Part 49 - The Crusades, Pt. 1
by Lord Thomas the Black
The Crusades, Pt 1
Welcome back to another edition of “Blackmaille”!
For the next three month’s, “Blackmaille” is packing our gear, donning our armor, and riding east under the cross. That’s right, “Blackmaille” is going on crusade! In this three-part series, we’ll compare and contrast the maille worn by the Islamic warriors versus that worn by the crusaders, and how the differences between them (among other things) perhaps contributed to their success, or lack thereof. Finally, we will discuss the maille shown in Ridley Scott’s blockbuster “Kingdom of Heaven”.
One last thing before we begin: I understand with the conflict in the Middle East going on right now, that any discussion of Islamic culture can be a sensitive subject. In light of this, I want to avoid any discussion of any religious or political reasons for the crusades, or any talk of the current conflict. Understand that I mean no disrespect, and that my views on Islamic culture are based on research done for this article. Any misunderstandings of said culture, or omission of facts, are purely my own, and are not intended to reflect the views of the owner/operator of this website, or of the American people in general. Thank you.
Now, gird thy loins for battle! Deus lo volt!
First and foremost, any discussion of Islamic maille must begin with a discussion of Islamic people. From the crusaders’ point of view, everyone in the Holy Land was a “Saracen” or “Infidel”. Truth is, however, “Saracen” encompasses many different tribes or nations. Saladin’s army, for example, consisted of Persians, Arabs, Egyptians, Ottomans, Mamluks, and Turks, to name a few.
Due to the hot climate, Muslims were more lightly armored than their European counterparts, preferring a maille shirt to full armor. This maille also tended to be lighter weight then that of the crusaders, being made out of thinner wire. A type of maille unique to the Middle East consisted of rectangular plates fastened to maille.
Apart from floral and animal motifs, a dominant part of Islamic iconography is confined to calligraphy (due to Islam’s religious restrictions on depicting the human form). Islamic artists relied on the words of the Prophet Mohammed to inspire and give literal shape to their designs. Armor was often decorated with a variety of Qu’ranic passages and pious invocations.
A perfect example of this is a maille shirt on display in the Metropolitan Museum in New York City (shown above). Known as a “talismanic shirt”, this haubergeon is constructed of ¼” riveted rings, with a brass inlay in Arabic, reading, “Praise be unto Allah, the merciful and compassionate”.
Talismanic prayers weren’t limited to inlaid designs, though. More often, the rings themselves would be stamped with an Islamic prayer, as in these examples from the Royal Armories in Leeds, England:
Most Islamic maille throughout the crusades was riveted, though butted aventails or drapes on helms were known. These were worn less for protection, and more as a status symbol, or as a display of wealth among Islamic nobles.
Muslim armor, while sharing some similarities with its European counterparts, nonetheless reflected the artistic, aesthetic, and religious convictions of the Muslim culture. In addition to their gifts of science and medicine, the Muslim world has also given us some of the most beautiful armor in the world.
Thanks for joining us for another month of “Blackmaille”! As usual, any questions, comments, hate mail, or fan mail can (and should) be sent to me at:
c/o Tom Beckett
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Next month: Crusader Maille!
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