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Occurrence of Verdigris and other patinas in the common hoplite panoply.
Is it safe to assume that there was no such thing as a uniform panoply in terms of looks - even in more professionalized armies like Sparta or the Sacred Band of Thebes? That helmets, greaves and cuirasses were of different make, models and even materials and therefore would be quite different from another? And that those differences in make, alloys, contamination and age would give for example helmets different patinas - so that in the same units one would see some with black helmets, some with green mixed in with those that were new and shining?

Ive read that some pieces of armour in ancient Greece was protected with a coating of tinn. What exactly did this protect against - bronze disease or just verdigris? How common was this practice and to what extent did it work?
Hi Anatol,

the bronzes you see in art galleries and museums are given a patina using sprayers and paintbrushes. I have seen a video of the workers in Auguste Rodin's foundry doing that, and here is how a modern foundry does it I don't know of any evidence of this before the 19th century.

Modern bronze and copper left outdoors acquires a patina because rain drops on it and birds poop on it and the owners are too cheap to polish it regularly.

But ancient arms and armour were stored somewhere clean and dry inside, and on campaign they had wicker baskets or leather cases to protect their equipment from the weather. They sometimes painted designs on bronze, but I don't know any evidence for bronze being deliberately given a green-brown patina, whereas there are dozens of sources from the Iliad and Alcaeus onwards talking about how important it was for bronze helmets to shine like the gods! Polishing bronze is not a lot of work, you just need a rag, some dust, and some water, and in a world where grain is ground by hand, polishing a helmet (or saying "boy, go polish my helmet before dinner.") is nothing.

So old bronze would not be likely to have a patina, unless it was nailed to a wall as a trophy: polishing it up would have been just part of getting it back into service, like replacing the leather parts and deciding whether it was so old-fashioned that you needed to have a bronzeworker reshape it to look more like what the kaloi k'agathoi are wearing. I polish my bronze swords for a few minutes every few years, it is not a big deal.

Tinning gives bronze a different shiny look, and reduces the need to polish. The same with gilt bronze armour like the Persian helmet from Olympia or the Chalcidian helmet from Haifa Bay.
Nullis in verba

I have not checked this forum frequently since 2013, but I hope that these old posts have some value
Jeffrey Hildebrandt has mentioned elsewhere that they must have applied something to the bronze to protect the finish, or armour would have been destroyed in a generation or two from polishing.. I have tried shellac with some success, but hard to say what originally was used --perhaps some kind of oil with dissolved beeswax?
I think Jeff overestimates how often these things were polished. In most cases they would only be polished when they were being brought back into service. If they were on display then regular maintenance would simply involve wiping off the dust. A proper polish would be done maybe once a year or when important guests were coming for dinner.
Author: Bronze Age Military Equipment, Pen & Sword Books
That makes sense. Last thing anyone needs to be doing is looking for an ancient magical metal sealant.
Thanks for your replies! I then take it that most helmets and metal armour would have been more or less shiny...

Anyone who can access this?

(09-29-2018, 11:52 PM)Feinman Wrote: That makes sense.  Last thing anyone needs to be doing is looking for an ancient magical metal sealant.

anything magical is worth looking for... (besides, isn’t finding something magical the whole point of learning about the ancients?)  Wink
Oh yeah, I think I have seen that article before, and another similar one. A lot more tin plating than is commonly assumed!
More metal armour was painted than we'd like to think.
Author: Bronze Age Military Equipment, Pen & Sword Books
I agree, and also, gentle polishing is not that damaging.  You don't need aggressive cleaners or hard sand, just a rag and maybe some dust.  The important thing is that you clean it every time you use it, and store it somewhere safe from water and debris.

People who try to shellack metal tools such as armour find it is a disaster, because the coating yellows and because eventually decay starts underneath and the only solution is to strip it off.  People obviously have more success with waxes, oils, and other fluid coatings on steel but I don't know of evidence for waxing bronze in antiquity.

In later periods, ferrous plate armour only had a working life of a generation or two anyways.  Eventually it would be too old-fashioned or too worn and get remade into something else or put away as a curiosity.

Really, the best thing is to buy something from Neil Burridge, put it up on a high shelf and watch what happens to it!  As long as you don't make a bunch of thumbprints then ignore them, I think you will find that it needs less maintenance than you think.
Nullis in verba

I have not checked this forum frequently since 2013, but I hope that these old posts have some value
You can find Manti's thesis on a British repository and download her article on ResearchGate

Nothing lasts forever, but if you don't neglect it, and don't overpolish it, ferrous and copper-alloy armour lasts a good long time.  Painting, tinning, and gilding can definitely reduce the maintenance further.
Nullis in verba

I have not checked this forum frequently since 2013, but I hope that these old posts have some value
They use olive oil on all the bronze in the Sydney Opera House. It was a traditional family remedy brought over from Italy by one of the maintenance workers forty years ago and they have used it ever since.
Author: Bronze Age Military Equipment, Pen & Sword Books
Olive oil! And they were marinating in it already! Shellac isn't bad and removes with alcohol and has been used traditionally to protect brass, but wasn't used in ancient times. I will be trying olive oil now.
Ok, if people today are oiling brass and bronze ornaments with olive oil, the ancients may well have done so too!
Nullis in verba

I have not checked this forum frequently since 2013, but I hope that these old posts have some value
In the past I've used boiled linseed oil on bare steel painted on and left to dry, it was effective even under very wet conditions as it doesn't just rub off and meant I didn't have to re-polish after every event.. I expect it would work just as well on other metal, anything which will create a barrier between the metal and oxygen should...

Tinning is very effective more so if it is a low silver content (silver tin is a bit harder) pieces I have that were hand tinned nearly 20 years ago are still as new without any treatment what so ever.. in any case it would only need a gentle polish if it did...


"And the four bare walls stand on the seashore. a wreck a skeleton a monument of that instability and vicissitude to which all things human are subject. Not a dwelling within sight, and the farm labourer, and curious traveller, are the only persons that ever visit the scene where once so many thousands were congregated." T.Lewin 1867
Thanks allot eveyone this cleared up my confusion!

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