Scandinavian Armies (1). D. Lindholm, D. Nicolle. Osprey Military 310. Oxford, 2003

The Elizabeth Psalter in Cividale del Friuli. Harals Wolter-von dem Knesebeck. German publishing house for art history, Berlin, 2001

Ulrich Schoknecht, A find of medieval weapons from Levetzow, Wismar district, Bodendenkmalpflege in Mecklenburg - Yearbook 1967

Ingo F. Walther (Ed.), Codex Manesse - Die Miniatures der Große Heidelberger Liederhandschrift, 4th edition, Insel Verlag, Frankfurt Main, 1989

Harald Wolter-von dem Knesebeck, Das Mainzer Evaneliar, Schnell & Steiner Verlag, Regensburg 2007

Benoit Van den Bossche, Claude Sauvageot, Strasbourg - Das Münster, Schnell & Steiner Verlag, Regensburg 2007

Eberhard Freiherr von Künßberg, Der Sachsenspiegel. Pictures from the Heidelberg manuscript, Insel-Bücherei No. 347, Insel Verlag, Leipzig,

Wolfram von Eschenbach, Parzival, transmission from Wilhelm Hertz, Reclam, Stuttgart 1985

Heribert Seitz, Edged Weapons (Volume I), Klinkhardt & Biermann, Braunschweig 1965

Erik D. Schmid; The Journal of The Mail Research Society Vol. I, No. I, July 2003

Dr. Riedel, Adolph Friedrich; The Mark Brandenburg in 1250; Hohenzollern Collection; 1902

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Volker Demuth: Medieval weapons. In: Archeology in Saxony-Anhalt, special volume 4. Halle, 2006, p. 236