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Modern soldiers test ancient Greek armour to show it worked for war


A modern replica of 3500-year-old armour from the Mycenaean civilisation

Andreas Flouris and Marija Marković

Modern military volunteers donned replicas of ancient Greek armour and engaged in exercises inspired by Homer’s epic poem The Iliad. The demonstration shows how elite Bronze Age warriors could have fought in heavy protective gear during sustained combat.

The experiment’s results strongly suggest that the 3500-year-old Dendra armour suit – one of the oldest complete suits of metal armour from Europe’s Bronze Age – was indeed suitable for battle. Some scholars have argued that it was merely a ceremonial outfit for the Mycenaean civilisation that once dominated mainland Greece and the Aegean Sea’s islands.

Andreas Flouris at the University of Thessaly in Greece and his colleagues recruited modern Greece’s Hellenic Marines to wear 23-kilogram Dendra armour replicas as each participant walked, ran, rode on a replica chariot and performed combat moves involving a sword, spear, bow and arrow and even a stone.

These activities followed Homer’s descriptions of heavily armoured elite warriors, surrounded by bands of followers, roaming the battlefield, periodically attacking the enemy and retreating to safety behind the main battle lines to rest and eat, says co-author Ken Wardle at the University of Birmingham in the UK.


“Homeric fighting activity was characterised by hit-and-run tactics, a form of physical effort described in modern physiology as ‘high-intensity interval exercise’,” says Flouris.

Throughout the 11-hour exercise period, the researchers recorded the armour wearers’ heart rate, core body temperature and average skin temperature, tested their blood and measured the energy cost of each activity. They also assigned an Iliad-inspired Mediterranean meal plan, featuring heavier breakfasts and dinners along with snacks such as dry bread, honey, goat cheese and onions.

The armour-wearing volunteers successfully endured the regimen, despite reporting signs of fatigue and soreness. But they could have probably exerted even more effort in a real combat situation “had their life depended on it”, says team member Yiannis Koutedakis, also at the University of Thessaly.

The team also used a computer-based mathematical model to show how a warrior wearing the Dendra armour could have lasted the entire 11-hour combat period in all but the most extreme outdoor conditions and high temperatures.

“Though few archaeologists would view Homer as a reliable source for Bronze Age warfare, and indeed the study only engages lightly with archaeological studies of warfare and bronze armour, their rigorous protocols for testing the armour are important for measuring its practicality for sustained use in battle,” says Barry Molloy at the University College Dublin in Ireland.

The study’s Dendra armour demonstration may help interpret similar artefacts, such as armour discovered in the so-called Griffin Warrior Tomb in Greece, say Sharon Stocker and Jack Davis at the University of Cincinnati in Ohio. “Though we doubt that the Hellenic Marines will adopt it as their official gear any time soon,” says Stocker.

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