Full Version: Lorica Hamata being pierced by arrows
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I have a question to ask about the Battle of Carrhae. Normally chainmail reported by historians was impenetrable by most weapons. During the Crusades both Saladin and Usaama report that lances and arrows were useless against arrows. However Plutarch and Cassius Dio both report Parthian arrows ripping or even fracturing the maile?

What was the quality like for Roman maile?

And when Crassus ordered his light-armed troops to make a charge, they did not advance far, but encountering a multitude of arrows, abandoned their undertaking and ran back for shelter among the men-at‑arms, among whom they caused the beginning of disorder and fear, for these now saw the velocity and force of the arrows, which fractured armour, and tore their way through every covering alike, whether hard or soft.


The missiles falling thick upon them from all sides at once struck down many by a mortal blow, rendered many useless for battle, and caused distress to all. They flew into their eyes and pierced their hands and all the other parts of their body and, penetrating their armour, deprived them of their protection and compelled them to expose themselves to each new missile
Cassius Dio.

Somewhere on U-tube there's a short film of arrows piercing linked chainmail. I'm sure there will be poo-bahs from other RAT members, but I believe only welded chainmail is nominally arrow-proof. I wouldn't be shocked if an arrow could fracture welded chainmail. In actual ancient combat, archers were using bows in excess of 100 pounds draw-weight, and such a bowman was incredibly formidable. I'm an archer-- not a dub but a certified instructor-- and I consider chainmail as a "weak link"... sort of speaking. :whistle:

Bring on the rebuttals, but show me visible evidence of actual arrows fired from a heavy-poundage bow NOT penetrating chainmail. 8-)
I know. Rivited armor(which the Romans used) would have withstood arrows. But why does both Plutarch and Cassius Dio say this? Simple overexaggerations? Or Crassus standing there for 16 hours allowed chainmail to break?
Back to you, Andy

Please read what I said in my post above. Roman riveted or linked chainmail did not and does not withstand arrows. That means arrows will penetrate it, EXACTY as Plutarch and Cassius Dio claimed. ;-) And, like I mentioned, I'm not sure welded chainmail could stop an arrow.
Of course Roman hamata is arrow proof. The most common threat for two thousand years was from arrows and spears. Any armour could stop these weapons. Mail that has been riveted properly is just as strong as welded mail. The rivet is the strongest part of the link due to localised work-hardening

Don't waste your time citing Youtube backyard tests.

There have been plenty of RAT discussions already about this.
Hello, Dan

Are there tests that show "real Roman" riveted chainmail was arrow-proof? I'd like to see the results where a "real Bow" is used. Then I'll consider Plutarch and Cassius Dio were lying through their teeth.
The very fact that chainmail is rings allows the point of the arrow head to start its penetration and as far as riveted chainmail I would consider the rivet area as the weaker point of any ring.
I have shot a medium sized deer with a 75 pound bow at 25 meters and the arrow went through the deer and completely berried in the dirt behind it. I think that the distance the arrows are fired from effect the velocity of the arrow when it hits. Also the quality of the chain mail will effect protection.
Precisely. We could perform an experiment. A brave soul like Dan, wearing standard hamata, could stand 25 meters away from an archer with a 100 pound bow (not an uncommon draw-weight in warfare) while he shoots an arrow tipped with a standard bodkin. That's 98 pounds of pressure concentrated in a speeding projectile no larger than 9 mm. But I think the targeted person should say his prayers first. Cool

My opinion is, that although arrows can sometimes pierce chain-mail if fired from a close distance, it certainly did not occur regularly or often, not even in the almost perfect circumstances the Parthians had for shooting at Carrhae, and the accounts of Plutarch and Cassius Dio are exaggerated. My opinion is based on my analysis of the battle of Carrhae (see especially the part "Parthian archers at Carrhae").

We should consider that most modern tests aren't done with reconstructed mail but with cheap (often Indian) pieces of metal which only look like riveted Lorica Hamata but really don't behave like one.

Regarding Cassius Dio und Plutarch:
What terms do they use for the armour they describe? Do they really speak about mail or are they simply describing a deadly rain of arrows penetrating nearly everything? Plutarch clearly speaks about wounded light troops and the shock of their heavier armoured comrads seeing these wounds. Did these light troops use mail or did they rather cover themselves with linen armour and/or a pectorale? I can't speak Greek at all. So what does the text say to describe the types of troops and their equipment?
After that we could consider if Plutarch or Cassius Dio were "lying" ... ;-)
Light troops were probably either Antegsegnani as Caesar wrties they wore no armor or Syrian archers who Crassus probably had access to. Plutarch mentions there was armor so obviously the light troops wore either Lorica Hamata or Squamata.

Either way Cassius Dio mentions Legionaires getting their armor pieced.
It's worth bearing in mind the engineering mechanics involved when an arrow hits the lorica hamata. I am calling on distant recollections of school physics and university aeronautical engineering from a couple of decades ago, so if anyone spots any errors in my statements, by all means correct me and I won't be offended!

Penetration occurs when the metal in the ring reaches fracture point. Metal under strain tends to behave linearly initially (it stretches like elastic) under lower strain, then it deforms (it stretches like modelling clay) as the strain increases, then it reaches fracture point. So the question is, how does the metal reach fracture point? (Strain is measured in Newtons per square milimetre.)

Firstly consider what the armour must do to stop the arrow. All kinetic energy must be absorbed by the ring pushing against the arrow head in the opposite direction of the path of the arrow.

The kinetic energy of the arrow which must be absorbed by the armour Energy = 0.5 x Mass x Velocity squared), i.e. a heavier or faster arrow has more energy.

The equation for the work done by the armour (the "energy absorbed") = Force x Distance over which the force is exerted.

Therefore, the longer the distance over which the force is exerted, the LOWER the average force required.

So, a lorica hamata with some room to yield (i.e. one which is not stretched tightly over the wearer's body) is able to move backwards for a very short distance to exert force over a longer distance in comparison to one when the rings have less freedom to move. Clearly this movement of the ring (and arrow head) must not allow the arrow to injure the wearer, hence the use of padded undergarments with flexible armour, but the key mechanical feature here is that if the length of the trajectory of the ring can be doubled, the force halves.

The halving of the force means that the indiviudal ring is less likley to reach fracture point.

If fracture were to occur, it would be at the point where strain were highest. Given that the hoop force would be constant through the ring if the arrow were pointing through the centre of the ring (i.e. the force running at right angles to the radius of the ring which is acting against teh movement of the arrow), the hoop strain would be higher at the thinnest point and any fracture would occur there first. Conventionally, a weld is slightly thicker than the surrounding surfaces so a well-done weld (mine were always pretty awful - "like birdshit", one instructor once told me!) should be a stronger rather than a weaker point.

So, for a person shot by an arrow who is wearing padding and whose armour can yield a little, penetration is much less likley than for a person whose hamata is worn in a way where the arrow hits it and the ring cannot continue to move for any meaningful distance. A very small difference in the amount of distance which the ring can move could have drastic effect on whether the ring breaks or not, a matter of a few millimetres.

Of course, all other factors like skill of archer, quality of metal, weight of arrow, shape of arrowhead, windspead also have an impact. However, consideration of the mechanics shows that the penetration outcome can be drastically affceted by the path length of the ring at the point of impact. If the padded undergarment were a little thin, then one can envisage that the length of the path of movement of the armour would be longer, for example, over the belly area versus (soft) the upper rib-cage (hard).

The ancent and medorn evidence shows that arrows could penetrate this kind of armour, but in the contest between mail and arrowhead, there are a lot of factors affecting the outcome, and correct "fitting" could have had a signifiicant effect on this.

This sounds like a title in the Osprey "Duel" series - "Parthian composite bow vs. Roman Lorica Hamata"!

Regards, John
Quote:Precisely. We could perform an experiment. A brave soul like Dan, wearing standard hamata, could stand 25 meters away from an archer with a 100 pound bow (not an uncommon draw-weight in warfare) while he shoots an arrow tipped with a standard bodkin. That's 98 pounds of pressure concentrated in a speeding projectile no larger than 9 mm. But I think the targeted person should say his prayers first. Cool
You haven't seen any modern reconstruction that even remotely resembles Roman mail. If you pay Erik to make a decent replica of something like the Arbeia hamata then I'll gladly stand in front of an arrow.
John has brought up some very good points. Padding, anything soft behind the hamata, would decrease the force of impact. I imagine that an arrow piercing chainmail was a rarity, but it must have occurred occasionally when the arrowhead struck directly in the center of a riveted link. In a standard situation of a "rain of arrows" over a distance, chainmail and other forms of armor would hold up well. My point is this-- Never say Never. Wink
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