The case against linothorax

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The case against linothorax

Postby Ty N. » 20 Aug 2015 01:45

Since no one pays attention to sword forums anymore, I'm going to present my treatise on the absurdity of "linothorax" as the material used by ancient Greeks for armor.

First, I am not saying textile armor was never used by anyone anywhere -- of course it was. The Chinese and Japanese integrated textiles into armor for centuries. It was practical.

Regarding the notion of ancient Greeks using laminated linen cuirasses, there is simply no credible evidence for it. The word linothorax itself is a modern invention. It does not exist in any ancient text.

I've seen the oft repeated statement that Plutarch described Alexander the Great's armor being made of folded linen, but Plutarch lived nearly four centuries after Alexander died. Alexander would have worn linen underneath his armor because most clothes of the time were made of linen.

There is the famous mosaic from Pompeii. The mosaic was created more than two centuries after Alexander's death, and more importantly it was a Roman work of art created for a Roman palace. It depicts Alexander with dark hair and dark eyes. Alexander had blond hair and blue eyes. As for the armor, it is rendered with some textile elements; the cuirass has a mix of dark, pale and bright colors. Taken as a whole, the mosaic is splendid art, but not solid enough to stand as evidence.

There is pottery and ceramics from ancient Greece. The base colors of ancient Greek ceramics were mainly combinations of brown, red-brown, orange-brown, black and yellowish white earth tones. Occasionally and rarely there were elements of blue, red or yellow. With that palette as context, the only way to make artistic detail stand out from the background is via contrast. Against a dark background, most details were rendered in paler shades. Against a pale background, details were rendered in darker shades. Thus, cuirasses were most often depicted in paler shades, undifferentiated in color from flesh and clothing. As is the case with the Pompeii mosaic, it is art but not evidence.

For real evidence, there is one fully intact example of an ancient Greek cuirass of the type most likely worn by Alexander. Most importantly, it dates from the right period and has the right provenance. It is the cuirass of Alexander's father, Philip II, who was assassinated in 336 B.C. --

Image

Aside from a few gold flourishes, Philip's cuirass has a basic design and leather construction. Leather, not linen. Many linothorax enthusiasts point to a claim that Alexander once ordered the burning of used armor after a new shipment of armor had arrived. Like linen, leather can burn. May fake history burn as well.
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Re: The case against linothorax

Postby Herbert » 20 Aug 2015 08:42

Very interesting and definitely worth a thought.
But you did not really prove your point neither did you prove that the linen armour did not exist. You just opened the possibility for both without proving either.

So, where to go from here? Is there any conclusive evidence?

One piece of armour, presumably of a king, is not really evidence to all the other armour that was used. It just shows it could've been leather.

I would really like to see some evidence here as I take a bit of interest.

Still, good thinking!
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Postby Ty N. » 20 Aug 2015 15:55

Herbert wrote:did you prove that the linen armour did not exist


It's not possible to prove a negative. But you know that already. :wink:

Personally, I would love to have a cuirass made of linothorax. I would probably wear it to the office on casual Fridays.
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Re:

Postby Herbert » 21 Aug 2015 08:55

Ty N. wrote:Personally, I would love to have a cuirass made of linothorax. I would probably wear it to the office on casual Fridays.

Now that would be a different kind of classy.

I can't remember where but someone did tests on a linen linothorax and it held up surprisingly well.

I can comment on leather, even hardened leather, from my own experience: it doesn't hold up too well against swords.

So from a practical viewpoint I am wondering wether the leather was reinforced or backed with something?
Otherwise it would not be that much of a protection, especially against spears.

What are your thoughts, obviously you know more about it than I do.
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Re: The case against linothorax

Postby Dan Howard » 21 Aug 2015 09:42

It is pretty certain that what we originally called a "linothorax" was actually what the Greeks called a spolas, which was made of leather and not linen. It likely consisted of several layers sewn together to achieve the desired level of protection. We have plenty of other examples of leather armour made like this.

The Greeks definitely used layered linen armour at the end of the Bronze Age. We have at least two surviving examples and it is specifically mentioned twice in the Iliad.

There are dozens of mentions of linen armour in classical Greek texts but most of them talk about foreigners wearing it, not Greeks.

The linen armour that Alexander wore was taken as Persian war booty from Gaugamela. He wore at least three different armours during his Persian expedition.

I have no doubt that the Greeks wore linen armour during the time in question but I think that leather was more common. Their linen armour would have been made of quilted layers of cloth just like every other example of textile armour we have over the last three thousand years.

Glued linen armour is complete bollocks

The above photo doesn't help. Every armour during the time in question was made in the same style regardless of what material it is made from. We call it a "tube and yoke" typology but it was also simply called the "Greek style". Even scale and mail was made like this - right through to the Roman period.
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Re: The case against linothorax

Postby Glyn » 21 Aug 2015 10:03

Herbert wrote:I can't remember where but someone did tests on a linen linothorax and it held up surprisingly well.

I can comment on leather, even hardened leather, from my own experience: it doesn't hold up too well against swords.

I happened upon this the other day: Can a “Bulletproof Vest” Also Stop a Knife?

With a ballistics vest, energy is redirected across the armor. A stab vest is less concerned about redirecting energy, and instead allows the edged weapon to penetrate into the material (that’s a critical detail). That’s where the stab vest nestles the weapon in strong materials that the edge or point can’t completely cut through.

It occurs to me that there might be a parallel between the "stab vest" of multi-layered linen and the "ballistics vest" of leather.

I know little about armour (and there are probably better analyses of ballistic vs. stab vests out there as well), so it might not occur either :-)

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Re: The case against linothorax

Postby Dan Howard » 21 Aug 2015 10:09

Proper textile armour was heavily quilted; many many rows of stitches spaced closely together. Take a look at the arm guards on kendo armour for a modern example.

http://www.myarmoury.com/talk/files/ken ... 02_171.jpg
Image
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Re: The case against linothorax

Postby Dan Howard » 21 Aug 2015 15:15

Ty N. wrote:There is the famous mosaic from Pompeii. The mosaic was created more than two centuries after Alexander's death, and more importantly it was a Roman work of art created for a Roman palace. It depicts Alexander with dark hair and dark eyes. Alexander had blond hair and blue eyes. As for the armor, it is rendered with some textile elements; the cuirass has a mix of dark, pale and bright colors. Taken as a whole, the mosaic is splendid art, but not solid enough to stand as evidence.

Agreed. There is no way to tell from this what the armour is made from. It could be metal or leather or cloth.

There is pottery and ceramics from ancient Greece. The base colors of ancient Greek ceramics were mainly combinations of brown, red-brown, orange-brown, black and yellowish white earth tones. Occasionally and rarely there were elements of blue, red or yellow. With that palette as context, the only way to make artistic detail stand out from the background is via contrast. Against a dark background, most details were rendered in paler shades. Against a pale background, details were rendered in darker shades. Thus, cuirasses were most often depicted in paler shades, undifferentiated in color from flesh and clothing. As is the case with the Pompeii mosaic, it is art but not evidence.

Also agreed. How can anyone tell from a two or three colour palette what material an item is made from? At best this art gives us a general idea of the shape of the armour and hints about its construction. When someone claims that Greek armour was coloured white so it must have been made of linen, I respond with images of their shields in exactly the same colour. This is my favourite because it shows a white shield and white armour in the same illustration. If this is depicting linen armour then it must be depicting a linen shield too.
http://www.penn.museum/collections/object/259763
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Re: The case against linothorax

Postby Dan Howard » 21 Aug 2015 15:32

We also know that Athens had a booming export industry making white shoes from alum-tawed leather. There is no reason why their armour (assuming it really was white) couldn't have been constructed, or at least covered, in the same material.
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Postby Ty N. » 21 Aug 2015 18:31

Dan Howard wrote:We also know that Athens had a booming export industry making white shoes from alum-tawed leather.


The Athena-Nike Air Jordan was really popular back in the day.
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Postby Ty N. » 21 Aug 2015 21:35

Dan Howard wrote:The linen armour that Alexander wore was taken as Persian war booty from Gaugamela. He wore at least three different armours during his Persian expedition.

I have no doubt that the Greeks wore linen armour during the time in question but I think that leather was more common. Their linen armour would have been made of quilted layers of cloth just like every other example of textile armour we have over the last three thousand years.


This sounds feasible. After the final defeat of Persia, Alexander frequently wore Persian attire and/or armor on campaign, partly because he tended to assimilate elements of the various cultures under his dominion, and partly because Persian forces had been incorporated into his army as he moved toward India. The lion headdress was his most well-known fashion statement, as it was depicted in coinage during and after his lifetime.
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Re: Re:

Postby Dan Howard » 23 Aug 2015 14:33

Herbert wrote:I can't remember where but someone did tests on a linen linothorax and it held up surprisingly well.

You are probably thinking of Aldrete's work. He ignored thrity years of research and copied Connolly's original glued construction. I've critiqued his book a few times now. These days I just copy-paste a summary.

---------------

Regarding Aldrete's book on reconstructing Greek linen armour, it has five fundamental problems:

1. All of the sources he cites for Greek linen armour during the time in question are actually talking about foreigners using linen armour, not Greeks. What little evidence we have about Greek tube and yoke armour suggests that it was made of leather, not linen.

2. He relies on an outdated hypothesis by Connolly who suggested that glue may have been used to make their linen armour because their shoulder flaps appear to be "springy" in some illustrations. Firstly, properly quilted linen is just as springy and rigid as glued linen (take a look at kendo arm guards). Secondly, we now suspect that those shoulder flaps were more likely made of leather, and not linen at all.

3. Layered textile armour has been used in battle for at least three thousand years all over the world from the Americas to Europe to Asia. There are dozens of extant examples and many descriptions of how it is made in various texts. Every single one is quilted. There isn't a shred of evidence to suggest that glue has ever been used to make layered textile armour in all of that three thousand year history. The two articles that Aldrete cites as evidence for using glue in his reconstruction are discussed here.
http://bookandsword.com/2014/02/14/did- ... -armour-2/
As can be seen, they do no such thing.

4. His team doesn't seem to have bothered to examine any of the multitude of extant examples of textile armour and so their quilted test pieces are woefully substandard compared to how real textile armour was made. Because of this they come to the false conclusion that their glued construction was more protective than quilted armour. When the quilting is properly done, a good case can be made for quilting actually providing better protection than glue.

5. According to his figures, his linen construction seems to provide better protection than a similar weight of hardened steel! In the real world we had to wait for the invention of kevlar to do that. Plus, the so-called bronze plate he tested was 20% less dense than real bronze, suggesting either his measurements were sloppy or he never used bronze at all. In addition, he said that the metal was annealed, which destroys the work-hardening and seriously compromises the metal's ability to stop weapons.

Their experiments regarding glued linen are actually well thought out and carefully documented, but ultimately it was a pointless squandering of resources until someone comes up with evidence that historical armour was ever made like this. It would have been far more useful if they put those resources to examining how various types of quilted armour performed. Quilted linen makes a very effective armour. It actually provides better protection than a similar weight of layered leather - even if it is hardened into cuirbouili. Personally I believe that the Greeks may have made limited use of linen armour during the classical and Hellenistic periods but it definitely wasn't glued and it may not have been of the tube and yoke typology.

This kind of research can't be done by Arts students. You need multiple disciplines including engineering, physics, metallurgy, and hoplology.
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Re: Re:

Postby Dan Howard » 23 Aug 2015 14:48

Herbert wrote:I can comment on leather, even hardened leather, from my own experience: it doesn't hold up too well against swords.

So from a practical viewpoint I am wondering wether the leather was reinforced or backed with something?
Otherwise it would not be that much of a protection, especially against spears.

What are your thoughts, obviously you know more about it than I do.


There is no point testing armour against swords. Pretty much anything can stop a sword cut. Armour needs to be tested against points. The most common threat for thousands of years was from spears and arrows. Anything that can stop these will have no trouble at all against swords.

Proper leather armour isn't a single layer. Either it was hardened and worn over the top of mail or it was made of multiple layers of leather sewn or glued together. Two or three layers of leather was common but we have extant examples as well as texts telling us that up to seven layers were used. The most common type of leather armour was scale/lamellar. These overlapping constructions usually present two-three layers to most attacks.
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Re: The case against linothorax

Postby Luka » 24 Aug 2015 19:17

Ty N. wrote:Since no one pays attention to sword forums anymore, I'm going to present my treatise on the absurdity of "linothorax" as the material used by ancient Greeks for armor.

First, I am not saying textile armor was never used by anyone anywhere -- of course it was. The Chinese and Japanese integrated textiles into armor for centuries. It was practical.

Regarding the notion of ancient Greeks using laminated linen cuirasses, there is simply no credible evidence for it. The word linothorax itself is a modern invention. It does not exist in any ancient text.

I've seen the oft repeated statement that Plutarch described Alexander the Great's armor being made of folded linen, but Plutarch lived nearly four centuries after Alexander died. Alexander would have worn linen underneath his armor because most clothes of the time were made of linen.

There is the famous mosaic from Pompeii. The mosaic was created more than two centuries after Alexander's death, and more importantly it was a Roman work of art created for a Roman palace. It depicts Alexander with dark hair and dark eyes. Alexander had blond hair and blue eyes. As for the armor, it is rendered with some textile elements; the cuirass has a mix of dark, pale and bright colors. Taken as a whole, the mosaic is splendid art, but not solid enough to stand as evidence.

There is pottery and ceramics from ancient Greece. The base colors of ancient Greek ceramics were mainly combinations of brown, red-brown, orange-brown, black and yellowish white earth tones. Occasionally and rarely there were elements of blue, red or yellow. With that palette as context, the only way to make artistic detail stand out from the background is via contrast. Against a dark background, most details were rendered in paler shades. Against a pale background, details were rendered in darker shades. Thus, cuirasses were most often depicted in paler shades, undifferentiated in color from flesh and clothing. As is the case with the Pompeii mosaic, it is art but not evidence.

For real evidence, there is one fully intact example of an ancient Greek cuirass of the type most likely worn by Alexander. Most importantly, it dates from the right period and has the right provenance. It is the cuirass of Alexander's father, Philip II, who was assassinated in 336 B.C. --

Image

Aside from a few gold flourishes, Philip's cuirass has a basic design and leather construction. Leather, not linen. Many linothorax enthusiasts point to a claim that Alexander once ordered the burning of used armor after a new shipment of armor had arrived. Like linen, leather can burn. May fake history burn as well.


"Philip's cuirass" is made of iron, not leather, where ever it is published it is said it's made of iron.
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Re: The case against linothorax

Postby Dan Howard » 24 Aug 2015 21:33

Luka wrote:"Philip's cuirass" is made of iron, not leather, where ever it is published it is said it's made of iron.

Yep. It is one of two extant examples of Hellenistic iron plate. The other was found at Prodromi. It also is of a "tube and yoke" type but shaped like a muscle-cuirass.
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Re: The case against linothorax

Postby Dan Howard » 24 Aug 2015 21:37

There are no extant examples at all of Hellenistic leather or linen armour, which is one of the reasons why this subject is so controversial. We have to rely on contemporary texts. Illustrations are useless in this regard as explained above.
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Postby Ty N. » 24 Aug 2015 22:39

Dan Howard wrote:There are no extant examples at all of Hellenistic leather or linen armour... Illustrations are useless in this...


Actually, not quite. That photo in my original post is the real deal -- it is the cuirass of Philip II of Macedon, Alexander's father. It was found completely intact in his tomb, which was also completely intact. The tomb is part of a larger burial site in Aigai (Vergina). It is managed by the Museum of the Royal Tombs of Aigai. One solid example is worth more than a thousand anecdotes.

http://www.aigai.gr/en/explore/museum/r ... es/vergina

Photography isn't really illustration unless you use Photoshop, Instagram or some other distorting element.

Philip's ashes are stored in this modest little box --
Image

Philip's armor as it is currently displayed. The skirt (whatever it's called) is the only modern prop. The helmet, cuirass and sword (xiphos) are original, as is the shield (which is not intact, but assembled in fragments on a modern surface).
Image

Image

It's unfortunate the tomb of Alexander (III) the Great was never found. He was buried in Egypt, but the location of his tomb was a closely guarded secret.
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Re:

Postby Dan Howard » 25 Aug 2015 02:26

Ty N. wrote:Actually, not quite. That photo in my original post is the real deal -- it is the cuirass of Philip II of Macedon, Alexander's father. It was found completely intact in his tomb, which was also completely intact. The tomb is part of a larger burial site in Aigai (Vergina). It is managed by the Museum of the Royal Tombs of Aigai. One solid example is worth more than a thousand anecdotes.

It is made of iron, not leather, and the tomb it was found in belongs to Philip III Arrhidaeus, not Philip II.
http://popular-archaeology.com/issue/su ... identified
This has been known for fifteen years or so but the Greeks still refuse to acknowledge it.

Here is a reconstruction of the Vergina cuirass by Manning Imperial
Image
http://www.manningimperial.com/gallery/1145842508.jpg
http://www.manningimperial.com/gallery/1145842509.jpg

There are no extant examples of Hellenistic leather or linen armour. I've been looking for two decades; they don't exist. Hopefully something will be uncovered in a future dig.
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Postby Ty N. » 25 Aug 2015 03:53

Good catch on the cuirass. It looked like leather to my eyes (being brown and not black like so many corroded pieces of iron from ancient and medieval times). I stand corrected.

From the link you provided, it seems the article is saying Philip II's remains were at Tomb #1 --

The skeleton found in Tomb 1, however, seemed to match the description. Strikingly tall at around 180 cms, the approximately 45-year-old male in Tomb 1 had leg bones with a knee joint showing the clear signs of fusion (ankylosis), and a hole through the knee overgrowth indicative of a piercing wound "likely affected by a penetrating instrument, such as a fast-moving projectile (like a spear)."*. Also noted were signs of trauma-related inflammation, and asymmetrical bone lesions that suggest wryneck, a plausible side effect of compensatory head tilting tied to uneven gait.


It's not a certainty, however. Arridhaeus was known to be about the same height as his father, and was about 44 years old at the time of his death. He also had physical injuries, but they were mainly attributed to violent epileptic seizures. Regarding the leg injury in question, it could have been inflicted by the men Olympias sent to torture and kill him. Olympias was a hateful woman, and Alexander during his lifetime long feared the threat she posed to his half-brother, whom he protected fiercely.

Based on the material analyses from those articles, I'm not at all certain whose remains are stored in those gold lamaxes. The argument in favor or Philip II is that Olympias would have had final authority over the disposal of Arrhidaeus' remains, and it seems unlikely she would have provided such lavish arrangements for someone she despised and murdered (she also despised her husband Philip II, but she could not dishonor him while Alexander was alive). A royal death bed was included in the tomb attributed to Philip II, which again would seem strange if the deceased were Arrhidaeus, who was imprisoned until his death.

The science of archaeology can point one in several different directions. Which direction you follow depends on the assumptions you find most feasible. Personally, I try to consider multiple possibilities whenever there is substantial ambiguity.
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Re:

Postby Dan Howard » 25 Aug 2015 05:42

Ty N. wrote:From the link you provided, it seems the article is saying Philip II's remains were at Tomb #1

Exactly. However, the iron cuirass came from Tomb #2, which was originally thought to belong to Philip II. A good case has been made for the last fifteen years that it was actually the tomb of Philip III, but the Greeks refused to acknowledge it. Now, with the new evidence from Tomb 1, it seems certain that Tomb 2 belonged to Phillip III, but the Greeks are still refusing to acknowledge it. The best rebuttal they seem to have these days is "nah ah, you are all poopy heads".
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