Mail fragments from Viking Age Denmark

Introduction

The finds of the Early medieval armour are in the center of attention not only of many academics and military experts, but also of several thousand reenactors, who eagerly accept information about each new find with which they can support their costumes. From 9th-11th century Scandinavia, which is given a lot of attention in these interest groups, we know mail finds from both Norway (Gjermundbu; Vike 2000) and Sweden (Birka, Slite; Thunmark-Nylén 1995: Abb. 261: 7–8; Tweddle 1992: Fig. 589l – m; Vlasatý 2020), while material from Denmark waited the longest for its discovery. As late as 2002, Anne Pedersen stated that there were no mail finds in Denmark (Pedersen 2002: 33), which was particularly remarkable in relation to well-preserved Roman-era armours (eg Wijnhoven-Moskvin 2020). Equally interesting is the fact that we do not find a single armour in the elite graves of Danish riders (Pedersen 2014).

The mail fragments that will be the subject of this article are in poor condition and are therefore not published in great detail. So far, they have only been published in Danish. In the following text, I would like to introduce the fragments into English and put them in context.


Discovery

Aarhus, along with Hedeby and Ribe, is one of the oldest cities of historic Denmark. As the exact age was not known, the Moesgård Museum launched a project in June 2009 that lasted until the following year, which aimed to explore the oldest layers of Aarhus center. Bispetorvet Square south of the cathedral was chosen, which had already been archaeologically examined down to a layer from the 13th century in 1921.

Archaeological research has discovered, among other things, an interesting pit-house measuring 4 × 4 m, which had a depth of 0.7 m. The inner side of the walls was lined with vertically placed charred planks, which indicates the burnout of the building. The house was later used as a waste pit. A spur made of copper alloy, a braided ring made of copper alloy, a key made of copper alloy, a brooch or a similar object, a bit, beads, millstone, and an antler industry were found in the excavation of the earth coming from the waste pit. In May 2010, when sifting clay from the pit, two iron, heavily corroded fragments were discovered, which turned out to be formed by mail during the X-ray. The dating of the find points to the end of the 10th century. The objects are now in the Moesgård Museum under inventory numbers FHM 5124 X1463 and FHM 5124 X1430.

The results of the research were published in a report (Poulsen 2010), on a blog (Graabach-Klinge 2009; Krants 2010) and in an Youtube video (Moesgård Museum 2009). Mail fragments have been published separately (Pind 2012: 178).

Drawn reconstruction of the pit house from Aarhus. Damm 2005: 22.


Description

As mentioned above, the mail found at the Bispetorvet site is composed of two small, heavily corroded fragments. The larger fragment (FHM 5124 X1463) measures about 5 × 3.5 cm and consists of about eighty rings. The upper row of rings, now represented by three pieces, is formed by copper alloy rings. Originally, it could have been the decorative edge of mail product.

Iron rings have an outer diameter of about 8.5 mm, while copper alloy rings have about 7 mm. Lars Krants Larsen from the Moesgård Museum told us that the wire thickness is between 0.8-1 mm, but it cannot be determined exactly due to corrosion.

Photograph of mail fragments from Bispetorvet. Pind 2012: Fig. 5.

X-ray of mail fragments from Bispetorvet. Krants 2010.

Drawn reconstruction of a larger fragment from Aarhus Bispetorvet.
Author: Michal Havelka, baba_jaga_atelier.


An addition: Tissø mail fragments

During a detector inspection in the important Danish site of Tissø, a fragment of four interlocking rings was found in 2019. The riveted central ring creates the most dominant impression, it has an inner diameter of around 6 mm and an outer diameter that is close to 10 mm. The other rings are solid and less pronounced, with an inner diameter of around 7mm and an outer diameter of 10-11 mm. The fragment is registered under the inventory number DIME ID 5899 and has not yet been published. Due to the dating of the town, it is possible to speak of Vendel or Viking period. I am grateful to Flemming Fabriciusen-Nielsen for the information on this find.

The mail fragment from Tissø, Denmark. Source: Flemming Fabriciusen-Nielsen.


Use of non-ferrous mail

In the catalog, which was published elsewhere on this site (Vlasatý 2020), we collected a total of 21 European mail examples from the period 6th-12th century, which are completely or partially made of non-ferrous metal. The material is often a copper alloy (hence the designation copper, brass, bronze), more rarely gold. Both in cases of fragments or more or less complete pieces, non-ferrous rings form 1-10 rows, which could serve as decorative edging or stripes on the collars, sleeves and lower edges of ring armours, aventails for helmets or flags. A similar tendency is also found outside Europe. In addition, the grave from Sutton Hoo, England, preserved the finds of iron rings that were riveted with “copper” rivets (Evans 1994: 41). The fragmentary nature indicates the frequent use of these mail pieces for symbolic and protective purposes. Sparse evidence of the use of rings of various materials can also be found in iconography and in written sources.

Edged mail. Weight: 4.5 kg. Production: Peter Kocúr.


I hope you liked reading this article. If you have any question or remark, please contact me or leave a comment below. If you want to learn more and support my work, please, fund my project on Patreon or Paypal.


Literature

Damm, Annette (2005). Vikingernes Aros, Højbjerg.

Ehlton, Fredrik (2003). Ringväv från Birkas garnison, Stockholm [thesis]. Available at: http://www.erikds.com/pdf/tmrs_pdf_19.pdf.

Evans, Angela Care (1994). The Sutton Hoo Ship Burial, London.

Graabach-Klinge, Christian (2009). Et brændt grubehus fra vikingetiden. In: Udgravning af Bispetorvet. Available at: https://bispetorvet.wordpress.com/2009/12/04/et-br%C3%A6ndt-grubehus-fra-vikingetiden/.

Krants, Lars (2010). Så er efterbearbejdningen gået igang! In: Udgravning af Bispetorvet. Available at: https://bispetorvet.wordpress.com/2010/05/05/sa-er-efterbearbejdningen-gaet-igang/.

Moesgård Museum (2009) = På sporet af Vikingernes Aros – arkæologisk udgravning på Bispetorvet i Århus, december 2009. In: Youtube.com. Available at:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KsN7lGZXoRI&feature=emb_title.

Pind, L. H. (2012). Ringbrynje fra Aarhus. In: KUML 2012. Årbog for Jysk Arkæologisk Selskab, 171-184.

Pedersen, Anne (2002). Scandinavian Weaponry in the Tenth Century: The Example of Denmark. In: Nicolle, David (ed.). Companion to Medieval Arms and Armour, Woodbridge, 25-35.

Pedersen, Anne (2014). Dead Warriors in Living Memory. A study of weapon and equestrian burials in Viking-age Denmark, AD 800-1000, Copenhagen.

Poulsen, Karin (2010). FHM 5122 Bispetorvet – kloak 2009. Århus by, Århus købstad, Hasle herred, Århus kommune, Århus amt. Bygherrerapport.

Thunmark-Nylén, Lena (1995). Die Wikingerzeit Gotlands I : Abbildungen der Grabfunde, Stockholm.

Tweddle, Dominic (1992). The Anglian Helmet from 16-22 Coppergate, The Archaeology of York. The Small Finds AY 17/8, York.

Vike, Vegard (2000). Ring weave : A metallographical analysis of ring mail material at the Oldsaksamlingen in Oslo, Oslo [thesis]. Available at: 
http://folk.uio.no/vegardav/brynje/Ring_Weave_Vegard_Vike_2000_(translated_Ny_Bj%C3%B6rn_Gustafsson).pdf.

Vlasatý, Tomáš (2020). Decorative edging of mail armour. In: Projekt Forlǫg : Reenactment a věda. Available at: https://sagy.vikingove.cz/decorative-edging-of-mail-armour/.

Wijnhoven, M. A. – Moskvin, Aleksei (2020). Digital replication and reconstruction of mail armour. In: Journal of Cultural Heritage 45, 221-233.

4. prosince 2020

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