THE ANCIENT GREEK HOPLITE

ARMOR             1/18/15

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THORAX--Bronze Cuirass

       The Greek word for body armor in general was "thorax", a term which covers several different styles.  Probably the best-known is the muscled cuirass, a bronze corselet embossed with a stylized depiction of a man's musculature.   The decoration varied considerably over time, but was generally not as extreme as on many modern reconstructions.  It also did not line up with the wearer's anatomy, since the bottom edge of the cuirass was roughly at the man's navel or lower ribs, allowing him to bend freely.  The upper chest was also quite narrow to allow free movement of the arms.  Modern replicas are often too long and too wide, restricting movement as well as adding unnecessary weight. 

        Original cuirasses were surprisingly light, as little as six pounds, as the metal could be less than a milimeter thick.  The maximum weight was probably around 12 pounds.  Note that many modern authorities grossly overestimate these weights!   They are also too ready to dismiss these cuirasses as "ceremonial", but recent tests have shown that 1mm bronze sheet is highly resistant to the weapons of the time--this was fully functional and very protective armor.

       There is NO evidence that the muscled cuirass was ever made of leather!  At least one Hellenistic example in iron has survived, however.

       The muscled cuirass was just becoming common at the end of the Archaic era, around the time of the Persian Wars.  It was probably never the most common type of armor, being the "high end" choice.

       The bell cuirass was in use by the 7th century BC, and continued to be seen during the Persian Wars.  It would have been obsolete and probably not known by the Peloponnesian Wars.  It is so called because of the way the bottom edge usually flairs out, though an example from the Guttmann Collection is a simple straight tube.  Note that the embossed decoration is very stylized, and not yet really "muscled".  There is usually a substantial raised flange around the neck opening.

       My bell cuirass weighs ten pounds, and I completed it in November 2014.  It is a little longer than my muscled cuirass, but still allows excellent mobility.  It is lined with linen, glued in, with pads made of folded wool at the shoulders.  It turned out to be more comfortable than my muscled cuirass, since I managed to allow just a little more room for the throat in spite of the raised flange.  It also seems to cause less pain and bruising at the shoulders, so either I managed to shape it better there, or it simply has better padding. 
       Very little has been published about bell cuirasses (or any Greek cuirasses, for that matter!), so details like the side closures are based on a few inadequate photos as well as interpolation from non-Greek cuirasses of similar date.  I ended up using tubes and slots secured by pins, so that the front and back plates can be easily separated for transport.  On the left, the tubes are riveted to the front plate and project inward through the backplate, forming a hinge.  On the right, the tubes are fixed to the backplate and project outwards through the front plate.

       I considered several options for fastening the shoulders, including tubes and pins, or simple pegs on the backplate that would project through holes on the overlapping front plate.  In the end, I didn't bother with any shoulder closures at all--they certainly are not necessary to hold the cuirass shut!  I can add them if any new evidence convinces me to do so.

My muscled cuirass, March 2012.  It is made from c. 18-gauge bronze sheet, though the exact alloy is unknown.  Also, the backplate is slightly yellower than the breastplate!  Oh, well...  I glued in a lining of heavy wool, with 2 extra layers at the "shoulder straps" of the backplate for padding.  Total weight is 10 pounds.

The nipples are tinned brass discs and tinned copper domed rivets.  On most originals, the nipples are applied or inset, not just embossed into the metal. 

Front and back are secured with pairs of rings, one pair at each shoulder and 2 pairs on each side. Most original cuirasses had hinges at the sides with removable pins to serve as fasteners, but I want to fiddle with the fit and make sure the edges meet nicely before I add those.

Muscled cuirass owned by Exsekias Trivoulides.  He gave it an "antiqued" look whereas I prefer polished, but it is a GORGEOUS piece anyway!

       I am still gathering data on the use and appearance of pteruges (flaps) below the waist of a muscled cuirass.  Such things seem unknown with the bell cuirass of the Archaic era, and are far from common with the Classical muscled cuirass.  They may be a Hellenistic or post-Peloponnesian War feature.  When they do appear, they are generally all the same length (not longer in the front), and there are no studs or other "reinforcements" besides an edging of some sort.

      The popular belt of studded black flaps should be avoided!  It's pure Hollywood, I'm afraid.  If you already have one, just stop wearing it and you will look MUCH more authentic.  It may have a very nice ROMAN buckle which you could sell or trade to greedy legionary.  The brass bits might be usable for some other project.

Metropolitan Museum of Art--Muscled cuirass, http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/gwar/ho_1992.180.3a.htm 

Ancient Greek Armour, Shields and Helmets--Great links and photos, but beware of the links to equipment vendors!
http://www.mlahanas.de/Greeks/war/Armor2.htm 

       A quick Google Image search on "Greek Muscle Cuirass" will show you a few nice originals, plus MANY reproductions.  Comparing old to new will give you an idea of the accuracy of those available commercially. 


       In the Archaic era, up through the Persian Wars, the common bronze armor was the bell cuirass.  This was the ancestor of the muscled cuirass, and somewhat simpler in form.  Embossed curled lines define the pectorals, while the stomach muscles are denoted by inverted U- or V-shapes.  The bottom edge tends to flair out a little, though a few original cuirasses are quite straight and tube-shaped.  Sometimes there was a semi-circular plate (possibly known as the "mitra") hanging from the bottom edge to protect the belly, but this may be a very Cretan feature. 

Kevin Hendryx's bell cuirass and helmet, made by Darkheart Armory.

       Finding a decent cuirass "off the shelf" can be tricky.   Deepeeka and other Asian manufacturers offer a wide variety of armor through vendors such as By The Sword ( http://www.bytheswordinc.com/ ) and Kult of Athena ( http://www.kultofathena.com ).  Unfortunately, much of it, historically speaking, is junk, and of course it typically comes in only one size so it is not likely to fit you well.  But here are some suggestions for what looks to me like the better choices.   For starters, stick with BRASS or BRONZE, not steel or leather!

Manning Imperial--Bell Cuirass, http://www.manningimperial.com/item.php?item_id=113&g_id=2&c_id=35 
--Muscled Cuirass, http://www.manningimperial.com/item.php?item_id=565&g_id=2&c_id=35  Hard to beat these...

Deepeeka AH6071B Brass Muscle Cuirass --Probably a little big on many folks, and too long and wide across the chest in any case.  The muscling is not really historical, and the nipples are misplaced.  Easiest improvement is to cut off the flange around the bottom edge!  File or roll the cut edge. 
--I do not recommend their AH6096B Bell Cuirass, not a good shape, too wide and long.  AH3876 Short Muscle Cuirass is plated steel, and shoulder flaps are more Roman than Greek.  AH3875 Muscle Cuirass is at least brass, but still has shoulder flaps (might be removable?).  Obviously don't buy any of their black or leather armor!

Kult of Athena Brass Muscle Cuirass - IR80513 --Looks like a copy of the Deepeeka cuirass.  Remove the big straps and buckles and replace with rings, and of course chop off the bottom flange.

Deepeeka Brass Muscle Cuirass AH3875--Better overall than AH6071, except that the shoulder flaps are really a Roman feature, or at least Hellenistic.  Maybe they could be removed?

Armae Greek Bell Armor AC129--Reasonable-looking bell cuirass, might be wide across the armholes?  (Much nicer than the Deepeeka version.) http://www.armae.com/Zenglish/greek_and_roman/antiquity_frame.htm    (AC125 seems to be Deepeeka AH3876)




SPOLAS--Leather Tube-and-Yoke Cuirass

      The dominant form of armor in the Persian War era is cuirass or corselet formed by a tubular body section and a yoke over the shoulders, apparently not made of metal.  For years we have assumed this was called the "linothorax", made of layers of linen glued together.  Peter Connolly's reconstructions were the leading force in this interpretation.

       However, more recent examination of the evidence suggests that this "tube and yoke cuirass" was actually made of LEATHER, and (at least in later years) called the spolas.  Some were apparently "double-breasted", made with two overlapping front panels, so that the front was two layers thick.   Many examples in artwork are reinforced with metal scales around the middle or at the sides, though this may only appear after the Persian Wars.

       References in Classical Greek literature to linen armor generally refer to something foreign or unusual.  It may not have been completely unknown among Greek hoplites, but was presumably quilted since there is certainly no evidence for the use of glue.  Recent tests and documentaries with glued linen cuirasses can not be considered as reliable scholarly sources.

       One telling reference is from Pollux's Onomastikon:

"Spolas de thorax ek dermatos, kata tous omous ephaptomenos, hos Xenophon ephe 'kai spolas anti thorakos'"
"The spolas is a thorax of leather, which hangs from the shoulders, so that Xenophon says 'and the spolas instead of the thorax.'"

It's hard to get much better than that, since it even includes a very reasonable description of how the tube-and-yoke cuirass fits!  "Thorax", of course, is the word meaning "body armor", though it came to mean specifically the bronze cuirass.

       Another lexicon entry comes from Hesychius:

"Spolas: khitoniskos bathus skutinos, ho bursinos thorax"
"Spolas: thick leathern little chiton, the leathern thorax"

Note that Hesychius is working from a different source than Pollux, and basically gives TWO definitions: a thick leather chitoniskos (short chiton), and cuirass of leather.

       Keeping in mind that vase paintings are not a reliable indication of color, there are other color depictions of the tube and yoke cuirass that show it as a yellowish or golden color, which may indicate a buff leather.  Frescoes from Italy, all from the 4th century or later, show white, pink, and other colors, though of course they may be depicting quilted linen.  White may indicate the use of alum-tawed leather, which is white, and which was produced in great quantities in Athens.   We actually know little or nothing about the type of leather used, nor the thickness, nor how many layers there were, we can not draw many firm conclusions about the weight or protective qualities.  The popularity of this armor strongly implies that it was effective enough for the men who wore it, though if it was anything as protective as a bronze cuirass it must have been significantly heavier.  The fact that it is often depicted as very ornately decorated, and worn by heroes and gods, also implies that it was not necessarily seen as "cheap" armor--we can only assume that it was less expensive than a bronze cuirass.

       My spolas--or "leather armor", to play it safe--is 12 to 14-ounce vegetable-tanned leather.  It weighs ten pounds.  I followed the color restoration of the grave stele of Aristion by dyeing it yellow, with simple decoration done in blue milk paint/casein.  The front has an added panel to make a double thickness.  The inner layer of pteruges is 8 to 9-ounce leather.  The side closure studs are made from a stamped 24-gauge bronze disc backed by an 18-gauge disc for strength, riveted with several small washers between disc and leather.  The center front stud is a small brass lion head.

       The total width is the circumference needed to go around your body.  Add an inch or two for safety!  The top edge must not be so high that it rubs when you tip your head down.  The bottom edge is level with the crotch.  The armholes are cut about 5 inches lower than the top.  The back can be nearly as high as the front, as on mine, or it can just be the same level as the armholes.  My inner front reinforcement was about 2 inches too short, so I added that strip between it and the pteruges.  The front reinforcement and inner layer of pteruges extend beyond that edge by an inch, to be overlapped by the other side when laced shut.  That also means the pteruges are properly staggered without making any of them half-width.

       Getting a good feel for the appearance of the spolas is not difficult, just look at the pictures!  You can find quite a few vase paintings and other Greek artwork with some Google searching.  As with any reenactment gear, avoid the urge to add embellishments that can't be seen in original artwork or archeological examples.  Remember that modern artwork and reconstructions done by other people are not historical evidence!  They can certainly be inspirational, but don't copy them unless you can see that what they did is something the Greeks actually did (or at least depicted!).   There is obviously some leeway as far as painting or dyeing the leather, and for some details of shaping.  But if you stick to what we know from the evidence, you won't go far wrong.


       Cheryl Boeckman in her spolas at the Greek Independence Day Parade in Baltimore, MD, March 2012.  The side is reinforced with bronze scales.  She dyed the leather with "vinegaroon", made by dissolving iron filings or steel wool in vinegar.  Note also the lovely paint job she did on her aspis!  (Hey, who's that tall handsome devil to her left?)


        It does seem that some time after the Peloponnesian Wars, quilted linen armor became more common among Greek troops.  We also see the tube-and-yoke cuirass translated into other materials such as iron plate, scale armor, and mail.


        The Greek section of the Roman Army Talk board has good information, though you have to be registered to see images.  The definitive discussion on spolas versus linothorax was here:

Linothorax vs. Quilted Linen vs. Spolas

http://www.romanarmytalk.com/19-greek-military-history-a-archaeology/231412 

One of the key points is made by Ruben/MeinPanzer on about page 5, from Pollux's Onomastikon:

"Spolas de thorax ek dermatos, kata tous omous ephaptomenos, hos Xenophon ephe 'kai spolas anti thorakos'"
"The spolas is a thorax of leather, which hangs from the shoulders, so that Xenophon says 'and the spolas instead of the thorax.'"

Thickness of a Bronze Bell Cuirass
http://www.romanarmytalk.com/19-greek-military-history-a-archaeology/241511


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Imperium Ancient Armory http://www.imperiumancientarmory.com/ --Carries Deepeeka gear, though not everything is shown on their site.  They offer a glued linen cuirass--maybe they'd do a quilted or leather version?

"Macedonian Leather Armor" at Kult of Athena, http://www.kultofathena.com/product.asp?item=MP001 --Better if it weren't dark brown, and the pteruges are probably too long.

Zack White Leather carries "Heavy Blonde Skirting Sides", 12 to 15 ounce, for a buff-colored spolas, http://www.zackwhite.com/Heavy-Blonde-Skirting-Sides_p_3903.html
If you prefer white, they also have "White Dry Chrome Latigo", though at 8-9 ounce you may want two layers, at least in front: http://www.zackwhite.com/8--9-oz-White-Dry-Chrome-Latigo-Sides-760-sq-ft--Z3048_p_4897.html




LINEN ARMOR

       The least debatable option is to use quilted linen armor only for the Hellenistic era, after the Peloponnesian Wars, and to make in the tube-and-yoke form.  The thickness could be anywhere from 15 to 30 layers, and debate still rages on vertical versus diagonal grid quilting.  Closely spaced lines of quilting can make the material quite tough and rigid, and of course the outer layer does not have to be white.  Be careful with your pattern, since quilting will make the material "shrink" in length and width.  Also remember that the bottom of the pteruges should be at your crotch, not lower. 

    A number of depictions of the tube and yoke cuirass show vertical lines on the front, spaced similarly to the width of the pteruges.  IF those are depictions of linen armor, those lines MIGHT be quilting.  Though they seem to be solid and not dotted or dashed...  There is a historical reference to an Asian tribe whose linen armor has thick twisted cords below the waist, rather than flaps.  This shows pretty conclusively that linen armor could be in the tube-and-yoke form, with pteruges.


Deepeeka Alexander The Great Linen Cuirass - AH6125, http://www.kultofathena.com/product.asp?item=AH6125 --Pteruges probably too long, and it is presumably glued linen (or canvas?).  Their old AH3987B "Greek Scaled Armor" linothorax, aside from being glued, has badly shaped shoulder flaps and is too long.



GREAVES

       Greaves or shinguards were important since the shield only covered a man as far down as his knees.  They were very cunningly crafted from thin sheet bronze to fit the leg, and were simply "clipped" onto the lower leg and stayed in place without straps or closures.  Obviously, it is going to be hard to find this sort of high-quality fit with mass-produced greaves!  You are likely to end up with something that needs some trimming or reshaping (bending by hand or with a rubber mallet, for instance), and still may be uncomfortable to wear.  Custom-made greaves can be much better, but must be done by an experienced armorer and might require several fittings and adjustments to fit properly.  So they will be expensive!

       The reason greaves are difficult to make is that the lower leg is not only tapered but slightly curved.  So a greave needs to be a *curved* tapered tube that is open at the back.  They WILL cost a lot of money...

       Greaves that fit properly will be supported by calf muscle and will not rest on the top of the foot.  Getting that to happen may require a clever combination of fit and padding.  I have found that tubular wool leggings (tan, to be unobtrusive) make life in greaves MUCH more bearable!   A padded band around the ankle is visible in some vase paintings. 

       I made my own greaves, and I can't say they are very good!  They have no curvature, and the dished areas at the sides are shallow and lumpy.  The metal is 18-gauge, which must be too thick since it is always a struggle to get them on and off.  I recently flared the bottom edges out more to help relieve rubbing on my ankles, and added a strip of padding inside.  The folded linen "donuts" or ankle pads help some, but I think even better is wrapping my ankles with a wool band *under* my sandals.  I also tie my sandals *behind* my leg so that the knot does not get driven into my flesh... 

       It is important that the greave clasps the leg above the calf muscle.  A leather lining helps "grab" and keeps the greave from slipping down where it can rest on the foot.  I slide my greaves up over my feet in order to avoid forcing the metal open so far that it no longer clings strongly enough.  Removing them involves prying the back open while levering the greave forwards from the top.  It can be a struggle, and it can be painful, and it often requires squishing the greave back into shape after removal. 



Kevin Hendryx's greaves, made by Darkheart Armory.

Jon Martin's greaves are by Joe Piela of Lonely Mountain Forge.

       My advice if you are just getting started and have a tight budget, skip the greaves for now.  Don't try to make do with something that looks crappy (steel, black, leather, etc.) or leaves you bleeding.  Bad greaves are worse than none at all!  Some people use Roman-style greaves that look reasonable from the front, but are secured by straps and buckles rather than wrapping around the leg.  I don't really like that option, though I realize it's a tough question.  It's possible that such a form is correct for some Hellenistic greaves, but I honestly don't know for certain.  (Connolly implies that is so, but we have learned to doubt him!)

       Thigh guards, and guards for the upper and lower right arm, are seen occasionally in the Archaic period, but seem to be out of use by the Persian Wars.  They can add a lot to a 7th or 6th century impression along with a bell cuirass, but would have to be custom-made as none are available commercially.  ALL OTHER TYPES OF BRACERS, VAMBRACES, OR WRISTLETS SHOULD BE AVOIDED!  They are pure Hollywood.


Soul of the Warrior
--SOTW Greek Greaves, http://legvi.tripod.com/armamentarium/id448.html--Look good!  Made to order, not just one size.
--http://legvi.tripod.com/armamentarium/id112.html 

Daniyal Greek Hoplite Greaves, bronze or brass, look good!  They are said to fit pretty well.

Deepeeka "Archaic" Greek Greaves, AH6121--Might be some confusion here.  Do these look the same to you?
http://www.kultofathena.com/product.asp?item=AH6121 
http://www.bytheswordinc.com/p-1908-greek-greaves-ah-6121.aspx 
http://www.deepeeka.com/armoury/documents/shop_page.php?action=item&iid=43&cat=18&page=1&subcat=Greek 
   The version shown on the By the Sword and Deepeeka sites looks better to me, but still seem made for very thick legs.

Armae
--Greek Greaves AC145, a little too plain (knee should be more pronounced, at least), but if they fit, no problem!
--Brass Leg Armor AC141, nice embossing, but uses straps and buckles instead of being full wrap-around.  Kind of a compromise...

The quickest way to make your kit more historically accurate is to DITCH THE VAMBRACES!  A custom-made muscled bronze guard for the right forearm is legitimate for the Archaic era but pretty much gone by the Persian Wars.  Nothing else was worn on the forearms!  They are pure Hollywood.

Also ditch the studded leather flappy skirt (above).

And the tied-at-the-neck Superman cape.

    There!  You look much better already, and/or you can spend less money to be more historical!


Hoplite Home Page
Clothing Helmets Photos Other Greeks, and Others
Shield--Aspis/Hoplon Armor Weapons
Bibliography The BRONZE AGE




LINOTHORAX NOTES


       My own glued linothorax was retired after 12 years of service.  Some of my construction information is still here for your convenience, but my advice is to use LEATHER, or *quilted* linen.  And no glue!  (Well, except for securing trim bits!)  I would also recommend a yellowish color, if possible, and would STRONGLY advise against black or dark brown (though other colors were certainly possible). 

--------------------------
        I used 16 layers of linen, mostly a heavy natural Belgian linen, with two or three layers of white on the  outside.  (M.J. Cahn company in New York sells VERY cheap linen!  See below!)  About 15 yards of linen (45" wide) is needed, plus about 4 yards more if you want two rows of full-thickness pteruges.

       PATTERN--Always make a cardboard pattern!  ("Papyrothorax", as it were.)  The height is from about your throat or collarbone to the crotch (not longer), and the length is your greatest circumference, of course.  The bottom is slit into pteruges about 2-1/4" wide by 8' high.  Measure the rest of the body into 4 segments so that the back and front panels are twice as wide as the sides (i.e., 42" total length equals front and back each 14", sides each 7").  Add an extra front panel if you want the "double-breasted" style.  The armpits are cut down c. 6", and the back is about 3 to 4" lower than the front.  Tie yourself into this a few times and look it over repeatedly in the mirror to check the fit.  If necessary, cut out a whole new pattern to get a good fit and shape.
       The shoulder flaps must curve outwards a little so that they lie properly.  There is some inclination to make the shoulder flaps with fewer layers than the body, but armor  as a rule is heaviest at the shoulders.
       There are two layers or rows of pteruges, staggered so that they overlap.

       I finished the edge with white linen tape, 3/4" wide, glued carefully around the front, then folded around the edge and glued to the back.  There is a painting in Connolly of a white linen cuirass, rather plain, but the top edge and the shoulder flaps are edged with red, very attractive. 

       Realizing as well that I was doomed to screw up any attempt to paint nice straight stripes around the pteruges, I simply dyed a length of my linen tape red and glued it on!  A second strip went around the waist, just at the top of the pteruges.  A brief experiment made it clear that the pteruges could not be edged with linen tape if they were only cut with a knife--there would have to be actual slots between them, even if very narrow.  So I have left them raw-edged, and will soon find out if there is too much fraying.  Edgings, and space between the pteruges, are very clearly shown in some paintings and sculptures, others are ambiguous.  The deciding factor was having to order another 20 yards of tape...  Thin leather strip could be used instead of linen tape, and either can be stitched in place (with or without gluing). 
 
      The old glued linothorax under construction.  At left, standing upright, is the outer section of 9 layers of linen; lying down at right is the inner section of 7 layers, wrapped around the wire mesh form and secured by nylon netting.  Obviously none of that is necessary for leather or quilted linen!

      In the foreground is my cardboard pattern, the front scrawled with notes so that I don't omit any important step!

       Having looked at numerous cabinet knobs, I finally made my own very plain lacing studs, each one just a brass disc with a bronze "boat nail" stuck through the center, and three little washers punched out of 18-gauge bronze on the shank.  There are 2 pairs of studs to fasten the side opening, and the fifth in the center of the chest for securing the shoulder flaps.  I attached the tie-down cords to the shoulder flaps just by sticking them through a hole and knotting at the inside.  It turns out that the ties don't have to be tied with flat studs like these, but simply wrapped around in opposite directions.  With a differently shaped stud, standing out a little farther, they would have to be tied, though.

Hoplite Home Page
Clothing Helmets Photos Other Greeks, and Others
Shield--Aspis/Hoplon Armor Weapons
Bibliography The BRONZE AGE