Recreating armors of Alexander the Great brings surprises
Ames Tribune, Iowa
AMES, Iowa — Alexander the Great conquered much of the known world — Greece to Egypt and Egypt to the borders of India — more than 2,300 years ago, and he remained undefeated on the battlefield at the time of his death in 323 B.C.
For Gregory Aldrete and archeologists, there was one question that had never been addressed: What kind of armor did Alexander and his men wear?
Unlike the typical armor associated with ancient times, Alexander and his army didn’t use metal for armor. Instead, they used linen.
Aldrete, professor of history and humanistic studies at University of Wisconsin-Green Bay, will speak on Friday at the ISU Memorial Union about the Linothorax Project, an ongoing effort he leads to reconstruct and study a widely used type of ancient body armor created by laminating together layers of linen.
Aldrete said the project started six years ago when a student attempted to recreate the armor worn by Alexander the Great. He asked Aldrete for feedback on it, but Aldrete couldn’t find any real details about the armor to give constructive feedback.
Recreating the armor, which Adlete said is similar to a vest in what it covers, remained somewhat mysterious because linen rots away. There are 913 visual images of military armor from Alexander’s time.
Once Adlrete put the armor together, the results were surprising.
“In modern scholarship, whenever they have discussed it, (scholars have) tended to be very skeptical to say it was just crummy armor and nobody would have worn this unless they had absolutely nothing else,” he said. “One of our big findings was that no, this is actually terrific armor. It would have protected you against any sort of arrows you would have encountered at that point in time. It’s cheaper than metal armor. It’s lighter and cooler. It has a lot of advantages.”
The armor is made by laminating layers of linen together with glue. The materials Aldrete used reflect the time period with hand-produced linen and rabbit skin glue.
It’s ideal because when an arrow would hit the armor, it proved strong.
“When the armor gets hit, it flexes and disseminates the force of the impact over a broader surface,” Aldrete said. “This spreads the impact out over the entire thing.”
Aldrete said lecture attendees will get to see one of their recreations, too. A book he co-wrote, “Reconstruction Ancient Linen Body Armor,” about the armor was released earlier this year.
At the time of Alexander the Great, the metal of choice for armor was bronze. But you needed a blacksmith to create the armor and several ingredients, too.
Aldrete said the linen armor weighed about 11 pounds. Metal armor of the body coverage weighed 25 pounds.
Linen on the other hand would be common and most households would be able to make armor themselves. It would have brought women into the military process, Aldrete said. The armor could also be repaired on the move.
Don’t think that this armor is useable today. Aldrete said by the time the Romans began conquering the world 200 years later, metalogy had advanced and bows and arrows improved. They would tear right through the linen.
Prior to Alexander the Great, Aldrete said the armor appears all across the ancient world including Egypt, Persia and Italy. However, where this armor originated remains unknown.