(About): A Brigandine of Exquisitely Crafted High-Quality Fantasy Ringmail
The Vikings have become more and more popular in the public imagination, with big-budget TV series like the History Channel’s Vikings and the Norse-inspired mythology of the Thor Marvel superhero films – and this means more and more people wish to explore Viking life and culture, and to incorporate it into their own costumes and roleplay. Our picture of Viking arms and armor is only partial, since they didn’t leave comprehensive written accounts like the Anglo-Saxons or Franks – and whilst this is frustrating for historians, it’s a gift to speculative designers, makers and roleplayers, who can free up their creativity and explore the kinds of possibilities which Viking material culture might have permitted.
In that vein, we have worked with the fine leatherworkers at German mastercrafters Mytholon to bring you this spectacular harness of Ring Armor – a hybrid armor between chainmail and leather that might well have provided an intermediate degree of protection for Vikings who required an excellent balance between protection and manoeuvrability, or who were not wealthy enough to afford their own set of expensive chainmail. For modern roleplayers, it’s a fantastic and reasonably-priced all-in-one torso armor to take you straight to the Middle Ages.
Experts in Leather and Mail
Our Ring Armor is a combined piece of torso armor, which consists of a thick suede gambeson overlaid with mild-steel rings, woven together with robust leather straps. The base garment is a modified version of Mytholon’s ‘Leopold’ gambeson, which is a sturdy padded jacket in black or brown suede leather, giving a handsome matte-finish to reflect the rough manufacture of the historical garments it represents. The gambeson is lined with heavyweight cotton canvas to give the maximum possible comfort – it is designed to be so comfortable that it doesn’t require any extra layers of padding beneath, and the cotton has the additional effect of wicking away moisture. The stand-up collar permits easy movement, and affords additional protection for the neck.
The straps which secure the rings are heavy-duty leather, made to resist the wear-and-tear of roleplay and re-enactment. Rather than being free-standing, they are secured to the gambeson throughout, meaning that the rings are a flexible suit which moves with the body to give the greatest freedom of movement possible. The steel rings are securely attached, woven into the straps, so they cannot fall out or become dislodged. The armor is front-opening for the easiest donning and doffing, and is secured with five sturdy buckles. We recommend pairing this armor with one of our fantastic Leather Belts to cinch around the waist – this distributes the weight of the armor more evenly throughout the body, and gives it a characteristically striking appearance.
In all, our Ring Armor fills an under-served niche for the roleplaying and re-enacting community: well-made medium-weight armor with a grounding in historical reality that isn’t as heavy and cumbersome as chainmail, but doesn’t look a flimsy as some lighter armor or leather. It is fantastically flexible as well; although it is often associated with depictions of Vikings in popular culture, the simplicity of our Ring Armor means it can be used to portray soldiers and warriors throughout the Middle Ages in a variety of contexts, themes and fantasy settings.
(History): Bringing Viking Armor Out of the Dark Ages
In many ways, the Vikings remain an enigmatic people. They only began writing their own histories at the very end of the Viking period, with settled Christianised Nordic communities like Iceland transcribing earlier oral histories only from the 12th-century onward. Viking art is highly figurative, almost always focusing on animal and vegetable forms, with human forms only depicted in very simplistic, figurative means. Much of the information that we have about these people who straddled the Dark Age and existed in the half-lit historical twilight, comes from those who interacted with the Vikings – whose outside observations can only ever be incomplete. We’ve had to reconstruct much of what we know about Viking society by marrying up these incomplete and partial sources to the archaeological record, which is itself patchy and open to interpretation. It’s a wonder we know anything about the past at all! When it comes to reconstructing the weapons and armor of the Vikings we can have marginally more luck, especially since a lot of it was constructed from durable metals – but we’re still left with a likely incomplete picture of what the Vikings would have actually looked like.
Chainmail: The Armor of the Elite
The Viking armor we know most about is chainmail. The Vikings inherited their forms of chainmail from the Roman military, who by the late-Roman era were mostly equipped with the lorica hamata (“armor made from hooks”). Roman chainmail was a Celtic invention, made mostly by local Celtic smiths, so its wide uptake by most Romanised or Roman-adjacent peoples is unsurprising, since it would have already been familiar to them. Roman chainmail was a common item, produced on a near-mass scale, but with the withdrawal of the Roman Empire in the 400s CE it became the province of only the wealthiest post-Romans due to the drying up of pan-European trade and the resulting scarcity of good quality metals. Chainmail represented an enormous investment of time and material wealth in a fragmented post-Roman kingdom, and thus a suit of chainmail might only have been available to a Viking jarl and perhaps his personal bodyguard – but that also meant it carried enormous mystique and social weight. Contemporary Frankish accounts place great value on chainmail, recording them in lists of inheritances passed down through noble families.
We know that much of the chainmail that the Viking used would have had its origins outside of Scandinavia. Frankish arms and armor seem to have been very popular amongst Vikings: own weaponry had to be made from local deposits of inferior low-quality iron, and Frankish armorers and weapon-makers had access to excellent carbon steel made from rich iron from the Upper Rhine. The Viking desire for high-quality chainmail clearly became a concern for the Frankish Kings, and Charlemagne outlawed the sale of armor and weapons to Vikings in 811 CE – this clearly did little to stem the trade, as one of his successors Charles the Bald increased the penalty to that of death!
Leather Armor: The Armor of Poor Vikings…?
Trying to pin down leather armor in the Viking period is, unfortunately more of a tricky task. Frustratingly, there are a number of reasons why leather armor would have been a poor choice for Scandinavian warriors. We know that the only method of making leather in the medieval period was through boiling tanned animal hides in wax or oil – the resulting ‘boiled leather’ or cuir bouilli was tough but much harder to maintain than modern leathers. It was prone to drying out if not kept waxed or oiled, and was prone to rot in damp environments. Unfortunately, the soggy fjords of Norway and the wet shorelines of Sweden and Denmark are very damp environments, and it’s likely that even secondary leather applications (like belts, straps and pointing) would have required careful maintenance and frequent replacement. Whilst Vikings who were wealthy enough to afford servants or slaves to constantly maintain their chainmail and keep it free of corrosion, it seems sadly very unlikely that a Viking could not have afforded that sort of household would have invested their hard-earned hacksilver in constantly-rotting leather armor. Furthermore, we have no examples, either archaeological or textual, of Vikings wearing leather armor.
This leaves our Ring Armor in historical limbo. Unfortunately, it seems like the idea of ‘ring-mail’ as a common armor-type has more to do with Victorian antiquarians who misinterpreted artistic representations of armor like the Bayeux Tapestry, and who mistook archaeological deposits of rusted chainmail as being originally mounted upon leather or cloth. This is not to say that no Viking ever wore leather reinforced with steel rings – we know, for example, that clothes-makers in the Renaissance sometimes reinforced doublets by stitching them with metal rings to form an ‘eyelet doublet’. Indeed, it seems intuitively more likely that the Varangian Norse communities of the more climatically forgiving Volga or in the positively toasty climes of Byzantium might well have been much more likely to have adopted hide-based armors, even combining them with ring-mail. Yet thus far, they have remained obscure to our historical gaze.
This is the secret strength of Viking-inspired leather armors. The paucity of historical evidence gives armor-makers the opportunity to create spectacular off-the-peg Ring Armor for sale, which can bring magical extra depth to your outfit with the fantasy elements it adds to established historical fact.
- Materials: Leather, suede, mild-steel, cotton canvas
- Color: Brown or black
- Weight: 15 lbs
Medium/Large: Chest – 38.6-41.3 Inches
X-Large/XX-Large: Chest – 44.9-48 Inches