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Ancient Mycenaean Armor Was Suitable for Extended Combat, Research Confirms

The_J

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This article is already a month old, but just popped up on social media:
Researchers have tried to tackle a question if a 3500 old armour from Mycenean Greece was used for ceremonial purposes or for real fighting. Apparently no descriptions about this armor have survived into modern times.
The researchers therefore have made replicas of the armor, and recruited 13 volunteers from the Greek marines to test out the armor. It seemed that for both fighting and other practical purposes (just wearing it in the Greek heat), the armor seemed to do sufficiently well, and could have been used for combat purposes.
No fighting exercises against tanks were reported though.
You can read the news article here.
 
I read the article when it first came out a while ago.

The main thing it dispenses with is the old, old argument that the "Dendra Panoply", the armor in question, was Ceremonial rather than Practical. As you can see from the illustration, it is both more extensive (covering from head to knee including strap-on plates protecting the lower legs and arms) and different from any other form of laminated, plate, composite (leather, cloth, metal) armor known.

But to put all that in context, this is not the first time it has been tested. As far back as 1988 (36 years ago!) a set of replica armor was tested for its functionality at a university in England. In fact, it was that replica set that was used in the latest tests with 'real' military personnel this year.

Individual pieces that have been identified as parts of this full set have been found in tombs all over Mycenean Greece, though, so while it was reserved for the Elite (that amount of Bronze was both expensive to acquire and required some metal-workers with serious skills) it was not exactly Unique to any specific individual - lots of Big Men in Mycenean Greece probably wore either parts or most or all of the set of plates.

The only little question remaining, in fact, is just how the Elite folks wearing it were used in battle. There are a number of illustrations of Mycenean warriors apparently in battle, but none of them show this particular type of armor, or any armor this extensive worn by anybody either on foot or in a chariot.
 
I wonder what it weighs.
 
I wonder what it weighs.
I don't remember seeing any precise figures, but it's composed of bronze sheets tied with leather lashings to a leather backing, so no matter how thin the sheets are, it has to be over 30 - 40 pounds (14 - 18 kg?). On the other hand, since most of it looks to be carried by the shoulders, if it's well distributed weight it could be up to 1/3 the wearer's body weight and still not be debilitating.
 
View attachment 694834

This article is already a month old, but just popped up on social media:
Researchers have tried to tackle a question if a 3500 old armour from Mycenean Greece was used for ceremonial purposes or for real fighting. Apparently no descriptions about this armor have survived into modern times.
The researchers therefore have made replicas of the armor, and recruited 13 volunteers from the Greek marines to test out the armor. It seemed that for both fighting and other practical purposes (just wearing it in the Greek heat), the armor seemed to do sufficiently well, and could have been used for combat purposes.
No fighting exercises against tanks were reported though.
You can read the news article here.
An armor fit for Agamemnon and Menelaos :yup:
And likely not one for all the myrmidones.
 
Is there a butt? How do you sit? You'll slide off otherwise...
Doesn't look like it. My guess is that you put it on just prior to going into battle and took it off as soon as you could.
 
Doesn't look like it. My guess is that you put it on just prior to going into battle and took it off as soon as you could.
Aside from the very high likelihood of heat stroke or prostration from wearing that armor in Greek summer temperatures, you could seriously burn yourself just touching those metal surfaces after the sun has hit them for any amount of time. To quote Shakespeare about metal armor in summer:
"It scalds with safety"

I strongly suspect, like the later Hoplite panoply, it was carried to the battlefield by one or more servants while carefully wrapped in cloth coverings to keep it from the sun and worn only for the battle itself.
 
The main thing it dispenses with is the old, old argument that the "Dendra Panoply", the armor in question, was Ceremonial rather than Practical.
I don’t see how it dispenses with that view. It just shows that it could be wrong, and that’s all that the actual research paper claims. The fact that armour could have been used in battle doesn’t in itself show that it actually was. But of course it shifts the onus of proof, since one would think that a set of usable armour is probably meant for combat in the absence of evidence to the contrary.

I have to admit I was a little surprised at the line about “historical accounts from Homer’s Iliad”! The research paper itself is of course a bit more precise…
 
I don’t see how it dispenses with that view. It just shows that it could be wrong, and that’s all that the actual research paper claims. The fact that armour could have been used in battle doesn’t in itself show that it actually was. But of course it shifts the onus of proof, since one would think that a set of usable armour is probably meant for combat in the absence of evidence to the contrary.

I have to admit I was a little surprised at the line about “historical accounts from Homer’s Iliad”! The research paper itself is of course a bit more precise…
By no means mean to imply that Homer is 'historical', but a lot of the details in the Iliad about the Hellenes, their polities and warfare, have been confirmed ('vindicated') by archeological discoveries. In fact, they are still planning archeological digs based on evidence ffrom Homer - note the excavations/explorations at Pylos in search of "Nestor's Palace" which, in fact, did discover the remains of a settlement/palace structure right about where Homer said Nestor had his. The fact that Homer leads us to actual evidence is a good sign that not everything in his work is Heroic Legend or Fiction - although I think it is also easy to find one bit of collaboration in Homer and start to assume there must be more when you have, in fact, no evidence of more - unless they have discovered something recently, I don't believe they've actually found "Nestor" inscribed on anything from the Pylos excavations.

And while you are completely correct that the fact that the panoply Could Be used doesn't mean it actually was for anything more than Ceremony, the fact that it apparently was designed to be Useful and Usable and required a great deal of expensive Bronze to fabricate indicates that at the very least it was based on Practical armor of some kind, and since this is the only complete armor set we have found (so far) from the Mycenean sites, we have to assume that something resembling it or parts of it was the 'ultimate' form of body armor available.

We do know, both from archeological and pictographic (wall paintings, pottery, etc), that originally the Myceneans used very little other body armor, even for their 'heavy infantry', who relied instead on large body-covering shields of wicker covered with stretched hide/leather, but there is simply no evidence of other types of metal body armor depicted until later (closer, in fact, to the nominal dates of the Homeric stories) when the shields got smaller and body armor of leather 'corselets' covered in bronze, horn or bone 'scales' was used (a type of armor that was, in fact, common clear across trhe Middle East and Central Asia for centuries). Even though we know they had access to metals either through native mines or trade and their Heroic Warrior traditions gave ample excuse for the Big Men, at least, to acquire metal armor, there's no depiction of any such thing anywhere in actual use. That seems to contradict the concept of an aristocratic Warrior Class with all the best equipment (also depicted in Homer), but a clue might be the many Mycenean depictions of Heroic (sometimes obviously legendary) Warriors shown battling with neither shields nor armor. Armor considered as beneath them or cowardly? Not impossible: note the long Celtic tradition of warriors in ceremonial battle fighting naked, relying (supposedly) entirely on the favor of the Gods to protect them.

Short of finding a contemporary non-Homeric account of Mycenean beliefs, customs, religion and warfare, we can only speculate. But Homer has in many cases provided a verifiable basis for the speculation - just not always, and used with Care.

I like to think of Homer's works as like Tolstoy's War and Peace. You can assume you are learning a lot in passing about the Napoleonic invasion of Russia in 1812 from Tolstoy, but it decidedly is NOT history and you really will get no idea of what was actually important to the outcome of the campaign. Achilles and his personal peeves might make a great basis for a Heroic Legend, but it is NOT likely a factual military account of any event in Mycenean or any other History.
 
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