Reenactment guidance and ideas Written by Hoplites, for Hoplites
Recreating the Ancient World
Combatants in Greece
in the 5th Century B.C.
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Recreating The Linothorax
Things to consider when going it alone
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Just how a linothorax was constructed appears to be an ongoing debate amongst both academics and the 'amateurs' amongst us alike. The one thing that can be agreed upon being that nobody knows precisely how it might have been made, nor specifically what it was made from.
With the main speculation being that they were organic in nature, from hot climates and with the last examples of this type of construct disappearing somewhere between the 4th and 3rd Centuries BC, it is perhaps unsurprising that recognised examples have not managed to stand the test of time. Although a recent marine archaeological find might well reveal a few secrets over the next couple of years and put all the speculation to rest?
Proof notwithstanding, there remains the question of quite how it was built and with the benefit of numerous experimental builds it is possible, at least, to offer some reasoned interpretation.
What did they look like?
This is, perhaps, the easiest of the questions to address as there are numerous illustrations that have stood the test of time and these give us a pretty clear idea of the outward appearance. Interestingly, though, specific detail is less clear and this demands an exploration of archeological artifacts and records, coupled with informed 'interpretation' in order to find a way forward.
If you start with an assumption that this was not complex for the sake of complexity, then the component elements of the building process and the aspects of illustration become much clearer.
Stitching lines, for example, can quickly be identified by the presence of ribbon style patterning. As it attaches at the side there needs to be an overlap in order to ensure an effective fit for wearing. You also need to position the fastenings so that that you can pull the sides together. If you position them so that they are supposed to meet you will never be able to pull the body on tight.
This combination of overlap and positioning also allows some scope for flexibility in fit. In other words, after a heavy Christmas eating season the acquisition of a few pounds will not mean that your armour will not fit anymore!
From illustrative evidence it appears that this armour could have been made in two, distinctive, ways. One would be as a complete body and the other as 4 body panels, each joined by some form of hinge. Most likely leather. Your choice on design is very much a personal one. It being less work to build in one body part but, if you choose to build on a leather core, you can manage the 4 part version with smaller cuts of leather.
Either way, the essential construction is the same. It is built in layers of linen, glued together, with or without a leather core, and it can be, and we believe was, constructed on a flat surface.
The benefit of using a leather core is that this will deform less when building up layers. If you decide to make this entirely out of linen then you will need to build up 4 or 5 layers first in order to create a stable shape and trim back to the original pattern.
Glue should be used generously and firmly (a tile spreader is best) and you need to work with some sense of urgency to avoid being caught out by drying. Linen is very absorbent. Something that also needs to be borne in mind when applying the final coat of paint one assembled.
Below can be seen a recently completed piece, constructed in two parts. The body and the yoke. The important element of detail here is the long band of patterning at the waist. This is a feature of all illustrations and is clearly an indicator of a stitch line.
In this next picture you can see the inside of the same linothorax. Note how the stitching of the yoke to the body has been covered by a layer of glued linen to provide protection and also the method of attaching the inner skirt. You will also note that the stitching that secures the scales has been left uncovered. This is to facilitate ongoing repair.
Re-enacting is a challenging hobby!
One important thing to note
The example above, when cold, is quite stiff and will hold the shape you see as even when held upright. Once on the body though, body heat warms the glue and it settles to the body shape and becomes quite comfortable.
Upon removal it will be relatively 'floppy', but if you lie it down somewhere cool for a while it will quickly regain its stiffness. This stiffness being something that is evident from linothorax on vase illustrations of hoplites putting their armour on.
Hoplite Association Members
Please refer to the master patterns, instructions in the member's handbook and the downloads posted on the members' pages of the Association website for more specific construct guidance.
This example, whilst visually very effective, has a body that is at the edge of effective length.
Although the scale is difficult to see through the mass of material worn below the armour by this mercenary hoplite above, the relatively small body of the armour is apparent here.
In this example the short body can be better seen. As can the relationship between the 'skirt armour' and the body.
Here you can see the effects of making the armour very thick and on the long side. It can easily be imagined how this will impede bending. The solution here is a repositioning of the central tying point further down the chest to enable the armour to be pulled up.
At the foundation of any build is the pattern and this is where most of your effort should always be spent when trying to recreate anything that requires building.
Consequently, the first thing any prospective builder should do is to view as many artistic examples as possible and identify common features. Remember, there was no such thing as a military specification. These would have been built by numerous artisans and more to a common theme than a set pattern.
Illustrations, therefore, will inevitably vary a little but the keen eye will identify common elements.
For example, note where the waist comes to. The body of a linothorax will, by its stiff nature, restrict bending. If you make the waist too low movement becomes difficult and can restrict fighting ability. Use your naval as a guide!
The scale of things becomes quite obvious when you view illustrations of naked hoplites in armour. The ability to see those parts one would normally keep hidden from view showing below the skirt feathers is the best indicator!
The one, published, 'pattern' can be found in both Peter Connolley's Book and The Osprey 'Greek Hoplite' text. A good starting point but BE CAREFUL. These are genralised and slightly flawed.
For example, there needs to be a slightly narrower waist in order to ensure good fit and maximise maneuverability. In addition, be aware that the width of your shoulders will dictate the width of the shoulder straps. Make these too wide and you cannot lift your arms! Also the cut out protection at the back of the neck needs to be scaled with a consideration for the back of the helmet. Too high and you cannot move your head.
How do you interpret the word 'linothorax'? Direct translation would suggest a 'flax chest' and thus this must have been manufactured from flax (linen cloth), right?
Well some might disagree. There has been speculation around the use of leather and metal as well.
The metal suggestion can be fund within the 'Greek Hoplite' text and essentially arises from the discovery of a hinged piece of metal funerary armour. With the number of pieces of armour that must have been in use and the relative survivability of metal (albeit as trace elements) in grave contexts, might not more examples exist now?
Hoplites essentially evolved from the heavy, bronze thorax to one which provided slightly less protection but greater flexibility. The inflexibility of a large piece of hinged metal would seem a strange step in this evolution and this is not considered by us to be a feasible option. Irrespective of the complexity of build!
It is necessary,therefore, to adopt a perspective in order to move forward, and one based upon logic and reason does appear to be the most realistic option. So if you work to the wider interpretation of this being 'composite' armour, as in made from a variety of elements, this opens up two, workable options.
1) To build the armour entirely from glued layers of linen.
For this, around 12 layers of linen will give a reasonably effective thickness. 20 layers will give armour that is both very thick and slightly inflexible. 24 can be solid!
2) To build using a leather core faced either side with linen. With between 3 and 4 layers of linen on each side.
The main benefit here being that the leather core will retain shape integrity better in the initial stages of the build and thus require less trimming.
DO NOT build from cotton or canvas as a substitute or to reduce the overall material cost by putting these layers underneath a facing, linen one. This is false economy as the various cloth properties react differently with the glue. The strength of a linen build arises partly from the way in which the linen absorbs vast amounts of adhesive.
If you are seeking a realistic glue there are a number of authentic recipes for making your own, and milk will provide the basis for an effective waterproof glue. For the less adventurous, a good quality pva will work just as well. However be prepared to experiment as some are considerably better than others.