Part 104 - Etruscan Maille
by Lord Thomas the Black
Welcome to another edition of Blackmaille!
A while back, someone on the Armor Archive1
posted some pics of armor in a museum that were labeled “Etruscan Maille”. The
pictures (see below) intrigued me, as they somewhat resembled Japanese maille
more than maille made throughout Europe. So, I decided to do some more
Who were the Etruscans?
The Etruscans were an ancient people whose civilization inhabited the region around Tuscany in Italy, between 700 and 100 BCE. The Romans called them “Tusci”or “Etrusci”, and this became the origin of the term “Tuscany”, which refers to their heartland, “Etruria”, which refers to their wider region2.
As distinguished by their unique language, the Etruscans endured from the time of their earliest inscriptions (700 BCE) until their assimilation into the Roman Empire in the first century BCE3. They left behind no literature, and no texts of religion or philosophy, so much of what we know of them is derived from grave goods and tomb findings.
Prior to their assimilation into Roman culture, the Etruscans were allied with the Carthaginians against the Greeks4. Their government was essentially a state system, with remnants of the chieftain and tribal forms. This state government was a theocracy, with the government being central over all tribal and clan organizations5.
The Etruscans, like their contemporaries in
Ancient Greece and Rome, had a significant military tradition. In addition to
marking the rank and power of certain individuals in Etruscan culture, warfare
was a considerable economic boon to their civilization. Like many ancient
societies, the Etruscans conducted campaigns during the summer months, raiding
nearby areas, and attempting to gain territory while combating piracy as a means
of acquiring valuable resources such as land, prestige, goods, and slaves6.
It is likely that individuals taken in battle would be ransomed back to their
families or clans at high cost7.
The armor in question (seen below) consists of what appears to be a metal belt, much like the “kidney belts” worn by fighters in the SCA, with a chain skirt hanging from it8. The skirt consists of several long chains of 3-in-3 linkage (a straight chain with three rings at each link). These chains are then tied to each other every five links or so by a horizontal link, in much the same fashion as Japanese So-Gusari.
The main difference between the Etruscan maille and the Japanese is in the spacing between the horizontal links. The Japanese so-gusari forms a square grid, while the Etruscan pattern is more rectangular. Of particular note are the rings with a solid-looking tab over them, like a modern pop-tab. From the photos, it's hard to tell how they're made, or how, exactly, they're woven into the pattern at large. Fortunately, maillers at the Mail Artisans International League (M.A.I.L.) have found a likely explanation in de Cosson and Burgess:
As you can see, the first and third rings are the “pop-tab” rings, and lay outside the majority of the regular chain, resembling a Roman “Lorica Plumata”-style connection.
What strikes me as odd about the Etruscan maille is the fact that it was made in this fasion at a time when the Celts just north of them were developing what would become known as the European 4-in-1 pattern. Was this simply a matter of “great minds think alike”, or is the Etruscan pattern a heretofore-unknown earlier version of the maille we're more familiar with? Is this, in fact, even really maille, per se, or just a type of “chain armor”? The ancient Etruscans left behind precious little in the way of records and documentation, and those comtemporary civilizations that wrote of them were less than descriptive of their armor and crafts.
In short, little information exists on this fascinating piece. We may never know how or why it was made the way it was. On the other hand, some enterprising armorer may take it on as a project, and unlock all its secrets in a weekend! Time will tell...
Well, that wraps up another edition of Blackmaille! Thanks for joining us for another month! As usual, any questions, comments, fan mail or hate mail can (and should) be sent to me at:
13628 Belmead Ave
Grandview, Mo 64030
Or you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
See you next month!
8These pics were posted by someone on the Armor Archive. Subsequent attempts to track them down have proved unsuccessful, so the exact provenance and current location of these artifacts in unknown.
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