History of Byzantine and Chainmaille Jewelry

Byzantine jewelry is a type and style from the Byzantine era. Authentic Byzantine jewelry was created during the Byzantine Empire, which was from the fourth century AD to approximately the mid 1400s. The jewelry is influenced by the art of the Byzantine civilization, which made heavy use of the Christian cross and other early religious symbols. The Byzantine time period was full of wealth and riches, so there was an abundance of gold metal used during this time.

Byzantine jewelry is typically made from weighty gold with generous amounts of gemstones. Common gemstones used in Byzantine jewelry include garnets, pearls, corundum, and beryls, which were traded from the Eastern countries such as India and areas of Persia. The amount of gold that was used is one of the classical characteristics of Byzantine art and jewelry.

Typical types of jewelry that were made during the Byzantine time period include necklaces, neck pieces, head pieces along with bracelets, rings, earrings, and other ornamental jewelry. Bangles were very popular during this period of jewelry art, and often people wore more than one at a time on each arm. Each of the jewelry arm pieces was very heavy due to the gold, so one amazing aspect of Byzantine jewelry is that they were worn in abundance as status symbols.

Chainmail was the earliest form of metal armour and was probably invented before the 5th century by the ancient Celts. The name mail comes from the French word “maille” which is derived from the Latin “macula” meaning “mesh of a net”. The armour itself involved the linking of iron or steel rings, the ends of which were either pressed together, welded or riveted. Sometimes the rings were stamped out of a sheet of iron and these were then used in alternate rows with riveted links. The most common form of chainmail is the “four-in-one” pattern in which each link has four others linked through it. A few shirts have been found that appear to have been made of quilted fabric or leather to which were sewn rings and scales, and these shirts are not considered “true” mail.

There are three major types of traditional chainmaille patterns used to create jewelry.

Japanese

This is one of the oldest forms of chain maille dating back about 3000 years, the Japanese weaves worked by linking rings in simplistic flat box structures or hexagonal grid patterns. Known as “kasuri, vertical links were generally oval rings connected with round rings. The rings were much smaller than those the Europeans would use, and were often lacquered to prevent rust before being sewn onto a backing of cloth or leather.

European

The basic European 4 in 1 is the most commonly seen flat maille weave. European maille, likely created by the Celts around 400 B.C.E., developed from initially sewing wrought iron rings edge to edge into leather armor to reinforce it. It was soon realized that more flexibility and strength could be obtained by linking the rings directly to one another in interlocking fashions. Early on the pattern alternated between rows of soldered rings and rows of riveted rings, but after 14th century all rings were riveted. When the Romans arrived they adopted the practice into their own armor.

Other weaves in this family have been developed based on similar principals, such as Byzantine, although this was certainly used purely for decoration. Byzantine chain maille was probably invented in Italy, and the design is still very commonly seen in Italian jewelry stores.

Persian

Another family of chain maille weaves, it is very hard to find historical support for their creation in the Persian empire. The suspicion is that this is a more modern family, named to suit the intricately beautiful patterns. There are plenty of other chain weaves such as the spiral or double helix and its variations, but again these are most likely common inventions.

Modern Day Chainmaille

Artists have discovered that chainmaille can look extremely feminine when made in precious metals and delicate designs. It is also very durable and the only limitation an artist has is imagination. Precious items exist today that were fashioned from this ancient art. Today artists have utilized traditional patterns but have modified them to create unique patterns of their own. New metals have been introduces, old metals resurrected. Glass, metal, pearls or precious stones can be used to embellish any piece.

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