Mail Shirts

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Short mail shirt
Book of Maccabees

Short mail shirts to just below the waist

A mail shirt that stops a couple of inches below the belt. Sleeves are usually to the elbow but can extend to the wrist.


  • C1

It would appear that the typical 8th - 9th century mail shirt seems to end just below the belt line. Some of them appear as though they may be vandyked or side split – see below.

Vandyked mail shirt
T49 f.18v BL Cotton Cleopatra C VIII

Vandyked mail shirt

Vandykes are a triangular finish to the hem and sometimes the cuff of a mail shirt. Art

  • T49 London, BL, Cotton Cleopatra C VIII f.18v, Late C10th

-- Archaeology
-- Discussion
We have a few pictures that can be interpreted as Vandyked shirts. London, BL, Cotton Cleopatra C VIII f.18v dated to the late C10th is perhaps the most famous although it may not actually be a mail shirt. [Migration era evidence?]

Side split mail shirt
Codex Aureus Epternacensis f.18v

Side split mail shirt

A side split mail shirt’s skirt is open at the sides. An unsplit mail shirt has an additional side gore added to the side of the skirt to allow movement and offer protection. Art

  • O67 National Museum, Nuremberg (Hs. 156 142) - Codex aureus Epternacensis. C.1030AD [SKODELL 2008]

Mail shirts are usually shown unsplit. A few of the depictions from Western European manuscripts do however show side split mail shirts.

Long unsplit mail shirt
La Vie De Saint Aubin

Long unsplit mail shirts from below groin to knee

A mail shirt that reaches to the thigh, with sleeves that usually come to the elbow. Art

  • Aachen ivory font c.1000AD (SKODELL 2008) – mid thigh

This seems to be the typical size of a period shirt – see illustrations above. Some drawings do show shorter mail shirts but mail shirts seem to get longer as the period progresses.

Long front split mail shirt to knee

There appears to be 3 distinct types of front split mail shirts depicted in C11th art. A ‘Short split’, ‘Full split’ and the difficult to interpret ‘Bayeux style’. These are discussed in detail delow Literature
They appear common on such sources as the Bayeux Tapestry and continue to make appearances on numerous manuscripts from the 1060’s onwards although they nether totally replace the traditional unsplit mail shirt.

Mail shirt with short front split
Hildesheimer Cathedral

Short Split

A mail shirt to the knee with a small slit in the skirt and sleeves to the elbow.


Mail shirt with Bayeux style front split
T86 Hexateuch

Bayeux Style

Interpreted as either a front split mail shirt or alternatively a mail shirt with mail shorts. Art

The ‘mail shorts’ theory has been dismissed by Wilson [WILSON 1985], Grape [GRAPE 1994] and others.

Full Split


  • Bayeux Tapestry c.1076AD [WILSON 1985]
  • R1 Dijon, Bibliotheque Municipale MS 14 fol.13, Bible of St. Etienne, 1109-1111AD – Picture of Goliath [SKODELL 2008]

Mail shirt ring sizes


6 - 8mm alternating riveted & welded


  • Gjermundbu, Norway, 980AD (TWEDDLE 1992) riveted & welded, internal ring size = approx. 5.5 - 7.3 mm.
  • Gotland, Sweden, (TWEDDLE 1992) graves 14.7 & 14.8. Riveted & welded, internal ring size = approx. 7.4 – 7.6mm. Interestingly some copper alloy rings were in the Gotland finds.
  • Sutton Hoo c.650AD (POLLINGTON 2006, p.152) - 8mm links, alternate riveted and butt-jointed, to mid thigh
  • Dublin (HALPIN 2008, p.179)

Most of the Viking Age finds seem to be in this size range.

6 - 8mm riveted

-- Discussion
Although we have no finds of 100% riveted shirts from 800-????, it was felt that they are better than ‘butted mail’ and are thus included under optional.

Riveted links over 8mm


  • Tuna, Gotland (TWEDDLE 1992) has an internal link diameter up to approx.10mm in size
  • Russia (D’AMATO 2012, p.34) some links measuring up to 25mm

It appears that Eastern mail shirts could have even larger rings with some from Russia measuring up to 25mm. (D’AMATO 2012, p.34)

Butted links


Copper alloy mail links used for decoration

A double row of copper alloy links used to edge mail shirts and aventails. Archaeology

  • York, England, C8th (TWEDDLE 1992, p.1003) Coppergate helmet,4 links.
  • Gotland, Sweden, C9th-12th (TWEDDLE 1992, p.1185) Graves 14.7 & 8. This had two rows of copper alloy links at a possible vertical edge.

The Coppergate helmet possibly had either a double row of copper alloy links edging the aventail or alternatively they could have been talismans. Copper alloy talismans and edges are frequently found on medieval mail shirts (TWEDDLE 1992, p.1003).

Mail edged with leather

A strip of leather sown over the edge of the mail shirt

See Also


Grape, Wolfgang (1994) The Bayeux Tapestry. [GRAPE 1994] ^ *
Nicolle, David (2005) Carolingian Cavalryman AD 768-987. Osprey: Warrior 96 [NICOLLE 2005] ^ *
Skodell, Henry (2008) Schutzausrüstung zur zeit der Schlacht von Hastings [Protective Equipment Present at the Battle of Hastings]. (Available Online) [Accessed: 2011]. [SKODELL 2008] ^ 1 2 3 *
Wilson, David M. (1985) The Bayeux Tapestry. [WILSON 1985] ^ 1 2 3 4 *