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Byzantine mail from Chersonesus

One of the most remarkable mails of the early Middle Ages was found in the Byzantine settlement of Chersonesus, Crimea. It has been known to the public only since 2016, when it was published in Russian. It has not yet been published in foreign literature.

The position of Chersonesus on the map of Europe.


Finding situation and dating

The armour was found by G. D. Belov in the Byzantine city of Chersonesus in 1949, in the 20th city square, in the building 5, which is adjacent to the 10th diagonal street (see Soročan 2005). The armour was in a layer from the end of the 10th century, which indicated marked a fire that explains the fire damage of the armour. In 1889 and 2011, other mail fragments were found in Chersonesus, which came from other products.

The armour was forgotten after its discovery and it was mistakenly thought that it was a find from 1889. Only when Doroško checked the archival materials, he rediscover the mail. Doroško states that the mail bears the number 31375 in the internal files of the Chersonesus Museum (Doroško 2016: 61-2).

The current form of armour and cross-sections of rings. Source: Doroško 2016: Рис. 1.

An old picture of the mail. Source: Doroško 2016: Рис. 2.3.


Description

The armour is in the shape of a burned, layered lump measuring 38 × 33 × 16 cm. In its current form, it weighs 10.7 kg and is probably complete. During the study, the author sketched out all visible layers and reconstructed the original cut as much as possible. The height of the armour was about 80 cm. The width was constant, equal to 65 cm. The armour had short, slightly tapered sleeves that were up to 22 cm long and 20 cm wide. The lower edge of the armour is the most interesting. On the sides, we find 26 cm long slits, which divide the armour into front and back halves. Each of the halves is then further divided by another four 11 cm long slits. Each half is thus divided into five 13 cm wide, rectangular tassels. It is not known how the collar was solved due to the folds that cover it.

The linking style is a classic “four in one”, rows of riveted rings connect rows of cut rings. All rings have an oval, flat cross section. The outer diameter of the rings is around 1.5 cm, the inner 0.7 cm. The rivet heads are probably located only on the visible outer side, the direction of overlap of the riveted rings is counterclockwise. The presence of copper alloy rings is not mentioned in the publication.

Reconstruction of the cut. Source: Doroško 2016: Рис. 2.2.

Diagram of the linking method. Source: Doroško 2016: Рис. 2.1.

The square tassels of the edge is a solution that is almost unknown in other archaeologically preserved armours. The closest in shape is the Byzantine armor from Stara Zagora, Bulgaria, which is sepparated into three parts on the front side (Zlatkov 2014). Furthermore, other armours are known which has central slits (Kirpičnikov 1971: Табл. II; Slanov 2007: 129-130, Табл. LI) or wedges (Bravermanová et al. 2019: Fig. 45). From the iconography, both armour with side slits and armour ending in small square tassels (Bamberg, Staatsbibliothek Bamberg, Msc. Bibl. 140, 24v) or sharp tips – vandykes (London, BL, Cotton Cleopatra C VIII, 18v, 27v) are known. Square or pointy tassels are limited to the end of 10th to 12th century in the iconography.

Scene from the manuscript Bamberg, Staatsbibliothek Bamberg, Msc. Bibl. 140, 24v.
Dated to 1010. At the edges we find a number of square tassels.
I thank Pavel Alekseychik for helping to find the source.


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Bibliography

Bravermanová, Milena et al. (2019). Nová zjištění o přilbě a zbroji zv. svatováclavské. In: Archeologie ve středních Čechách 23, 235–310.

Doroško 2016 = Дорошко, В. В. (2016). Защитное вооружение из раскопок Византийского Херсона // Владимирский сборник, Калининград, 61–70.

Kirpičnikov 1971 = Кирпичников, А. Н.(1971). Древнерусское оружие: Вып. 3. Доспех, комплекс боевых средств IX—XIII вв., АН СССР, Москва.

Slanov 2007 = Сланов, А. А. (2007). Военное дело алан I – XV вв., Владикавказ.

Soročan 2005 = Сорочан С. Б. (2005). Византийский Херсон (вторая половина VI – первая половина X вв.) Очерки истории и культуры 1-2, Харьков.

Zlatkov, Metodi (2014). Silver-coated chain mail shirt from Stara Zagora district. In: Tsar Samuil ( † 1014) in battle for Bulgaria, Sofia, 133-135.

2 Responses

  1. So, don’t know if I’m reading this correctly, but…

    Given the diameters of the rings, the width of the wire would have to be 4mm?

    And this piece preserved would cover maybe half of the torso and arms, and yet it weighs almost 24 pounds (10.7kg)…

    It’s really massive, if true it had to be cataphract/clibanari armor or something.

    Anyway, thanks for this fascinating site.

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