Skip to comments.Laminated Linen Protected Alexander the Great
Posted on 01/16/2010 8:09:03 AM PST by Palter
Alexander's men wore linothorax, a highly effective type of body armor created by laminating together layers of linen, research finds.
A Kevlar-like armor might have helped Alexander the Great (356323 B.C.) conquer nearly the entirety of the known world in little more than two decades, according to new reconstructive archaeology research.
Presented at the annual meeting of the Archaeological Institute of America in Anaheim, Calif., the study suggests that Alexander and his soldiers protected themselves with linothorax, a type of body armor made by laminating together layers of linen.
"While we know quite a lot about ancient armor made from metal, linothorax remains something of a mystery since no examples have survived, due to the perishable nature of the material," Gregory Aldrete, professor of history and humanistic studies at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay, told Discovery News.
"Nevertheless, we have managed to show that this linen armor thrived as a form of body protection for nearly 1,000 years, and was used by a wide variety of ancient Mediterranean civilizations," Aldrete said.
Indeed, Aldrede and co-investigator Scott Bartell discovered that linothorax was widely mentioned in ancient records.
"Currently we have 27 descriptions by 18 different ancient authors and nearly 700 visual images on objects ranging from Greek vases to Etruscan temple reliefs," Aldrete said.
The main visual evidence for Alexander wearing linothorax is the famous "Alexander Mosaic" from Pompeii, in which the Macedonian king is depicted with this sort of armor.
Indeed, in his "Life of Alexander," the Greek historian Plutarch states that Alexander wore "a breastplate of folded (or doubled) linen" at the Battle of Gaugamela in 331 B.C. This battle a was a huge victory for the Greeks and led to the fall of the Achaemenid Empire.
According to the researchers, there is further evidence that linen breastplates were standard equipment in the Macedonian army.
"When Alexander was in India, and received 25,000 new suits of armor for his army, he is described as having ordered the old worn-out suits of armor to be burned. This would only make sense if they had been made of fabric rather than metal," Aldrete said.
In order to determine how wearable this armor was, and how effective it would have been in protecting its wearer from arrows and other battlefield hazards, Aldrete and Bartell reconstructed several complete sets of linen armor using only material that were only available in the ancient world.
"The hardest part of the project was finding truly authentic linen. It had to be made from flax plants that were grown, harvested and processed, spun and woven by hand," Aldrete said.
The other key ingredient was glue, which was placed over various layers of linen. The researchers chose to work with two simpler glues that would have been available everywhere: 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 a variety of weapons including swords, axes and spears.
"Our controlled experiments basically dispelled the myth that armor made out of cloth must have been inferior to other available types. Indeed, the laminated layers function like an ancient version of modern Kevlar armor, using the flexibility of the fabric to disperse the force of the incoming arrow," Aldrete said.
According to Heidi Sherman, linen expert and professor of history at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay, the researchers have achieved some very convincing results.
"One cannot know with complete certainty how close the model is to the linen armor used by Alexander the Great's army, but several layers of fused linen can indeed withstand quite a rigorous battering. They would have provided ample protection under rather extreme conditions," Sherman told Discovery News.
This mosaic of Alexander the Great shows the king wearing linothorax -- an armor made from laminated linen.
“When Alexander was in India, and received 25,000 new suits of armor for his army”
“The researchers chose to work with two simpler glues that would have been available everywhere: a glue made from the skins of rabbits”
My mind boggles at how many rabbits(if they used rabbit glue) were required for the amount of glue 25,000 suits of armor would need.
Interesting article, thanks.
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Thanks for posting. Interesting.
It’s a good thing they breed like, well, ahhh rabbits.
I bet most animals can be made into glue. Ever heard of “glue factory” ?
Easy to make version of kevlar, neat.
Thumper died so that Alexander could thump the Persians?
That does it--Alexander was a bad man.
Hey nOOb! Your tenor is very uncalled for.
You got a problem with dead bunnies? Or you wake up everyday to take it to some one you consider a hapless target for your own selfish gratification.
The material is LRG... Linen Reinforced Glue. Today we have carbon and glass fibers reinforced with polyester and epoxy resins FRP. Paper mache is also similar. Very formable and quite strong
I am curious about the glue
Why not use glue form dead horses ? Larger and easier to catch.
and just as tasty to the French
zipping back through his posts that is M.O. and it’s immature.
I mean, great that he found his pitching arm but seriously, he should be throwing strikes at the opposing team.
Perhaps the horses too valuable.
Alexander aquired his prized war horses from a city called Larissa, Greece.
You know the thing about the system which Alexander had for synchronizing attacks (prior to the age of wrist watches) I assume?
Rabbits pulled out of the herd for glue would get replaced really fast.....
LOL. I could not find that picture. LOL
You know, I cannot stand know-it-alls who THEORIZE that this stuff was made out of rabbit glue. There is no such thing as rabbit glue. All-porpoise glue, yes. Gerbil glue was abundant since Egypt. But how DARE you sit there with your teeth in your mouth and your face hanging out and PROCLAIM like some Holy Royalty that this was made out of RABBIT GLUE! Ha! Ha! It IS to laugh. Your wrongness is only superceded by your audacity. Rabbit glue indeed. No such thing has EVER existed in the history of mankind. Next, you will be asserting that NASA created Rabbit Teflon to better cook Rabbit Eggs. WHY DO YOU PROMOTE SUCH FOOLISHNESS? Don't you know any better? Rabbits don't excrete glue, they don't spit glue, they cannot be made into glue, and they have NEVER stood in line at Walmart with a shopping cart full of glue. Get a clue -- or should I say get a GLUE! A non-rabbit cannot-exist nonglue that has never existed on this or any other planet in this or any other universe. Rabbit glue, how silly, how droll, how anti-rock-and-roll. Stop smoking crack or drinking methyl alcohol or wearing your pants baggy or whatever else it is that makes you talk CRAZY, NUTTY BUNNY about RABBIT GLUE. OMG! LOL! That is INSANE TALK! SEEK help, GET help, TAKE your meds, and STOP the crazy rabbit glue stuff.
There is a TV documentary on this. Can’t remember which one but probably Ancient Marvels or something like that where they actually manufacture and test the linen armor against arrows, spears, etc.
Don’t make me go Medieval.
...Its supreme advantages are very, very fast bonding; and easy debonding with hot water if an instrument must be disassembled for internal repairs. [snip]
Because the glue is hygroscopic, it continually absorbs moisture from the atmosphere, causing the glue to swell and shrink. Over time, this constant flexing causes the brittle oil paint to crack. Modern substitutes for rabbit skin glue are available, such as Gamblins PVA size  and Golden Acrylics GAC100. These substitutes do not have the hygroscopic properties of rabbit skin glue, while still being very slightly hygroscopic, and should not cause the damage to oil paints that rabbit skin glue does. However, these modern replacements do not stiffen and tighten the canvas as well as rabbit skin glue does, so some artists still prefer to use rabbit skin glue.
Since they hadn't invented gunpowder yet, the cry was, "keep your armor dry!"
I saw that program, too. Makes me want to go outback and find various small critters and make them into glue to test a few theories.
The armor would probably be much lighter in weight then metal based armor. Perfect for Alexander and his Companion Cavalry. Apparently the first shock cavalry unit.
That really is a fascinating article. I happen to know a certain woodworker that’ll go all geeky over it.
I wonder if pickled pig’s feet would work for glue. I’ve never seen anyone take one out of the jar at a bar and eat one in over 50 years of hanging out.
Could make an interesting Saturday night project.
TAKE IT TO HIM LAZ!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Maybe you live a few hundred miles too far south...
I guess that vest of his wasn’t foolproof then. ;’)
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