Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Reconstructing Ancient Linen Body Armor by Gregory S. Aldrete

book cover
Reconstructing Ancient Linen Body Armor
by Gregory S. Aldrete

ISBN-13: 9781421408194
Hardcover: 304 pages
Publisher: Johns Hopkins University Press
Released: March 1, 2013

Source: Review copy from the publisher through Amazon Vine.

Book Description, Modified from Goodreads:
Alexander the Great led one of the most successful armies in history and conquered nearly the entirety of the known world while wearing armor made of cloth.

An extensive multiyear project in experimental archaeology, this pioneering study presents a thorough investigation of the linothorax, linen armor worn by the Greeks, Macedonians, and other ancient Mediterranean warriors. Because the linothorax was made of cloth, no examples of it have survived. As a result, even though there are dozens of references to the linothorax in ancient literature and nearly a thousand images of it in ancient art, this linen armor remains relatively ignored and misunderstood by scholars.

Combining traditional textual and archaeological analysis with hands-on reconstruction and experimentation, the authors unravel the mysteries surrounding the linothorax. They have collected and examined all of the literary, visual, historical, and archaeological evidence for the armor and detail their efforts to replicate the armor using materials and techniques that are as close as possible to those employed in antiquity. By reconstructing actual examples using authentic materials, the authors were able to scientifically assess the true qualities of linen armor for the first time in 1,500 years. The tests reveal that the linothorax provided surprisingly effective protection for ancient warriors, that it had several advantages over bronze armor, and that it even shared qualities with modern-day Kevlar.

My Review:
Reconstructing Ancient Linen Body Armor is a detailed study the authors did on linen corselets using ancient written and visual sources, and what they learned from their reconstructive archaeology efforts. The writing style was formal, yet the information was not difficult to understand or process. The authors realized that their audience was not solely academics, so they wrote in a manner accessible to everyone. They stated that they realized not all of the chapters in the book would equally interest all of their readers since this book would likely have a varied audience: academics, history buffs, reenactors, and others. I was initially interested in the reconstructive archaeology chapters, so I was surprised by how interesting I found the initial chapters.

There were a number of black and white photos and 6 color photos, mainly of ancient art showing this type of armor and of their experiments. The photos did an excellent job of showing what the text was describing. The main text was 168 pages long and used a somewhat denser, smaller-font text than "popular history" books. The next 38 pages were text description of the hundreds of images of linen body armor in ancient art that were used as the basis for this study so others who wish to can find them. The next 44 pages contained the "footnote" information. The biography and index each took 12 pages.

Chapter 1 discussed the mentions of linen armor in ancient texts and the images of Type IV/linen body armor in ancient art. It also described how flax was grown and processed in the ancient world. Chapter 2 discussed common elements seen in the visual sources and the different variations seen--things like how the shoulder straps were secured down, decorative elements, etc. Chapter 3 talked about what type of material was used to make this Type IV armor--only linen, only leather, a combination, metal inserts or scales? And if it was only linen, was it many layers of linen sewn together or many layers of linen glued together or stuffed and quilted linen?

Chapter 4 talked about their reconstructive archaeology efforts to make both sewn and laminated (glued layers of) linen armor. There was enough detail that I felt like I could do the process myself if I wished to. Chapter 5 talked about how they tested the armor, and chapter 6 gave the results (including both charts of numbers and a summary of the data in the text). They mainly tested with ancient arrows, but they also tried other weapons (swords, mace, spear, etc.). They also compared the linen results to tests on the effectiveness of bronze armor. Chapter 7 talked about the practical usability of the armor--mobility, ease of construction and repair, effectiveness of the repair, ability to withstand rain and river crossings, if it got hot when worn in full sun, the weight compared to bronze armor, etc. Chapter 8 talked about who might have made the linen for the armor and the cost in labor or money to produce a linen corselet.

It was interesting to learn how effective and usable linen body armor turned out to be. I felt that the authors gave a fair/balanced analysis of linen body armor and of the possibilities about its manufacture and use. I'd recommend this book to those who think it sounds interesting.

If you've read this book, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion of the book in the comments.

Excerpt: Read an excerpt using Google Preview.

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