New Research Reveals That Ancient Greek Armor Was Much More Effective in Battle Than Previously Thought

Replica Mycenaean Armor

Recent research challenges the traditional view that a 3,500-year-old Mycenaean suit of armor was used solely for ceremonial purposes, suggesting it also served in battle. This conclusion comes from a study where Greek military volunteers wore a replica of the Dendra armor in battle simulations. The findings, showing the armor’s flexibility and resilience under combat conditions, provide new insights into Late Bronze Age warfare and its implications on historical and social transformations, potentially influencing the transition from the Bronze to the Iron Age. Credit: Andreas Flouris and Marija Marković

Recent research indicates that a 3,500-year-old Mycenaean armor, once thought to be ceremonial, was also practical for battle, reshaping our understanding of Late Bronze Age warfare and its impact on historical transitions.

New research suggests that a 3,500-year-old Mycenaean suit of armor, previously thought to be ceremonial, may actually have been used in battle.

Researchers worked with a group of Greek military volunteers who wore a replica of the Dendra armor during extended simulations of the rigors of battle.

One of the best and most complete examples of Mycenaean-era full-body armor, the bronze panoply was discovered in a tomb in the Greek village of Dendra, by Greek and Swedish archaeologists in the 1960s. But since its discovery, the question has remained as to whether the armor was purely for ceremonial purposes, or for use in battle.

This question has limited historians’ and academics’ understanding of ancient warfare and its consequences, which underpinned the social transformation of the prehistoric world.

Man Wearing Replica Mycenaean Armor

Man wearing replica armor and hitting a shield with a spear/staff. Credit: Andreas Flouris and Marija Marković

But now, new research from an international team of researchers, published in the scientific journal PLOS ONE, has found that the armor was suitable for active warfare, providing new insights into war in the Late Bronze Age.

The research team conducted human experiments with a metal replica of the armor, which was created in the 1980s by staff and students at the former Bournville College of Art in Birmingham, UK at the invitation of the late Diana Wardle. A group of Greek special armed forces personnel wearing the replica armor completed an 11-hour simulation of Late Bronze Age combat protocols based on details from Homer’s Iliad.

Physiological Assessments and Results

Professor Andreas Flouris, from the University of Thessaly, who led the research said: “The armor that our volunteers wore was the same dimensions and similar weight to the Bronze Age original. We also monitored calorie intake based on a ‘Homeric diet’ (about 4,443 calories) derived from relevant descriptions found in the Iliad, and calorie expenditure together with the stresses placed on the volunteers’ bodies under temperatures typical for a Greek summer of 30-36 degrees Celsius. When the 11-hour battle protocol began we measured heart rate, oxygen consumption, core temperature, fluid loss, and muscular function.

“We found that the armor allowed full flexibility of movement and did not exert excessive physiological stress on the body. This means that despite earlier views which classified it as only a ceremonial outfit, the armor could be worn for extended periods by fit individuals in battle. Sixty years on from the discovery of the Dendra armor we now understand, despite its cumbersome appearance at first sight, that it is not only flexible enough to permit almost every movement of a warrior on foot but also resilient enough to protect the wearer from most blows.”

The findings add much-needed detail to contemporary historical records of armor found in Greece and Egypt – records such as numerous sketches of armor on Linear B tablets (syllabic script used for writing Mycenaean Greek) found at Knossos in Crete, as well as illustrations of Mycenaean warriors on Egyptian papyrus.

The researchers argue that findings from these experiments show that the Mycenaeans had such a powerful impact in the Eastern Mediterranean in part because of their armor technology.

Dr Ken Wardle, Senior Lecturer in Classics, Ancient History and Archaeology at the University of Birmingham who collaborated on the study, explained: “Hittite records of military interactions with the Ahhiyawa, another name for the Mycenaeans, show that they had a substantial presence in western Asia Minor in the second half of the 2nd Millennium BC. Given that the Hittite kingdom dominated most of Anatolia and, at times, the northern parts of Syria and Mesopotamia we must understand that only a significant military force could oppose them or gain such respect as recorded in the Hittite archives.

“Descriptions of bronze armor used in the Iliad were thought to be later interpolations or poetic license, but this research suggests otherwise. Viewing the armor in light of these historical records, knowing that it is possible it was used in battle, helps to shed much-needed light on one of history’s most momentous turning points: the collapse of the Eastern Mediterranean Bronze Age civilizations towards the end of the 2nd Millennium BC; a time of destruction and upheaval that marked the beginning of the Age of Iron.”

Reference: “Analysis of Greek prehistoric combat in full body armour based on physiological principles: A series of studies using thematic analysis, human experiments, and numerical simulations” by Andreas D. Flouris, Stavros B. Petmezas, Panagiotis I. Asimoglou, João P. Vale, Tiago S. Mayor, Giannis Giakas, Athanasios Z. Jamurtas, Yiannis Koutedakis, Ken Wardle and Diana Wardle, 22 May 2024, PLOS ONE.
DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0301494

5 Comments on "New Research Reveals That Ancient Greek Armor Was Much More Effective in Battle Than Previously Thought"

  1. Sublime Evans | May 29, 2024 at 7:11 am | Reply

    I am NOT a fan of this! The Greeks were stupid and dumb and to say they weren’t is fully untrue!

    • I seriously cannot tell whether or not youre joking…

      • Clyde Spencer | May 29, 2024 at 2:27 pm | Reply

        One cannot be certain. However, without any kind notice that it is meant as satire, I think we have to accept it at face value. It reminds me of the old saying that when one points a finger at another, there are three finger pointing back at the accuser.

  2. Richard Indritz | May 29, 2024 at 1:00 pm | Reply

    The article contains little active information for a neophyte reviewer: what is/are the differences between Mycean and other local armor; how did this affect combat outcomes; how was use different; why wasn’t Mycean armor further developed/used, etc. The reader has to be a specialist in this type of armor to make any sense of the report. Who are they aiming for as potential readers?

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