Twice in the past I have tried to blog about a project involving Linothorax, and twice the post has vanished into the ether. Hopefully, the third time’s a charm. Anyhoo, Linothorax is not some gruff, activisitic Dr Suess character … it’s a type of armour made from linen which was supposedly light and very strong. It first hit the mainstream press back in January, when the APA/AIA shindig was in the news and some of the ANI coverage hasn’t expired yet:
Alexander the Great’s body armor was made of layers of linen laminated together, according to a new research.
Experts suggest that the conqueror’s soldiers also wore similar attires.
The reconstructive archaeology research hints that the Kevlar-like arurs must have been instrumental in Alexander’s success in conquering nearly the entirety of the known world in little more than two decades.
“While we know quite a lot about ancient armour made from metal, linothorax remains something of a mystery since no examples have survived, due to the perishable nature of the material,” the Discovery News quoted Gregory Aldrete, professor of history and humanistic studies at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay, as saying.
He added: “Nevertheless, we have managed to show that this linen armour thrived as a form of body protection for nearly 1,000 years, and was used by a wide variety of ancient Mediterranean civilizations.
“Currently we have 27 descriptions by 18 different ancient authors and nearly 700 visual images on objects ranging from Greek vases to Etruscan temple reliefs.”
According to researchers, the most reliable proof of Macedonian king wearing linothorax is the famous “Alexander Mosaic” from Pompeii.
Aldrete said: “When Alexander was in India, and received 25,000 new suits of armour for his army, he is described as having ordered the old worn-out suits of armour to be burned. This would only make sense if they had been made of fabric rather than metal.”
As part of the research, Aldrede and co-investigator Scott Bartell even developed several complete sets of linen armour to determine its durability and effectiveness.
Aldrete briefed: “The hardest part of the project was finding truly authentic linen. It had to be made from flax plants that were grown, harvested and processed, spun and woven by hand.”
He further revealed that they used glue made from the skins of rabbits and another from flax seeds to stick the layers of linen together.
Aldrete said: “Our controlled experiments basically dispelled the myth that armour made out of cloth must have been inferior to other available types.
“Indeed, the laminated layers function like an ancient version of modern Kevlar armour, using the flexibility of the fabric to disperse the force of the incoming arrow.”
Even prior to the paper (in 2008), there was a very interesting video on YouTube of students from UWGB experimenting with linothorax:
Back in March, another Youtube video appeared, with an excerpt of a talk by Dr Aldrete:
Now the reason I’m persisting in trying to post about this is because the folks over at the very excellent Blogging Pompeii blog have alerted us to a very interesting article in Corriere del Mezzogiorno:
Lo sapevate che il filato di ginestra ritrovato negli scavi di Pompei ha una tale resistenza da poter essere paragonato ai nuovi filati che vengono usati per i giubbotti antiproiettile? Eppure è così. Il professor Apicella, all’ ottavo forum internazionale di studi «Le vie dei mercanti» (si è aperto giovedì 3 a Napoli nel complesso della facoltà di medicina della Sun nel complesso di Santa Patrizia, accanto all’ospedale degli incurabili e prosegue il 4 e il 5 a Capri) ha presentato una relazione nella quale ha coniugato l’innovazione tecnologica con la ricerca archeologica. Il professore Apicella e la professoressa Luisa Melillo hanno trovato dei filamenti che scavando nelle fonti hanno scoperto che era sottilissimo e molto duttile, ma che aveva tanta resistenza da poter fronteggiare anche la carica dei cinghiali.
«Si pensava ad un errore di traduzione o di trascrizione – ha detto Apicella – poi si è scoperto che il lino di Cuma aveva queste caratteristiche e ancor di più il filato di ginestra che è più duttile, ma ugualmente resistente, dei filati usati per i giubbotti antiproiettile».
The article continues from there to yak about stuff not related to this … something seems to have been cut off. In brief, what is mentioned is the discovery of fabric/filaments which, although pliable, were akin to modern-day flak jackets in terms of resistance to projectiles. They refer to it as ‘linen from Cuma’ … i.e. it’s linen, and seems to have armour-like qualities. Is this a survival of a piece of linothorax?
UPDATE (the next day): I’ve finally tracked down the ‘linen from Cuma’ reference in Pliny (why am I having such difficulties finding things in Pliny lately?). In Book 19 we read (in translation):
… which really leaves me scratching the old noggin, insofar as the fabric shown in the photo that accompanied the original article (it might have disappeared by now) was clearly not a piece of a net. If we’re talking about the fibres that made up ‘linen from Cuma’ being strong, that seems fine, but it does appear that something has disappeared from this article, clarification-wise. Still wondering about linothorax possibilities … it would be nice to know the context in which this fabric was found.