One of the best-preserved and most overlooked armours of the early Middle Ages is the nomadic mail found in Kazazovo, Russia. It is the best-published example from the Eastern Black Sea region and is one of the few European mails with the known cut. Nevertheless, it remains generally unknown.
The position of Kazazovo on the map of Europe.
Finding situation and dating
In 1972, a rich grave no. 106 was opened in sector III of the Kazazovo burial ground (Teuchezhsky District, Adygea). The grave contained a mail, a helmet with a preserved aventail, a saber, a spear, a battle axe, the remains of an bow and arrows, a mace, riding equipment (bit, stirrups, cuffs), belt fittings and other items (Tarabanov 1983: 151). The grave was never fully published.
Part of the inventory of grave 106 from Kazazovo. Source: Kubik 2016: Fig. 12; Tarabanov 1983: Рис. 1.
While the original literature places the grave in the 9th (Slanov 2007: 129) or even the 10th century (Kaminsky 1996: 102-3), on the basis of the belt components it is possible to put the grave to the 8th century. Komar leans towards the first half of the 8th century (Komar – Suchobokov 2000; Komar 2001), while Kainov is a supporter of its second half (Kainov 2019: 198; Kainov – Ščedrina 2021: 157).
The find is now stored in the Krasnodar National Historical and Archaeological Museum of J. D. Felicyn (Краснодарский государственный историко-археологический музей-заповедник им. Е. Д. Фелицына), while the mail, helmet and some other parts are located directly in the exhibition (showcase 5). Inv. number of the armour remains unknown. The mail was placed on an iron hanger in the first years of the 21st century, later it was put on a more convenient stand simulating the human torso. A comparison of the description in the literature and the exhibit leads us to the conclusion that the armour is strung on the stand in an inccorect way – the wrong side out, and therefore some of its elements cannot be read by a spectator.
The look of the mail in 2003. Source: A. Lemeško, tgorod.ru.
The look of the mail in 2015. Source: Музей Фелицына.
The armour is almost complete except for occasional holes. Judging by the picture published by Kaminskij, which contains a scale (Kaminskij 1991: Рис. 208.1), the armour is at least 100 cm long. However, Slanov states a length of 116 cm (Slanov 2007: 129). From this length it is clear that the mail reached to the knees. The width of the armour is constant, according to Kaminskij’s drawing close to 59-60 cm. In the middle of the front and back edge we find slits up to 35 cm long, which could be useful when riding a horse. The sleeves are approximately 20 cm long, not narrowed, reaching the elbows. The current weight of mail has never been published, but it can easily exceed 10 kg.
Cut and scale of the armour. Source: Kaminskij 1991: Рис. 208.1.
Archive photo of the armour. Source: Slanov 2007: Табл. LI.
An interesting feature of the armour is the solution of the neck. Gorelik’s drawing, which depicts a standing collar (Gorelik 2002: Fig. XI-5.13), is inaccurate. The part, which is understood as a collar, is in fact a ca. 14 cm high integral flap, closed from right to left, which covers part of the opening and its neckline. The opening is approximately oval in shape, is relatively large and probably widened by a slit not only at the neck but also at the nape of the neck. The method of fixing the flap tip is not known.
The upper half of the armour in 2003. Source: A. Lemeško, tgorod.ru.
The drawing of the mail. Source: Gorelik 2002: Fig. XI-5.13.
The linking style is the classic “four in one”. The mail is a combination of riveted and welded rings. Both types of rings have a rectangular cross-section and are flat. The outer diameter of the rings is 1.2 – 1.4 cm, while the solid rings are smaller than the riveted rings. The rivet heads are located only on the outside, they have a conical shape, a circular or oval cross-section of the foot and a small hemispherical head. The direction of overlap of the riveted rings is clockwise. The rings are made of iron, the mail lacks copper alloy edges.
Detail of the rings. Source: Kaminskij 1991: Рис. 208.2.
Details of the rear side of the rings, as displayed in the museum. Source: group Хирд.
Mails are not completely unknown in the North Caucasus and the Eastern Black Sea, but it is rarely published and its chronology is not entirely clear. One such armour was discovered in the Djurso burial ground (Dmitrijev 2003: 204). Another, classified in the culture of the Khazar khaganate of the 7th-11th century, comes from Kuban region and is exhibited in the 8th hall of the State Historical Museum (GIM) in Moscow. We can also mention a mail from the equestrian grave no. 5 from the locality Andrejevskaja Ščel, which can be dated to the 2nd half of the 11th – 1st half of the 12th century (Novičichin 2008).
An image of an Avar warrior. Treasure vase from Nagyoszentmiklós, 7th century. Taken from László – Rácz 1977: 2. kép. The armour is similar in size to the find from Kazazovo.
Dmitrijev 2003 = Дмитриев, А. В. (2003). Могильник Дюрсо – эталонный памятник древностей V–IX вв. // Крым, Северо-Восточное Причерноморье и Закавказьев эпоху средневековья IV–XIII века. Отв. ред. Т. Н. Макарова, С. А. Плетнева, Москва, 200–206.
Kainov 2019 = Каинов, Сергей Юрьевич (2019). Сложение комплекса вооружения Древней Руси X – начала XI в. (по материалам Гнёздовского некрополя и поселения). Диссертация на соискание ученой степени кандидата исторических наук Том I, Москва.
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Kaminsky, V. N. (1996). Early medieval weapons in the north Caucasus – A preliminary review. In: Oxford Journal of Archaeology 15, 95-105.
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Kubik, A. L. (2016). Introduction to studies on late Sasanian protective armour. The Yarysh-Mardy helmet. In: Historia I Świat 5, Siedlce, 77-105.
László, Gyula – Rácz, István (1977). Der Goldschatz von Nagyszentmiklós, Budapest.
Novičichin 2008 = Новичихин, А. М. (2008). Воинский кенотаф с захоронением боевого коня на средневековом могильнике Андреевская щель // Военная археология: Сборник материалов семинара при Государственном историческом музее. Отв. ред. О. В. Двуреченский, Москва, 26–41.
Slanov 2007 = Сланов, А. А. (2007). Военное дело алан I – XV вв., Владикавказ.
Tarabanov 1983 = Тарабанов, В. А. (1983). Средневековый могильник у аула Казазово // Историческая этнография: традиции и современность. Отв. ред. К. В. Чистов, Р. Ф. Итс, Ленинград, 148-155.