Mining in ancient ages

Dan Howard

Ad Honorem
Aug 2014
4,473
Australia
#11
And the chain mail is very easy to make huh? That really surprised me a lot :D. It looks so complex.
No it wasn't easy to make. It required specialist tools, specialist skills (similar to those of a jeweller), and the highest quality iron. Apprentices required seven years of training before being considered competent.
 
Jul 2019
6
Turkey
#12
Just a couple clarifications:

Virtually *all* mining and manufacturing in the ancient and medieval era (in Europe, I mean) were most likely private businesses, not state-run. Mining was happening long before writing developed, though, so we simply have no idea how things may have been organized in pre-literate areas. Many of these businesses contracted with governments, yes, but things like state-run factories for armor and weapons, and state issue of armaments to soldiers, only became established in the Roman empire in the 3rd century AD. Most cultures depended on their citizens arming themselves for their military strength.

Sword-smithing is the high end of metalworking, along with armor-making. They would be made by specialists, not village blacksmiths. Likewise, though the fundamentals of making mail may seem straightforward to us, since we can just grab a roll of wire and start winding, it was not nearly as "easy" back then. High-grade iron with very little slag was needed for the wire, for starters, and it had to be laboriously drawn through successive dies, with frequent annealings (softening by heating). Other rings were punched from sheet iron, which was also quite tricky to hammer out. And if you've ever tried to rivet all those rotten little rings, you'd never call mail-making "simple" again, ha! It's extremely tedious and time-consuming, and therefore it was EXPENSIVE in ancient times.

Otherwise, pretty much what other folks have said. Miners could be slaves or free men. They likely sold their ore to smelters, who sold their billets to smiths and foundrymen. In the middle ages, every step of the process was ruled by a separate guild, with strict limits on what each profession could produce. So there were several steps before iron rods arrived at a wiremaker's shop, and he sold his wire to a ring-maker, who sold his rings to the guy who actually made mail. A cutler made blades, but a different craftsman made the hilts, and another shop made scabbards. For more ancient eras, we don't always know how combined or separated these various tasks might have been.

Matthew
So each step is done by another artisan, huh? Vow! That sounds complex than I thought. But wouldn't it be profitless and make everything harder? I mean if you have the crafting workplace with furnaces and forges etc., why don't you do both smelting and the billets etc. by yourself?

I was expecting chain mail to be something tedious like you said, it is more intuitive. And I can't imagine how they clothe an army of thousands of men with chain mails if it is really that hard. I don't know if all footmen or cavalry were wearing them though, I guess that must be something seen only in upper tier armies.
 
Jul 2019
6
Turkey
#13
No it wasn't easy to make. It required specialist tools, specialist skills (similar to those of a jeweller), and the highest quality iron. Apprentices required seven years of training before being considered competent.
It looks like it also has to do with the quality of the mail. If you keep the diameter of the rings on it small, it becomes tighter but harder to make. There are videos on Youtube on how to make it, I am assuming by what I saw there.
 
Jan 2015
2,903
MD, USA
#15
So each step is done by another artisan, huh? Vow! That sounds complex than I thought. But wouldn't it be profitless and make everything harder? I mean if you have the crafting workplace with furnaces and forges etc., why don't you do both smelting and the billets etc. by yourself?
All the jobs were separate in the high middle ages, under the guild system. I'm not sure when that got under way. There may certainly have been more overlap in prehistoric or ancient times. Smelting tended to be done by forests, as I understand, because it was less work to haul the ore than to haul the much larger tonnages of wood or charcoal necessary for smelting. Fuel and water ruled! But if a man is trained from childhood to make one particular range of products, it's not worth his time to have to make his materials, too. So it was more efficient to separate the tasks. If the finished product was going to be expensive, it was going to be expensive anyway!

I was expecting chain mail to be something tedious like you said, it is more intuitive. And I can't imagine how they clothe an army of thousands of men with chain mails if it is really that hard. I don't know if all footmen or cavalry were wearing them though, I guess that must be something seen only in upper tier armies.
In the Roman Republic, and in the post-Roman and medieval eras, mail was very expensive! It was only required equipment for the wealthiest legionaries, and later it was worn by knights--wealthy aristocrats. May seem like a lot of armor, but it was all made and bought one shirt at a time, by private shops for private customers. So there was no need to come up with huge amounts quickly. During the Roman Empire, sure, there's a lot more of it in use, but the the production system had been expanding over generations, there was a LOT of slave labor involved (dramatically cutting your labor costs), and soldiers were paying for their armor through salary deductions over a number of years. For a while the Empire set up centralized factories for various items needed by the army, but the wealth was available to do that. Even then, though, the army had already existed and was well equipped for centuries, so it was more a matter of maintaining those troop levels and having some extras in storage, just in case. They weren't frantically cranking out tons of armor for a new army.

Remember, we're dancing over a couple thousand years of history, here! There's a lot of change, in every way.

Matthew
 

Dan Howard

Ad Honorem
Aug 2014
4,473
Australia
#16
It looks like it also has to do with the quality of the mail. If you keep the diameter of the rings on it small, it becomes tighter but harder to make. There are videos on Youtube on how to make it, I am assuming by what I saw there.
I've been making mail for twenty years and still have trouble getting the riveted links to look like museum examples.
 

deaf tuner

Ad Honoris
Oct 2013
14,297
Europix
#18
Virtually *all* mining and manufacturing in the ancient and medieval era (in Europe, I mean) were most likely private businesses, not state-run.
Allow me to doubt it.

The mines in Carpathian were Hungarian Kings Monopoly practically from the establishment of the Hungarian kingdom, the salt mines were a state monopoly even in AH period.

The salt mines were one of the keys of King's richness (=> power). King Mathias (14-15th c) was maybe the richest European Monarch.
 

Dan Howard

Ad Honorem
Aug 2014
4,473
Australia
#19
Monopolies were still privately owned. Kings made money by firstly selling the monopoly, not by running it themselves, and secondly, they taxed the revenue, they didn't get the revenue directly.
 
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