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ChalkLine

Layered Linen - Another Look

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Layered linen armour has a very long pedigree. Firstly, I'm not talking about Linothorax (which may or may not be factual, not that this matters) but rather linen armour made by stitching.
Linen, the cloth from the Flax plant, was the primary cloth for most of Europe during the ancient and medieaval eras along with wool. There was two ways of making 'padded' armour which was by quilting or layering, and I will only discuss layering here.

Tests by Dr. Alan Williams have found that layered linen of 16 layers provides as much protection as 5mm of cuirboilli leather protection, or resistance to about 80 to 90 joules of energy. Now, for comparison the energy produced by the average sword or axe varies from 60 to 130 joules, depending on the strike.

The maximum layers that linen armour can have and still be practical as armour is about 30, and this was the general amount used in the 15th Century when such armour was worn alongside 'articulated plate' ('white harness'). At 30 layers of linen the protection level is around 200 joules resistance, but that amount of layers was only worn on the torso. This armour was extremely common.

Now, linen armour has positives and negatives associated with it in comparison with metal defences. It could become soaked with fluid and heavy. In this condition it did not shed heat well and rapidly became oppressive. It could become infested with vermin and become a vector for diseases such as typhus, a common military encampment disease. It was however lighter and easier to manouevre in compared to the equivalent metal armours with their significant resistances to piercing.

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Extracts from The Armies and Enemies of Dragon Pass [non-canonical]. There's more.

Flax grows in a wide range of environments and climates, so long as there is adequate water. Its fibers are woven to make linen which is used to make clothes, tents, sails, and armor.

The fibers of the flax plant are obtained by separating out the components of the stem, to remove the outer casing and the inner wooden core by immersing the stems in water, drying and then working them with hammers to break them up. The bundles of usable fibers are removed and combed over a spiked board, then spun into thread using a spindle. Finally, the threads are woven into linen on a frame. Spinning and weaving are laborious and time-consuming processes.

The resulting linen is tan, khaki or brown in color. It can be bleached to become light grey or white by rubbing it with natron or potash, washed, beaten and then placed to bleach in the sun. As linen is resistant to dyeing, the outer layer of linen armor is often personalized with a colored trim, embroidery, or painted designs. Dyed and painted colors tend to wash or flake off; a richly decorated piece is either new or belongs to a wealthy individual able to afford its maintenance.

Linen armor often consists of laminated layers of linen, using glue derived from animal hide with small quantities of vinegar and salt added to inhibit mold. The pieces are saturated with the glue and one piece is placed on top of the other, and left to dry; the process being repeated to add successive layers. Between ten and twenty layers, depending on thickness, can be laminated together to a maximum total thickness of 15mm. Only the outermost layer need be bleached.

Linen linothorax armor is made to a basic design, with the fit modified by adjusting the side ties and how the shoulder-flaps are attached at the front. Unlike metal corselets, a linothorax can be easily altered to fit the wearer over time, or to be worn by someone else of only approximately the same size.

Linen does not stretch or deform when wet, whether from rain, immersion in water, or the wearer’s sweat – the fibers also become stronger, but will degrade over time. The glue, however, is more vulnerable, being soluble in water. this can be ameliorated if the layers are sewn together, or if beeswax is lightly applied as a waterproofing agent.

Quilted: wool or cotton crammed between two layers of linen sewn together provides some protection from blunt trauma but little from penetrating attacks. A thick padding of unspun cotton is more effective. A quilting pattern serves to compress the surface area, bunching the fibers of the stuffing into a denser mass.

Linothorax: torso armor composed of layers of linen fabric or leather laminated or sewn together, often over a leather or felt cloth. Some corselets include a thin layer of metal for additional protection around the waist or chest, or are reinforced by a sheet of scale. The torso piece is laced together on the left-hand side; this is the weakest point but will be protected by the wearer’s shield.

This armor is resistant to broad-headed arrows and slashing weapons, and can provide better protection than a bronze cuirass. It is also easier to repair than metal, as dented and deformed linen can be easily pushed back, when similar damage to metal armor requires a smith and their forge.

Shorter linothorax armor is worn by riders, relying upon pteruges to protect the abdomen and groin, but even a full-length piece permits the wearer a wide range of movement.

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I found Reconstructing Ancient Linen Body Armor: Unraveling the Linothorax by Gregory S. Aldrete, Scott M. Bartell and Alicia Aldrete very informative. Their reconstructions and tests included finding how many layers were practical. I know that there's some controversy over their assumptions, but their methods are workable. There's also debate about whether the armor identified as linothorax is really a spolas, but there's also a debate over whether spolas was actually armor. Given that all examples of ancient linothorax will have long rotted away, it is something we will never know, unless a new text describing the manufacture of linothorax is found, and the ancients tended not to write about 'what everyone knows'.

Cotton was virtually unknown in the ancient Near East, but was used to make fairly effective armor in Mesoamerica. In Glorantha, of course, it seems likely that it grows and is used in Peloria.

Edited by M Helsdon
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The big drawback about fabric armours is that they of course wear out rapidly and battle damage is more severe. A big cut to metal armour might do very little while it might make fabric armour unusable.

However, much later in history than is analogous to Glorantha it was common for warriors to own fabric armour so they could don it quickly if needed, or to wear it in lower-threat environments.

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On 3/14/2019 at 5:17 PM, ChalkLine said:

The big drawback about fabric armours is that they of course wear out rapidly and battle damage is more severe. A big cut to metal armour might do very little while it might make fabric armour unusable.

However, much later in history than is analogous to Glorantha it was common for warriors to own fabric armour so they could don it quickly if needed, or to wear it in lower-threat environments.

The benefits are: cheaper, lighter, and more comfortable in hot or cold conditions. 

Just redrew one of my sketches...

comparison12.png

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