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Pattern and Construction Details for Roman Legionary Chainmail Armor

Image: romanss.jpg

Most modern maillers tend to reproduce medieval armor when the mood to recover themselves in steel stricks them. However, chainmail had been in use for quite a long time before that, as we all know, but not everyone knows how the armor of the Roman age was. Well, it was quite different from your typical sleeved hauberk, and quite attractive to the eye, too, as this reconstruction of two mail-shirted legionaries shows. (Click image to expand).

The first chainmail cuirass were in fact nothing more than renditions into the new fabric of the ages-old (back to the 8th century BC, no less) Greek linen cuirass. This was a stiff shirt of many layers of linen glued together to a 5mm total thickness, and was actually more resistent to perforation than a beaten bronze cuirass (and far more flexible, too) :) It (and its mail successor) was shaped like a cylinder, having no shaping to the waist, was wrapped around the torso and tied together on the left side. Later mail cuirass were sometimes closed and were put like a T-shirt. A somewhat U-shaped piece, fixed to the back, was pulled forward to cover the shoulders and laced to the front.

The pattern for this cuirass is very simple. Is an almost rectangular (but for two spaces for the armpits) sheet of European 4 in 1 weave (chain rows run horizontal in the integrity of the armor); the mailer can weave it as one piece or as four separate pieces, whatever he finds easier. Then, the U-shaped piece (which can be made as one piece or as several rectangular pieces linked together, just beware to keep the grain horizontal like the rest of the cuirass) is attached OVER the back of the armor. The shirt can be left open to be attached the classical way on the left, or else it can be knitted together (if so, remember to leave a footman's slit on the left side).

Finishing details. Historically, the shoulder flap was backed in leather which was rolled over the edge; this is a nice detail to add, in whatever fabric you wish. The flap and sides attachments were simply by lacing a leather or cloth string around metal knobs linked to the rings (sides together and flaps to the center point); however, a linking metal clasp (either a simple horizontal strip with three clasps, or an elegantly S-recurved one; see image for both) was usually added for the shoulder flaps. It is very easy to reproduce with any brass ornament :) It's permanently attached to the cuirass' center, above the center attachment knob, and has either two eyelets or two hooks into which two more knobs of the flaps are hooked. Also notice that one of the depicted legionaries has small shoulder mini-sleeves (a later addition) that should represent no trouble for anyone wishing to include them; there are many patterns for vests around :)

Since this is an unusual and very beautiful armor it would be perfectly possible to reproduce it in some ornamental weave. Since most of the protection of the legionary came from his 4-feet-tall body shield weave strength should be not so big a concern if someone were to actually fight in that armor! Also notice the cingulum, the military belt made of interlocked metal plates (which someone could wish to also make himself, see Aderamelech's article Scale Maille (Grafted Onto Maille), and the protective apron, historically made by metal studs riveted to leather strips (but which someone could also wish to make using the technique found in Aderamelech's other article Japanese Weaves Using Coins. Finally, for the overly detail-minded, note that these shirts were made of alternating rows of 1mm thickness, 6mm ID, punched (solid) and riveted rings using ROUND rivets (as oppossed to the later medieval method of triangular ones). Personally this last bit is more info than I need myself, but hey, there's always the one in search of the ultimate authenticity! ^_^;;

And lastly, here is the pattern itself. Click the image to enlarge. No size included, only the relation of where your own body measures should fit--scale apropiately. The "sides" are to be 4/7 as wide as the "front", the flaps are to be as long as needed to reach your solar plexus, and the upper part of the front and back is to be as wide as you wish (you can even close it vest-like), and certainly wide enough to be covered by the flaps.

Image: cuirass.gif

Bibliography & roman legionaries drawing::
Connolly, Peter , Greece and Rome at War, GREENHILL, London, 1998
Credit given where credit is due.

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