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Jonathon Hanson




Location: Pittsburgh, PA
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PostPosted: Thu 22 Dec, 2011 9:52 pm    Post subject: Mail Armor in China- a History?         Reply with quote

Hello everyone, I'd like to raise a topic of discussion that I think is quite interesting- namely, the history of the usage of mail armor by various cultures. By my (relatively scant) knowledge that's mainly the product of Dan Howard's article and a few others, I'm supposing that mail armor was quite effective, being very labor-intensive to produce but offering advantages over armors such as scale and lamellar in terms of mobility and ease of maintenance. As such, from its place of invention in Eastern Europe the technology of mail spread and was adopted by various cultures through trade contacts and warfare. In most places, mail armor was accepted and widely used- sometimes to the expense of other armor types (examples being the Persians, India, the Arabs, the Turks) and sometimes beside them (as in Japan).

Where I'm going with this is that it seems like mail armor was the most widespread and used armor among metalworking cultures, and wherever it spread it was accepted- with one exception. China was perhaps the most technologically advanced civilization in the world in the millennium between Rome's fall and the Renaissance, and it traded widely with the entirety of Eurasia via the Silk Road. According to a source that I recently came across (admittedly, an encyclopedia article with several obscure references), China was exposed to mail armor early on- first in 384 A.D, by nomadic allies from Kuchi, and then a suit was given as a present to the Emperor himself in 718.

The article (which is mainly on eastern Iranian armor) goes on to say that the Chinese imported mail armor from Iran and the Turkic states on its Western frontier, but nothing to suggest that the Chinese actually adopted it for their soldiers or even produced it themselves. This state of affairs persists until the late Ming and Qing periods, where references to and pictures of mail being used finally show up- though usually by officers and never to the extent of lamellar or brigandine.

Contrast this to the areas around China, and even some within its sphere of influence- Japan adopted mail armor around the time of its Mongol invasions, and used it alongside native armor designs until the late 19th century. The Turkic tribes to the West, as mentioned, also used it and exported some of it to China. India adopted mail armor, as well as Korea. This leaves Mongolia (which is a whole other discussion) and the areas of Southeast Asia (of what armor type they used I am unsure of) as the only areas bordering China that did not make use of mail armor.

This leads me to raise two questions for discussion:

Did the Chinese indeed make wide use of mail armor before the Ming Dynasty, and there are sources that I am unaware of?

If they didn't use it despite being exposed to it frequently, then what led to their decision in this manner?

I'd appreciate some theories as to the answers to these questions, but first I'll throw out some guesses of my own:
Could the lack of Chinese mail armor be due to:

Lack of Effectiveness? -Some may differ with mail being less effective against projectiles than lamellar, but the Chinese used crossbows early in their history and also faced horse archers using composite bows; could this emphasis on projectiles have been the reason for the emphasis on lamellar and brigandine?

Cultural Inertia? China was one of the first proven users of lamellar armor; they kept on using it for thousands of years, and their designs influenced those of Japan and Korea. Was it just a matter of the Chinese sticking to what was familiar?

Lack of Infrastructure? I don't believe this myself, but could the lack of mail production in China be due to them somehow not having the means to produce it (despite having traded heavily with Persia and the Muslim states?)

Ease of Production? The Chinese had a massive population to equip and arm for warfare, and as Dan Howard has said mail was the most labor-intensive armor to produce. Could cost have come above other factors for the medieval Chinese? (counterpoints to this include the high degree of advancement of Chinese mass production as well as the success of the Romans in making Hamata widely available to their soldiers).

Ethnocentrism? Could the Chinese have considered their weaponry to be superior to foreign technology to the point where they dismissed the adoption of mail armor? This could have been a viewpoint of the Qing (who did use mail armor), but not necessarily earlier dynasties.

Supply and Demand? Was it just not economically effective for the Chinese to domestically produce mail armor when it could be imported from the West for those who wanted it?

Those are some of my thoughts on what may have been the cause for the lack of Chinese emphasis on mail armor, and I'd like to read yours to shed some light on this interesting question surrounding mail.

Link to Encyclopedia Iranica article:

http://www.iranicaonline.org/articles/armor-ii

Qing-Era mail byrnie, the armor of a general or imperial bodyguard:

http://img275.echo.cx/img275/5909/manchumaillc3vo.jpg
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Michael Curl




Location: Northern California, US
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PostPosted: Thu 22 Dec, 2011 11:01 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I don't think Japanese mail was related to or descended from international mail. It is built very differently.

Also where did you hear about Korean mail from? I didn't know they had any. Also the Philippines and Indonesia did have mail, but I think it was made from bronze.

E Pluribus Unum
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Dan Howard




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PostPosted: Thu 22 Dec, 2011 11:05 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Cultural enertia would be my guess. They had a set way of doing things that worked for them.

Robinson says "the skill, time, and cost involved in the manufacture of mail in quantity and the lack of interest in military matters obviously deterred any Chinese government from equipping large bodies of troops with it" (p.146)

Apparently mail was made by the Chinese during the T'ang dynasty (618-907 AD). It is listed as one of the 13 types of armour made in the Imperial Armoury.
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Dan Howard




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PostPosted: Thu 22 Dec, 2011 11:14 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Michael Curl wrote:
Also where did you hear about Korean mail from? I didn't know they had any.

The Korean book called "The Five Ceremonies" includes mail in its list of armour it describes, but it was written fairly late.

This Chosun helmet is currently up for auction
http://www.liveauctioneers.com/item/10258854

This is also allegedly from the Chosun period



 Attachment: 99.82 KB
Mail-korea-chosun_s.jpg
Chosun imperial guardsman armour
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Jonathon Hanson




Location: Pittsburgh, PA
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PostPosted: Fri 23 Dec, 2011 1:42 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Thanks for the information, Dan- do you have any others that reference mail use by China, or written by them in reference to their enemies wearing it? How about some theories on why it came to be used more starting in the Ming Dynasty?

Oh, and I realize that Japanese mail wasn't always the same as Western armor in terms of weave design, but the basic premise- metal rings woven together as armor- was embraced and used alongside their more traditional lamellar armors. The two differences other than weave type were that it wasn't riveted and that a backing garment was attatched underneath. They even had plated mail, which they called tatami-do armor. According to George Cameron Stone, they also used traditional riveted mail- although I'm not sure if they used it prior to European contact. The reference is included in the Wikipedia article on mail armor, and it's from his book, "A Glossary of the Construction, Decoration and Use of Arms and Armor: In All Countries and in All Times"
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Ahmad Tabari





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PostPosted: Sun 25 Dec, 2011 3:30 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I think ease of production was the main reason why the Chinese never really adopted mail armour on a large scale. Traditionally, the armies fielded in China were significantly larger than those seen in Europe, the Middle East, and North Africa. And since the bulk of those armies were of peasant background, it was expected from the state to supply their arms and armour. As a result, mail armour with the highly time consuming nature of its production, was likely to have been an unattractive choice. Lamellar on the otherhand, despite its overall inferiority to mail, can be produced at a much faster rate, and by swarms of unskilled labourers. This perhaps was much more appealing to a highly centralized government in need of armouring large armies.
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Benjamin H. Abbott




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PostPosted: Mon 26 Dec, 2011 6:30 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I would be cautious about concluding that mail was superior to the various Chinese armor styles. Have any examples of the latter been tested? I recall hearing about one such test that supposedly concluded that one Chinese armor type required more energy to penetrate than any other, including European designs tested. Unfortunately, I can't remember the source and never properly tracked it down.
Out of doubt, out of dark to the day's rising
I came singing in the sun, sword unsheathing.
To hope's end I rode and to heart's breaking:
Now for wrath, now for ruin and a red nightfall!
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Michael Curl




Location: Northern California, US
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PostPosted: Mon 26 Dec, 2011 10:04 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

@ Jonathon

I think the difference in weave, the usage of oval and round rings shows how unrelated Japanese mail is to international mail. Personally I believe that Japanese mail is uniquely Japanese, since you don't see international style all round mail in Japan until the arrival of Europeans. Also the lack of riveting to me is a huge difference, since the strength of the link would be so much weaker.

The attachment of an under backing is no different than in Europe, though the undergarment attachment is more common in Japan, it's not as though that never happened in Europe.

E Pluribus Unum
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Dan Howard




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PostPosted: Mon 26 Dec, 2011 12:26 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Benjamin H. Abbott wrote:
I would be cautious about concluding that mail was superior to the various Chinese armor styles. Have any examples of the latter been tested? I recall hearing about one such test that supposedly concluded that one Chinese armor type required more energy to penetrate than any other, including European designs tested..

If one type of armour weighs twice as much as another then one would expect it to provide better protection.
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Graham Shearlaw





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PostPosted: Mon 26 Dec, 2011 3:30 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

given that mail is not vasty better than lamellar.
and good mail takes longer to make(good mail=riveted, maybe with punched rings)
lamellar is easyer to repair and can be build to fit, you can just take the cords out and take out a few lamellars,with mail it is a lot harder.

maybe lamellar was easyer to build to good quality, look how much mail is still baddy made with large thin links of poor quality
metal.

Japanese mail,
i think that it never got past a gap filler with most of the suit being later made in peace time.
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Eric S




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PostPosted: Tue 27 Dec, 2011 10:59 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Graham Shearlaw wrote:
given that mail is not vasty better than lamellar.

and good mail takes longer to make(good mail=riveted, maybe with punched rings)

lamellar is easyer to repair and can be build to fit, you can just take the cords out and take out a few lamellars,with mail it is a lot harder.

maybe lamellar was easyer to build to good quality, look how much mail is still baddy made with large thin links of poor quality metal.

Japanese mail, i think that it never got past a gap filler with most of the suit being later made in peace time.


Japanese lamellar was very hard to build, it was a time consuming to make and expensive to obtain, each individual scale (several thousand on some full suits) had to be formed in iron or hardened leather, drilled, lacquered (very time consuming) and laced together into strips or rows which then had to be formed into individual armor components. Not that mail was easy to manufacture either using the primitive methods available at the time but at least for Japanese lamellar armour it was a very complicated process.

As for Japanese mail (kusari), it was much more than "gap filler", without much research being done on the subject it is known that the Japanese manufactured riveted mail and utilized mail to make complete suits of mail armor.
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Dan Howard




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PostPosted: Tue 27 Dec, 2011 12:03 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

The Japanese cetainly made use of riveted mail but IMO there isn't enough evidence to conclude whether the Japanese made their own or imported it.
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Eric S




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PostPosted: Tue 27 Dec, 2011 2:05 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Dan Howard wrote:
The Japanese cetainly made use of riveted mail but IMO there isn't enough evidence to conclude whether the Japanese made their own or imported it.
Dan, the translation of Sakakibara Kozan's 1800 book, The Manufacture of Armour and Helmets in Sixteenth Century Japan says " karakuri-namban (riveted namban), with stout links each closed by a rivet. Its invention is credited to Fukushima Dembei Kunitaka, pupil, of Hojo Awa no Kami Ujifusa, but it is also said to be derived directly from foreign models. It is heavy because the links are tinned (biakuro-nagashi) and these are also sharp edged because they are punched out of iron plate" seem to indicate that the Japanese manufactured riveted mail, and they clearly had the ability to do so. Of the few images of riveted Japanese mail available this one does not look like European types to me.

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Benjamin H. Abbott




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PostPosted: Tue 27 Dec, 2011 3:02 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Dan Howard wrote:
If one type of armour weighs twice as much as another then one would expect it to provide better protection.


Do you know about the specific test in question or are you just throwing that out there as a possible explanation? I'd love to find the full source; I just recall seeing the abstract or whatnot.

Out of doubt, out of dark to the day's rising
I came singing in the sun, sword unsheathing.
To hope's end I rode and to heart's breaking:
Now for wrath, now for ruin and a red nightfall!
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Dan Howard




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PostPosted: Tue 27 Dec, 2011 11:32 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Eric S wrote:
]Dan, the translation of Sakakibara Kozan's 1800 book, The Manufacture of Armour and Helmets in Sixteenth Century Japan says " karakuri-namban (riveted namban), with stout links each closed by a rivet. Its invention is credited to Fukushima Dembei Kunitaka, pupil, of Hojo Awa no Kami Ujifusa, but it is also said to be derived directly from foreign models. It is heavy because the links are tinned (biakuro-nagashi) and these are also sharp edged because they are punched out of iron plate" seem to indicate that the Japanese manufactured riveted mail, and they clearly had the ability to do so.

I've read this. I don't consider it enough evidence on its own. Is there any other source corroborating this?

Quote:
Of the few images of riveted Japanese mail available this one does not look like European types to me.

How is it different?
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Dan Howard




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PostPosted: Tue 27 Dec, 2011 11:35 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Benjamin H. Abbott wrote:
Dan Howard wrote:
If one type of armour weighs twice as much as another then one would expect it to provide better protection.


Do you know about the specific test in question or are you just throwing that out there as a possible explanation? I'd love to find the full source; I just recall seeing the abstract or whatnot.

Just guessing. It would be a pretty safe guess since the types of armours worn by the Japanese are generally heavier than the types of armours worn in western Europe.
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Eric S




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PostPosted: Wed 28 Dec, 2011 2:08 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Dan Howard wrote:

How is it different?
Do you have an example that looks like it?
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Dan Howard




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PostPosted: Wed 28 Dec, 2011 12:12 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Eric S wrote:
Dan Howard wrote:

How is it different?
Do you have an example that looks like it?

I don't have any photos that I'm allowed to distribute but I've seen similar examples in both European and Middle Eastern contexts. It is difficiult to see how the riveting is done from your pic but the overall shape of the rings is nothing remarkable.
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Jonathon Hanson




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PostPosted: Wed 28 Dec, 2011 12:55 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

What I find interesting about the mail in the picture is that it's made of entirely riveted rings instead of alternating solid/riveted rings like in European examples. I know that the latter style had fallen out of favor somewhat by 1400 but I'm wondering what style the Japanese really preferred and why. The quote indicates that they used punched rings, but I haven't seen any photos of such. From what I see also, the rings don't appear to be lacquered either. Besides the lining, the riveted mail looks to me like it wouldn't be out of place in India, Persia, or anywhere else in Asia.

But back to the subject- anyone else uncover interesting references pertaining to the Chinese use of mail armor?
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Jonathon Hanson




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PostPosted: Wed 28 Dec, 2011 2:28 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I came across this interesting work that's about a century old called, "Chinese clay figures: Prolegomena on the history of defensive armor, Part 1". The author studies Chinese armor based on evidence from clay figurines, and there is a whole section on mail armor. The author states that China knew of and produced mail in the Tang period, yet he also states that most mail was imported from Persia in later times, and that it was a strange curiousity by the Qianlong period. However, images like this one (of a Manchu officer) might suggest that it was used at least in a limited context by the Qing. Any thoughts on this source?


http://books.google.com/books?id=TH0LAAAAYAAJ...mp;f=false

http://www.bing.com/images/search?q=qing+gene...ORM=IDFRIR
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