Steel plate to chain mail?

Since the Romans were already successfully using the lorica segmentata all the way back in classical times, why did medieval Europe feel the need to initially turn to chainmail?

Chainmail has a huge weakness against thrusting weapons that plate armour just doesn't have. It also hangs off of the shoulders to a much greater extent, tiring out the wearer even quicker.

Why did people initially change from plate armour to chainmail, before reverting to plate armour again during the later middle ages?

I don't know but could this be a case of lost technology?

Good question.

I think the Roman armour was bronze and the later mail was iron. Maybe its just a matter of resources available. TFS where are thee?

"lost the technology when the Empire fell."


perhaps the decline of the lorica segmentata was as a result of the decline in the importance of heavy infantry? i imagine that a chain shirt would allow more flexibility of movement, an important advantage for the horsemen coming to prominence after the collapse of the western empire.

this is all just speculation, of course. i believe the Byzantines switched mostly to chain, and that coincides with their relative emphasis on cavalry. they would still have had the capacity to manufacture the lorica long after the fall of Rome, but chose not to.

It strikes me as odd though, especially when the Roman legionairres themselves started adopting chain mail ( not chainmail ;) as their basic armour towards the end of the empire, even whilst still carrying out similar duties.

"lost the technology when the Empire fell."



Back when this forum was a lot more active, something as sacriligious as this would have been dealth with mecilessly by someone like TFS by now. :D

^Check out the "fall of Rome?" thread. Glenn has a bunch of good info in it.

The Romans had mail armor since about the 4th century BCE.   It was called Lorica Hamata and was around well before the plate armor, Lorica Segmentata, which was introduced in about the 1st century CE and used until the fall of the Empire in the West.  The use of segmentata supposedly came about because it was less tedious and time consuming to make. 

There is also a story of Segmentata replacing mail because of the large number of mail shirts lost with the legions in the Tutenburg forest, but this is just speculation.

Roman mail was riveted, like the later medieval and early-modern variety, and was made from iron, as were their weapons.

Also the term chain mail is a neologism.  Mail or the French word Maille is what scholars use today.  The word Maille is derived from Macula in Latin, meaning mesh. 

Riveted Mail doesn't have a huge weakness against thrusting weapons, especially when it is worn with a thick, foundation fabric underneath it.  It's not as good as plate, but it does the job and requires a lot less skill to make. 

This could be one of the reasons why it disappeared after the collapse of the Western Roman Empire in the 5th century CE.

Also, the weight of mail on the shoulders can easily be transfered in part to the waist by use of a belt, as was done in Roman and medieval times.

Great post, YOL.

FWIW, the Medieval coat-of-plates is rather similar to the Roman lorica segmentata, with the exception that it is covered with fabric. These are effective forms of plate armor, but from an engineering perspective they still pale in comparison to the very finely articulated and well-fitted anima-type cuirass of the 16th century.

Had a hard time finding a pic of an anima, but here's an Eastern European example:'anima'_fragment.jpg/220px-MWP_husaria_zbroja_typu_'anima'_fragment.jpg