Chain link armour was used throughout the Mediaeval World.
The chain helped prevent swords and similar objects from piercing the body. In Europe it was paired with thick, heavy plate armour for maximum protection. In this set up, chain was primarily used over the joints, places where more flexibility was required.
Though armour was a necessity during war, plate armour came with a series of issues. Plate armour is expensive, heavy, and susceptible to the weather- if it was hot, the metal would warm and you would heat up, if it was cold, the metal would cool, and you would freeze. While adaptations were made, such as wearing a tunic underneath, there was never a perfect solution. The daily temperature extremes in the Middle East allowed armour to evolve differently. Though plate armour was used, chain was much more predominately specifically over the arms and legs. Coupled with smaller horses, chain was ideal for the Middle East.
The chain above is from what is now modern day Iran.
Written by @kironcmukherjee. Last update: May 27th, 2014.
The Long History of an Irish Bronze Age Sword
A bronze sword in the ROM’s collection (ROM no.909.68.1) has an interesting history. It is of a type named after Ewart Park, a site in Northumberland in Northern England. The type seems to have developed in what is now Northern England, and became the main sword type of the Late Bronze Age of Britain and Ireland (circa 1000 to 700 BC). In his great work on the Bronze Age Swords of Ireland, George Eogan classified this as his Class 4 of Bronze Age Swords, associated with the Dowris Phase, named after a hoard of objects found at the site of Dowris in County Offaly. These swords are designed for slashing at an opponent, with the edges meant to be sharp for cutting through flesh, not for hacking at armour. Studies of the edge damage tend to not provide evidence of Hollywood-style sword clashing, but a capable use of the sword to deflect blows as is known from Mediaeval sword-fighting treatises, showing that these warriors had a form of martial arts as well-developed as the skills of the manufacturers of the swords themselves.
Chemical analysis of the ROM sword shows that it is made of 91.3% copper, 7.5% tin, 1% lead, and other elements making up the remainder, like silver, arsenic and antimony. Copper would have been available in Ireland, and tin could have been available from Cornwall. Studies of swords of this period in Britain and Ireland show that there was a lot of contact, and swords could be melted down and the materials re-used anywhere in the region. Earlier in the European Bronze Age swords were often made by pouring molten bronze into a mould made of stone, but in the Late Bronze Age it was typical to make the form of the sword in wood, and make two halves of the mould by laying slabs of clay along the wooden form. Impressions of wood grain have been found on the moulds that have been preserved. Fragments of a number of these moulds have been found in Ireland, probably or certainly made for this type of sword. At times there were problems with the casting of the sword, and molten bronze would be poured onto the object; or repairs would be made by “fixing” the blade with wax, making another mould, melting the wax, and pouring molten bronze into the void. This sword seems to have a couple of these problems. What appears to be a blow-holes or voids in the blade itself were filled with bronze, and then ground down to be flush with the blade. The hilt seems to have had a poor cast, or perhaps became cracked, and molten bronze seems to have been poured over the hilt, but was left as it was at it was to be covered by the grip.
After spurs from the casting had been removed, the sword would have been annealed (heated to a high temperature to soften the metal) and hammered. Unike iron or steel, studies have shown that bronze should not be worked, or forged, when it is hot, as this creates severe problems. Instead, the metal would have been annealed and then cold-hammered, probably repeatedly. Then the grip, made of materials such as wood or bone, would be riveted on and the final grinding and polishing would create the final product. The sword has a patina, the fine surficial oxidization of the bronze surface, that dates to about the time of the sword’s first use. Features included in this original patina are the fine scratches of the blades original polishing and grinding, a couple of impacts on the edge, and what appears to be a massive blow to one side that slightly bent the sword. Former ROM curator Francis Pryor, who wrote a catalogue of the ROM’s British and Irish Prehistoric bronzes, subsequently excavated a Bronze Age site in England calledFlag Fen, and he says that several swords deposited in the marshes there were similarly struck on a rock. Possibly the sword was “sacrificed” to make it useable in the Afterlife. The sword was probably used, and had a life in the Late Bronze Age, wielded by a warrior of that time, and then was very probably “sacrificed” in a body of water like those at Flag Fen. Of the over 600 Bronze Age swords found in Ireland, the majority seem to have been found in contexts that would have been bog or stream in the Late Bronze Age, a practice found across Europe for at least another thousand years. Now and in the recent past the old bogs would have been dry, with just the peatier soil showing archaeologists what would have once been standing water, but to this day these swords are found by deep ploughing of what is now peaty soil.
Apart from the Late Bronze Age patina, the sword shows other signs of use which indicate the object was used relatively recently, and when the ROM acquired it, the sword had been refitted with a handle. The handle seems to be made of rawhide, riveted on with iron, and has a curve. If the curve is meant as a finger-guard, that would give the re-used object a side. The recent signs of use are all around the edge, making the sword now completely blunt, especially on what would be the front or lead side if the curve in the grip was to protect the fingers. There is also a fine but uneven polish that looks as though it was made by the sword being worn thrust into a belt, and the owner’s clothing would have polished the sword for some time. Apparently this was not uncommon, but what is uncommon about this object is that we may know more about the more recent owner of the sword.
The shipping document that came with the sword in 1909 is from a company in London, England, called Fenton and Sons. Although the ROM has few other Prehistoric Irish objects from this source, I am told by Mary Cahill of the National Museum of Ireland that Fentons did a lot of business with their insitution, then called the Science and Art Museum, Dublin. On the document it states that the sword was “taken at New Ross, Co. Wexford, Ireland, in the Rebellion of 1798.” Although dealers are notoriously unreliable in the attributions they give, Francis Pryor has said that he did not think it was the type of story that a dealer would simply fabricate. Indeed Currelly was probably not especially selective anyway, and was largely into acquiring quantity more than objects with intriguing stories. Fentons also do not seem too concerned with “stories,” as is evidenced by documents such as this. So we may probably assume that the sword was indeed last used at New Ross.
- The Late Bronze Age sword and its 18th century grip.
- Detail of the sword. Note the general Bronze Age patina, including the two impacts on the edge, and the later polish from being used in the 18th century.
- Detail of the hilt showing where bronze was poured on to strengthen a poor cast or a crack.
- Detail of the blade with possible in-filled blow-holes, a massive ancient impact on the side (possibly from being hit against a rock?), and scratches and polishing from use in the 18th century.
- The shipping document that came with the sword from Fenton & Sons to “C. T. Currelly, Esq.” The sword is the first entry.
- The grip of the sword, probably rawhide, with iron rivets.
- George Eogan, 1964, “The later Bronze Age in Ireland in the light of recent research,” Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society, New Series XXX: 268-351.
- George Eogan, 1965, “Catalogue of Irish Bronze Swords,” National Museum of Ireland.
- Simon Ó Faoláin and J. P. Northover, 1998, “The Technology of Late Bronze Age Sword Production in Ireland,” The Journal of Irish Archaeology, IX: 69-88.
- Barry P.C. Molloy, 2007, “What’s the bloody point: Swordsmanship in Bronze Age Ireland and Britain,” in “The Cutting Edge: Archaeological Studies in Combat and Weaponry" (edited by B.P.C Molloy) The History Press Ltd.
- Francis Pryor, 1980, “A Catalogue of the British and Irish Prehistoric Bronzes in the Royal Ontario Museum,” Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto.
- Robert Mason is a ROM archaeologist. See his previous posts HERE. Follow him on twitter HERE.
- Original post found HERE.
Post by Robert Mason. Last updated: May 12th, 2014
A child’s armour from ~1550 Germany. Armour was incredibly expensive, so a family outfitting their child in this was not looking to send him to war but instead attempting to show off their status and wealth to others.
More on the Mediaeval World!
- An Introduction To Warriors & Weapons
- Why did the crossbow become extinct on the battlefield?
- The Italian Barbut Helmet
- Tilting Helmet
Written by @kironcmukherjee. Last update: December 2nd, 2013.
The Italian Barbut!
Above is an Italian Barbut helmet from ~1450. The smooth rounded surface helped to reduce the impact from striking blows. The relatively short helmet length and the t-shaped opening on the face increased the vision and mobility of the soldier, helping them in combat.
The Barbut styled helmet has inspired many fantasy worlds such as Lord of the Rings and Star Wars (see Boba Fett)!
Interesting fact, this guy is actually on long term loan from the Met! #themoreyouknow
Museums: Dinosaurs and all the OTHER Awesome Things They Hold!
Let’s be real, probably one of the greatest parts of a museum is it’s dinosaur collection. In fact, if it wasn’t for the ROM’s dinosaur collection, I’m uncertain if my 4 year old self would have fallen in love with museums in the same way.
In a recent article from the Toronto Star, Vice President of the Royal Ontario Museum, Dan Rahimi, spoke with Paul Irish about the magic of galleries OTHER than the dinosaurs. And it’s true. The ROM, and all museums, have such incredible galleries that sometimes are overshadowed (and rightfully so, cos dinosaurs are HUGE) by the dinosaur collections.
“Yes, popular culture sometimes directs what people go looking for (like dinosaurs),” he says. “But the history of culture is no less important and this museum is dedicated to it. Really, there is something for everyone here.”
Now, to be truthful, here and on twitter, I’ve been pretty upfront about my love for dinosaurs. In fact, I actually had a sit down meeting with myself (that’s not weird is it?) and said I would post a more diverse range of photos and articles. And for the most part, I think I’ve succeeded. It’s actually helped me expand the dinosaur tunnel vision I sometimes exclusively see in and explore the wide variety of other interests I hold.
The Museum has such a wonderfully dynamic range of galleries, specimens and artefacts that deserve a bit more of the spotlight. With this said, I’ve pulled together a full set of swell photos from NOT THE DINOSAUR galleries. Enjoy (click the photos for more)!
Outside of the dinosaurs, of course, what are your favourite museum exhibits and galleries?
We had a ton of fun at last weekend’s @ROMToronto Mediaeval Fair. Honestly the best part was hanging out with Hector the Protector, but that’s the easy choice. So instead my favourite moment would be seeing so many families come out for both days. That was really special.
Relive the weekend, or check out what you missed, with these photos (click above for captions, sometimes witty, most of the time not..)!
Got some mediaeval toys for you to take a look at it. Surprisingly well built! twitter.com/ROMKids/status…— Kiron/ROMKids (@ROMKids) September 30, 2012
This fall we got a great lineup of weekend programs, check ‘em out here! See you next time!