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The mail from Borsod, Hungary

At the beginning of 2022, I was informed about a newly published of mail from the Old Hungarian fortified settlement of Borsod (Borsodi földvár), which was published for the first time since the discovery in 1990 (Wolf 2019: 23, 99-100). It is an important find that deserves to be published in other languages as well. The armour proves that the Old Hungarians knew and used mails, which has long been questioned in the literature.

The position of Borsod on the map of Europe.


Find situation and dating

In 1990, the so-called house no. 3, a 4.4 × 5.5 m large building with a stone foundation and a wooden superstructure, was examined at the Borsod fort. There was a furnace in the house. As a result of the fire, the roof collapsed and preserved the equipment of the house where they it was located for more than a millennium.

On the floor of the house, there were found 23 ceramic vessels, scissors, 6 whorls, a chisel, two bracelets, an iron hook, a drawknife, an arrowhead, a fragment of a decorated bone, spirals of copper alloy wire and five fragments of charred mail (Wolf 2019: 22).

Dating of the organic parts showed that the house was used during the 10th century (Wolf 2019: 23). Due to the burnt ceramics and the collapsed roof, a large fire is being considered for the entire settlemen in the 970s and 980s, probably in the autumn period (Wolf 2019: 385).

House no. 3 from the Borsod fort. Wolf 2019: 9. kép.

Description and evaluation

The armour consists of five separate fragments that were pressed, corroded, charred, and pieces of charred wood baked to their surface. The total weight of the fragments exceeds 2.3 kg. The lengths and weights of the fragments are as follows:

  • Fragment 1: 5,4 cm, 0,032 kg.
  • Fragment 2: 12,3 cm, 0,154 kg.
  • Fragment 3: 11,7 cm, 0,404 kg.
  • Fragment 4: 4,9 cm, 0,028 kg.
  • Fragment 5: 22,8 cm, 1,702 kg.

The rings have a circular cross-section, an outer diameter of 1 cm and a wire thickness of 0.15 cm. Today, only iron oxides make up a large part of the rings, but the better-preserved pieces show that they were made of pure iron, the presence of carbon has not been confirmed. The linking structure is difficult to recognize due to the severe damage, but the photographs show the classic “four in one” method. The mail is a combination of riveted and solid rings, and the author adds that the rings are welded. It is not possible to say whether the rivet heads are located only on the visible outer side, as well as the way in which the riveted rings overlap. The presence of copper alloy rings is not mentioned in the publication.

Fragments of armour from Borsod. Source: Wolf 2019: 12. kép.

X-ray image of the largest fragment of armor. Source: Wolf 2019: 85. kép.

The fragments come from a product that was larger than an aventail. It is safe to say that they come from a mail. In the Old Hungarian area, this is the only find of its kind that proves that mail products were known to the Hungarians and were used by them, but were not buried in graves. Thus, it is not true that the Old Hungarians did not use mails, as claimed by Fodor (1996: 47). The helmet from Pécs also indicates that it was equipped with a mail aventail (Kalmár 1942; Kiss 1983: 252-5). Byzantine emperor Leon VI. Wise said of the Hungarians that they wore a type of armour, which he called a “lorikion” (Hanák 1988: 29; Wolf 2019: 99), a term understood by contemporary literature as a mail (Kovács 2002; Lendvai 2003: 47). The only other early medieval mail finds from the area of today’s Hungary come from the Avar period (eg Straub 1999: 182, 2. kép 5, 3. kép 5).


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Bibliography

Fodor, István (1996). The Ancient Hungarians : exhibition catalogue, Budapest.

Hanák, Péter (1988). Die Geschichte Ungarns von den Anfängen bis zur Gegenwart, Budapest.

Kalmár, János (1942). Pécsi sisak a honfoglalás kori időből. In: Pécs szabad királyi város Majorossy Imre Múzeumának Értesítő, 22-29.

Kiss, Attila (1983). Baranya megye X-XI. századi sírleletei. Magyarország honfoglalás és kora Árpád-kori temetőinek leletanyaga 1., Budapest.

Kovács, László (2002). A honfoglaló magyarok bőrpáncéljáról. Über den Lederhamisch der Magyaren zur Zeit der Landnahme. In: Hadtörténelmi Közlemények 115, 2, 311-334.

Lendvai, Paul (2003). The Hungarians. A thousand years of victory in defeat, Princeton, New Jersey.

Straub, Péter (1999). Újabb adalék a Keszthely-kultúra eredetéhez egy fenékpusztai sír kapcsán. – Ein neuer. Beitrag zum Ursprung der Keszthely-Kultur anhand eines Grabes von Fenékpuszta. In: Zalai Múzeum 9, pp. 181–193.

Wolf, Mária (2019). A borsodi földvár. Egy államalapítás kori megyeszékhelyünk kutatása, Budapest – Miskolc – Szeged.

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