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Linothorax vs Spolas
#1
> LINOTHORAX- Why does this translation error persist?
>
> In the reenactment and living history community, continuing debate is still being based on the authority and veracity of a single word; Linothorax. To understand why this has all the hallmarks of a sinking ship you must first read far and wide from the original context to understand why this word has mislead so many people.
>
> HOMER
> Homer is reputed to have lived anywhere from 1200-800 BCE. No one knows for sure. He was blind (or not). Historians and scholars are not even sure if there indeed was a singular Homer or he was an amalgamation of numerous poets and storytellers, passing along their own flavor to the original tale. This is much the case in later cultural mythologies such as King Arthur. It is an Anthropological norm to see this kind of creativity and expansion of a morality tale as it is carried along in a culture.
>
> In order to stand and defend the word and the meaning of Linothorax you must suspend a tremendous amount of logic and linguistics to achieve this. IF you presume Homer was real; IF you presume he was a singular person; IF you presume he was not writing a fantastic tale but was giving a fictional account and IF you presume he actually lived anywhere in the proximity of the correct time of the Trojan war, then let's begin!
>
> First off, if he indeed did live in the period of the Trojan war, then you would have to agree that this is roughly 1200-1100 BCE - basically early Archaic Greece - a time of little sophistication and no technological development which would be so identified with the Greeks for the next 600 years. Archeologists agree that if the Trojan war took place, it would not be for the reasons enumerated by Homer, nor in any manner like Homer's description. The ruins at Hissarlik confirm a wholesale destruction at the site in roughly this time period. Was it the Greeks? No evidence at all. What we do know for a fact by other accounts is a growing economic and trade conflict with a culture in the region of Troy. The city controlled access to the Black Sea and overland trade routes, thus placing it at a likely continuing conflict with the rising Greek kingdoms, which at this time would be in the late Mycenean period (Nothing remotely like the classical Greeks).
>
> But we won't digress too much off the point, which is, Homer's time period is far removed both in time and culture from his classical descendants. This is where it gets interesting in fact. Homeric Greek is really pretty different from classical Greek. Themistocles or Militiades would have had difficulty in understanding it. Rather like reading Chaucer or Beowolf. Homeric period Greek is Proto-Indo European, and would have been the same root language as the Dacian, Scythians and Trojans. Likely to have been somewhat intelligible to each of these peoples in this time period. Homeric Greek has 6 tenses with irregular tensing being another issue. It also has moods and voices like classical Greek. But unlike the later, Homeric had two additional tenses, voices and moods which had completely vanished from Greek by the 6-5th century. This would necessitate the continuing evolution of his tale down through generations to keep its language current enough to be understood. The term Linothorax essentially is, well, a classical mistranslation, then further passed along like a social disease by 19th century European scholars, basing their translation on only the knowledge of classical Attic Greek.
>
> Homer is using pretty descriptive language, an artificially descriptive language. This tactic in writing is well know and abused even by classical period writers. What this does, however, is remove a great deal of what would be useful forensic descriptions of places, people and things, and gives us a movie script. Rather like basing a history of the 20th century on the Star Wars scripts. In his purposefully drawn out and painfully detailed description of the Greek armies assembled, Homer shows his genius for description. He uses this method to show how a great many Greeks are the same, yet unlike each other, and how they all banded together for this expedition. His descriptions are likely true to a degree but are also obviously fantastic in other regards. Not a great start for using his texts for scientific and absolute reconstructions.
>
> The term Linothorax actually appears only here. He describes not Linen breastplates, nor does he say armor made of linen. The oldest version of this portion states, "linen corseleted". A Corselet is not a breastplate or a Spolas. A Corselet is a wide belt or apron. It is a garment not unknown outside of Greece at this time. Depicted in Egyptian and Hittite art, as well as several other cultures in the period. It is a kind of armor which devolves in the classical period into a kind of ritual or ceremonial badge of office or accomplishment. Herodotus mentions these as being given as great diplomatic offerings to Greek rulers and dignitaries by the Egyptian Pharaoh. One might draw the connection yet further (and could argue) that the Masonic apron is a descendant of what classical Greeks termed a 'Perizoma'. It seems to be confined to that of a ritual garment. Linen 'armor' aprons like these are mentioned in connection with a group of Hoplites gathered at a temple, all wearing their Perizomas, but it seems the aprons are of deliberate Homeric homage. Meant to conjure the heroes of the Trojan War. Several potteries even depict the Perizoma which appears as a Corselet like Homer describes, but are decidedly NOT a Spolas!
>
> DEPICTION
> As stated previously we have depictions of both Corselets and Spolae in the pottery; they are not interchangeable. No depiction on a pot will ever be capable of telling us if the material is linen or leather. The properties of the armor using either material, would be identical if painted on a pot. No love there. The same is also true of the common modern penchant for making white armors. Monochrome and bi-chromatic pottery tells the viewer little if anything about the colors of the armor and equipment. One must source information from many other writers and cultures besides the Greeks to actually get a better idea of what they were up to. Leather dyeing is ancient! In fact, there are several tanneries in the Mediterranean, that have been in continuous operation for over 1,000 years. Coupling a study of their methods and the descriptions of Theophrastus and even Roman writers, tells us that literally any modern color we have today was made and used then. Although the bright anelin dye shades were unachievable in the 5th century, the color range was. The Greek aesthetic and inborn desire for individualism would equate to any combination being possible for an armor. The pot painter may have chosen to paint his own armor on a pot, or that of a friend or family member. To produce an armor reproduction, based on a given piece of pottery, is disingenuous and contrary to the Greek mode of art. They did not make Xeroxes of each other and mass produce objects; that is a Roman methodology. So the Pottery tells us nothing of linen. In fact Homer tells us nothing of it either.
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> All modern recreations using linen as a base material are already making numerous mistakes right off, not even so much in using Homer's term out of context. Homer never, ever in any way, mentions glued layers of linen hardened and formed into armor. That is a complete and total assumption of the modern reenactor. So to assume Homer meant a Linen armor, and not as he wrote a Linen Corselet. So to presume it was glued in layers into a hard shell you must yet further extend the evidence beyond any logic to reconcile it to archeological fact. You are trying to make a linen armor in the form of a Classical Greek armor using technology from 600 years previous to that time period and then apply the construction in a way that is completely unsupported by any description whatsoever. Here's the real rub folks.....
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> You could be correct in constructing Linen armor ONLY if:
> 1. You quilted it together in layers per a possible Mycenean example.
> 2. You cut and shaped the armor's style to be correct to the Archaic period to which Homer's description belongs.
>
Tube and Yoke constructed Spolae belong to the classical Greeks - not to the Homeric Greeks. To mix these up in form and materials in such a nonsensical way is grotesquely irresponsible and lazy researching.
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> ARCHEOLOGY
> No Linen armor has ever been found. Not one scrap! A small patch in a Mycenean trash pile constitutes nothing more than what could have been a sail, a pillow, bedding or who knows. Extensive finds of linens and cloths from Egypt and the Levant show that even untreated linen can well survive to be found today. Even assuming a glued-layer construction, would only enhance the survivability of such an armor. Yet curiously, nothing........
>
> A disintegrated leather armor was found in Vergina. It was quite obvious by observation and testing that the black crusted over ooze on the tomb floor was adipose organic tissue. ie, LEATHER. Hidden within this amorphic pool was bit of gold plaques identical in number and shape to those found on Phillip's iron ceremonial Spolas. Thus Archeologically we can infer this was a leather Spolas.
> Additionally a large and secretive dig underway has unearthed over 275 Hoplites dating from the Archaic to the Hellenistic period. Strangely no linen armor was found. Most of the warriors are wearing their leather armors though, to include all of their panoply and even their sandals.
>
> ECONOMICS
> Greece is famously scant of arable land. Wars have been fought over just a few good acres! It takes one hectare of Flax to produce 4 yards of cloth. To outfit entire armies year after year and generation after generation would have been economic suicide. A process of crop rotation was being used even by the Greeks. You have to balance your food crop and linen crop against your pasture land. The techniques of dividing and rotating their land use is what allowed Greek civilization to progress to the level it had, given their topography. Economically, we know land was the prime source of contention amongst the Greeks. Socially we know sacrifice and food production seemed to be of little contention. We also know everyone wore clothes of linen and wool... everyone. To dedicate that precious flax to fixed military use and deny the civilian population, would have been intolerable. Thus we could infer their ability to rear and expand herds of cattle, goats and sheep in the mountains and passes of their country, was little mentioned as being problematic by the Greeks themselves, and would have been the smartest and cheapest way to provide armor materials. Until today, only scant bits of leather from the period remained, but they do show extensive use of it in all parts of the panoply. The present dig underway shows its widespread use as armor. We also know the Egyptians left linen armors in the passé pile a thousand years before Homer. Are the Greeks dumber somehow?
>
> SUMMARY
> Guess work, wishful thinking, and a poor command of the entirety of Greek history and language will never be an adequate substitute for the physical remains uncovered. One must realize the Ancient Greeks were a not so much removed and simpler people than we ourselves, but were as highly evolved in their application of the resources, knowledge and research. To presume something that is based on pure quess work and form it into what you want it to be, can not shove it forward past the cultural evolution every people undergo. Taking a poetic and vague term and lifting it out of its period and dropping it into another period 600 years removed defies all understanding of Archeology. Under this premise and mindset, it presupposes we should have fought the Iraq War in armor and from horseback. No tank is a match for a broadsword apparently. Warfare changes a lot in little time. Linen armor simply is wrong to the classical period no matter what reasons you give. It is unsupported in literature, in archeology, in period depiction and in anthropology.
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Bill
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#2
There is plenty of evidence of linen armour from all over the world from the bronze age through to the late middle ages. There just is very little evidence for Greek linen armour during the classical or Hellenistic periods.

The term that Homer uses isn't a noun. It is an adjective that means "armoured in linen". Classical writers use something like thorakes linoi or thorakes hoi linoi. Personally I don't think that linothorax is an anachronism. Whether classical Greeks made use of such armour is still open to speculation but I'm inclined to think that they had both leather and linen variants but leather seems to have been more common.

The amount of land and resources required to produce linen armour wouldn't be much different to that required to produce leather armour IMO.
Author: Bronze Age Military Equipment, Pen & Sword Books
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#3
Wow. There is a lot of great reading there. But the problem with Homer is three-fold:

(a) Did he even exist?

(b) If so, was he one person or a composite?

© When did he/they/whoever actually write The Iliad and The Odyssey?

He/they may well have existed nearer to the archaic period than we think. It is most unlikely he existed back in the times of the supposed Trojan War (1180BC[ish]) itself anyway. My guess would be sometime around 800-700 BC (maybe later). He is like the Spartan Lykourgos. Something of an enigma wrapped in a mystery etc. Both of them are more than likely composites or characters who maybe compiled or completed the works of others. I agree that the King Arthur romances and those of Robin Hood are of a similar trend. The Romans also went in for this with the Aeneas myth and their own Trojan forebears. In fact by the time we get to Dark Age Britain we are also into those who wanted to make connections between the Britons and Brutus and even the Trojans too.
[size=75:2kpklzm3]Ghostmojo / Howard Johnston[/size]

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[size=75:2kpklzm3]Xerxes - "What did the guy in the pass say?" ... Scout - "Μολὼν λαβέ my Lord - and he meant it!!!"[/size]
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#4
Personally, I know of no evidence to support the use of linen for armor, that is unless one is to substitute the word "armor" for liners or under garments in later period applications. If there is even a little concrete evidence to show linen being used as armor in Classical Greece, I would welcome the knowledge with open arms. There MAY be some Minoan evidence that shows some use of linen, but this was short-lived for obvious reasons. Xenophon specifically refers to tube and yoke armor and calls it a "spolas". It would seem counter-productive to use linen when leather is so much more resilient, available and economical. I don't think the Greeks ever used linen glued together in layers to make sandals, and the body was no less important to them, with regard to protection. It is only an exercise in logic that directs me to believe an intelligent soldier would not spurn the best (read: strongest; most flexible; most economical) protection available, and that points directly to leather. The Greeks were not a race of aliens who used bizarre methods to achieve a logical end; they were just like us. Linen isn't as readily cultivated as livestock, and is more time-consuming and expensive to produce. IMO it takes much more faith to believe linen was used for armor, simply to justify ones private convictions, than to simply admit the obvious logic of a situation. Homer (whoever he was) was not an historian - he was a poet. Herodotus, Plutarch and Xenophon were better qualified as historians, and were also more contemporary to the subjects of their writings. Homer, on the other hand, lived over 600 years after the Trojan War, and therefore was unfamiliar with the specific details regarding armor. If I had lived in Classical Greece and had to make a choice regarding my personal armor construction materials, I'll give you three guesses as to which material I would choose (and the first two guesses don't count)!
Bill
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#5
Dan and Bill - what sort of colours would the leather have been dyed in your opinions?
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[size=75:2kpklzm3]Xerxes - "What did the guy in the pass say?" ... Scout - "Μολὼν λαβέ my Lord - and he meant it!!!"[/size]
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#6
Bill, i would suggest you to read through ALL the threads here on RAT that covered the topic (they are at least 2 or 3) and in there you will find all the evidence and clues that both theories have to offer.
Dan isn't inclined to believe that both were used by the classical greeks for no reason. There is literary evidence that linen was used in the archaic(mid 6th century) and classical times (5th century). The poet Alkaios mentions line cuirasses hanging from the cealing of a great hall, together with shiny bronze greaves and other equipment. The poem is fragmentary unfortunately.
And there is a historian (can't remember who he is) who mentions that a greek city was preparing for a siege by supplying their citizens with spolades AND line cuirasses.
I am on the side of leather being the most usual matterial for the tube and yoke cuirasses, and as for the colour, there were ways to produce white leather, and Athens had a big trade of it. It was being used for sandals.
But we should be careful at being so definite.
Khaire
Giannis
Giannis K. Hoplite
a.k.a.:Giannis Kadoglou
a.k.a.:Thorax
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#7
All I was asking for was a specific instance to prove linen was used in Classical Greece, and as of yet, I still know of none. I have an open mind, but hearsay evidence is not admissible in any court - it can lead to speculation, and that can lead to opinions not based in fact. If you are sure there are no absolutes, then I would ask, "are you absolutely sure?" Cool The responsible archeologist or anthropologist bases his opinions on hard evidence (and usually on more than a singular item). If this weren't so, we could start a school of belief stating the Rosetta Stone was a comic book, then castigate anyone who disagreed, because it made us uncomfortable to hear contrary evidence.

I would imagine any color one could make dye from today was available back then (although purple was a rare color to come by for the mostpart). Sandals were also dyed different colors, like we dye our leather shoes today.
Bill
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#8
Quote:Homeric period Greek is Proto-Indo European, and would have been the same root language as the Dacian, Scythians and Trojans. Likely to have been somewhat intelligible to each of these peoples in this time period.
This all may be ultimately inconsequential as regards the argument, but I feel it ought to be said. "Homeric Greek" denotes a form of the Ionic dialect. But even Mycenaean Greek was far removed from PIE and wouldn't have been intelligible to speakers of other IE branches like the Dacians and Skythians. (We don't know what language the Trojans spoke, but a reasonable guess would be some sort of Anatolian.)

I don't wish to take a side in this argument, but I find the statement that thorax means "corselet" and corselet means a wide belt or apron to be really striking, and I'd like to know what the basis is for it. Regarding the specific occurrences of linothorax, Lattimore translates it as "armoured in linen," and I don't find anything in the surrounding words indicating that the item was a belt or apron. Elsewhere there are references to thorakes going on the chest, and Agamemnon's reaches up to his throat (XI l. 26).

I'm having a bit of trouble tracking down online the original sections of the text from which Pollux's and Xenophon's quotes were drawn, but as given here, "The spolas is a thorax of leather, which hangs from the shoulders, so that Xenophon says 'and the spolas instead of the thorax.'" Now, to me these statements would imply that the words spolas and thorax at least could mean items similar in form and function.

Further, I also don't understand what the assumptions that Homer was a) a single person and b) lived near the time of the Trojan War have to do with the discussion. I would think that someone arguing for a linen T&Y in or near the Classical period would prefer a later date for the composition of the Iliad, assuming that a linothorax is a linen T&Y.
Dan D'Silva

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I ride the winds of fate
Prepared to go where my heart belongs,
Back to the past again.

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#9
Quote:Further, I also don't understand what the assumptions that Homer was a) a single person and b) lived near the time of the Trojan War have to do with the discussion.
Agreed. Back on topic! Discussing the person of Homer warrants quite another thread.
Robert Vermaat
MODERATOR
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#10
The actual author of the Iliad is irrelevant. Enough details described in the text has shown up in the archaeological record to be fairly certain that the author was describing actual items and places.

There is physical evidence for Greek linen armour dating to the end of the Bronze age. Two pieces of layered linen (around 10-15 layers) have been uncovered at Patras and are intact enough to resemble the armour being depictecd in some Mycenaean illustrations. This makes it more likely that the fragment found at Mycenae was also armour. We now have all three types of evidence - iconographic, literary, and archaeological - for Mycenaean layered linen armour.
Author: Bronze Age Military Equipment, Pen & Sword Books
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#11
Quote:Personally, I know of no evidence to support the use of linen for armor
As already said, there is plenty of evidence of layered linen armour. In Medieval Europe it was called a padded jack. It was quilted not glued. All types of layered textile armour from Europe, Asia, Middle East, India, Russia, America, etc, etc, are quilted. The "glued linen" theory is complete bollocks IMO. There isn't a single example from anywhere in the world in four thousand years of military history.

Quote: It would seem counter-productive to use linen when leather is so much more resilient, available and economical.
Williams conducted tests of both quilted linen and hardened leather and concluded that linen provided far better protection against blade edges and points.
See The Knight and the Blast Furnace.

I don't know about Greece but in Western Europe leather was more expensive than linen and leather armour was mainly used in tournaments while linen was used in battle. The further east you look, the more common leather armour becomes. By far the most common form of leather armour is scale/lamellar, not a solid cuirass.
Author: Bronze Age Military Equipment, Pen & Sword Books
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#12
Quote:A disintegrated leather armor was found in Vergina. It was quite obvious by observation and testing that the black crusted over ooze on the tomb floor was adipose organic tissue. ie, LEATHER. Hidden within this amorphic pool was bit of gold plaques identical in number and shape to those found on Phillip's iron ceremonial Spolas. Thus Archeologically we can infer this was a leather Spolas.

Is this find contested? I don't ever recall reading about this before. Which source(s) would be best to read about these finds, if any exist at all?

Quote:Additionally a large and secretive dig underway has unearthed over 275 Hoplites dating from the Archaic to the Hellenistic period. Strangely no linen armor was found. Most of the warriors are wearing their leather armors though, to include all of their panoply and even their sandals.

Same here as well - obviously if the excavation is ongoing, then nothing has been published. However, does anyone know of any news articles/blogs that might be covering this excavation? If this is correct, that hundreds of hoplites, in full regalia, have been discovered all wearing leather spolas...wouldn't that be just about the last nail in the coffin for the linothorax/spolas debate?

Thank you for the discussion, gentlemen.
Alexander
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#13
I too have seen similar tests of leather and linen with opposite results, which actually proves nothing, as the Greeks didn't use linen for armor, so the comparison is invalid. I could make a cuirass out of granite that would out perform any leather on earth, but again, invalid. There are also many words in our own language which have undergone changes in meaning (i.e.: "gay"), so it is fair to "assume" some words used in ancient literature could also be somewhat distorted as well (especially in poetry - eg: "forsooth"). My point is ONLY this: there are over 500 corpses that were recently found in northern Greece, dating from Archaic to Hellenistic, that were wearing LEATHER armor (also read "NOT LINEN"). I have forensic evidence in my corner... those who disagree have poetry.

BTW: Many of these corpses were festooned in golden articles as well as material. Details of the exact location have (for obvious reasons) been withheld. This isn't unknown to the world - simple google research yielded this link, which has been online since 2008: http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/...-anci.html
Bill
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#14
Hi
I haven't found any dead hoplite in full kit, sorry, but I work everyday with leather, thin leather, thick leather, cow leather and lamb leather, making shoes, belts, subarmalis (a lot of different kind of clients here), purses, segmentatae (a LOT of different kind of clients...) etc.
I have also made some shield covers with glued linen, glued felt with linen and rawhide alone or with textile base.
If I had to go to a battle, apart to try to loose some 20 kilos, I will prefer ALWAYS some kind of glued textile protection or rawhide protected againts water (sweat).
If I have to use some protection made of tanned leather, I will fear even a one euro cutter... that's what I always use to cut the leather.
Jorge Mambrilla
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#15
So, you are an archeologist then? Tell me please how many hoplites you have discovered that were clothed in linen armor or had linen-covered hoplons?
Bill
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