Monday, February 21, 2011

Fjordman: Metal and Early European Warfare

Fjordman’s latest essay has been published at Vlad Tepes. Some excerpts are below:

Late Bronze Age Europe was apparently a turbulent place where weaponry evolved fast. “The sword, for instance, which had been developed in the east Alpine area in the Middle Bronze Age, assumed a variety of forms whose rather rapid pace of change probably reflects the need constantly to update equipment if military success is to be maintained. It was at once a functional implement (as shown by the degree of wear and resharpening on some pieces) and an object important for display purposes.” Moreover, “Armour (shield, helmet, cuirass, greaves) played an increasing role in the mechanisms of Bronze Age warfare, but archaeologically it is those pieces that were made in metal that survive, and these were not the ones that were functionally most effective. It has been shown experimentally, for instance, that shields of sheet bronze can be cut by a slashing blow from a sword, whereas those of leather or wood are much tougher. Added to the difficulty of moving freely in sheet-metal armour, it is much more likely that leather was the normal material and that these metal pieces were for display — either in warlike ceremonies, or intended to strike fear into the hearts of opponents at the mere sight, much as happened with Homer’s heroes in the Iliad.”

Alexander the Great and his soldiers may have protected themselves with linothorax, which was something like an ancient equivalent of Kevlar armor. Gregory Aldrete, Professor of History at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay in the USA, states that “ this linen armor thrived as a form of body protection for nearly 1,000 years.” Modern reconstructions have resulted in several complete sets made from flax plants that were grown, processed, spun and woven by hand, using a glue made from the skins of rabbits and another from flax seeds. Tests included shooting the resulting patches with arrows and hitting them with swords. The material performed surprisingly well. It is only known through some descriptions in ancient literary sources and visual images in vase paintings and sculptures. The main visual evidence for Alexander wearing linothorax is the famous Alexander Mosaic found in Pompeii, Italy.

Read the rest at Vlad Tepes.