ARMOR             5/21/17

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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 coming into use 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.  Pteruges are rarely with the bell cuirass of the Archaic era, and are far from common with the Classical muscled cuirass.  They are more common in the Hellenistic era.  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.

       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, or has a distinct flange, 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 ( ) and Kult of Athena ( ).  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!

Royal Oak Armory--Jeffrey Hildebrandt.   THE BEST. 

Manning Imperial--Craig Stitch, Australia.  Bell cuirass or muscled cuirass, really good stuff. 

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.)    (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, but many are not.

       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 or twined (see below) 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 and other artwork are not a reliable indication of color, the funeral stele of Aristion shows a tube and yoke cuirass which is yellow, which may indicate a buff leather.  Frescoes from Italy, all from the 4th century or later, show white, pink, and other colors.  White may indicate the use of alum-tawed leather, which is white, and which was apparently 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, so 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 (using a spray bottle), 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.

       MAKE A CARDBOARD PATTERN FIRST!  In fact, make several if the first one does not fit properly, and keep adjusting until it's right.  And as always, only use a PENCIL to mark leather, and only on the BACK.  Please.  Note that the shoulder flaps on the yoke curve outwards to fit correctly.

       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 

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 


DEEPEEKA is working on a spolas.  Stay tuned.

"Macedonian Leather Armor" at Kult of Athena, --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, .  This is what I used for my yellow spolas, but it is simply vegetable-tanned leather, and not really the "buff" that I was hoping for.  So you will have to dye it to whatever color you want, while just oiling or waxing it will make it brown (which may be accurate, for all we know, but brown is no fun!).  I would STRONGLY recommend NOT using any sort of white leather dye, since people have found it to be generally unsuccessful.

   WHITE leather is probably the way to go, and Zack White also has "White Dry Chrome Latigo", though at 8-9 ounce you may want two layers, at least in front: .  Yes, it is more expensive, and not actually an alum-tawed leather, but at the moment I feel it to be the best practical option for a realistic spolas.  It also skips all the potential mess of painting or dyeing a large piece of leather.


       Linen armor was clearly known to the Greeks, who mention it being worn by Egyptians, Persians, and other non-Greek people.  There is one archaic reference to "cuirasses of new linen" hung on the wall of a Greek house, so it must have been worn by some Archaic or Classical Greek warriors at some point.  (There are clear depictions of quilted linen armor worn by Bronze Age Mycenaean warriors, plus Homer refers to a warrior "armored in linen".)  There is a fragment of layered linen from a Thracian grave, including an attached edging, so it is not just a folded piece of clothing or fabric.  Quilted linen armor would have been anywhere from ten to thirty layers thick, depending on the thickness of the layers and the desired level of protection.  Note that this would NOT be an inexpensive armor!  Linen was typically imported to Greece, and assembling a layered linen cuirass is very laborious.

       DO NOT USE GLUE.  Apologies to Gregory Aldrete and his students, but there is not a shred of historical evidence for the use of GLUE in the construction of linen armor.  Anywhere.  Anytime.  Ever.  Nada.  Zippo.  Stamp out glued linen in our lifetime!

       The most detailed description of linen armor is Polybius, who writes of a cuirass sent to a Greek temple as a gift from the Egyptian Pharaoh Amasis.  It is made of cords, each of 365 individual strands.  This is clearly not regular woven fabric in layers, but a technique called twining, still used today to make rugs and bags, etc.  Using cords instead of thread, the body of the cuirass can be woven in one piece, or perhaps in two or three layers rather than 20 or 30.  There are in fact references to cuirasses of 2-ply or 3-ply, which must mean layers considerably thicker than regular fabric.  It is even possible to weave the yoke in one piece with the body.

       At left is a sample piece of twining that I made, about 6 by 7 inches plus the loose cords.  It was made with 3/16" diameter cord and is quite stiff and thick.  The excess length of the warp (vertical) cords are simply tied off, but I could continue twining them in groups of 4 or 5 to form pteruges.  Thus an entire cuirass (or cuirass layer) could be woven in this way with no cut or unfinished edges at all--it is simply twined to the desired shape and size from the start.  Note that Xenophon describes an Asian tribe wearing linen cuirasses with a thick fringe of cords below the waist instead of flaps (pteruges), which not only strongly implies a twined construction, but also that the Greeks expected to see linen armor with pteruges.  In other words, the well-known tube and yoke form. 

       So far, the only reconstructed twined linen cuirass that I know of is being made by Todd Feinman: 

Obviously we are looking forward to seeing this completed!

       Currently, my gut feeling is that linen armor was extremely rare among hoplites of the Persian and Peloponnesian Wars.  It is definitely mentioned in the accounts of the reforms of Iphikrates, just after that period, so quite likely it became more common by the Hellenistic era.  Without more evidence, it's hard to be certain!  My opinion could change next week.

       If you are determined to wear linen armor, it can be layered (say 15 to 30 layers) and quilted (but NOT GLUED!), or twined from linen or hemp cord.  If layered, you will need to hand-sew some kind of edging around the entire perimeter, including each individual pteruge.  Be aware that quilting will cause some "shrinkage" in length and width!  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.  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.  Depictions from Italy, mostly 4th century, may also show quilting, either vertical lines or a diagonal grid pattern, but other interpretations are very possible.  Remember that the bottom of the pteruges should be at your crotch, not lower. 

       For twined linen, you can get cord here:  You'll need a lot--my sample above used 50 feet...  Search Youtube for rug twining to find tutorials on the basic method.  There is also a pdf which is very handy,

       Yes, many years ago I was one of the pioneers of the glued "linothorax".  Guided mainly by Peter Connolly's work, I constructed a 16-layer glued linen cuirass.  After finding out that Connolly was incorrect, I retired it in favor of my muscled cuirass, and the linothorax sat on a shelf for several years.  In 2017 I salvaged the materials by soaking and washing out the glue, then ironing the pieces and reassembling them with a couple new layers, adding quilting and linen edging all around.  The finished thickness is twenty layers in the body and about 16 for the yoke.  The pattern is basically identical to my spolas, though I omitted the raised section at the back of the body, since it is completely covered by the yoke.  The rings are held by brass cotter pins.


       Vase paintings and other artwork show that many tube-and-yoke cuirasses were reinforced with scales, often at the right side of the body, or around the midriff.  The famous vase painting at right shows two complete scale cuirasses, and a complete cuirass of iron scales has been found in a Thracian tomb of the 5th century BC: .  While scales might be used to reinforce a normal spolas or linen cuirass, they can also be supported by a much thinner backing, such as c. 4-oz leather or a couple layers of linen.  This obviously raises all kinds of questions about the actual construction of any tube-and-yoke cuirass seen in artwork!  But it also gives the option of making one just as scale armor.  The main question, since there are almost no surviving scales from Greek sites, is whether to use iron (steel) or bronze for the scales, or even rawhide.  Whichever metal you choose should be THIN, no more than c. 26 gauge/.015".  It can be tinned.  You will also need to do some research and make some choices about scale shape and hole configuration.  The scales should be sewn or laced to the backing, not riveted.

       Presumably the Greeks had a term for scale armor, though I don't know what it is!


       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, good!  Made to order, not just one size.

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? 
   The version shown on the By the Sword and Deepeeka sites looks better to me, but still seem made for very thick legs.

--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

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