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Riled Up is a journal of science, the environment, exploration, new technology, and related commentary.  Contributors include scientists, explorers, engineers, and others who provide perspectives and context not typically offered in general news circulation.  For interested readers, additional resources are included.

The Conservation Alliance

A Plant Outfitted Warriors
Hugh Bollinger

A Plant Outfitted Warriors

Alexander the Great wearing linothorax battle armor (credit: the Linothorax Project)

The Greeks are well known for many things---art, philosophy, science---but their battlefield technology was equally well developed. To this day, the story of King Leonidas leading his army in the Battle of Thermopylae is studied at military academies and depicted in film while the military campaigns of Alexander the Great are legendary. Who would have believed that Trojan and Athenian warriors would have fought the Peloponnesian War or defeated the Persians dressed in kilts and tunics made of linen cloth?

Linen fabric is produce from the flax plant (Linum usitatissimum). In Latin, the word linen means the most useful kind of flax. The fibers are the strongest in the plant kingdom, up to three times that of cotton, and produces a fabric exceptionally cool in hot, dry weather. The Greeks wove the flax fibers into a tight suit of armor their warriors wore into battle, called a linothorax.

                          Flax plant flowers and ancient linen fabric (credit: Wikicommons)

This unique gear had been known from classic war chronicles and depictions on ceramic jars but no actual samples survived since antiquity. Now, research by the Linothorx Project at the University of Michigan Ann Arbor, a university known for some modern warriors of its own, has recreated the Greek battle outfit. The armor performs as described from historical accounts. Using available literary and artistic sources, the interdisciplinary team of historians, archeologists, and designers reconstructed linothorax vests using only authentic fabrics and glues that would have been available to the ancient Greek designers.

 

               Classical linothorax design and contemporary reconstruction (credit: Linothorax Project)

Led by Gregory Aldrete and a crew of Green Bay students the team researched, designed, and reconstructed the ancient Greek battle gear. They discovered the outfits had originally been made by using layers of linen and glue which had been produced from rabbits. They tested the final designs under what would have been battle-like conditions and arrows didn't penetrate the super-tough, layered cloth. The linen vest would have protected Greek soldiers in battle.

                    Linothorax development & testing  (credit:the Linothorax Project)

To the genius and creativity that produced the Parthenon, the natural histories of Herodotus, and theater works that continue to inspire our thinking today, you can now add skilled fabric designers who constructed suits of linen to protect their warriors. Perhaps they may find a military use today.

The myriad of uses that plants play in everyday life is on display and utilized by the Greeks. A book has been published, Reconstruction of Ancient Linen Body Armor, about this fascinating research project in Michigan.

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