Wednesday, 10 April 2013

H is for Hamata

H is for HAMATA.

All my posts for this A-Z Challenge Blog Hop will be themed around the Celtic/Roman Britain AD 71-84 era (at least that's my intention as I pen this on day 8)

In my Roman dictionary there is this entry:
Hamatilis:-with hooks

Chain Mail consists of small metal rings linked together to form a mesh. Some experts believe the earliest form of hooked chest mail may have originated in Celtic Europe (possibly Celtiberia), the idea then used by the Roman Army during the Republic. (Though there is good evidence for the earliest mail to have originated elswhere as in Persia or Asia Minor.)

The Roman lorica hamata (chain mail shirt) was probably the most common type of chest protection worn in Celtic/ Roman Britain AD 71-84 by the Romans stationed there. Some debate has gone on over what type of chest protection was used by auxiliaries and which by legionaries in Britannia. Evidence found of the fastenings used to link sections of armour together seems to indicate that there was a possibility that some Auxiliary units in Britannia had soldiers wearing both types of chest protection, the copper and leather fastenings from lorica segmentata found at Roman forts only manned by auxiliary forces.   

The structure of linked rings on the lorica hamata provided the wearer reasonably good protection from a Celtic broadsword. Mostly fabricated from bronze or iron, they had alternating rows of flat washers and rows of horizontally running rings which produced flexible, reliable and strong armour. It’s estimated that piecing together the 30,000 plus rings needed to make one mail shirt took around two months – the lorica made in state-run armouries.

The construction of the iron rings meant less maintenance than the plated armour. The rings of the hamata constantly rubbed together during use and meant less rust settling. In a colder, damper and rainy climate, as would have been found in Britannia, the lorica hamata would have been much easier to keep in tip top condition. With care, it’s thought that a lorica hamata, of iron rings, could last two or three decades- just perfect since the legionaries tended to sign on for twenty five years and auxiliaries a further year or two beyond that.

Lorica segmentata (chest plate) was, apparently, easily donned as it was carried in four sections. The plates, some of them steel fronted and soft iron backed, were fastened on the inside to leather straps. The remaining fastenings were originally of brass but were later replaced with simpler rivets by the time my Celtic warriors would be viewing the Roman chestplates in close combat. This type of chest armour needed much more maintenanceto prevent rusting- perhaps not the best idea in parts of damp and soggy Britannia.

Soldier 1Wikimedia Hamata

Soldier 2 Wikimedia Segmentata

My novel, The Beltane Choice, makes brief references to the armour of Roman soldiers, but the sequel has much more detail!

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  1. Nancy,

    Hadn't really thought about chain mail dated that far back. Interesting info as usual. :)

  2. Interesting! Love your blog :)
    A-Z :)

  3. Thanks for this article Nancy! I wasn't sure that the Romans has chainmail. I know they had ringmail (sewing bronze rings on top of leather shirts), but I didn't know they used chainmail. I looked it up and found out that the oldest chain mail they have found in Europe was from 400 BCE both in a moor in Denmark (Germanic chainmail) and in a Celtic grave in Rumania. I have read somewhere that the Romans kept their armour in condition by rubbing with wool fat (lanolin). Lanolin helped slow down rusting on armour, swords and other metal. Lanolin really is amazing stuff. I had a friend who rubbed his entire boat hull with it to prevent barnicles - It worked for about a week. :)

    Most archaeologists tend to believe it was the Celts invented chainmail because they're pretty sure they invented wire. Afterall their gold that survived over the centuries has some of the finest fillegree gold wirework jewellery from ancient times - making wire that was as fine as 1 millimetre thick.

    Here is an excerpt from the Celtic Culture book:

  4. Nancy, this is probably the most unique, refreshing, obscure #AtoZChallenge post I've come across yet.

    It started with hooks, and ended with armor :) You're clearly dedicated to the details of your book ;)

    Rock on and ryze up!

    1. Thank you, Jason. Obsessed is maybe more accurate! More obscure to come!


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