Ancient Greek Armor Gets Tested in an 11-Hour Battle Simulation Inspired by the Iliad

By Greek law, every male cit­i­zen over the age of eigh­teen must spend from nine months to a year in the Hel­lenic Armed Forces. As in every coun­try with such a pol­i­cy of manda­to­ry con­scrip­tion, this is sure­ly not a prospect rel­ished by most con­scripts-to-be. But then, it can’t be all bad, at least for those enthu­si­asts of Mediter­ranean mil­i­tary his­to­ry who hap­pened to be serv­ing when researchers from the Uni­ver­si­ty of Thes­saly came by offer­ing the chance to don a suit of armor from the fif­teenth cen­tu­ry BC and have a very — and faith­ful­ly — old-fash­ioned bat­tle.

The repli­ca was mod­eled on an exam­ple from the late-Bronze-age Myce­naean civ­i­liza­tion “dis­cov­ered in the south­ern Greek vil­lage of Den­dra in 1960,” writes Smithsonian.com’s Son­ja Ander­sondescrib­ing it as “one of the old­est com­plete suits of Euro­pean armor in exis­tence.”

Com­posed of fif­teen “cop­per-alloy sheets held togeth­er with leather, which cov­ered the wear­er from neck to knees,” the suit is “com­plete with arm and leg guards and a hel­met dec­o­rat­ed with pieces of boar tusk.” Clunky though it may look, it stands as evi­dence that, as the researchers put it in their paperthe “Myce­naeans had such a pow­er­ful impact in East­ern Mediter­ranean at least part­ly as a result of their armor tech­nol­o­gy.”

But first, they had to put the armor itself to the test. “They gath­ered vol­un­teers from the 32nd Marines Brigade of the Hel­lenic Army,” Ander­son writes, “fed them the pre-bat­tle meal of a Myce­naean sol­dier: bread, beef, goat cheese, green olives, onions and red wine. The marines were out­fit­ted in repli­cas of the Myce­naean suit, giv­en repli­cas of Myce­naean cru­ci­form swords, and placed in a tem­per­a­ture-con­trolled room set to a geo­graph­i­cal­ly accu­rate 64 to 68 degrees Fahren­heit.” There com­menced eleven hours of sim­u­lat­ed bat­tle, all “chore­o­graphed based on descrip­tions of the Tro­jan War from Homer’s Ili­adwhich was fought a few cen­turies after the Den­dra armor was made.”

“We now under­stand, despite its cum­ber­some appear­ance at first sight, that it is not only flex­i­ble enough to per­mit almost every move­ment of a war­rior on foot but also resilient enough to pro­tect the wear­er from most blows,” the researchers write in their con­clu­sion. And though their research sub­jects “showed a high lev­el of fatigue, sore upper body due to the weight of the armor, and foot pain due to walk­ing, run­ning, rid­ing a char­i­ot, and fight­ing bare­foot,” it must have been a more stim­u­lat­ing expe­ri­ence than the aver­age day in the Hel­lenic Armed Forces — espe­cial­ly if there was any post-bat­tle goat cheese and wine avail­able.

via Smith­son­ian Mag­a­zine

Relat­ed con­tent:

What It’s Like to Actu­al­ly Fight in Medieval Armor

How to Make and Wear Medieval Armor: An In-Depth Primer

How Well Can You Move in Medieval Armor?: Medieval­ist Daniel Jaquet Gives It a Try in Real Life

Bronze Age Britons Turned Bones of Dead Rel­a­tives into Musi­cal Instru­ments & Orna­ments

Why Civ­i­liza­tion Col­lapsed in 1177 BC: Watch Clas­si­cist Eric Cline’s Lec­ture That Has Already Gar­nered 5.5 Mil­lion Views

Based in Seoul, Col­in Marshall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities and the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.



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