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The mail from Lednica lake, Poland

One of the most completely preserved mail of the early Middle Ages is the mail that was discovered in the Lednica lake, Greater Poland. Although it has been published many times, it is almost never mentioned in a language other than Polish, and it is therefore appropriate to make this armour available to foreign audiences. Another reason why the armour deserves attention is the fact that it has been professionally published in recent years with analyzes and photographs.

The position of Lednica lake on the map of Europe.


Finding situation and current position

The mail was found during an underwater survey conducted by A. Kola and G. Wilke in Lednica lake in 1999, at a position marked “OL 3a”, which is located 177 m north of the western bridge axes and 27 m west of the island. The find itself was made by the diver Jacek Niegowski at a depth of about 6-9 m (Kola 2014: 69; Kola – Wilke 2000: 65; Sankiewicz – Wyrwa 2018: 222). Armour is the only more or less complete mail of the early Middle Ages from the territory of modern Poland. An incredible number of early medieval military equipment with a high degree of preservation of organic supplements were found in the close vicinity of the mail, namely a helmet (Sankiewicz – Wyrwa 2018: 218-9), 11 swords (Kucypera et al. 2021; Wyrwa – Sankiewicz – Pudło 2011), 66 spears (Sankiewicz – Wyrwa 2018: 148-213) and over 150 axes (Kucypera et al. 2021; Sankiewicz – Wyrwa 2013).

At present, the armour is located in the collections of the Museum of the First Piasts in Lednica (Muzeum Pierwszych Piastów na Lednicy). Inv. No. MPP/93/99.

The mail after the finding in 1999. Source: Kola – Wilke 1999: Ryc. 47.

Photograph of armour from Lednica lake. Source: Lucivo.pl.

Armour from Lednica lake. Source: Sankiewicz – Wyrwa 2018: 223.


Description

The mail at the moment has the form of a corroded, kidney-shaped, compact, layered lump with a length of 54 cm and a maximum thickness of 24 cm. As far as we know, no attempt has ever been made to unpack the armour or determine its size. At the time of discovery, the armour weighed about 10 kg (Górecki 2001a: 44), after cleaning and conservation, the weight stabilized between 8.1-8.2 kg (Kola 2014: 69; Sankiewicz – Wyrwa 2018: 222). About 20 rings long, unlinked chain separates from the main mass.

Despite the published literature, it is evident that the linking style is a classic “four in one” and that the mail is a combination of riveted and solid rings. It is not possible to say whether the solid rings are cut or welded. The riveted rings undoubtedly have a circular or oval cross-section. The diameter of the rings is 0.9 cm, and although the sources do not indicate whether it is an outer or inner diameter, outer diameter is more likely from the proportion perspective. The thickness of the wire used is equal to 0.08-0.09 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.

Armour from Lednica lake. Source: Sankiewicz – Wyrwa 2018: 222.

Thickness of armour from Lednice lake. Source: Kola 2014: Ryc. 1.

Armour from Lednica lake. Source: Derwich – Żurek 2002: 187.

Detail of armour from Lednica lake. Source: Kola – Wilke 2000: Ryc. 48-9.

Detail of armour from Lednica lake. Source: Lucivo.pl.

The armour has been x-rayed in recent years and has undergone X-ray fluorescence (Sankiewicz – Wyrwa 2018: 284, 315, 326). The conclusion of the analysis showed that the rings were made of wrought iron, as confirmed by Paweł Kucypera in a personal discussion.

X-ray of the armour. Source: Sankiewicz – Wyrwa 2018: 315.

X-ray fluorescence results of rings. Source: Sankiewicz – Wyrwa 2018: 326.


Dating

Exact chronological determination is not possible. Górecki believed that the armour could be roughly dated to 10th-13th century (2001a: 44; 2001b: 127). Due to the large number of militaria from the period of the second half of the 10th and the first half of the 11th century, this dating is rightly proposed for mail as well (Kola 2014: 69; Sankiewicz – Wyrwa 2018: 222). The upper limit is usually seen in the 1030s, when there was an attack on a fortress on the island. One possible interpretation of the event is the Czech invasion of 1038 (Górecki 2001a: 44). In the literature, it is sometimes believed that the domestic Polish tradition of mail production began in the 13th century, and therefore the Lednica armour must be imported (Kola – Wilke 2000: 65). In fact, the number of early medieval mail fragments is not negligible (at least half a dozen sites) and indicates widespread use in the 10th-11th century (Janowski 2019: 79-80; Kaźmierczyk 1991: Ryc. 21; Sankiewicz – Wyrwa 2018: 224-250; Strzyż 2006: 95; 257; Świątkiewicz 2006: 77; Wachowski 1984: Ryc. 6). The archaeological situation thus in a way supports the written mention of the chronicler Gallus Anonymous, according to which the army of Boleslav the Brave (992-1025) numbered 3900 armoured troops, so-called “loricati” (Gesta principum Polonorum I: 8).

Scene from the manuscript Nürnberg, GNM, Hs. 156142, 18v, dated to ca. 1030.
The armour shown may correspond in size to the find from Stromovka.


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Bibliography

Gallus Anonymus: Gesta principum Polonorum = Gallus Anonymus: Kronika a činy polských knížat a vládců. Přel. Josef Förster, Praha 2009.

Derwich, Marek – Żurek, Adam (eds.) (2002). U Źródeł Polski. Do roku 1038, Warszawa.

Górecki, Janusz (2001a). Waffen und Reiterausrüstungen von Ostrów Lednicki. Zur Geschichte des frühen polnischen Staates und seines Heeres. In: Zeitschrift für Archäologie des Mittelalters 29, 41–86.

Górecki, Janusz (2001b). Gród na Ostrowie Lednickim na tle wybracyh ośrodków grodowych pierwszej monarchii piastowskiej, Lednogóra.

Janowski, Andrzej (2019). Metal finds. In: Rębkowski, Marian (ed.). Wolin. The Old Town II. Studies on Finds, Szczecin, 47-88.

Kaźmierczyk, Józef (1991). Ku początkom Wrocławia. Cz. 1. Warsz budowlany i kultura mieszkalna Ostrowa tumskiego od X do połowy XI wieku, Wrocław.

Kola, Andrzej (2014). Militaria – broń ochronna. In: Kola, Andrzej – Wilke, Gerard (2014). Wczesnośredniowieczne mosty przy Ostrowie Lednickim Tom II: Mosty traktu poznańskiego, Kraków, 69-74.

Kola, Andrzej – Wilke, Gerard (2000). Mosty sprzed tysiąca lat: archeologiczne badania podwodne przy rezydencji pierwszych Piastów na Ostrowie Lednickim, Toruń.

Kucypera, Paweł et al. (2021). Technologia wykonania miecza i czekana odnalezionych w reliktach mostu prowadzącego na wyspę Ledniczkę na jeziorze Lednica w świetle badań archeometalurgicznych. In: Studia Lednickie XX, 99-123.

Sankiewicz, Paweł – Wyrwa, A. M. (eds) (2018). Broń drzewcowa i uzbrojenie ochronne z Ostrowa Lednickiego, Giecza i Grzybowa, Lednica.

Sankiewicz, Paweł – Wyrwa, A. M. (eds). (2013). Topory średniowieczne z Ostrowa Lednickiego i Giecza, Lednica.

Strzyż, Piotr (2006). Uzbrojenie we wczesnośredniowiecznej Małopolsce, Łódź.

Świątkiewicz, Piotr (2002). Uzbrojenie Wczesnośredniowieczne z Pomorza Zachodniego, Łódź.

Wachowski, Krzysztof (1984). Militaria z grodu na Ostrówku w Opolu. In: Studia nad kulturą wczesnopolskiego Opola, Wrocław, 11-112.

Wyrwa, A. M. – Sankiewicz, P. – Pudło, P. (2011). Miecze średniowieczne z Ostrowa Lednickiego i Giecza, Dziekanowice – Lednica.

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