Copper-Alloy Mail




Mike Bishop

Hannah Clay

For this week’s Finds Friday, we’re looking at a piece of fine copper-alloy mail that was found during excavation work on the A1 scheme. It is covered with copper-alloy and ferrous ‘scales’ – a design known as lorica plumata – that were combined for decoration rather than function.


This piece of mail and scales had been folded over on itself into a rectangle, perhaps for recycling (although this would have required the separation of the two metals at some point). The copper-alloy scales are approximately 7mm by 6mm, while the ferrous examples are 8mm by 7mm. The chain rings have a diameter of only c.3.3mm and the wire is c.0.7mm thick. There is also evidence for riveted rings, especially where broken rings have split across the rivet hole.


This type of armour was rare in the Roman Empire and was probably expensive to produce and purchase and it has inevitably been suggested that it must have belonged to a high-status individual, such as an officer. However, in dealing with the Roman army, the second suggestion does not necessarily follow from the first; for example, the fine ‘sports’ helmets were issued to all cavalry troopers, not just officers, so the same could be true of body armour.

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