One of the oldest pieces of armor ever discovered has just been tested in a Marine Corps mock battle.

One of the oldest pieces of armor ever discovered has just been tested in a Marine Corps mock battle.


Researchers have demonstrated that the 3,500-year-old Mycenaean armor of Dendra was not merely for ceremonial use but was functional enough for prolonged combat.

A new study led by a team of Greek researchers and published in the open access journal PLOS ONE utilized a series of interdisciplinary studies combining thematic analysis, human experiments and numerical simulations to provide new insights into the military capabilities of ancient Greek warriors.

Discovered in 1960 near the village of Dendra in southern Greece, the Dendra Armor is one of the oldest complete suits of armor in Europe. Made of hammered bronze plates, it consists of a breastplate, shoulder plates, breastplate and lower protective plates, covering the wearer from the neck to the knees. Despite its impressive construction, whether it was ever actually used in battle has been a subject of debate among historians and archaeologists for decades.

The research team, led by Andreas Floris of the University of Thessaly and Ken Wardle of the University of Birmingham, took a multifaceted approach to assess the armour’s functionality.

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Volunteer Marines wear replica Dendra armor during a mock battle during a demonstration study. (Images: Andreas Floris and Marija Markovic)

First, rThe researchers conducted a thematic analysis of two of Homer’s best-known works. IliadWe extracted detailed information about Late Bronze Age warfare, including battle tactics, daily activities and environmental conditions. This literary analysis was complemented by a thorough review of the existing academic literature to ensure our findings are consistent with the best available evidence.

Next, 13 male Greek Marines wore replica Dendra Armor and participated in an 11-hour mock combat protocol. The protocol was based on thematic analysis and included various combat movements, nutrition, and daily routines described in the Iliad. Physiological measurements were taken to evaluate the burden and effectiveness of the armor.

Finally, a numerical model was developed to simulate the thermoregulatory system of a warrior wearing Dendra armour under different environmental conditions and combat intensities, a Late Bronze Age warrior model, which was validated against experimental data from human studies.

The results of this study tell an interesting historical story. Human testing revealed that Marine Corps participants could successfully complete 11 hours of simulated combat without significant physical strain. Physiological measurements showed moderate to high levels of effort, mild hyperthermia, and significant energy expenditure, but no significant physical strain. Numerical simulations further confirmed that Dendra Armor is suitable for combat use under a variety of conditions.


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“It’s clear that this type of armor was suitable for ceremonial purposes as well as for combat,” Floris says. He said in an interview. “The effectiveness and versatility of the Mycenaean sword and spear have long been recognized. The addition of ‘heavy’ armour would have given Mycenaean warrior elites a considerable advantage over those equipped with shields solely for protection, and over those wearing the lighter ‘scale’ armour used in the Middle East.”

These finds call into question the long-held belief that Dendra armour was purely ceremonial: rather, the study provides strong evidence that the armour was practical for prolonged combat, and suggests that the Mycenaean military success in the eastern Mediterranean was due in part to their advanced armour technology.

The implications of this study go beyond being a historical curiosity: it offers valuable lessons for modern defense technology. Its multidisciplinary approach, combining historical literature, experimental archaeology, and modern physiological and numerical analysis, can serve as a model for evaluating the effectiveness of modern military equipment.

MJ Banias covers space, security and technology for The Debrief. Email him at mj@thedebrief.org or follow him on Twitter. @mjbanias





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