Saturday, 2 May 2015

The linothorax - finished at last

Well, here it is.  I get such a kick out of the fact that it's a real, functional piece of armour.  I don't know that I'd want to use it as armour though.  Aldrete et al tested it against the kind of arrows used in ancient Greece and it performed very well, but it didn't stop a modern hunting arrow.  Technology has moved on since Alexander's day.

I was going to photograph it on my tailor's dummy, but it doesn't fit on the dummy so you will have to make do with a coat hanger.  Luckily it keeps its shape nicely even with nothing inside.

The last layer of linen is cut larger than the armour piece and folded over to the back to make the edges neat.

The back of the linothorax, showing the neck guard.

Detail of the side lacing.

The linothorax doesn't weigh much.  I could run around all day in it and the weight wouldn't become a problem.  That's an advantage you don't get with metal armour, and would have been a real asset to soldiers who needed to be highly mobile, as Alexander's army did.  The downside is that it wouldn't provide as much protection as metal armour.  Linen armour was obviously cheaper than metal armour and for some soldiers would have been all they could afford, but I think weight was a consideration too and it seems like some people may have chosen to use a linothorax instead of a metal breastplate.  Assuming Greek art reflects what was actually worn into battle, even Alexander the Great wore linen armour.

For some reason the cat liked to lie on top of the pteruges (that's the flappy bits at the bottom) when I put them in front of the fire to dry.  The wet glue didn't seem to bother her at all.

Things I have learned from this project:

  • Ideally you want a mate to help you get into your linothorax.  It does bend, but it's extremely stiff and springy, so lacing it up on your own is a bit of a challenge.
  • You'd be able to mount and dismount a horse fairly easily in this armour, and because the extra weight is minimal it shouldn't worry the horse too much.
  • The linothorax doesn't take much skill to make.  It's just a matter of cutting out the pieces and gluing them together.  Anybody could make themselves a suit of armour using this method.  They couldn't do it in a hurry though.
  • I have obviously lost weight since I made my tailor's dummy.  The linothorax fits me okay, but doesn't fit the dummy at all.  I'm glad I discovered that before I tried to drape my next project on the dummy.

In due course I'll make a couple of linen test patches and see how they go against an airgun.  Watch this space!

The Challenge: War and Peace.  Obviously, this relates to the "war" component of War and Peace.

Fabric: Approximately 10 meters of linen.

Pattern: From Reconstructing Ancient Linen Body Armor: Unraveling the Linothorax Mystery by Aldrete et al.  If you want to make a linothorax but don't have the book, the authors have kindly made patterns available online here.

Year: We have pictures of this type of armour from approximately 600BCE to 200BCE.  We also know that linen armour was used in Mycenaean times, but I'm not aware of any images from before the 6th century showing armour that looks like this.

Notions: 750 grams worth of rabbit skin glue from Gordon Harris.

How historically accurate is it?  Probably not bad.  This reconstruction is conjectural, but it does replicate what we see in the pictures using materials and processes available at the time, and it provides effective protection against the weaponry used at the time.  Aldrete and co were able to source linen that had been processed, spun, and woven by hand just like the Greeks would have used, but my linen is commercially produced. According to the book, handmade linen is slightly less resistant to arrow penetration.

Hours to complete: This is hard to estimate.  Once each layer has been glued it takes anywhere up to 24 hours to dry, and you kind of have to do each layer individually, but actually pasting a layer on only takes a couple of minutes.  Aldrete and co have calculated that making a linothorax from start to finish required somewhere around 715 man hours.  Of course it takes much less time if you buy the linen.

First worn: I tried it on quite a few times to check the fit, see how much it weighed etc.

Total cost: About $145, and it would have been nearly double that if I hadn't bought the linen on sale.


  1. Nice job! Are you going to paint it? If it were my linothorax, I'd probably just outline the shoulder piece (and *maybe* the pteruges) in red and paint four-pointed stars in red on the front of each shoulder flap. Looking forward to the results of the airgun test!

    1. Thanks! It's been a really interesting project and overall I'm quite happy with the way it turned out. I would like to paint it, and definitely with stars on the shoulder flaps.