Personal protection, the ancient Greek way

Students test the LinothoraxWith a little ingenuity, some pieces of linen and a lot of glue, UW-Green Bay graduate Scott Bartell made history, literally.

Bartell, a history major, re-created ancient Greek armor called linothorax.

Because the armor was made of cloth, no authentic examples have survived the more than 2,000 years since their inception. The only examples are found on pottery pieces and mosaics.

Bartell and Prof. Greg Aldrete, Humanistic Studies, first created authentic-looking, wearable forms of the armor. Recently, they’ve developed pieces of the material for testing against ancient weapons, including, arrows, swords, spears and the dreaded mace.

They used only authentic linens and glues made of animal fats or flax seed oil, materials the Greeks would have used.

“This sort of armor was probably really good,” Aldrete said. “Linen is nice because it’s about half the weight of any sort of comparable metal armor, so it would have been much more comfortable to wear. It’s more flexible, as well, than wearing metal armor. And if you’re in the Mediterranean in 100-degree heat you really want to be wearing something made of cloth, rather than reflective steel, which would basically bake you.

“When we did some of the arrow tests, we found out that it provides surprisingly good protection from arrows.”

The study Bartell and Aldrete wrote about the armor tests will be presented at a national conference for people who study the ancient world this winter.

Video Transcript

The Linothorax
Ancient Greek Armor re-created by students at UW-Green Bay

Scott Bartell, Class of 2008
I’m really interested in Alexander the Great, and just sort of every part of his army, what made him successful, and anything that has to do with him, basically.

In a very famous mosaic, there’s Alexander portrayed with the linothorax, and there’s other different vase paintings from around that time that have soldiers wearing it. So I got interested in that as well. And I didn’t really notice the armor. So I looked it up, and couldn’t really find anything. I saw a few references, a few little paragraphs that were written, but nothing that really described it.

I had seen some other people online that had made their own. So I thought that would be something neat for myself to do.


Prof. Greg Aldrete

The idea is to explore one of the mysteries of ancient history, which is what did certain ancient Greek armies like those of Alexander the great wear for protection on their bodies.

It’s clear that they wore this sort of armor called the linothorax, which is made of cloth or linen, but none of these have survived to today because they’re made of cloth, so they all rotted and disappeared. So nobody’s really understood them.

What the project is, is to reconstruct some of these using the original materials, glues, fabrics, that the Greeks would have had, and then to test them out to see how wearable they are and what kind of protection they would have offered the wearer.

They found out this sort of armor was probably really good. Linen is nice because it’s about half the weight of any sort of comparable metal armor, so it would have been much more comfortable to wear. It’s more flexible, as well, than wearing metal armor. And if you’re in the Mediterranean in 100-degree heat you really want to be wearing something made of cloth, rather than reflective steel, which would basically bake you.

When we did some of the arrow tests, we found out that it provides surprisingly good protection from arrows.

Scott Bartell
I was sort of expecting it to stand up to the arrow tests. It almost had to of, to be as popular as it was, to be used as widely as it was, especially by Alexander and his army. He certainly had the money and the means to get a more reliable armor. So if something like this didn’t work, I doubt he would have worn it.


Prof. Greg Aldrete

This is the student collaboration project that I’ve really been involved with in a major way. And this one was quite successful. We’ve already had a paper accepted at that main international conference for people who study the ancient world.  In January, Scott Bartell, the main student collaborator, and I are going to go and present a paper on this. So it’s real important, original research. I hope to continue this sort of thing in the future.


Scott Bartell

I’m happy that the linothorax is finally going to get some recognition or the due that it deserves. Anything that’s going to advance the appreciation of Alexander or shed some new light on Alexander’s success is great.

Prof. Greg Aldrete
It’s been a lot of fun to work with students on this. It’s nice to be able to do real, original research with students, rather that just sort of always being off on my own doing it.

Scott Bartell
I enjoyed my last semester tremendously because of this, because of working with Prof. Aldrete and the other students. Instead of just learning history in a textbook, or from a lecture, it was great to get a hands-on approach to it. I think the other students really enjoyed it as well.

I’d love to do more stuff like this. This increased my passion for history.

TEXT
“There is nothing impossible to him who will try”
- Alexander the Great