Marines Fought Each Other in Ancient Mycenaean Armor to See How Well It Worked

Marines Fought Each Other in Ancient Mycenaean Armor to See How Well It Worked

Sixty-four years ago, a team of archaeologists found a 3,500-year-old suit of armor in Dendra, Greece, several miles from the ancient site of Mycenae. Known as the Dendra Panoply, researchers were unsure if the resplendent suit of armor was purely ceremonial or battle-ready.

Now, a team of experimental archaeologistshas put replicas of the armor through rigorous testing using Greek Marines and found that the ancient armor was indeed fit for use in Bronze Age combat. The team’s findings were published today in PLoS One.

“First, we analyzed Homer’s Iliad and combined the information that we extracted with physiological and biometeorological knowledge to create an 11-hour combat simulation protocol replicating the daily activities performed by elite warriors in the Late Bronze Age,” said Andreas Flouris, an exercise scientist at the University of Thessaly and lead author of the study, in an email to Gizmodo. “The references in Homer’s Iliad can now be seen as real memories not poetic fantasy.”

The actual Dendra armor.
Photo: Schuppi / Wikimedia Commons

The study authors recruited thirteen volunteers from the Hellenic Armed Forces Marines and ran them through exercises informed by the descriptions of combat in Homer’s epic while in replica Dendra armor, made from 95% copper and 5% zinc—the closest alloy to the original bronze possible, the team said in the paper.

In preparing the combat simulation, the team considered aspects of Bronze Age warfare detailed by Homer including the environments in which battles took place, the daily duration of army operations, activities of the warriors throughout the day, the amount of food and water consumed by fighters, and the actual physical characteristics of the warriors. The simulated combat actions included dodging spear throws and strikes (of course), encounters between foot warriors and chariots, and a “chariot vs. warrior on ship” exercise in which the participants shot arrows at close range. The research team weighed the volunteers and took urine and blood samples before and after the exercise module.

The Marines were not physically constrained by the armor during the combat simulation, the team found, nor did it cause particular strain on them to wear it. In other words, while it’s still unknown if the actual Dendra panoply was used in battle, it certainly was designed to be.

“The Dendra armour was made for use in battle, not just for show (i.e., for ceremonial purposes), which means that Mycenaean warriors were some of the best equipped in the Eastern Mediterranean at the end of the Bronze Age,” said Yiannis Koutedakis, a sport scientist at the University of Thessaly, in an email to Gizmodo.

The researchers also developed a freely-available software for archaeologists to produce simulations of other Bronze Age combat scenarios, to promote more insights into similarly ancient conflicts.

More: The Experimental Future of Digging up the Past

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