Chariots

Oct. 6th, 2011 07:00 pm
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𐀺 𐀏

Wo-ka

Chariot

The Mycenaeans were a chariot-using people, and chariots and chariot parts are lovingly inventoried in the Linear B records.  The Mycenaean chariot was small, swift, and typically only carried two passengers; the Iliad speaks of the Greek heroes and their charioteers.

Homer does not mention the chariot actively being used in warfare, merely as a kind of taxi ferrying heroes to and from the battlefield.  By Homer’s time, chariot warfare had gone out of fashion, but in the thirteenth century B.C., the time of the Trojan War, chariots were mobile fighting platforms from which warriors could hack, impale, shoot, or simply run down their enemies.  The Bettany Hughes documentary Helen of Troy includes a wonderful demonstration by warfare expert Mike Loades on how chariots would have been used at Troy.

The Mycenaean chariot was made from lightweight wood or wicker, with a flexible platform of plaited leather or perhaps more wicker.  The front was usually covered with hide or painted leather.  The wheels were also lightweight, and spoked.

Here is a painted clay model of a chariot.  Perhaps it was a child’s toy.  I can imagine a prince like the young Orestes playing with such an object.

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A few examples of Mycenaean armor survive, none more famous than the Dendra panoply found in an Argive tomb near Midea in 1960.  It is constructed from fifteen separate pieces of bronze, which would have been padded inside with leather, and held together with leather thongs.  It looked something like a barrel when worn, and would have been quite cumbersome.  The cuirass was formed of two pieces, and was hinged on the left side.   When worn, the armor would have protected the wearer from the neck to the knees; the wearer would have supplemented this protection with greaves and arm guards.   Even with this supplemental protection, however, the back of the heels were still vulnerable.  So the legend of Achilles' heel might have some truth behind it.

Armor of this type dates to around 1400 B.C., and was inventoried at Pylos, Tiryns, and Knossos, with the Linear B symbol 𐂫.  It would not have been widely worn, except by the elite, and perhaps only on ceremonial occasions.  By the time of the Trojan War, in 1250 B.C., warriors would have worn bronze scale armor, leather, and/or laminated linen for protection.

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An image featuring two gentlemen in reproduction Mycenaean armor.  You can buy the armor and helmets here, though the weapons and clothing are not for sale.

Mycenaean war gear was not uniform, and basically consisted of whatever the wearer could afford or scavenge.  High-class warriors, such as Achilles, would have put on a gaudy show to impress and intimidate both friend and foe.


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The boar tusk helmet is synonymous with the Mycenaeans.  A typical boar tusk helmet took roughly twenty to thirty tusks, split lengthwise, to create, meaning it might take anywhere from ten to twenty boar to create a single helmet.  That's a lot of hunting!  These tusks would be drilled and stitched in multiple rows to a leather helmet, which would be padded inside with felt.  Some helmets had cheek guards, while others did not.  Decoration ranged from simple horsetail crests to elaborate curving crests designed to intimidate and impress; one should imagine only kings and the most fearsome warriors wore these high crests.




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