By Christi Clogston (
IAXS Research Project #076
Copyright © 1997 held by author
1215 words


In the course of assembling images for this article, Carol Burrell, whose Logomany site houses many images she graciously allows us to use in "Whoosh!", wished to acknowledge the tireless work of Richard Carter, who does much of the screen capture work and so much more. She thanks him, as do we, for making those images Logomancy allows us to use..


[01] Chainmail is the generic term to describe flexible body armor constructed from metal wire. It consists of thousands of small rings that are linked together in one of several patterns. Most chainmail is of the 4-in-1 type, that is, each link is connected to four others. This pattern has a flexible, fluid property that yields itself to almost any garment shape. Have you seen the chainmail bikini's or codpieces at your local Renaissance Faire? While not historical uses of chainmail, they demonstrate the versatility of the 'material'.


Sample of chain mail behind two different colored backgrounds

[02] Although chainmail was used as early as 200 BC by the Romans (as a body armor for the infantry in the form of a hip or knee-length short-sleeved tunic called a lorica hamata), it was used almost exclusively in the period of the First Crusade (11th century AD). This chainmail covered a knight from head to foot -- coif (head), hauberk (body and arms), mittens (hands), and chauses (legs).

[03] Chainmail historically was extremely expensive to produce and therefore restricted to the wealthy. Historical chainmail was made from wire that was more square than round and the links were individually riveted and/or welded closed. Chainmail was not light, with tunics weighing up to 40 pounds.

[04] Modern chainmail is made most often from "butted" rings. The links are closed, or "butted" using a pair of needle-nosed pliers. Links are made from wire of different gauges and compositions. I made my mail using 18-gauge galvanized steel wire, winding the wire around a 1/4 inch aluminum rod and then cutting the resultant coils with wire cutters -- resulting in a pile of links all the same size and just slightly open. From this start, "knitting" the mail into a tunic or other garment is simple, although time-consuming.


Modern chainmail

[05] There are several Web Sites with chainmail-making tutorials, as well as publications (refer to RESOURCES below). Many armorers and companies sell chainmail armor. It is expensive, although not in terms of medieval economics. One can expect to pay $350-$750 for a chainmail tunic, depending on the wire gauge and the size of the links. I made my hauberk years ago (short-sleeved, knee-length) and at the time cost approximately $100 in materials and tools. I went through two pairs of wire cutters to construct.


[06] The chainmail used in XENA: WARRIOR PRINCESS is clearly of the butted-ring variety, and the gauge of the wire is generally small. The pieces of mail used are small as well, perhaps reflecting the extreme expense it would have required to produce it, if it existed in this "historical" time period. Or it could just be a way to "accessorize" the warrior-women's black leather.

[07] Callisto uses small pieces of 4-in-1 chainmail covering the back of each hand, with a loop around the middle finger securing it in place, however in some scenes, it is just hanging from her wrist. The back part of the mail piece is either attached to the leather bracer or is worn around the wrist as a bracelet. This is still not clear from several viewings of CALLISTO (#22), RETURN OF CALLISTO (#29), INTIMATE STRANGER (#31), TEN LITTLE WARLORDS (#32), and A NECESSARY EVIL (#38). Callisto also has small pieces of chainmail hanging from the leather knee caps she wears on each leg. The lower edges of the mail are not attached, but hang freely. The gauge of the wire is fine and it is so shiny it is most likely stainless steel. Galvanized steel starts out shiny but dulls to a dark gray while historical mail rusted.

... ...
Callisto and Xena have a way about them, chain mail being just one aspect

[08] This is also the appearance of the chainmail worn by Xena in the HERCULES: THE LEGENDARY JOURNEYS episodes THE WARRIOR PRINCESS (HTLJ #09), THE GAUNTLET (HTLJ #12), and UNCHAINED HEART (HTLJ #13). Xena is seen wearing the hand-protection pieces; however, she is also seen with additional chainmail hanging behind her shoulders. In one promotional picture, the mail seems to be covering the back of her armpits/shoulder blades, almost like small wings. Interesting use, but of unclear historical accuracy.

... ...
The well-dressed warlord always pays special attention to her chainmail

[09] In the episode TEN LITTLE WARLORDS (#32) (will anyone compare this episode with Agatha Christie's "Ten Little Indians"?), we see a warlord wearing the most chainmail I have yet seen on XENA: WARRIOR PRINCESS. This mail appears to be of a heavier wire gauge, and the links are larger than the mail used in the women-warriors' costumes. He is wearing a rather creative version of what was known in medieval times as a "Bishop's Mantle" covering the base of the neck and shoulders, except this one seems to have a turtleneck! My first reaction to this was "This guy once had a knife put to his throat and wants to make sure that it never happens again." Perhaps, Xena should invest in one of these for Gabrielle. My next reaction was, "How did the show's costumer/production armorer get the turtleneck to stay up?" My current theory is that there is a tall leather collar under the mail.


Some warlords are better dressed than others...

[10] Finally, chainmail was probably not available to people of the XENA: WARRIOR PRINCESS timeline (timeline? what timeline?) despite Xena's and Gabrielle's comments to the contrary in A DAY IN THE LIFE (#39) where they discuss the reason why so many fall for the Warrior Princess.

Gabrielle: Another one's fallen for you.
Xena: Again?
Gabrielle: Um hmm.
Xena: Why does this always happen?
Gabrielle: It's the blue eyes, the leather. Some guys just love leather.
Xena: I think a wardrobe change is in order.
Gabrielle: You could wear chainmail.
Xena: Yeah, but I think that would just attract a kinkier group.....hey!
Gabrielle: You're probably right.

[11] Xena's reaction to this thought is humorous and implies that a certain amount of eroticized or "exotic" chainmail was in existence in Xena's time.

[12] The earliest historical references to chainmail are during Imperial Rome. In DESTINY (#36), Xena meets up with Julius Caesar, placing this episode well within the historical period for the existence of chainmail.


Sara's Chainmail Connection
The mother of chainmail pages, as Sara has attempted to link all chainmail-related pages to this one, she is the "Hard Core Nut-Ball" of chainmail. Updated almost daily. Terrific resource!

"Faster Mailmaking", Lord Hereward of Vinland and Lord Thomas Edmund of Ruislip, from The Known World Handbook, 3rd edition, 1992, Society for Creative Anachronism, Inc.
This book may be obtained from the Office of the Stock Clerk, PO Box 360743, Milpitas, CA 95036-0743, or check out their web page at

The Complete Anachronist #2, Selections from The Hammer, Part I, edited by Dagmar Gandalfsdottir, 1982, Society for Creative Anachronism, Inc. See above for more information.

The Complete Anachronist #23, Arms and Armour-Weapons and Armour in Western Europe, Baron Barok Baran, 1986, Society for Creative Anachronism, Inc. See above for more information.

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