Lately I have been trying to spend less time online and more working with my hands. For another project I wanted to practice my stab stitch and see how organic thread compares to the cotton-coated synthetic which I usually use. While I was doing that, I thought I would take a few hours to learn some things about a type of armour which many people today find difficult to understand, namely layered cloth. This post has many photos; don’t forget that you can click on them to see a larger version.
A village in France has preserved the bedroom of a young officer who died in the First World War
Wardle, Higham, and Kromer, Dating the End of the Greek Bronze Age DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0106672
Events in the eastern Mediterranean in the second millennium BCE are usually assigned dates in our calendar on the basis of Egyptian and Mesopotamian king lists. Quite a few scholars are suspicious of the most popular system and some of them propose adjustments of 50, 100, or even 250 years. (Some king lists double-count periods where a king reigned together with his heir, and some invent ancestors or treat dynasties which existed at the same time in different regions as reigning one after another to imply that their ancestors always had a large, powerful kingdom; periods when there was no powerful central authority producing documents dated according to a single system also cause problems). The best solution would be to link kings from the lists to timbers whose rings can be put into a continuous sequence of tree rings from the Bronze Age to the present (dendrochronology), but for obvious reasons large timbers rarely survive from the region. Attempts to assign absolute dates on the basis of radiocarbon dating are fraught with problems, but the authors of this paper think that they have overcome them for one site in the Aegean. I will be very interested to see what specialists in Aegean archaeology and carbon dating have to say about their work. Further Reading: Jona Lendering, Mesopotamian Chronology, Aegean Dendrochronology Project, and for real nerds Regine Pruzsinszky, Mesopotamian Chronology of the 2nd Millennium B.C. Verlag für österreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften: Wien 2009.
Novelist Christian Cameron has written a thoughtful essay on the value of recreating ancient experiences to understand the past
The team excavating the Antikythera Shipwreck with new equipment has a blog
Anthony Sattin reviews a book on the North Sea heritage of modern Europe. To his last rhetorical question I would answer “clearly both, and more besides.”
Many shields in the ancient world were made from basketwork, from bundles of reeds, or from sticks thrust through sheets of hide. A group in Germany has constructed a woven rattan shield based on 19th century Chinese examples here (thanks to Ben Judkins of Chinese Martial Arts Studies http://chinesemartialstudies.com/2014/11/03/through-a-lens-darkly-28-teng-pai-woven-shields-lances-and-william-mesny/
A very good armourer remarks on how much one can learn by studying photos of armour here
A new doctoral thesis by Dr. Panagiota Manti on the construction of Greek bronze helmets is now available online (here). Manti had an unusual theory, namely that some Greek helmets were cast in something close to their final form then reshaped by hammering. This idea goes against a lot of comparative evidence for armour being hammered from sheets and bars, and casting something as large, thin, and complex as a Corinthian helmet would be difficult. Rather than simply speculate, or try to cast a helmet, Manti took the trouble to find tests which were capable of distinguishing between her theory and the leading alternative, carried out these tests, and published the results. This approach is more difficult, but it can also provide much stronger evidence for a theory. Manti believes that she has found evidence that yes, many Corinthian helmets were cast roughly to shape then hammered for strength and delicate forming. She also believes that only one helmet in her sample was tinned, a style of decoration known from Roman and medieval copper-alloy objects.
While I do not have time to read Manti’s whole thesis, and lack the training in metallurgy to assess its argument, I hope that some of my readers will find it helpful.
A recent scholarly book argues that ancient Greek soldiers wore body armour of many layers of linen glued together. This would be surprising, since most cultures with linen armour sewed it together, but some people are concerned that Greek images of this armour rarely show stitch marks.* The book briefly cites two 19th century articles as evidence that such glued linen armour has been found.** Many curious readers will not be able to follow up on these references, since the necessary journals are hard to obtain outside of a large reference library, and since the articles are in Italian and German. One perk of studying in Innsbruck is that I do have access to the necessary publications, and I can read German if not Italian. I therefore spent a few hours flipping through online databases and back issues of journals with gilded titles on the spines and „königlich und kaiserlich“ in the stamps on the title page. Because many interested people do not have access to these articles, I have decided to reproduce the key passages with an English summary.
Dr. Stefan Bittner has kindly informed me that the line drawings from his thesis on the Achaemenid army are available at his online photo gallery.
Copies of his thesis, and several other books, are still for sale at his press Bodem Verlag. His book is the single biggest source for Achaemenid kit and clothing, and includes some sketches of how equipment might have been put together. Anglophone reenactors could find those useful even if they can’t read his text.
I may address particular parts of his work in later posts, since I have not found much discussion of his book in English.