What sort of armor did Alexander's soldiers where?greenspun.com : LUSENET : Alexander the Great Q&A Forum : One Thread
What sort of armor did Alexander's soldiers where?
-- Anonymous, September 14, 2004
The linothorax, a cuirass made of layers of linen glued together, was the dominant form of body armor in the fifth century BC. Again, Peter Connolly has the most information and the best reconstruction. Just how much solid information there is on the materials and construction processes used, I really don't know! I'm basically taking Connolly at his word. There is much speculation about whether leather might have been used as well, but I think that without some original reference to such details, we're left with just illustrations and the name "linothorax". It is clear that in later periods, armor in the same shape as the linothorax was made of lamellar or scales, or quilted fabrics. Even the Roman mailshirt, lorica hamata, has the same shoulder flaps as the linothorax, most likely just because it was the fashion! In his latest Osprey book, Nick Sekunda reconstructs the linothorax as being made of iron plates hinged together and covered with linen! This seems to be based on the iron cuirass of Philip II of Macedon, a mid- to late-4th century armor. But there is NO way that the shoulder flaps of such a cuirass would stand up in the air (as shown in numerous vase paintings) unless they were spring- loaded! Needless to say, I disagree strongly with his interpretation.
Often the classical linothorax is shown reinforced with scales, but I opted for plain linen. I also kept the decoration very simple.
On May 13-14, 2000, I wore my linothorax (and the rest of my hoplite gear) for the first time, at Jamestown Settlement, VA. I was there with my Twentieth Legion as part of an armor time-line which was meant to complement a display of 17th century armor from Virginia and Europe. We Romans decided to show armor from a variety of periods, ranging from 500 BC (Yours Truly) to about 200 AD. The linen cuirass proved to be nearly the lightest and most comfortable armor I have worn. The temperature was about 95 degrees, but I was not as hot as I would have been in metal armor! After 4 or 5 hours, I took off the armor and discovered that it was completely limp from the heat. So overnight I arranged it carefully in the back of my car, with the side tied shut, a blanket stuffed inside it to keep it in the proper shape, and the shoulder flaps laid out flat. In the morning it was stiff again, and showed no ill effects. Unfortunately, the red dye from my sword baldric has left pink marks, particularly on one shoulder flap, but I have decided not to worry about that.
Below is Jon Martin's linothorax, which he made from natural linen, reinforced with bronze scales.
RESEARCH AND DEVELOPMENT--I started by making 2 glued linen test patches c. 3"x5", both 14 layers of linen (not very heavy), and c. 5 mm thick. One was glued with Titebond Hide glue, and the other with Elmers Carpenters glue. The hide glue soaked through the outermost layers and the piece was hard and rigid. The Elmers didn't soak through much at all and the piece had a little flex to it. I put both pieces under my tunics against my belly while wearing my Roman lorica and subarmalis for c. 4 hours in 90+ degrees heat. Upon removal from this demanding environment, both pieces were quite flexible, and soaked with sweat around the edges where there was no glue. One layer of the hide glue patch fell right off, and others were loose, but the Elmers patch held together and seemed fairly secure. Furthermore, neither piece glued itself to my skin or underwear. I had considered thinning the glue with water to make it easier to brush on, but now I know that's unnecessary and would just cause it to soak through the outer layers. Tom Kolb is planning to investigate waterproof fabric glue, at least for the outer layers, since he doesn't want to risk it melting down.
Asterix (Australia) made his linothorax by gluing 25-30 layers of cotton. He seems to let the glue set while the body is flat, then bends it and laces the edges together while the glue cures completely. I wrapped the layers of the body around a form to dry, rather than flat, so that it is easier to put on. It might be wise to make the outer layers slightly wider than the inner ones, and to leave extra margins. The shoulder flaps should dry flat, though. I also think 25-30 layers is too much, but that would depend on the thickness of the fabric. I used 16 layers of linen, mostly a heavy natural Belgian linen, with two or three layers of white on the outside. (M.J. Cahn company in New York sells VERY cheap linen! See below!) About 15 yards of linen (45" wide) is needed, plus about 4 yards more if you want two rows of full- thickness pteruges. Toe Johnson (Australia) recommends making a sabersaw blade out of a steak knife to cut the glued linen, as anything else will tear up the fabric. I found that a utility knife with a nice fresh blade works fine on straight cuts, like the pteruges. For the curves I used a coping saw, which works fine and is faster, though it does leave a fuzzy edge on the inside which needs to be trimmed with a knife or scissors. Cuts which came out a little wobbly with the coping saw are easily trimmed with a knife. I also experimented with metal snips for for trimming the edges, but make sure they are CLEAN before you start cutting! A couple years ago I made a pair of glued linen Mycenean greaves, 4 layers of canvas and one of linen. At that thickness they probably won't keep out many spear thrusts, but they made a good experiment and are probably great for yardwork. (They are not dished out for the kneecap, though, so they fit a little strangely there.)
PATTERN--Always make a cardboard pattern! ("Papyrothorax", as it were.) The height is from about your throat or collarbone to the crotch (not longer), and the length is your greatest circumference, of course. The bottom is slit into pteruges about 2- 1/4" wide by 8' high. Measure the rest of the body into 4 segments so that the back and front panels are twice as wide as the sides (i.e., 42" total length equals front and back each 14", sides each 7"). The armpits are cut down c. 6", and the back is about 3 to 4" lower than the front. Tie yourself into this a few times and look it over repeatedly in the mirror to check the fit. If necessary, cut out a whole new pattern to get a good fit and shape. The shoulder flaps must curve outwards a little so that they lie properly. There is some inclination to make the shoulder flaps with fewer layers than the body, but armor as a rule is heaviest at the shoulders. There are two layers or rows of pteruges, staggered so that they overlap. Was each row of pteruges as thick as the body, or only half as thick? If the former, just make a seperate row of pteruges and attach them inside the body at the waist. However, I went with the latter idea, and constructed the body in 2 sections, inner and outer with a "staggered" edge, as Connolly seems to show in his reconstruction. I aligned both sections and clamped them together, carefully measured and cut the pteruges all the way through, and then shifted the outer section half a pteruge-width in the proper direction before gluing the sections together.
CUTTING AND GLUING--I cut out all the shoulder guard layers to their finished shapes, except for the short slits that define the part that sticks up behind the neck. Dribbling the glue onto the fabric and then spreading with a narrow spackling knife is MUCH easier than using a brush, though a brush is better for the outermost layer where you don't want too much glue. Also, I started with the inside white layer, but since the white linen is thinner than the Belgian it would have been easier to glue a couple natural layers together and then add the white. I glue three layers, then wait an hour or so and added a few more; then wait for them to dry overnight before continuing. Make sure the shoulder guard stays flat while drying--in fact it's a good idea to sandwich it between 2 layers of plywood with lots of weight on top, and plastic between wood and linen, to keep things from wrinkling or curling. An hour or two under the weights should do, then let it dry uncovered overnight. I finished the edge with white linen tape, 3/4" wide, glued carefully around the front, then folded around the edge and glued to the back. Looks great! There is a painting in Connolly of a white linen cuirass, rather plain, but the top edge and the shoulder flaps are edged with red, very attractive. The finished shoulder flaps do seem to bend down properly, and definitely pop straight up when released.
For forming the body, I have an oval-shaped old home-made birdcage made of half-inch metal screen. It's a little larger around than I am and about two feet tall--perfect! I covered it with a couple layers of heavy brown paper and then plastic, and taped on a length of nylon netting where the seam in the body would be. That wraps around to hold the drying linen to the form. First I glued the 7 inner layers, then covered them with plastic and did the 8 outer layers. Remember that the inner layers need to be about an inch taller than the outer so that the inner pteruges project below the outer ones. Also, the circuference increases with each layer, so a growing amount of length in that direction is wise, also. You can trim to the proper length once it's all dry. Oh, another gluing hint--the shoulder flaps are small enough that you can just fold each new layer in half and carefully lay it down onto the glue-covered previous layer. For the body, however, roll each layer onto a piece of broomstick or similar rod, spread the glue, then carefully unroll the rolled layer and smooth it as you go. Having an assistant would be a big help!
I ended up having to add a 9th layer to the outer section, since some glue soaked through the eighth layer and made yellow blotches. It occurred to me that by making this outer layer longer and wider than the rest I could wrap it around the bottom and side edges for a nice finishing touch. I folded it over the bottom edge right away, but waited until the inner and outer sections were glued together to do the ends. Realizing that this was a clever idea, I added a half-height layer to the inner section, just covering the part where the pteruges will be cut.
Realizing as well that I was doomed to screw up any attempt to paint nice straight stripes around the pteruges, I simply dyed a length of my linen tape red and glued it on! A second strip went around the waist, just at the top of the pteruges. A brief experiment made it clear that the pteruges could not be edged with linen tape if they were only cut with a knife--there would have to be actual slots between them, even if very narrow. So I have left them raw-edged, and will soon find out if there is too much fraying. Edgings, and space between the pteruges, are very clearly shown in some paintings and sculptures, others are ambiguous. The deciding factor was having to order another 20 yards of tape... The linothorax under construction. At left, standing upright, is the outer section of 9 layers of linen, showing how the 9th layer is folded under the bottom of the pteruges, and left hanging loose off the ends. Lying down at right is the inner section of 7 layers, wrapped around the wire mesh form and secured by nylon netting. On both sections the pteruges have already been cut, and the next step will be to glue the sections together. In the foreground is my cardboard pattern, the front scrawled with notes so that I don't omit any important step!
As noted above, I cut the inner and outer pteruges all at once, then shifted the sections half a pteruge-width and glued them together. THAT is an interesting procedure, trying to keep the alignment of the pteruges steady while getting plenty of glue between the layers but none on the outside. A sawhorse to drape the thing over and a number of clamps (shimmed and padded!) got the job done. There were still unglued gaps appearing here and there, needing more glue and a clamp. The total thickness of the body is about 5/16", or 7 mm, a tad thicker than Connolly's guestimate. The armholes have been cut out, but may need to be enlarged a little bit. The waste pieces from cutting out the armholes can be used as targets for penetration tests with spear and sword. Having looked at numerous cabinet knobs, I finally made my own very plain lacing studs, each one just a brass disc with a bronze "boat nail" stuck through the center, and three little washers punched out of 18- gauge bronze on the shank. Click the image at left for a larger view, 18 K. There are 2 pairs of studs to fasten the side opening, and the fifth in the center of the chest for securing the shoulder flaps. I attached the tie-down cords to the shoulder flaps just by sticking them through a hole and knotting at the inside. It turns out that the ties don't have to be tied with flat studs like these, but simply wrapped around in opposite directions. With a differently shaped stud, standing out a little farther, they would have to be tied, though.
MATERIALS--Here is where I got my linen:
M.J. Cahn Co., Inc., 510 West 27th St., New York, NY 10001, 212-563- 7292, http://www.wovenfabrics.com/ . Excellent linens, very inexpensive (as low as $3 per yard!), including white and heavy natural Belgian. Also wools. Ten yard minimum, probably not a problem because you'll need 15 yards. Ask for samples of what you are interested in.
Wooded Hamlet Designs, 4044 Coseytown Rd., Greencastle, PA 17225. 717-597-1782. www.woodedhamlet.com. All sorts of linen and wool tapes and trims, and more. Dutch Linen Tape, 3/4" wide, $1.50 per yard.
POSTSCRIPT: This thing is a PAIN to make!! It's tedious and time- consuming, and mistakes can be ruinous. It can only be constructed in a clean place that you don't mind smearing glue all over, and I am already completely paranoid about getting dirt or stray marks on it since they can NOT be cleaned off! Now I'm wondering if the originals might have been completely painted over to make a more cleanable surface. My linothorax weighs about 10 pounds, and is quite comfortable. It MUST be stored on a proper armor stand, or it sags and flattens out of shape. But yes, when you show up wearing one of these babies, you get a lot of compliments!
-- Anonymous, November 27, 2004
The soldiers war what they could afford, from the linothorax to leather cuirassas to the heavy bronze and iron muscled cuiras worn by the wealthy.
-- Anonymous, September 22, 2004
Im surprised that Aimless doesn't consider himself an expert, anyway, one of the most common forms of armour was the linothorax, which was made of about 15 layers of linen or canvas glued together to produce a tough garment. Ive made one myself and it impossible to peirce with a knife and it acts like it's own shock absorber unlike metal armour which other troops in his army wore. Metal scales were sometimes added to the linothorax for extra protection.
-- Anonymous, September 17, 2004
Alexander's army had many different kinds of soldiers. What they wore depended mostly on the sorts of tasks they performed in battle, but also depended somewhat on where the troops came from, since different localities had different traditions.
A specialist could give you a very detailed account of the different kinds of battle dress. I am not a specialist. I'll give it a shot any way, just to give you the general idea.
The main body of Alexander's army were the heavy-armed foot soldiers called hoplites. They were almost all Macedonians, so their armor was probably pretty standardized. They wore helmets and fitted armor on their upper bodies that protected their chests and abdomens, then some more fitted armor on their thighs and lower legs. I believe all the armor was made of bronze, since iron was too heavy and too hard to mold in the right shapes.
Areas like their upper arms or hips that weren't covered by bronze armor would be covered by thick leather (often with metal studs). Each hoplite also carried a tall shield that could be 'interlocked' with his neighbor's shield to form a kind of moving wall.
Alexander's calvalry soldiers were much more lightly armored, in part because their horses were small and couldn't carry the weight of a fully armored man and in part because the stirrup hadn't been invented yet, so the rider needed to grip the horse with his legs to help him stay in the saddle.
Calvalry wore a light-weight armor in general and it covered less of their bodies, especially their legs. They often carried small shields as well. You can get an idea of what they wore by looking at the famous mosaic of Alexander at Granicus.
Alexander also had skirmishing troops called peltasts, who mostly stood a bit back of the main line of battle and shot missiles (stones or arrows) into the opposing troops. They wore very little armor, partly because armor was &*%#$! expensive and they didn't need much to do their job. They didn't even wear helmets and probably any armor they wore was leather, not bronze.
-- Anonymous, September 16, 2004