In Lords and Ladies, fantasy author Terry Pratchett repeatedly states that chain-mails are not a good protection against arrows:

chain-mail from the point of view of an arrow can be thought of as a series of loosely connected holes.


Chain-mail isn't much defence against an arrow.

However, the chain-mails I've seen seemed to be rather dense and I would guess that they might provide some protection against arrows.

On Wikipedia, it states that:

When the mail was not riveted, a well placed thrust from a spear or thin sword could penetrate, and a pollaxe or halberd blow could break through the armour.

This implies that it requires precision.

How much protection against arrows did chain-mail offer?

  • 1
    depends on the head, a broad head would get caught easier on the rings than a pointed shaft Aug 23, 2013 at 21:49
  • 1
    it also depends on the type of chain mail (butted, riveted, punched)
    – ChrisW
    Aug 23, 2013 at 22:57
  • 3
    How is the question too broad?
    – Publius
    Aug 24, 2013 at 5:21
  • 18
    I thought chain mail was mail instructing the recipient to copy and send further, and found this question utterly incomprehensible.
    – gerrit
    Aug 29, 2013 at 16:07
  • 3
    @vartec See Bodkin point.
    – ChrisW
    Aug 31, 2013 at 10:36

3 Answers 3


Maille Construction in Renaissance Europe

Another weakness of maille armor is its vulnerability to thrusts from pointed weapons, arrows, and crossbow bolts, which could easily split butted rings. Riveted rings of course were significantly more resistant but could still be pierced if the projectile hit with sufficient force. (Note: Modern day tests made by various reenactment groups have demonstrated that a bow fired arrow will punch holes through maille constructed of butted steel rings while maille made with riveted steel rings will resist the same arrow.)

This seems like an attempt at an accurate test and although the test is imperfect I hope you find it informative:

Conclusion: Good maille is very effective against arrows and is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to cut with a sword. However, it is no match for heavy polearms such as the poleaxe, and swords with very acute points can at the very least draw blood without much effort. A good thrust from such a sword can kill.

The part which begins with, "This part of the tests focuses on a combination of maille armor over a padded gambeson" has photos to show the difference between very good compared with mediocre riveted mail.

The "very effective", which he says is the conclusion, is relative: his best (for the arrows) test result was:

70lbs, 15 feet: 2 out of three arrows pierced the maille/gambeson and imbedded themselves in the pell. The third arrow broke two links but bounced off, stopped by the gambeson underneath.

Youtube videos may only be demonstrating the ineffectiveness of modern, butted mail.

In particular, Pratchett may have been wrong when he wrote, "a series of loosely connected holes". Instead it's a tightly-connected weave of riveted rings, supplemented by multi-layer cloth padding underneath and/or on top; apparently, cloth armour resists arrows:

Bow Against 10x Jack

I did not test the bow vs. the thicker jacks, because the 10 layer jack stopped the 70lb compound bow at 20 feet 3 out of 3 times. I believe that a sharp arrow such as a medieval broadhead (which would have no chance of defeating maille) would be able to penetrate a jack, but the arrows I had just bounced off.
[...] Where the jack rally shines is against arrows. Even a 10 layer jack stopped my arrows cold, and I believe medieval bodkins wouldn’t fare any better. These tests have gone a long way towards convincing me that the jack was used primarily as a defense against arrows.

  • But we don't know how the quality of medieval mail would compare to the mail which was used in the test, which was the finest modern day mail available. The historical evidence shows that throughout medieval times, knights and men-at-arms wearing mail and/or plate armor were killed in large numbers by archers with longbows Aug 24, 2013 at 0:35
  • @JamesChristopher Yes. So it's not true that arrows can (always) defeat mail. Neither is it true that mail is always safe. Furthermore it depends on other factors, e.g. on whether you wear layered cloth (a "jack") over the mail, that resists arrows, and other protection underneath. Conversely unless your mail looks like a burqa then you have weak spots. Furthermore it depends on the type of arrow: bodkin versus broad; etc.
    – ChrisW
    Aug 24, 2013 at 0:41
  • @JamesChristopher And I expect it depends on which period of history (weapons and armour evolve).
    – ChrisW
    Aug 24, 2013 at 0:44
  • @JamesChristopher mail used in the test was the finest modern day mail available. The author alleges that, "The riveting/overlap was done exceptionally well and is the most historically correct maille I’ve ever seen." See also this posted by the Julio who made that armour.
    – ChrisW
    Aug 24, 2013 at 0:54
  • 1
    In fairness to Pratchett I should (but won't) update this answer to say there are different types of mail, as well as different qualities (i.e. made more or less well); and that mail designed only for sword slashes wouldn't stop arrows. And that there are different types of arrow.
    – ChrisW
    Aug 24, 2013 at 9:32

No, historical accounts throughout history suggest that it did not. It mainly served to provide protection against slashing blows (which would stop it because the force was distributed more widely) and glancing blows.

Earlier chainmail was penetrated by bows of that time, and later mail was penetrated by longbows at the battles of Poiters and Agincourt (where both plate and chain mail were used)


Here is a video demonstration vs 16 gauge chainmail. Yes, it is at point blank range -- however medieval longbows were much stronger than the ones people pull today.



Several new demonstrations since the answers above:


A bodkin point, shot from a 160-lb draw weight longbow, goes right through chainmail. None of them, however, do more than dent the breastplate.

And this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JqkiKjBQe7U

Shows an arrow penetrating 32 layers of linen, and another couple penetrating chainmail (plus simulated gambeson).

All that to say that with the right point and sufficient bow strength (both are factors), chain mail was not adequate versus arrows. Even chain plus jack might not be enough.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .