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Celtic Origins and Later History
Article © MAIL User: Dragorlad

How Old is the Art of Maille?

This question came to me when I was showing a finger ring that I made to a friend. To answer truthfully, no one really knows. The oldest maille ever found was in the graves of Celtic warriors; these pieces were rusted beyond recovery but were plainly maille. When carbon dated, they were found to be over 2000 years old, but some of the patches were unable to be tested and may be much older; these pieces were later shown to be made up of other 'scrap' maille.


The Celtic warriors were well known through history, mainly for these types of advances in early weaponry and armour. Although the English version of "The Knight in Shining Armour" is most famous for maille, in fact it was the Celts, the Romans and the Norse society who were the original proprietors of maille.

What About the Oriental Weaves?

First off, the Japanese invented these. The Japanese used their own version of maille. It was used instead to cover joints and connect plates of armour. The samurai warriors wore this to protect themselves against peasant weapons like spears and cheap swords and most arrows, as many only sported lead or fire hardened wood tips. Any good samurai katana would go through even modern stainless steel maille like a hot knife through butter. Never the less, the Japanese are responsible for many of the geometric weaves.

Late Medieval Period

This is the transition era between true maille and plate and scale maille. In this point in history, enough skill had been amassed by smiths to make large metal that would be able to protect from swords and arrows. Unfortunately, not many smiths were interested in articulating the joints with plate armour; this fell to the mailler, who made either just joints or entire suits which would serve as the backing for said plate armour. This luxury of protection was only afforded to the knights until late in the period, the common foot soldier still used ordinary maille.

Shakespearean Times

During this era only the poorer nobles had their guards equipped with maille, the rest were in 'tin can armour': not very flexible and deadly hot in the summer, deathly cold in the winter. The advent of maille as a fashion item took place largely in part to William Shakespeare and his plays, which had a large amount of the now cheap, maille jewelry in them. In the last part of this era you will see the first machine that can weave maille.


Maille is used for a wide number of recreational and industrial applications.

I hope that this crash course in the history of maille will help you better educate family and friends.

-Andy Heller
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