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Reconstructing Ancient Linen Body Armor

Unraveling the Linothorax Mystery

Gregory S. Aldrete, Scott Bartell, and Alicia Aldrete

Publication Year: 2013

Alexander the Great led one of the most successful armies in history and conquered nearly the entirety of the known world while wearing armor made of cloth. How is that possible? In Reconstructing Ancient Linen Body Armor, Gregory S. Aldrete, Scott Bartell, and Alicia Aldrete provide the answer. An extensive multiyear project in experimental archaeology, this pioneering study presents a thorough investigation of the linothorax, linen armor worn by the Greeks, Macedonians, and other ancient Mediterranean warriors. Because the linothorax was made of cloth, no examples of it have survived. As a result, even though there are dozens of references to the linothorax in ancient literature and nearly a thousand images of it in ancient art, this linen armor remains relatively ignored and misunderstood by scholars. Combining traditional textual and archaeological analysis with hands-on reconstruction and experimentation, the authors unravel the mysteries surrounding the linothorax. They have collected and examined all of the literary, visual, historical, and archaeological evidence for the armor and detail their efforts to replicate the armor using materials and techniques that are as close as possible to those employed in antiquity. By reconstructing actual examples using authentic materials, the authors were able to scientifically assess the true qualities of linen armor for the first time in 1,500 years. The tests reveal that the linothorax provided surprisingly effective protection for ancient warriors, that it had several advantages over bronze armor, and that it even shared qualities with modern-day Kevlar. Previously featured in documentaries on the Discovery Channel and the Canadian History Channel, as well as in U.S. News and World Report, MSNBC Online, and other international venues, this groundbreaking work will be a landmark in the study of ancient warfare.

Published by: The Johns Hopkins University Press

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. 2-5


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pp. 6-7

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pp. vii-viii

Although the authors of this book are the principal investigators, over the past six years the Linothorax Project at the University of Wisconsin– Green Bay has involved large numbers of other people, and it has grown into an ongoing collaborative faculty- student research project. Among the participants have been dozens of undergraduate history students and members of the Ancient and Medieval His-...

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pp. 1-10

As numerous references in primary sources attest, one form of body armor used throughout the ancient Mediterranean world was the linothorax, a type of armor apparently composed mainly of fabric. In modern scholarship, however, the linothorax has been relatively neglected, and when it is addressed, the mentions are usually brief. There are two explanations for this lack of scholarly notice. The fist (and ...

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1 Ancient Evidence for Linen Armor

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pp. 11-29

The two main types of evidence for the existence and appearance of the linothorax are mentions in written texts and visual depictions in vase paintings, wall paintings, and sculptural reliefs. References to linen would not be unexpected, for the fabric was in common use in the ancient world and the flax plant was native to much of the The generic word used by ancient Greek authors to refer to any sort of body armor, ...

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2 Structural Variants and Decorations on Type IV Armor

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pp. 30-56

Amassing the database of visual examples of Type IV armor has allowed a more precise analysis of certain characteristics of this sort of ancient armor, which until now has been approached only in an impressionistic manner. The database enables us to examine the painted and applied decorations depicted on the armor in a systematic way and to determine how common certain ornamental designs were. ...

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3 What Material Was Used to Make Type IV Armor?

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pp. 57-72

In the attempt to reconstruct an example of Type IV armor and figure out what it was made of, one of the greatest challenges stems from two apparently conflicting characteristics evident in the visual images. On the one hand, the basic material of Type IV armor possessed considerable flexibility, because vase paintings portray ancient warriors putting on this type of armor by dramatically bending the main ...

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4 Reconstructing the Linothorax

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pp. 73-90

Although the literary and artistic evidence confirms that some sort of linen body armor of the Type IV pattern was widely used in the ancient world, many uncertain-ties about its form and construction remain. Chief among these are whether it was quilted or laminated, the exact shape of the armor, and how it would have per-formed in the field. In order to gain insight into these practical questions, we ...

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5 Arrow Test Methodology and Materials

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pp. 91-102

Our reconstructions had established that it was possible to make armor consistent in appearance with Type IV armor using laminated linen. Additionally, we now had a good sense of the shape and some of the characteristics of this armor. ...

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6 Arrow Test Results

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pp. 103-128

By the end of our arrow tests, we had taken more than 1,100 shots, for each of which we measured and recorded between 7 and 11 variables. Once we had analyzed this body of data, clear trends emerged that allowed us to determine which factors made a significant ...

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7 Wearability Issues

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pp. 129-148

Although literary references to armor made of linen survive, and hundreds of vase paintings and sculptural reliefs depict Type IV armor, we lack any firsthand commentaries or accounts by a soldier describing what it was like to wear a linothorax. Therefore, we were forced to extrapolate the practical qualities of the armor in the ...

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8 Economic and Social Considerations

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pp. 149-165

The basic materials and skills needed to make a linothorax would have been almost universally available around the ancient Mediterranean, suggesting that almost anyone could have constructed a reasonably effective specimen of body armor. One factor potentially limiting such production, however, would have been the ...

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pp. 166-168

With this book we have attempted to tackle a number of contentious issues, nearly all of which result from a lack of definitive surviving evidence. Scattered and incomplete literary sources offer enough mentions of linen armor that we can be sure that this item existed, but these same sources tantalize us by not providing adequate de-ail for us to know how it was made, exactly when it was used, and by whom. ...


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pp. image 1-Image 8

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Appendix. Database of Visual Sources for Type IV Armor

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pp. 169-207

For each image of Type IV armor, we have attempted to give a brief description of the image, the artist, the location where the object was found, the current location (including inventory number), an estimated date, at least one reference to a standard catalog system ...


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pp. 209-253


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pp. 255-266


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pp. 267-279

E-ISBN-13: 9781421408200
E-ISBN-10: 1421408201
Print-ISBN-13: 9781421408194
Print-ISBN-10: 1421408198

Page Count: 304
Illustrations: 21 b&w illus., 16 line drawings, 8 color plates
Publication Year: 2013