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The natural world. Looking pretty for 3.5b years.

Real Warriors Wear Plants

Author: Hugh Bollinger/Saturday, July 12, 2014/Categories: art and design, plants

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 still 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 Wars  or defeated the Persians dressed in kilts and tunics made of linen?

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


Flax Plant and Ancient Linen Fabric (credit: Wiki-commons)

The unique gear had been known from historical war chronicles and depictions on surviving ceramic vases but no extant samples survived the millennia because they decompose. Now, research conducted by the  Linothorx Project  at the University of Wisconsin has recreated the outfit and it works as described by history. Using available literary and artistic sources, an interdisciplinary team including historians, archeologists, and designers reconstructed several linothorax suits using only authentic fabrics and glues that would have been available to ancient Greek designers.

Classical Linothorax Design and Contemporary Reconstruction (credit: Linothorax Project )

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

Linothorax with Arrow Test  (credit: Linothorax Project)

A video has been produced on their research and a book,  Reconstruction Ancient Linen Body Armor , was been published about the fascinating project and its results.

To the genius and creativity that produced the Parthenon, the natural histories of Herodotus, and theater works that continues to inspire our thinking today you can now add skilled Greek designers who constructed suits of linen to protect their warriors in battle. Perhaps the linothorax might even inspire a military fashion trend even now.


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