Before the Archaic Period, the only effective armour available was of bronze or iron. The high cost of metals meant that only the very wealthy could afford armour. The battlefield was therefore dominated by archers and heavily-armoured aristocrats. The Archaic Period is marked by the appearance of affordable laminate body armour, and the rise to battlefield supremacy of phalanxes of hoplites. The balance of power passes from the country aristocrats with their levies of peasant archers to the substantial merchants and artisans of the cities, packed into phalanx, and each with his spear, shield, and laminate cuirass.

A typical cuirass consists of a multitude of layers of hemp cloth glued together to a thickness of about two centimetres, often dyed some bright and significant colour, and lacquered to prevent water damage. The cuirass is flexible enough for the wearer to get in through an opening in the left side, which is then drawn closed with laces, and protected by the wearer’s shield. With shoulder-guards (sometimes of steel) laced on, the cuirass protects the wearer from shoulder to hip. Two overlapping skirts of half-thickness, semi-flexible ‘feathers’, each about five centimetres wide, project from the lower edges of the cuirass, to provide protection for the groin, buttocks, and upper thighs. The cuirass is quite heavy, and very hot to wear. Hoplites who undertake long marches in armour suffer greatly from heatstroke. Such armies as have to move great distances carry their armour in ships or carts.

Laminate is not suitable for armouring limbs or making helmets. Steel helmets are worn by most soldiers who expect to come into contact with the enemy, and steel greaves by many hoplites.

Copyright © 1991 by Brett Evill. All rights reserved.