- This topic has 56 replies, 9 voices, and was last updated 5 months ago by Mike Headden.
25/08/2022 at 10:19 #177259
In another part of the forest I was reading a piece on what colour to paint Normans – and someone said mail would be rust coloured – prompting the comment by various people that mail tended to be self cleaning (re-enactor based) and that Romans (not Normans) used a cleaning method based on some variant of sand/oil, sand/vinegar, sand in a barrel and the mail being tumbled therein to remove rust.
Hours of research (15 minutes Googling) found repeated assertions that this method was used, but no-one gave any source.
I’m not doubting it but – and this is a genuine question, I have no idea – is there any contemporary Roman source for this?25/08/2022 at 20:28 #177289
The best way of getting rust off iron is to stop it rusting, I reckon.
Consider what mail is made of, drawn grey iron. It’s not going to be bright to start with. It’s also going to rust like a bastard at the first sign of moisture.
Ways of rustproofing in ye olden days? Blacking, bluing and russeting (that’s that deep brown colour Japanese armour has, he said patronisingly), and oiling.
Was phosphoric acid available in the Roman world?
Obvious contrarian and passive aggressive old prat, who is taken far too seriously by some and not seriously enough by others.25/08/2022 at 21:22 #177290
Yes, I assumed something akin to ‘curing’ cast iron pans – heat treating with an oil coating (I know cast and drawn/wrought iron are different but both are susceptible to corrosion) would be the best way of protecting mail. I may well be completely wrong.
This tombola drum mail dry cleaner business is all over the net, cited as fact, yet I can’t at the moment find a source – even a secondary one. It may be spot on, but I’d like someone to know why.
At the moment it has the feel of the two finger salute and Agincourt.
Nice helmet by the way.
Roman phosphoric acid? Nah!
(willing to be wrong if evidence forthcoming – the drum thingy not the phosphoric acid)25/08/2022 at 22:19 #177291Aethelflaeda was framedParticipant
As a present day metalsmith, I take it for granted that tumble polishing was always available and was always obviously more efficient than any other form of polishing, even before electricity. Just about nothing is really new when you have compared it with ancient methods. Stones, sand, and ash were the earliest abrasives available and it doesn’t take much of a stretch to realize that swirling the abrasives in a barrel or jar is easier than rubbing it by hand, particularly when crevices and crannies need to be reached.
Another thing, if you store steel in soapy water it is somewhat less likely to rust. My tumbling steel burnishing shot I store in buckets of soapy water.
Mick25/08/2022 at 22:49 #177292
Absolutely agree it’s obvious.
Cleaned metal plates, bowls kfs and kit in streams with gravel and mud as abrasive myself, as good as most detergents.
Any actual written, sculptural or architectural relief evidence the Romans did it in rotating barrels with the materials cited?
Not saying they didn’t – just asking for a source for the confident assertion online that this was how it was done, apart from common sense.
If no evidence I always like a ‘probably’, a ‘maybe’, a ‘modern experience suggests’ stuck in there somewhere.26/08/2022 at 06:01 #177295Jim WebsterParticipant
Absolutely agree it’s obvious. Cleaned metal plates, bowls kfs and kit in streams with gravel and mud as abrasive myself, as good as most detergents. Any actual written, sculptural or architectural relief evidence the Romans did it in rotating barrels with the materials cited? Not saying they didn’t – just asking for a source for the confident assertion online that this was how it was done, apart from common sense. If no evidence I always like a ‘probably’, a ‘maybe’, a ‘modern experience suggests’ stuck in there somewhere.
The Romans did have barrels https://www.bbc.co.uk/ahistoryoftheworld/objects/kSM4drOdR0q3BhdETEBIgA
But given their ubiquity it may well be that a unit servant or recruit spent a lot of time rolling mail and sand (or whatever) about the camp in amphorae. After all these seem to have been cheap, ubiquitous and expendable.
The problem with this would be that pictures of Roman soldiers or their servants rolling amphorae could have been a wine delivery or them cleaning their mail
https://jimssfnovelsandwargamerules.wordpress.com/26/08/2022 at 07:05 #177297
Has any Roman mail ever been found? The idea of slaves rolling amphorae full of sand and armour around raises my eyebrow. Amphora have narrow necks…
My intensive research (several trips to the Musee de l’Armee) suggests that late medieval mail was dull grey. Of course it probably hasn’t been cleaned recently.
Absent any other acceptable theory of preservation, I tend to the ancient equivalent of hot melt chain lube – goose fat.
As it goes, Mrs NCS informs me that mail scourers are available for cleaning cast iron cookware. I had a look.
Obvious contrarian and passive aggressive old prat, who is taken far too seriously by some and not seriously enough by others.26/08/2022 at 08:35 #177298
I had a bit of a longer search online and came across tens of repetitions of the same assertion re Roman mail cleaning.
And word for word repetitions of the formula for medieval mail cleaning.
Nary a mention of where any of this came from.
I don’t mind speculation or inference from later practices but I am picky enough to want people to say that’s what they are doing if they are.
I came across one reply to a blog exchange re medieval practice from a gentleman called Eric who said:
‘there is literary evidence for placing mail in barrels partially filled with sand and/or walnut shells and then rolled or tumbled to remove rust.’ but regrettably did not say where. Post is here.
It may be that it was such a common practice, and so obvious, that it wasn’t recorded. Many common everyday actions fail to get a mention in histories, records or even personal accounts, simply because everyone knew what was done and how. But if so where did the original of the repeated answers come from?
So far my thirst for knowledge remains unslaked. :^(26/08/2022 at 17:13 #177324
Okay, tracked down a reference to a medieval indenture of 1344 which appears to suggest the process was in use:
C W King, The Archaeological Journal 1866 pp79-95
‘In the time of Ed III mail armour was cleaned by rolling it in a barrel with sand probably or emery. See the Dover Castle Inventories Arch Journal, vol xi pp.382, 386’
And sure enough:
The Archaeolgical Journal vol 11, 1854 p.381 – Albert Way
‘Original Documents – Accounts of the Constables of the Castle of Dovor. Records of the Queen’s Remembrancers preserved in the Branch Public Record Office, Carlton Ride.
Indenture dated Dec 20, 17 Edw. III, 1344.’
‘There was also found in the Aula a barrel “pro armaturis rollandis’’ Armour of mail was cleaned from rust by a simple process of friction namely by rolling it in a barrel, probably with sand, and this continued in use as late as 1603, as appears by the inventory of Hengrave Hall where was found in the armoury – “one barrel to make clean the shirts of mail and gorgetts”. Eastern nations by whom mail is still worn, brighten it, as Sir S Meyrick observes, by shaking it in a sack with bran and sand’. Vinesauf describes the warriors of Coeur de Lion as whirling their hauberks for this purpose- “Rotantur loricae ne rubigine squallescant”.’
So not Roman yet, but probably genuine medieval practice. (the Dover indenture doesn’t actually mention mail or sand, and it is Mr Way’s undocumented explanation that this method was used that ties it together with the 1603 inventory, but it is looking firmer than a wet finger guess).26/08/2022 at 17:27 #177325
Obvious contrarian and passive aggressive old prat, who is taken far too seriously by some and not seriously enough by others.26/08/2022 at 18:01 #177327
You couldn’t have told me yesterday! :^)
Yes, same Dover inventory (I note I called it an indenture for some reason- changed – changed back! it is an indenture – duh!) – the Wace is interesting.
I presume we just roll this back (sorry) to early medieval and then late Roman by assuming something this simple doesn’t change.
Thanks.26/08/2022 at 22:58 #177337OotKustParticipant
Surely the Ermine Street Guard are your friends and knowledge base?
Personally IME, if you use soft lamb or pig fat on your outside tools, they retain a sliver of grease that keeps steel/ iron compound tooling useful for years- especially the joint/ rotation keys rather better than man made oils. And shiny and clean. Too much? Wipe over a few times and of course, don’t smear the handles! Doh!!!
dave27/08/2022 at 08:11 #177349
I reckon the Ermine Street Guard have mail made from modern metals. I wouldn’t want to be swanning around in iron mail if a lighter alternative existed. The real thing’s bloody heavy…
Although one does have to wonder about a store selling repro ‘chainmail’
But, as I noted, animal fats make very good water repellents/lubricants/rust preventatives, and makes more sense than rolling stuff around in a barrel.
Obvious contrarian and passive aggressive old prat, who is taken far too seriously by some and not seriously enough by others.27/08/2022 at 12:26 #177361
Ermine Street Guard, reenactors. Good ones, with an eye to authenticity but even so where is the pragmatism/research trade off?
Rather than finding an email contact and firing off a question and waiting I thought I’d get an answer here right off. :^)
Happy to have found some evidence for the assertions. Although when you think about it, getting from ‘a barrel for cleaning armour’ to rolling a barrel full of sand and vinegar/oil/urine/bran/nut shells around requires some other input. Again, is it something people just knew in the 1850s?
‘A barrel to clean mail’ could mean swirling your mail in all sorts of acid or alkalis in a barrel to clean, or oil to recoat and then heat – see cast iron pots above.
Where did Mr Way get his sand idea from? Or did he assume this because blacksmiths/metalsmiths cleaned small metal items this way in 1850 (or in his grandfather’s lifetime)?
Doesn’t make it wrong, but I wonder if there is a clear written source or are we necessarily joining modern practice to hints and item descriptions to create a definitive view of how mail was cleaned.27/08/2022 at 12:55 #177362
I notice, Guy, that you’re carefully avoiding engaging with most of the guff I’m throwing out. That’s probably wise, but here’s some more. 🙂
Modern re-enactors mostly go for practical over authentic. As I said real iron mail is heavy, and a properly made sword is fecking expensive.
Could Wace be considered a primary source for the barrel rolling thing?
Prevention is better than cure. Cover your mail in animal fat and it’s less likely to rust. Especially in Britain…
The Romans weren’t the only ancients to wear mail. Any clues from other nations?
I can’t really see medieval kniggets waving their mail shirts around. At the risk of being repetitive!, mail is heavy. Kendo bogu is quite heavy too (~28 pounds), but you don’t notice it when it’s being worn. Try spinning the equivalent of a two year old child in a bag over your head though (don’t try this at home with a real child, especially one of your own), and it’s quite obvious.
I’ll probably think of more stupid stuff later because we’re off down the pub, and beer always unlocks the idiot in me.
Obvious contrarian and passive aggressive old prat, who is taken far too seriously by some and not seriously enough by others.27/08/2022 at 13:36 #177364
Sorry. I am a tad fixated on the evidence for rolling b****y barrels full of mail around.
(also teed off having spent ages tracking down the Archaeological Journal articles only to find out the material and more was in The Gentleman’s Magazine all along – I may ask Google for a refund!)
I agree completely with what you are saying about prevention being better than cure.
But what I want to know is how the barrels of sand method of cleaning ancient and medieval mail is all over the internet, and into some Ospreys and a couple of other books, as undisputed and unreferenced fact.
The waving sacks full of mail around doesn’t sound very efficient/effective. Doesn’t the mail just bunch in the bottom of the sack and go round and round in a lump rather than rubbing against itself and any sand/nuts in there? Maybe practise proves me wrong?
I used to spin kids considerably older than 2 around in circles in the air quite easily (everyone needs a hobby) but I didn’t notice any abrading so long as I held on.
Looking forward to the insight the lubrication provides!27/08/2022 at 15:12 #177367
The same way that anything proliferates on the internet, make the same assertion often enough and eventually some other twit will pick it up and post as true. It snowballs from there.
Obvious contrarian and passive aggressive old prat, who is taken far too seriously by some and not seriously enough by others.27/08/2022 at 15:24 #177370Jim WebsterParticipant
The same way that anything proliferates on the internet, make the same assertion often enough and eventually some other twit will pick it up and post as true. It snowballs from there.
I saw a meme somewhere where George Washington said something similar
https://jimssfnovelsandwargamerules.wordpress.com/04/09/2022 at 23:13 #177627
Okay, I’m going to jump to a conclusion here and suggest that everyone has forgotten all about this.
And therefore I’ll presume that no one has a source earlier than (possible) early twelfth century?
I haven’t been looking too hard since my earlier search and my wait elsewhere has proved fruitless.
Thanks for the suggestions, sources and conversations re not letting the stuff get rusty in the first place.
I shall continue (in a desultory fashion) to look for earlier references. (and more detail on what rolling hauberks actually entails).05/09/2022 at 08:38 #177632Sane MaxParticipant
Fictional, but of interest – in ‘The Drawing of the Dark’ (early Modern era) Brian Duffy pays for his mail to be put in a sack with sand and shaken.
To me the sack method seems vastly more likely to work than rolling it around in a barrel. Bear in mind in the ancient Era Labour was cheap. Add some Lanolin or something and it would get greased a bit as well. Is there much oil in hemp or Jute sacking?05/09/2022 at 09:48 #177636
By itself, sand is a fairly passive abrasive – it needs a bit of muscle to get it to work and I’m not entirely convinced that rolling yer mail and some sand around in a barrel/sack is going to achieve much unless you spend at least half a day at it.
However, if you want to try it out for yourself, get one of those mail scourers and a gemstone polisher. Get the scourer nicely rusty, then have at it 🙂
Obvious contrarian and passive aggressive old prat, who is taken far too seriously by some and not seriously enough by others.05/09/2022 at 09:50 #177637
Shaking in a sack sounds far more likely to work than whirling the sack around your head.
Metalworkers use the drum/barrel plus shot or abrasive method now to clean metallic objects and it seems very likely that extrapolating backwards (especially with inventory records of ‘barrel for cleaning armour’) is logical. You aren’t likely to get inventory records for sacks I guess.
I just wondered if anyone knew of written evidence for it in ancient times or are we, understandably, backward projecting?
Tempting to add the protective coat in with the cleaning abrasive (I’m at least as lazy as the next person) but aren’t you going to end up with mail full of greasy grit? An even grottier experience than wearing just greasy mail I would think. Possibly likely to break/weaken the links where they rub more than just mail on mail abrasion? Don’t know, just thinking out loud.
No idea about natural (or added) oil in sacking. It’s years since I’ve handled any – does anyone still use it? Don’t remember it being particularly oily, but that was coal sack.
Thanks for the idea.
Good book.05/09/2022 at 09:54 #177638
By itself, sand is a fairly passive abrasive – it needs a bit of muscle to get it to work and I’m not entirely convinced that rolling yer mail and some sand around in a barrel/sack is going to achieve much unless you spend at least half a day at it. However, if you want to try it out for yourself, get one of those mail scourers and a gemstone polisher. Get the scourer nicely rusty, then have at it
I think the labour aspect is going to be okay, serfs/slaves are cheap(ish).
But you’re right – ‘rolling the mail’ for a legion or an auxiliary unit is going to be a full time industrial process. I would have though Maurice or someone would have mentioned it.17/10/2022 at 13:32 #179164
When I remember I am still looking for evidence of mail cleaning techniques. I came across this thesis Medieval Inventories of the Tower Armouries where there are two references to people being paid for rolling mail in barrels – one in the 1350s of four valets paid 4d per day for 203 days (on p.45) and one in 1366 for four workmen paid 6d per day for 45 days (on p.46). (efficiency bonus? Or rampant inflation? The Black Death did cause wage inflation).
No mention of any abrasive medium here – arguments apparently abound about bran/nut shells (and which type of nut)/sand. But no mention here nor of vinegar/urine etc.
Nothing so far in writing about earlier methods but cleaning in barrels looks pretty firm in the middle ages.
Anyone who has a lost piece of De Bello Gallico with Julius complaining about having to wait for his mail to be cleaned in a barrel let me know.17/10/2022 at 14:36 #179165Darkest Star GamesParticipant
I wonder if at some point someone has found a barrel half full of sand/nut shells and wondered about it for a short bit before dumping it all out and putting the barrel to a new use. I can totally imagine it. I would bet that many an interesting (or niche) architectural discovery has been lost/destroyed in such a manner.
"I saw this in a cartoon once, but I'm pretty sure I can do it..."17/10/2022 at 15:37 #179169
Given the amount of stuff I’ve thrown out over the years while thinking ‘I wonder why I saved that?’ and ‘What did that do?’ I would agree with you.
Although prompted by that thought, I wonder how long barrels having blinking great lumps of hauberk and abrasive rolled inside them actually lasted? Must have been a fair attrition rate.17/10/2022 at 15:49 #179170
The question you should be asking is ‘how do you get a bloody gurt hauberk through the bunghole of a barrel?”.
Obvious contrarian and passive aggressive old prat, who is taken far too seriously by some and not seriously enough by others.17/10/2022 at 16:08 #179171
I suspect we might be talking about a barrel where the ‘top’ comes off.
As none of these barrels referred to seem to have survived I’m not sure we can tell, but if posting a hauberk link by link into a barrel through the bunghole would be difficult, getting it out again would be more so!
Also what does ‘trundling’, ‘rolling’ ‘whirling’ actually mean? It’s a translation from various medieval Latin words which might have specific meanings lost on us now. Much speculation about barrels on rollers so the ‘rolling’ is static. Were there handles/spindles attached?
Also,on your prevention is better than cure theme: I found someone speculating on ‘tinning’ mail! I’ve heard of tinned plate but mail? I would have thought the process would rather bugger up the flexibility of the links but maybe not. Any reenactors tried it?17/10/2022 at 20:01 #179196
A barrel without a top might legitimately be called a butt, or a bucket.
Removing the top might be tricky, but replacing it so that it contains a half hundredweight of sand and mail would be trickier. Then I’m not a cooper.
Tinning, now you’re talking my language. The only practical way of tinning mail would be dipping the whole thing then giving it a good shake. Even then the links would probably be stuck together somewhat. Of course, you’d need to use a flux first or else it would be a waste of time.
Obvious contrarian and passive aggressive old prat, who is taken far too seriously by some and not seriously enough by others.17/10/2022 at 21:23 #179199
What we need is a surviving example with the instructions written on the side.
They obviously did this – you don’t pay some oaf 6d a day for nothing – same rate as an archer.
But what they actually did when they ‘vertentas barellos cum diversis harnesis de maile’ is anyone’s guess. Rolled across the yard, up the street, rocked it back and forth, on rollers in one place, whirled it round on a gimbal?
As for tinning; I think they said they chucked some tallow in as flux.
I remain to be convinced about the tinning as the only reference appears to be about general tinning of iron objects, not a mail coat.
The whole thing probably needs going back to original sources anyway. The academic quotes look pretty good, but some of the antiquarian translations look…interesting, and don’t appear to say anything about rolling armour when you look at them. Of course it’s crap medieval Latin so you can make anything you like out of most of it. ‘pro rollandis’ is one supposed entry.17/10/2022 at 21:37 #179200
It might also be worth clarifying what was meant by ‘cleaning’. It’s a weaselly word without context.
I’m also assuming that the newly made mail would be descaled by pickeling in something acidic. That would endow some temporary rust resistance by shifting surface impurities in the iron.
Close examination of extant medieval mail would be the best way to determine what the hell was done to it of course. How are your historical research credentials? 🙂
Obvious contrarian and passive aggressive old prat, who is taken far too seriously by some and not seriously enough by others.17/10/2022 at 22:01 #179201
Historical research not too awful – but historical metallurgy may be a stretch.
Would rolling it in nut shells/flax tow give it some oil coating I wonder?
I’m coming round to the Erich von Daniken ‘Chainmail of the Gods’ approach to this. (Make it up and make a fortune).17/10/2022 at 23:25 #179206Mike HeaddenParticipant
A wine butt hold holds 126 gallons of wine and takes up just over 20 cubic feet of space and the contents weigh roughly 1250lbs.
A standard barrel, half that.
Big enough for a hauberk or three and some sand while watertight enough to stop sand trickling out, assuming a competent person seals the lid of the thing.
I’ve seen enough barrels rolled to believe that, once you overcome the initial inertia, they roll pretty easily on a flat surface.
Not saying it was done, just that it seems feasible.
There are 100 types of people in the world, those who understand binary and those who can work from incomplete data18/10/2022 at 02:06 #179208
Yes, I’m pretty sure it was done in the fourteenth century at least, but exactly what it was I’m not quite sure (and neither is anyone else as far as I can see).
Presumably everyone writing the inventories and indentures and expenditure rolls knew how you cleaned mail and didn’t need to explain the process or describe the kit required. They just wrote down its existence and/or how much you paid someone to use it.
I’ve been looking at online illuminated manuscripts and have come across how to make a hauberk, take it off, transport one, replace worn links but no rolling or shaking or whirling yet.
And no evidence of Roman practice either so far, though again it is probably so obvious that no-one bothered to write it down (or if they did it hasn’t survived sixteen hundred years).18/10/2022 at 16:35 #179216Aethelflaeda was framedParticipant
I see no practical reason to use anything but sifted sand, soap and water as a slush for rust removal on steel. Oil, urine, vinegar are too expensive and would have no real effect. perhaps two or three grades of abrasives starting with course to fine pumice. Bran or nutshells are good with very fine jewelers’ rouges on silver and gold but the high RPM requirement (friction and heat is necessary) to make high polish and burnish in a barrel, will be hard or impossible to achieve on ferrous metals. I expect that anyone in a culture capable of milling flour is going to realize that there would be mechanical alternatives to rolling the barrel up and down a street for constant agitation. Whirling a sack around your head isn’t going to do anything of value at all. There will still be a hand polishing step to follow f’sure, for those who want the really high polish.
My own experience with tumbling with abrasives would lead me to believe that even that method need not even be close to a full days work but maybe half an hour to an hour per scouring. The protective oils (lanolin was very popular) and waxes to prevent further rust are going to be applied in a good buffing after the scouring and cleaning, not in the same step, otherwise the rust residue is just going to stain the metal as pigment in what is essentially an oil based paint.
Mick18/10/2022 at 16:52 #179217Darkest Star GamesParticipant
Sounds like it’d be easy enough to put the mail in the barrel, a cooper seals it, then the sand/etc poured in through the bung (if not put in at the same time as the mail. Rolly rolly, pop the hoop and top off and done. All sounds very reasonable actually. Perhaps the barrel roller people are paid so high because they themselves do the cooping and thus skilled so paid more?
Maybe contact one of those people on YouTube that do videos about weapons and armor and life in “the times”?
"I saw this in a cartoon once, but I'm pretty sure I can do it..."18/10/2022 at 19:32 #179224
Current state of play-
yes original sources mention barrels used to (probably – latin unclear)’ roll’ mail in.
no- no mention of sand – later (19th century) antiquarian commentary added use of abrasive ‘probably sand’ , but no earlier mention I’ve seen.
mention of ‘bran’ for scouring ”harness’ – you decide whether that is for polishing plate – no mention of barrels in this source.
One mention of a fourteenth century Italian inventory (unpublished in the original) in French translation, of ‘une tonneau muni de son chevalet pour fourbir la maille’ which someone has translated as ‘one barrel furnished with its little horse for scouring the maille’. I’m assuming chevalet is something akin to its modern trestle or easel, which perhaps suggests some sort of frame for the barrel to rest in (while being used or stored- I don’t know).
Modern practice and surmises are fine for re-enactors but I am looking for sources. Goodness knows why – something of a bee in the bonnet by now. Maybe I’ll take up macramé.
I think they’d list a cooper as a cooper vice valet or workmen but you never know.
I’m not sure I’d pay a cooper as little as an archer – coopers were apprenticed skilled men – any old yob could shoot an arrow (I shall now retire while the ‘Bowmen of England’ explode in horror).18/10/2022 at 20:53 #179226
Chevalet does mean easel in modern French, and muni to provide or equip. In the same phrase, fourbir would have the sense of burnish. It can also mean ‘to ready for war’
‘A barrel mounted on a trestle for burnishing mail’ would be my translation.
Don’t help much does it? 🙂
Obvious contrarian and passive aggressive old prat, who is taken far too seriously by some and not seriously enough by others.18/10/2022 at 20:56 #179227
A French cooper is a tonnelier. Dunno if they have bricoles…
Obvious contrarian and passive aggressive old prat, who is taken far too seriously by some and not seriously enough by others.18/10/2022 at 23:22 #179229
Pas bricoles? Putain!
I reckon the tombola is probably the sort of thing we’re talking about, but on a big scale.
Whether it was people turning it by dragging their hands down the rim or a crank handle a la wheel of fortune (medieval not the game show) you’d clean a few hauberks a day, with or without sand/bran etc. I reckon.
But it would be nice if someone had written it down somewhere .
I don’t think they did, and the confident descriptions of how it worked in wargaming and re-enacting circles and online articles and some books are just extrapolated guesses with no actual primary sources.
Not quite as bad as the archers two fingered gesture, but close.
What was the original point? Oh yes! What colour to paint your mail clad figures – anything you like for ninepence I reckon.
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