Welcome to the fascinating world of medieval chains! In this article, we will delve into the history, significance, and diverse uses of these intricate metal links that played a vital role in the Middle Ages. From restraining prisoners to securing armor and even serving as decorative accessories, medieval chains were an integral part of daily life during this captivating era. Join us as we unlock the secrets behind these ancient marvels and explore their enduring legacy.

The Primary Uses of Medieval Chains

Medieval chains were versatile tools that served a variety of purposes during the Middle Ages. One of their primary uses was in securing prisoners and criminals. These chains, often made of iron, were used to restrain individuals and prevent them from escaping. They would be attached to the wrists or ankles of the prisoner, limiting their movement and ensuring they remained under control.
Another common use for medieval chains was in animal husbandry. Farmers and herders would use chains to tether their livestock, keeping them in place and preventing them from wandering off. These chains were typically made of sturdy materials like iron or bronze, ensuring they could withstand the strength of the animals.
In addition to these practical uses, medieval chains also had symbolic significance. They were often used as decorative elements in religious ceremonies and processions. Chains adorned with precious metals and gemstones would be carried by high-ranking clergy members as symbols of authority and power.


  • Prisoner restraints
  • Livestock tethering
  • Symbolic decorations

The Role of Chains in Securing Prisoners

Chains played a crucial role in maintaining order within medieval prisons. Prisoners deemed dangerous or flight risks would have their hands or feet bound with heavy iron shackles connected by a chain. This prevented escape attempts while also serving as a visible reminder of their captivity.
In some cases, prisoners would be chained together in groups, known as chain gangs. This practice allowed for easier transportation and ensured that individuals could not break free without alerting others nearby.

The Use of Chains in Animal Husbandry

Farmers relied on chains to keep their livestock under control. Chains would be attached to the animals’ collars or harnesses, allowing them to graze within a limited area without straying too far. This practice was particularly important during times when open grazing was restricted.
Chains were also used to secure working animals such as horses and oxen. These chains would be attached to carts or plows, providing a means of control and preventing the animals from wandering off while they were not being actively used.

The Symbolic Significance of Decorative Chains

In religious ceremonies and processions, chains adorned with precious metals and gemstones held great symbolic value. They were often carried by high-ranking clergy members as symbols of their authority and connection to the divine.
These decorative chains were meticulously crafted by skilled artisans, showcasing intricate designs and craftsmanship. They served as tangible representations of the wealth and power of the church, displaying opulence and grandeur during religious events.

2. The Art of Chain-Making in the Medieval Period

The Craftsmanship and Skill Required

The art of chain-making during the medieval period required a high level of craftsmanship and skill. Chains were meticulously crafted by skilled blacksmiths who had to possess knowledge of metallurgy, heat treatment techniques, and intricate metalworking skills. Each individual link had to be carefully shaped and connected to create a strong and durable chain. The process involved heating the metal, shaping it into rings or links, and then carefully joining them together using various techniques such as riveting or welding.

Tools Used in Chain-Making

Chain-makers relied on a variety of tools to create their intricate designs. These tools included hammers, anvils, tongs, punches, chisels, files, and pliers. They used these tools to shape the metal, cut it into specific sizes for links or rings, punch holes for connecting the links, and smooth out any rough edges. The craftsmanship of medieval chain-making was highly valued and often passed down through generations within families or guilds.

The Significance of Chain-Making in Medieval Society

Chain-making was not only considered an important craft but also held significant economic value in medieval society. Chains were used for a wide range of purposes including armor decoration, jewelry making, securing prisoners or valuable items, as well as in various trades such as agriculture or shipbuilding. The demand for chains grew as warfare became more prevalent during this period.

Chain-Making Guilds

To ensure quality control and protect their trade secrets, chain-makers formed guilds that regulated the craft. These guilds set standards for chain-making techniques and materials used. They also provided training opportunities for apprentices to learn the art of chain-making under experienced craftsmen.

Overall, the art of chain-making in the medieval period was a highly skilled craft that played a significant role in society, both economically and culturally.

3. Unveiling the Role of Medieval Chains in Warfare

The Defensive Use of Chains in Battle

Medieval chains played a crucial role in warfare, particularly as defensive armor. Chainmail, also known as “chain armor” or “maille,” was made by interlocking metal rings to form a mesh-like fabric. This flexible and lightweight armor provided protection against slashing and stabbing attacks from swords, spears, and arrows. It was commonly worn by knights and soldiers on the battlefield.

Advantages and Limitations of Chainmail

Chainmail offered several advantages on the battlefield. Its flexibility allowed for ease of movement, enabling warriors to engage in close combat while remaining protected. The interlocking rings also distributed the force of impact across a larger area, reducing the likelihood of injury or penetration. However, chainmail had its limitations as it provided minimal defense against blunt force trauma or heavy weapons such as maces or war hammers.

The Offensive Use of Chains in Battle

In addition to their defensive capabilities, medieval chains were also utilized offensively during battle. Flails, for example, were weapons consisting of a spiked metal ball attached to a handle by a chain. Warriors would swing these flails at their opponents with the intention of inflicting maximum damage through the momentum gained from the swinging motion.

Other Offensive Applications

Chains were also used creatively as offensive tools during sieges or naval warfare. For instance, chains could be attached between two towers or walls to create barriers that hindered enemy advancement. Similarly, chains could be employed to entangle enemy ships’ rigging or anchor them together during naval battles.

The role of medieval chains in warfare showcased their versatility and adaptability as both defensive armor and offensive weapons. Their usage evolved alongside advancements in weaponry and tactics during the Middle Ages.

4. Exploring the Different Types of Medieval Chains

4.1 Chainmail

Chainmail, also known as “ring mail,” was a type of armor made from interlocking metal rings. It was commonly used by knights and soldiers during the Middle Ages as a form of protection in battle. Chainmail was flexible and provided good coverage against slashing attacks, but it offered limited defense against piercing weapons such as arrows or spears.

4.2 Decorative Chains

In addition to their practical use in armor, chains were also crafted for decorative purposes during medieval times. These chains were often made from precious metals such as gold or silver and adorned with gemstones or intricate designs. They were worn as necklaces, bracelets, or even used as decorative elements on clothing or accessories.

Examples of Decorative Chains:

– Byzantine Gold Chain: This chain is an example of the fine craftsmanship found in Byzantine jewelry. It features delicate links made from gold and is often embellished with pearls or colored stones.
– Viking Twisted Wire Chain: Vikings were known for their skilled metalwork, and this twisted wire chain is a testament to their craftsmanship. The chain is made by twisting together thin wires of silver or bronze to create a unique texture.

5. How Knights and Soldiers Utilized Chains in Battle during the Middle Ages

During the Middle Ages, knights and soldiers utilized chains in various ways during battle to enhance their effectiveness on the battlefield.

5.1 Chainmail Armor

One of the primary uses of chains in battle was for making chainmail armor. Knights would wear chainmail shirts or hauberks that provided protection against sword strikes and other close combat weapons. The interlocking rings allowed for flexibility and movement while still offering a significant level of defense.

5.2 Weapon Attachments

Chains were also used as attachments for weapons, such as flails or morning stars. These weapons consisted of a spiked metal ball attached to a handle by a chain. The chain allowed for increased reach and maneuverability, making them effective against armored opponents.

Notable Chain Weapons:

– Flail: A weapon consisting of a spiked metal ball attached to a handle by a chain. The flail could be swung at high speeds, making it difficult for opponents to block or parry.
– Morning Star: Similar to the flail, the morning star featured a spiked metal ball but with longer spikes and no chain. It was often used by foot soldiers and could deliver devastating blows against armored adversaries.

(Note: Each subheading can be expanded further with additional paragraphs and examples if desired.)

6. Advancements and Innovations in Chain-Making Techniques during Medieval Times


During the medieval period, chain-making techniques experienced significant advancements and innovations. These developments were driven by the increasing demand for chains for various purposes, including armor, jewelry, and household items. The craftsmen of this era continuously sought ways to improve their skills and create more intricate and durable chains.

1. Introduction of Wire Drawing

One notable advancement in chain-making techniques was the introduction of wire drawing. This process involved pulling metal rods through progressively smaller holes to produce thinner wires with consistent diameters. Wire drawing revolutionized chain-making by allowing craftsmen to create finer chains with greater flexibility.

2. Chainmaille Weaving Techniques

Another innovation during medieval times was the development of intricate chainmaille weaving techniques. Craftsmen experimented with different patterns and designs, such as the European 4-in-1 weave or the Byzantine weave, to create visually appealing and functional chainmaille armor.

3. Incorporation of Decorative Elements

As chains became more than just functional items, craftsmen started incorporating decorative elements into their designs. They began adding gemstones, engravings, or intricate metalwork to enhance the aesthetic appeal of the chains. This shift towards decorative purposes further pushed artisans to refine their skills and experiment with new techniques.

Overall, advancements in wire drawing, chainmaille weaving techniques, and the incorporation of decorative elements played a crucial role in shaping the evolution of chain-making during medieval times.

7. The Symbolic and Decorative Purposes of Medieval Chains

The Symbolism Behind Medieval Chains

Medieval chains held significant symbolic meanings that went beyond their practical uses. These symbols varied depending on the context in which the chains were worn or used. Here are some notable symbolic meanings associated with medieval chains:

1. Status and Authority

In medieval society, wearing chains was often a display of status and authority. Nobles and high-ranking individuals adorned themselves with elaborate chains to signify their wealth, power, and social standing. These chains were often made from precious metals and adorned with gemstones to further emphasize their luxurious nature.

2. Religious Devotion

Chains also held religious symbolism during medieval times. Monks and members of religious orders wore chains as a sign of their devotion to their faith. These chains were typically simple in design and made from humble materials such as iron or bronze.

3. Loyalty and Brotherhood

Medieval knights and soldiers often exchanged chain links as a symbol of loyalty and brotherhood. These “chain of friendship” rituals were common among warriors who fought alongside each other on the battlefield. The act of exchanging chain links represented a bond that was believed to be unbreakable.

The Decorative Purposes of Medieval Chains

In addition to their symbolic meanings, medieval chains also served decorative purposes in various contexts:

1. Jewelry and Accessories

Chains were commonly used in jewelry during medieval times. Necklaces, bracelets, and even rings featured intricate chain designs that added elegance and sophistication to the wearer’s attire.

2. Clothing Embellishments

Chains were often used as embellishments on clothing, especially for the nobility. They would be attached to garments as decorative accents or functional closures, adding a touch of opulence to their outfits.

3. Household Items

Medieval households utilized chains for practical purposes but also appreciated their aesthetic value. Chains were used as curtain tiebacks, chandelier suspension systems, or even as decorative elements on furniture.

The symbolic and decorative purposes of medieval chains showcased their versatility and significance in both personal adornment and the overall aesthetics of the medieval world.

8. Notable Historical Events Where Chains Played a Significant Role

The French Revolution

During the French Revolution, chains were used as symbols of oppression and were often used to restrain and imprison political prisoners. The Bastille, a medieval fortress in Paris, was stormed by revolutionaries in 1789, and the release of prisoners from their chains became a powerful image of liberation.

The African Slave Trade

Chains played a crucial role in the African slave trade, where enslaved individuals were shackled together with iron or brass chains during the transatlantic journey. These chains served as a brutal reminder of the dehumanization and bondage endured by millions of Africans during this dark chapter in history.


– The Middle Passage: Enslaved Africans were chained together below deck on slave ships, enduring unimaginable conditions during the long and treacherous journey across the Atlantic Ocean.
– Plantation Life: Once enslaved individuals arrived at their destinations, they would often be subjected to further chaining as they worked on plantations or in other forms of forced labor.

9. The Evolution of the Use of Medieval Chains over Time

The use of medieval chains evolved significantly over time, adapting to changing warfare tactics and societal needs. Initially, chains were primarily used for restraining prisoners or animals. However, as military technology advanced and armor became more prevalent, chains began to serve additional purposes such as securing armor pieces together or attaching weapons.

Early Uses: Restraint and Security

In the early Middle Ages, chains were commonly used for restraining prisoners or dangerous animals. They provided a secure method of confinement while allowing some mobility for the wearer.

Armor Attachments: Chainmail

As chainmail became an essential part of medieval armor, chains took on a new role. They were used to create intricate patterns of interlocking rings, forming protective armor that could withstand slashing and piercing attacks.


– Hauberks: Full-body chainmail shirts worn by knights and warriors.
– Coifs: Chainmail hoods that protected the head and neck.

Weapon Attachments: Flails and Morning Stars

Chains were also utilized in weapons such as flails and morning stars. These medieval weapons consisted of a spiked metal ball attached to a handle by a chain, allowing for increased reach and striking power.

10. Famous Figures Associated with Craftsmanship and Use of Medieval Chains


Lorenzo Ghiberti was an Italian artist and goldsmith known for his exceptional skill in creating intricate chains during the Renaissance period. His masterpiece, the “Gates of Paradise,” features stunning bronze doors adorned with delicate chain motifs.

Blacksmith Guilds

Throughout the Middle Ages, blacksmith guilds played a vital role in crafting chains for various purposes. These skilled craftsmen were responsible for forging chains used in armor, weaponry, and everyday items like jewelry or household implements.

Famous Blacksmith Guilds:

– The Worshipful Company of Blacksmiths (London): One of the oldest recorded guilds, dating back to 1299.
– The Brotherhood of St. Eloy (France): A prestigious guild specializing in metalwork, including chainmaking.

11. Materials Used for Crafting Medieval Chains During the Middle Ages

During the Middle Ages, several materials were commonly used for crafting medieval chains. The choice of material depended on factors such as availability, affordability, and desired strength.


Iron was one of the most widely used materials for crafting medieval chains due to its strength and durability. Iron chains were commonly used for restraining prisoners, securing armor, or connecting various parts of weaponry.


Brass chains were often utilized for decorative purposes rather than functional ones. The warm golden hue of brass made it an attractive choice for creating ornate jewelry chains or embellishments on armor and clothing.

Other Materials:

– Steel: A stronger variant of iron, steel was occasionally used for crafting chains that required enhanced durability.
– Silver: Reserved for the wealthy elite, silver chains were highly sought after as symbols of status and wealth.

12. Unique Styles and Designs of Medieval Chains Across Regions and Cultures

Medieval chains varied in design and style across different regions and cultures. These variations were influenced by factors such as local traditions, available resources, and cultural preferences.

Viking Chainmail

Viking chainmail exhibited distinctive patterns characterized by alternating rows of solid rings with riveted rings. This design provided flexibility while maintaining excellent protection against slashing attacks.

Moorish Chains

Moorish chains showcased intricate geometric patterns inspired by Islamic art. These chains often incorporated precious gemstones or enameled decorations, reflecting the opulence and sophistication of Moorish culture.


– Byzantine Chains: Byzantine-style chains featured complex interlocking links with a rope-like appearance.
– Celtic Chains: Celtic designs emphasized intricate knots and interwoven motifs, symbolizing eternity and interconnectedness.

13. Impact of Gunpowder Weapons on the Relevance of Medieval Chains

The advent of gunpowder weapons had a significant impact on the relevance of medieval chains in warfare. As firearms became more prevalent, traditional chainmail armor gradually lost its effectiveness against bullets and other projectiles.

Transition to Plate Armor

To counter the increasing threat posed by gunpowder weapons, knights and soldiers began transitioning from chainmail to plate armor. Plate armor offered superior protection against bullets, rendering chainmail less prevalent on the battlefield.

Chains as Decorative Elements

Despite their diminishing role in combat, chains continued to be utilized as decorative elements on armor, clothing, and personal accessories. Chains adorned with precious metals or gemstones became symbols of wealth and status.

14. Laws and Regulations Surrounding Possession and Use of Medieval Chains

During the Middle Ages, laws and regulations were established regarding the possession and use of medieval chains. These laws aimed to maintain social order, prevent misuse of chains for criminal activities, or regulate their usage in warfare.

Restrictions on Weaponry

Many regions implemented laws restricting the possession or use of certain types of weapons, including chains used in weaponry like flails or morning stars. These regulations aimed to prevent potential harm to individuals or disturbances within society.

Usage in Judicial Punishment

Medieval societies employed various forms of judicial punishment involving chains. Public floggings or chaining offenders in stocks were common practices used as a deterrent against crime.

Famous Examples:

– The Pillory: A type of stocks where an offender’s head and hands were locked into wooden restraints.
– The Whipping Post: Used for public floggings as a form of corporal punishment.

15. Discovering Surviving Examples of Medieval Chains in Museums Today

Museums around the world house surviving examples of medieval chains that provide valuable insights into their craftsmanship, historical significance, and cultural context.

The British Museum (London)

The British Museum boasts an extensive collection of medieval chains ranging from chainmail armor to decorative jewelry chains. Visitors can explore the evolution of chain designs and their various uses throughout history.

The Louvre Museum (Paris)

The Louvre Museum features a remarkable collection of medieval chains, including intricately crafted chainmail armor worn by knights and warriors. These artifacts offer a glimpse into the military and artistic aspects of medieval chainmaking.

Other Notable Museums:

– The Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York City)
– The Victoria and Albert Museum (London)
– The National Museum of Scotland (Edinburgh)

In conclusion, medieval chains were not just tools of confinement, but also symbols of power and authority during that era. Their intricate designs and craftsmanship continue to captivate us today. If you’re fascinated by the medieval period or looking for unique pieces to add to your collection, be sure to check out our wide range of authentic and high-quality medieval chains. Feel free to get in touch with us for any inquiries or assistance – we’d love to help you find the perfect chain!

medieval chains

What are the oldest chain styles?

The ‘loop in loop’ method is a traditional technique for making chains that has been used for centuries. This method allows for the creation of linked loops without the need for soldering, making it suitable for use in ancient times. To create these loops, a coil of gold wire is wrapped around a dowel and then sawed or cut along its length.

What is a king chain?

King chains, also known as Byzantine chains, are highly versatile. They can be used to attach specific pendants, worn as a standalone chain, or utilized as a regular necklace with a Thor’s hammer pendant by adding a split ring or butterfly fitting.

medieval chains 1

Who was the first to wear chains?

The chain necklace has its origins in ancient Babylonia (now Iraq), where archaeological discoveries in royal tombs have revealed stunning jewelry dating back to approximately 2500 BC.

What is the history of wearing chains?

Chains have been in existence since before 2500 BC and were initially invented by the Egyptians. The Greeks also began creating gold chains with decorative pendants during a period when Greece had an abundance of gold. In the 8th century BC, strap chains were introduced.

What is the heaviest style of chain?

A Rope chain is an excellent option for a necklace, particularly when it is thick, as the links are resistant to breaking or bending. This means that even if the chain is twisted or folded, it will not break. In addition to their durability, rope chains are also some of the heaviest available and offer a textured appearance.

What era were belly chains?

Belly chains were a popular fashion trend in the 2000s, especially during warmer weather. They were often worn with low-rise jeans and added a stylish touch to outfits that included skirts, suits, and jeans in the modern wardrobe.