Friday, April 3, 2015

The Minoans: Warfare

Minoan nobles attacking a city, from the Age of Bronze mod for Rome II

Arthur Evans had a terrible idea about the Minoans: he thought that since they heavily painted nature and he did not find walls, he pictured their civilization as at harmony with its surroundings and as having a distaste for warfare. He pictured them as a peaceable trading empire, with its dominance in the marketplace and not the sword. This image turns out to be entirely false. Not only are there a few depictions of the Minoan military in frescoes, but the weapons they used are littered across Crete and the Aegean. Their cities in fact did have walls, and many cities have fire destruction levels. These levels are not automatic indicators of violence, and likely some were accidental fires or the product of arson as opposed to the results of suffering a full scale invasion. Some destruction levels suspiciously only include civic buildings, suggesting the results of popular unrest or coups. The complexities of ruling a bronze age city included accidental fires, riots, coups, raids, and the threat of foreign invasion and sacking. Minoan Crete's political history was just as complicated and violent as any other bronze age civilizations. Castleden suggests that large spectator sports such as bull leaping, wrestling, and boxing, were used as societal stress relievers.

Various Minoan soldiers

Minoan nobles with figure eight shields from the Age of Bronze mod for Rome II

Minoan nobles with figure eight shields from the Age of Bronze mod for Rome II

By the birth and flourishing of the OT period, around 2,000-1,800 BCE, many coastal settlements on Crete had built walls. Some villages and cities had to learn the hard way that such defenses were a necessity, such as Agia Photiou which was a small settlement on the coast of Crete. Originally it did not have walls, but it was burned down (either intentionally or accidentally), and when it was rebuilt the entire village was redesigned with defense in mind. The old haphazard layout was trashed, the village was now centered around a large circular building in addition to walls around the whole town.

Minoan nobles with various shields from the Age of Bronze mod for Rome II

The Minoans main defense, from at least external enemies, were their naval fleets. Small isolated stone buildings found across the coastline around Pylos were most likely coast guards, a ring of watchtowers directly under the supervision of the nearby large city. These buildings are hard to categorize if they were not for this purpose, as they are single structure settlements, not the centerpieces of a domestic village, and are only found along the coast. The settlement at Khamaizi in Crete is also very similar to this formulation, and this system of watchtower defense was also probably found across Crete.

Minoan soldiers during the NT period

The temple palaces were not only bastions of culture and bureaucracy, but strong defensive positions as well. None of the large temple cities have walls, as Mycenae does, but even then the temples often had small entrances and easily defensible narrow passageways. At the Knossian labyrinth both sides of the procession hall had large double doors, which when closed could have offered some amount of protection. The meticulous records at Knossos also mention weapons, all of this is very understandable considering each temple was overflowing with rich objects. The Hittites, a nation centered in Anatolia during this period, were known to loot and sack enemy temples, stealing their cult icons and humiliating their enemy. This fact was well known, and each labyrinth not only had local town based soldiers to protect it, but also probably had guards to patrol it.

An image of casualties in the water, from the Naval Battle fresco in Akrotiri

A citadel under siege from the silver rhyton from shaft grave IV at Mycenae, 1,550-1,500 BCE

Minoan soldiers parading captured Libyan enemies through the streets of Akrotiri, Thera

Light Body Armor

In the small amount of frescoes we do have, soldiers are shown wearing tunics reinforced with bronze, and bronze helmets made from up to eight parts. Since body armor was the most prohibitively expensive object, many warriors are seen with large shields and well made helmets, opting to focus on the best protection they could afford. Warriors are shown without body armor at times, more in line with normal Minoan male fashion.

Minoan fresco from Akrotiri, dated to around 1,600 BCE, showing soldiers with spears, boar tusk helmets, and cowhide rectangular shields

Minoan levy troops from Age of Bronze mod for Rome II

In tomb 8 at Mycenae dated to 1,550-1,500 BCE only a bronze right pauldron was found. According to Andrea Salimbeti the whole panoply in this tomb was most likely made of a perishable material, but possibly the panoply had been partially looted or removed or the individual piece was offered to symbolize a whole set. A single right pauldron had been found in an Etruscan tomb in Italy, so that armor style is not entirely out of the ordinary. A Linear B sign shows a common form of body armor found in the ancient world, a hard leather or padded tunic with a bronze disk for reinforcement. Such cheaper versions of full bronze plate armor would have been popular with anyone who could afford them. Even those who could not afford bronze plate neck guards found a way to protect themselves, using multiple bronze rings.

Reconstruction of the single shoulder pauldron armor

Two Linear B signs of cuirasses made of perishable material with a central bronze reinforcement disk

On the left, a Linear B sign of a disk cuirass, and on the right a reconstruction of that cuirass by Andrea Salimbeti

A fresco from Tiryns showing a warrior with an unusual hat and a neck guard made of bronze rings

Bronze neck ring armor from Italy, made between 2,000-1,600 BCE

Bronze neck ring armor from a statuette of a warrior from Sardinia, 900-800 BCE

Heavy Body Armor

The panoply of an Achaean noble in the bronze age
The nobility could afford the best armor, which was entirely made of bronze. There are two sets of bronze plate armor which provide the basis for reconstructing such objects, although both of them are from tombs at Mycenae. Figurines and other evidence shows that the Minoans similarly used bronze plate armor. The two sets are called the Dendra and Thebes panoplies. Other bits of segmented armor have been found, such as 117 fragments of plates dated to between 1,370-1,250 in a tholos tomb at Nichoria in Messenia. At the tomb at Nichoria and at tomb V at the New Hospital Site in Knossos various bronze staples have been found, which either fastened leather to leather or bronze to bronze. Some staples at Nichoria were found with bits of bronze still attached, indicating that they were used to connect the segmented plates together.

A pottery fragment from Mycenae which shows a warrior in bronze plate armor with a neck guard, similar to the Dendra panoply, 1,350-1,300 BCE

A reconstruction of late bronze age segmented armor by Katsikis Dimitrios

A reenactor with the Koryvantes group wearing segmented armor

A stone vessel in the shape of a bronze cuirass, from Knossos made around 1,350 BCE

A statue from Kannia near Gortyna, Crete, made between 1,450-1,400 BCE, showing a warrior with a bronze plate cuirass and a fringed under garment

Linear B signs from Knossos showing different versions of segmented cuirasses with plate pauldrons

The Dendra panoply was found in tomb 12 at Mycenae and dated to between 1,450-1,400 BCE. The armor consisted of a bronze front and back piece for a cuirass, two plate pauldrons, a plate neck guard, and six curved pieces covering the front and back of the legs and hanging off the torso. The edges of all the plates have small holes to sew on lining and attach it to the interior. Bits of leather have been found with bronze plate armor, as well as goat hair in the sewing holes. All the pieces also had larger holes, which used leather thread to tie them all together. On the top of the right pauldron was a loop designed to hold a baldric or shield strap.

The Dendra panoply

A diagram of its elements

A Mycenaean krater fragment from Cyprus showing two charioteers in Dendra style panoplies, with neck guards, 1,400-1,300 BCE

The Dendra plate suit was in fact highly mobile, but would have made it hard to use a bow or javelin. While the nobility would have certainly worn this armor on chariots, it was also designed for foot combat. Reproductions show that there was a high level of flexibility which would not have been as necessary on a chariot, and the high neck guard is specifically to protect against the killing blow dealt by a sword which is seen on many seals. The right pauldron allows more freedom of movement than the left, showing that the warrior was right handed and needed to do a lot of swinging. Other bits found were parts of a shield and a full set of bronze greaves and a single forearm guard. All of these pieces of information show that this warrior was fighting with swords and a shield against other armored enemies, as is seen on seals, as well as the more traditional lance and chariot, a common tactic of the nobility in the near east.

A reenactor wearing a reconstruction of the Dendra panoply

A reenactor wearing a reconstruction of the Dendra panoply

A reenactor wearing a reconstruction of the Dendra panoply

The other panoply is called the Thebes panoply, and was found in the Kadmeia, the citadel of the city of Thebes. The panoply has been dated to between 1,350-1,250 BCE, and was found in a storeroom of the palace surprisingly not in a warrior's grave, where all others have been found. It comes equipped with smaller pauldrons, many small bands covering the lower torso, and a very deteriorated breastplate. It is unknown whether the Thebes panoply was entirely bronze, or was made of segments. Similar cuirasses are seen in Linear B signs, but those also may be interpreted as either full bronze or in segments.

A drawing of a segmented version of the Thebes panoply, with a similar Linear B sign on the right

A Mycenaean Eqeta wearing the plate version of the Thebes panoply, by Andrea Salimbeti and Raffaele D'Amato

A Mycenaean Eqeta wearing the segmented version of the Thebes panoply, by Andrea Salimbeti and Raffaele D'Amato

A Mycenaean Eqeta wearing a third version of the Thebes panoply, by Andrea Salimbeti and Raffaele D'Amato

In addition to bronze plate cuirasses and body protection, nobles also wore bronze forearm guards and bronze greaves. Beautifully designed greaves are found in grave A in Kallithea, Greece, dated to the LH IIIC period. Other greaves and the forearm guard were parts of larger sets of armor, designed for and buried with a noble. Greaves as a part of a set were found in tomb 3 at Portes-Kephalovryso, which is by the border of Achaia and Elis. The greaves at Portes-Kephalovryso were found with a Naue II type sword, a spearhead, a dagger, and a bronze diadem. This panoply has been dated to around 1,200 BCE. The bronze forearm guard which was found is also part of a set, of the famous Dendra panoply, which also included that cuirass and a boar tusk helmet.

The bronze greaves found in grave A in Kallithea

The greaves found in tomb 3 at Portes-Kephalovryso

The bronze forearm guard from tomb 12 at Mycenae, part of the Dendra panoply

A fresco in the Megaron at Mycenae, showing a warrior wearing greaves and knee pads

Full sets of bronze armor are not unknown in the wider bronze age world. A bronze hand guard made for a left handed warrior has been found in central Europe, it was similarly one small part of a much larger full set of bronze plate armor. Full sets of bronze plate were used across central Europe stretching down into Crete and beyond. The Mycenaean greaves found in Kallithea are in fact not very ornate, significantly more ornate greaves are found across Europe, especially in Bosnia. Full bronze helmets are also found in Europe, most notably the Pass Lueg helmet from Austria.

Bronze hand guard for a left handed warrior, Urnfield culture

A bronze greave from Bosnia

A bronze greave from Bosnia

A bronze greave from Bosnia

A bronze greave from Kurim, Moravia

A bronze greave from Rinyaszentkiraly, Hungary

A bronze greave from Stettin, Lower Austria

Bronze helmet from Pass Lueg, Austria, 1,200-1,100 BCE

Bronze helmet from the Urnfield culture, most likely Hungary

Early Helmets

The earliest possible depiction of a helmet is on a figure from Sesklo in Thessaly, made between 5,300-4,500 BCE. This figurine is wearing what seems to be a conical helmet, with horns sticking out from either side. The abstraction in this figurine makes the details difficult if not impossible to piece together, but it was most likely made of leather. The ability to create a dual horned helmet out in a multiple step process is difficult, but not impossible for neolithic Greeks. Considering the urban area of Sesklo housed hundreds if not a few thousand people, there must have been more than a few specialists.

Figure wearing a horned helmet from Sesklo, Thessaly, made between 5,300-4,500 BCE

Reconstruction of the horned helmet figurine from Sesklo, using leather

Cycladic culture is where we find the next example of a helmet. Their culture left many marble figurines strewn in caches across the central Aegean islands, some of which may be wearing helmets. Figurines found at both Palastiras and Louros are shown wearing tall banded conical helmets, and have been dated to between 3,200-2,800 BCE. If these details are in fact helmets, they were most likely made of bands of leather and linen, although copper and bronze conical helmets are not unknown in the ancient world. Throughout the EM period banded conical helmets must have been popular, as they are also seen at the turn of the MM period. After a thousand years of development by 2,000 BCE these helmets were made entirely out of bronze or copper. A symbol on the Phaistos disk (made between 2,000-1,700 BCE) most likely represents a conical metal helmet.

Cycladic figurine from Louros possibly wearing a conical helmet, 3,200-2,800 BCE

A tall conical helmet on a Cretan figurine, made between 2,000-1,900 BCE

Around the turn of the MM period another interesting style of helmet appears throughout the Aegean: the boar tusk helmet. It is first seen in Ukraine around 2,000 BCE, and was probably invented in the area. The inventors of this helmet are called the Yamna culture, a nomadic steppe culture who spoke an Indo-European language. This style of helmet became popular throughout the Aegean between 2,000-1,800 BCE, and probably spread along with the Indo-European language.

Bone ornaments and a necklace from the Yamna culture in Ukraine, made between 3,000-2,000 BCE

An early boar tusk helmet, found at Mariupol, Ukraine, made around 2,000 BCE, from the Yamna culture

While banded leather and linen helmets would have been easy and common for people, metal helmets and early boar tusk helmets would have been expensive and reserved for the elite. Heinrich Schliemann, who excavated Troy in the 19th century, found multiple small parts of a larger helmet crest, dated to around 2,000 BCE. This was most likely an all metal bronze helmet, and the crest was most likely horsehair. The entire piece would have been worn by a high status noble, and the style of the helmet is very similar to later Minoan and Mycenaean helmets developed a few hundred years later. Sadly only pieces of the crest were found, so the true design of the helmet is unknown.
A reconstruction of the bronze crested helmet by Andrea Salimbeti, from the crest pieces found by Schliemann

Minoan Helmets

Aegean, Minoan, and early Mycenaean helmets, used between 5,000-1,500 BCE. By Andrea Salimbeti

Most Minoans during the MM and LM period could not afford the expensive crested bronze helmets or boar tusk helmets of the nobility. Most people wore leather, linen, or even felt helmets. These were reinforced by small disks of bronze, for those who could afford them. Simple conical bronze helmets were probably worn by many people, and conical helmet with cheek guards are a common symbol in Linear B. On the Boxer rhyton from Agia Triadha a fighter is shown wearing a smooth well fitting helmet, most likely only made of leather. It is possible that such a helmet was also made of bronze, for those who could afford them. Horned helmets as seen in neolithic Sesklo also did not go out of fashion, and are seen in Linear B signs from Mallia, Crete.

reconstruction of a padded Minoan helmet made of leather, linen, or felt

reconstruction of a leather helmet reinforced with bronze disks

Another reconstruction of a leather helmet reinforced with bronze disks

An ivory relief of a helmet reinforced with bronze or ivory disks, from Phaistos, 1,600-1,500 BCE

A bronze conical helmet with cheek guards, a Linear B sign found at Knossos

Linear B signs of horned helmets, from Mallia, Crete

A full reconstruction of the boxer on the Boxer rhyton from Agia Triadha

Detail of the smooth possibly leather helmet on the Boxer

While most decent helmets were strengthened by ivory or bronze disks on a hardened leather frame, many helmets were simply made out of bronze entirely. One such example from the “Warrior's Grave” in Knossos is dated to around 1,450 BCE and shows that at least some amount of the wealthy wore complete bronze helmets. While practical, at least in Minoan society they did not give the air of wealth which the boar tusk helmet had. The boar tusk helmet became associated with the wealthy even outside of Greece proper. Multiple bronze helmets have been found in the Aegean/Balkan region which were engraved to resemble boar tusk helmets. These were used between 1,400-1,200 BCE. By the late bronze age the Aegean boar tusk helmet had become an extremely popular yet prohibitively expensive item, copied by Balkan bronze smiths hoping to cash in on the trend.

A whole bronze helmet from one of the “Warrior's Graves” at Knossos, dated to around 1,450 BCE

A reconstruction of the bronze helmet from Knossos
A reconstruction of the boxer's helmet on the Boxer Rhyton from Agia Triadha, if it were made of bronze

A bronze conical helmet from the Aegean or Balkan area, made between 1,400-1,200 BCE. The carvings on the helmet are made to resemble the popular but prohibitively expensive boar tusk helmet

Three bronze conical helmets made to resemble boar tusk helmets, from the Aegean or Balkan areas, made between 1,400-1,200 BCE

The nobility was able to afford expensive boar tusk helmets with decorative crests. Horsehair or feather plumes in a variety of colors would have given any noble on the field of battle a colorful and inspiring persona. The helmets of the nobility often included both boar tusks and bronze parts, most likely bronze or leather cheek guards and neck protection. A helmet using both boar tusks and bronze parts was found in Mycenae.

A boar tusk helmet with a crest, from a Knossian rhyton, 1,600-1,550 BCE

A bronze double axe from Knossos made around 1,500 BCEshowing a crested helmet

A reconstruction of a Minoan crested boar tusk helmet, in purple and white

A reconstruction of the Minoan finned helmet

Boar Tusk Helmets

Detail of a boar tusk helmet worn by a Minoan soldier on a fresco at Akrotiri, made around 1,600 BCE

Boar tusk helmets were also worn, although most likely only by the nobility. This unique type of helmet was in fact mentioned by Homer, being worn by the Cretan hero Meriones. This was thought to be an invention, until many of these helmets were found across the bronze age Aegean landscape. The earliest are found in Ukraine, but quickly spread throughout the Aegean between 2,000-1,800 BCE. By 1,800 an interesting early example of boar tusk helmets was found, in a shaft grave in Kolonna Aegina. It was made of leather, and used multiple pieces of boar tusk sewn onto the helmet as reinforcement. It has two spiked pieces sewn onto the sides which stick off the helmet, giving the appearance of horns.

Iliad book 10, 260-265, mentioning boar tusk helmets

Early boar tusk helmet from a shaft grave in Kolonna Aegina, made around 1,800 BCE

A reconstruction of two nobles by Giuseppe Rava, the one on the left wears the above boar tusk helmet from 1,800 BCE, the one on the right wears the boar tusk helmet from Mariupol, Ukraine, dated to around 2,000 BCE having originally been made by the Yamna culture

After the early Aegean boar tusk helmet from 1,800, many depictions of the helmet are seen on frescoes and in figurines. By 1,600 BCE the helmet had assumed a different form and was built using a different method. No longer was the helmet made of leather only reinforced with boar tusks. These helmets still had a leather interior so as to be comfortable to its wearer, but was comprised of interwoven leather strips for strength. On its outside it was entirely made up of rows of boar tusks (usually three rows), sometimes requiring up to 20-40 boars per helmet. These were most certainly worn by the upper nobility, since they were quite expensive to create. Many had tassels of horsehair or feathers, cheek guards, and chin straps to keep these heavy helmets on.

A drawing of the construction of a boar tusk helmet by Peter Connolly

A Mycenaean boar tusk helmet now in the National Archeological Museum in Athens

A reconstruction of a boar tusk helmet found at Knossos

A boar tusk helmet from a fresco at Akrotiri, made around 1,600 BCE

An elaborately decorated image of a boar tusk helmet from a vase from Katsamba, Crete, made around 1,500 BCE

An interesting use of the boar tusk helmet, as seen on the main ship in the Theran naval fresco. The helmets hang off hooks from the roof of the structure, presumably n preparedness for combat. Since the Theran naval fresco shows what is most likely a procession, it is strange that the main ship would be outfitted for war, but since it may be carrying a very important official it is understandable that the official's guard would always be prepared

These helmets were used both by the Minoans and Mycenaeans throughout the history of their civilizations, and by the LM period these helmets are often highly stylized and seen throughout the Aegean world. The real strength of the helmet is from its hardened leather interior, the boar tusk exterior is mainly ornamental, and became highly stylized. So much so, that even a series of glass “tusks” have been found in a grave in Spata, Attica. Such a find points to the high level of craftsmanship and experimentation during this period. Surely this piece was purely ornamental, and certainly the dark blue shine would have been a worthy novel experiment in design.
Not only has this helmet been found around the Aegean. Mycenaean culture made its way to Cyprus and the helmet is seen there too. Throughout the LM and LH (late Helladic) periods, boar tusk helmets are still used and the features remain mostly unchanged. Its style within Mycenaean art is drastically different in these late periods: while many artists produce realistic reliefs, some show minimalist depictions and others even show abstraction. Even art on Crete proper had changed, as one statuette from Khania shows. The helmet and the hair had been designed to look symmetrically rigid and angled. Surely the mindset and traditions of Mycenaean artists, even Mycenaeo-Minoans on Crete, had drastically changed when compared to the opulence of older Akrotirian frescoes.

A statuette from Khania, Crete, made between 1,350-1,250 BCE

fragment of a fresco from Orchomenos, Boeotia, central Greece

A relief of a Mycenaean warrior wearing an elaborate boar tusk helmet, 1,300-1,250 BCE

An ivory figurine of a warrior from Cyprus, wearing a boar tusk helmet, made around 1,300 BCE

Comparison of small ivory boar tusk helmet reliefs and an actual boar tusk helmet, at the Mycenae museum

Boar tusk helmets are strongly associated with the late bronze age Aegean world, but they did not entirely die out with the bronze age collapse. Boar tusk helmets have been found in Sub-Minoan tombs 200, 201, and 202 SW at Knossos. These helmets along with other standard LBA Aegean helmets survived into the iron age, a plaque made in the 8th century BCE and found on the island of Delos shows a boar tusk helmet. In the first quarter of the 8th century BCE Homer transcribed his version of the Iliad, which included a reference to a boar tusk helmet. By that time, they had entirely gone out of fashion, except on Delos.

Fragment of an Achaean ivory sculpture of a boar tusk helmet found in Mitza Purdia, Sardinia, made around 1,350 BCE

Reconstruction of a boar tusk helmet from tusks found in a grave in Serbia, 1,400-1,200 BCE
Mycenaean Helmets

Mycenaean helmets used between 1,500-1,300 BCE, by Andrea Salimbeti

A blue and red crested Mycenaean helmet reconstructed by Andrea Salimbeti

Mycenaean warriors and their elaborate helmets are much more common than Minoan depictions. While many styles were distinctively Mycenaean, there was much overlap between the helmets used by both cultures. The Mycenaeans also would have used mainly leather, linen, felt, or bronze helmets, with the nobility wearing boar tusk helmets. The most famous example of Mycenaean warriors are from the Warrior's Vase, found in Mycenae dated to the LH IIIC period (1,200-1,120 BCE).

Mycenaean soldier from the Warrior's Vase, wearing a horned plumed helmet

A reconstruction of a leather version of the horned Warrior's Vase helmet

A reconstruction of a bronze version of the horned Warrior's Vase helmet

Detail of a mohawk fringed helmet from side B of the Warrior's Vase

Reconstruction of the mohawk fringed helmet on the Warrior's Vase

Mycenaean helmets are found much earlier though, such as on a silver rhyton from shaft grave IV in Mycenae, made around 1,550 BCE. This vase shows eight warriors wearing elaborate finned and plumed helmets fighting each other. One side solely uses figure eight shields, with the other solely using bronze tower shields. The elaborate silver piece feels as though it hides a narrative, all of the soldiers appear positioned particularly and are equipped with the full panoply of a high status noble. But whatever the story may be, it is lost. These figures are of the upper nobility of the time, simpler helmets are also seen in many frescoes at Pylos which show combat between standard Pylian warriors and puny foreigners.

The image on the silver rhyton from Mycenae

Detail from the silver rhyton, showing a left side warrior wearing a standard Minoan or Myceneaen crested helmet

Detail from the silver rhyton, showing a crested helmet and a Minoan finned helmet

Detail from the silver rhyton, showing a right side warrior wearing a standard Minoan or Mycenaean crested helmet

Detail from the silver rhyton, showing a unique plumed helmet

Detail of a Pylian fresco showing combat between lightly armed warriors and an unknown weaker enemy
A reconstruction of the helmet seen in that Pylian fresco, made of bronze

Elaborate crested helmets are also seen on seals. One such seal shows a distinctively Mycenaean dual crested helmet. It is unknown whether the dual crests on this helmet were facing front to back, or side to side. Andrea Salimbeti has hypothesized a form of this helmet using the face of a lion found in the shaft grave IV at Mycenae. While animal designs were common in classical Greece, it is unknown whether such styles were practiced in the LBA.

A boar tusk helmet with a circular crest, found on a seal from chamber tomb 518 at Mycenae

A dual crested boar tusk helmet from a seal from Vafio, made around 1,500 BCE

A possible front and back alignment of the dual crested Mycenaean helmet

A possible side to side alignment of the dual crested Mycenaean helmet

A wonderful reconstruction of the dual crested helmet, as seen on one of these two bronze age Mycenaean reenactors

An imagined animal form helmet by Andrea Salimbeti

The most elaborate Mycenaean helmet ever seen is not actually from Mycenae, or even Greece. It is from a small fragment of pottery found at Bogazkoy (ancient Hattusha, the Hittite capital) in Anatolia. Dated to around 1,350 BCE it shows an Ahhiyawa warrior, which was the general Hittite term for any Mycenaean. More specifically this may only refer to a Mycenaean warrior from the Aegean Anatolian coast, which was populated by Mycenaeans with its power base around the city of Miletus (called Millawanda in the Hittite language).

The clay fragment from Bogazkoy showing a Mycenaean warrior, made around 1,350 BCE

A reconstruction of the Mycenaean warrior from Bogazkoy, by Giorgio Albertini

A reconstruction of the Bogazkoy fragment helmet, by Andrea Salimbeti

Late Mycenaean helmets become significantly more varied in style and production. Their designs begin to drift into novel and imaginary territory, slowly disassociating themselves from their Minoan forebears. While standards such as the boar tusk helmet were continued, and other styles were invented by the Mycenaeans, and certain styles are reminiscent of the foreign raiding Sea Peoples. One of the most recognizable of the late Mycenaean helmets is the Tiryns helmet, made around 1,050 BCE. It utilizes a crest, but the decorations and cheek guards are very Mycenaean, very unique, and distinctively not Minoan.

Late Mycenaean helmets used between 1,300-1,100 BCE, by Andrea Salimbeti

The Tiryns helmet, found in grave 28 from Tiryns, dated to around 1,050 BCE

A reconstruction of the Tiryns helmet with a crest, by Andrea Salimbeti

Very strange styles proliferated as well, such as on the island of Kos, near Rhodes. On this island at the late Mycenaean village of Seraya potters painted local helmets which look radically unique even for the Mycenaean period. These helmets are generally made up of a band of metal, similar to the tiara style helmets used by the Sea peoples, but sticking out of the top are what look to be branches. It is completely unknown whether these are actual branches, or feathers, or something else, and entirely unknown whether this was a ceremonial helmet or was actually used.

A fragment of a krater bowl from Serayia on Kos near Rhodes, made around 1,100 BCE

A reconstruction of a branch helmet by Andrea Salimbeti

A reconstruction of a feathered headdress and a branch helmet, by Andrea Salimbeti

Reconstruction of Mycenaeans, one of which is wearing the branch helmet, boarding a Sea People's vessel, by Giuseppe Rava for the Osprey book “Bronze Age Greek Warrior”

By the end of the bronze age, the Sea Peoples came from elsewhere to raid and settle in the eastern Mediterranean. Sometimes they were foreign, and the names of their tribes suggests them coming from Sardinia or even Libya, but many would have come from local regions. They were not a unified people, but formed independent bands made up of mishmash groups. They generally gathered the disenfranchised where ever they raided, and many of them may have been fleeing refugees. Many Minoans as well as other people from around the Aegean joined the raiders, and even some groups of the Sea Peoples forced the Egyptians to give them land in Canaan. After hundreds of years, that group had conglomerated into the iron age tribe called the Philistines. The “Sea People” culture was truly a mixture of anyone and everyone, but particularly ended up mixing many cultural and artistic influences around the eastern Mediterranean.

Detail from the famous battle scene carved into the Medinet Habu temple in Egypt, showing the Egyptian Pharaoh defeating a horde of Sea Peoples. On the left a Sherden wears their distinctive helmet and segmented armor, and on the right a Peleset also wears segmented armor and their distinctive feathered headdress

A statuette of a man wearing a distinctive Sea People's feathered headdress, found on Crete and made between 1,300-1,100 BCE

Detail of a figure with feathered headdress, presumably one of the Sea People, likely a Philistine. From a relief on the side of a Game Box found in a tomb at Enkomi, Cyprus, 1,250-1,100 BCE

Mycenaean culture on Cyprus created a unique culture, as seen in this horned helmet from a statue found in Enkomi, Cyprus, dated to LH IIIC (1,200-1.120 BCE)

A bronze statuette wearing a Cypriote horned helmet from the Sanctuary of the Ingot God at Enkomi, Cyprus, dated to around 1,200 BCE
A reconstruction of the Cypriote horned helmet as seen on warrior statuettes from the Ingot God at Enkomi, Cyprus. By Andrea Salimbeti


The Minoans used many types of shields, ranging from small to large. The most recognizable is the figure eight shield, which is seen in both the Minoan and Mycenaean cultures. Figure eight shields are also seen in frescoes at palaces, such as at Pylos. In these frescoes they are shown apparently hung on the wall as decor.

A diagram of a figure eight shield

A diagram of a proto-dipylon shield based on a ring from the treasure of Aegina, although the ring possibly shows a double axe instead

A fresco of figure eight shields at the palace at Pylos, presumably being hung from the wall. The interior is made up of interwoven wicker, cloth, or linen

A reconstruction of a fresco by Gillieron the father in 1911-12, assembled from over 200 fragments

Minoan soldiers using figure eight shields, from the Age of Bronze mod for Rome II

Minoans also used rectangular tower shields, as well as some which had curved tops. Shields were made out of a wooden frame, covered in cowhide. Gold trimmings or other decorations were added to the edge of the shield by master craftsmen. The most expensive shields were the most effective, as only the wealthiest could afford an entirely bronze tower shield. Many people would have used smaller circular or square shields, and such shields are shown in frescoes having decorative fringes.

A diagram of a tower shield

Another diagram of a tower shield by Andrea Salimbeti

A Minoan artisan crafting the gold trimming on a shield

A reproduction of a Minoan square shield with fringes

In the Iliad, a profusely detailed shield of Achilles is mentioned. It was assumed that this shield served only a literary purpose and was not actually a real object, but nevertheless historical artists have broken down the passage and created an accurate reconstruction. To actually create such detail in a shield was considered impossible, but a shield found on Crete dated to the 8th century BCE shows that such detail is achievable.

A reconstruction of Achilles' shield by Raffaele D'Amato

The elaborate Cretan shield from the 8th century BCE

The elaborate Cretan shield with details highlighted


Complete diagram of the evolution of Aegean swords from the MM period to the iron age

A scene involving men holding short swords, on a cup, Minoan, 1,700-1,550 BCE

The primary weapon for neolithic Cretans was the stone axe or mace. Between 5,500-4,500 BCE copper pins are found at a few Aegean sites as well as two small copper daggers (from Aya Marina in Phocis, Greece). Through 4,500-3,700 BCE Aegean metallurgy picked up speed, as workers fashioned items and tools in multiple metals besides copper, such as: gold, silver, and lead. Copper daggers from this period are found at Sesklo and Dimini. Throughout this period copper and eventually bronze daggers elongated into swords. The earliest swords in the Aegean region are found in Anatolia at Arslantepe and were produced around 3,300 BCE. Swords are extremely rare until 2,300 BCE, and by the OT period they had become a mainstay a nobleman's close combat panoply.

The earliest sword in the Aegean region, made of copper and from the island of Naxos, 2,800-2,300 BCE

A typical bronze Cycladic sword, long and used for stabbing, made around 2,300 BCE

A ceramic (red polished) model of a dagger and sheath from a cemetery at Vounous Cyprus, made between 2,200-2,000 BCE

A cross section of Minoan and Cycladic bronze swords

As the MM period continued, the style of bronze swords continued as well, throughout the neolithic to the bronze age the most popular use of such swords was for thrusting or piercing. With the addition of bronze plate armor during the OT and NT periods, piercing strikes had to be precise as well, such killing blows to the neck are seen on seals giving a coup de grace to a fully armored soldier.

A gold ring from Shaft grave IV at Mycenae shows two warriors fighting

A seal from shaft grave III at Mycenae, made around 1,550 BCE, shows a type A sword delivering a killing blow

An informational diagram of type A swords, by Kirk Spencer. All following diagrams in this type are by Kirk Spencer, unless otherwise stated

Diagram of the complex and multi-part assembly of type A swords

Cross sections of various type A swords showing each smith's experimental innovations to increase its strength

Elaborate swords were made by MM period specialists explicitly for the nobility, such as the Chieftain's sword at Knossos. The most famous of these elaborate swords is the Lion Hunt Dagger. While the dagger was found in a Mycenaean burial shaft, the weapons and armor that the soldiers are wearing are very similar to a contemporaneous Minoan panoply. Many different weapons are shown on this dagger: bows, spears, swords, and shields. Most of the people shown on the dagger, are themselves wearing daggers. The omnipresence of such tools is to be expected, as people mainly used them for both protection, and eating. Elaborate scenes on weapons have been found at many places in Mycenae and around Greece. The Lion Hunt dagger is only one of many, with each dagger and each scene completely different.

The Lion Hunt dagger, made between 1,600-1,500 BCE found in a Mycenaean burial shaft

A reconstruction of the scene on the Lion Hunt Dagger

A gold decorated dagger with lions, from Mycenaean grave circle A dated to LH I (about 1,580-1,500 BCE)

A gold decorated dagger with spirals, from Mycenaean shaft grave V dated to around 1,500 BCE

A reconstruction of a Mycenaean dagger with elaborate natural scene, made between 1,600-1,500 BCE

A gold decorated dagger from a tomb in Myrsinochorion, dated to between LH II to LH IIIA (1,500-1,300 BCE)

Adding gold decoration to the hilts or on the cross guards of swords was a common method of increasing its value and aesthetics. Gold cross guards were common among the nobility, and the most famous one found is highly elaborate and was created by a skilled artisan. This gold cross guard shows an acrobat mid-leap, arching their back around the entire surface of the object. Gold d├ęcor has been found on much more than simply the hilts and crossguards. The Lion Hunt dagger is the most famous example, but there are many similar pieces utilizing thin a gold in relief running down the side of the sword. This thin sheet of gold was carefully manipulated to create miniatures in the fresco style. Baldrics, or sword belts worn across the chest, were common and often decorated with gold and other precious materials.

An acrobat on the golden cross guard, on a Minoan type A sword

A gold hilt from shaft grave delta of circle B, at Mycenae, made around 1,600 BCE

A gold hilt from shaft grave V at Mycenae, made around 1,500 BCE

Decorative hilt and horns from a type Ci sword from Phaistos, dated to LH IIB (1,460-1,400 BCE)

A Minoan dagger with a gold hilt from Mallia, made between 1,700-1,600 BCE

Spiral decorations on a gold hilt from a type Ei sword/dagger, Mycenaean, 1,400-1,300 BCE

A decorative golden baldric from shaft grave IV at Mycenae

Some of these masterfully crafted swords were designed for export, and there were enough of these that Minoan swords were famous around the near east. A tablet in Mari mentions gold swords with lapis lazuli inlays being called Caphtorite swords (from the Egyptian Keftiu meaning Crete), these ornamental Minoan swords were traded among foreign kings and nobles as a high status gift. A few swords have been found which combine both gold working skills and rock crystal. The manipulation and combination of rock crystal, gold, and lapis lazuli is seen in the craftsmanship of Minoan personal adornments, it should be expected that similar workers or methods would go into the aesthetics of weaponry. The majority of these items are found in burials in Crete or Greece, it is likely that such ornamental swords were owned by many nobles throughout the Aegean.

Mycenaean sword from tomb 81 in Mycenae with an agate hilt inlaid with gold disks, 1,400-1,350 BCE

Detail of a hilt made from rock crystal and gold, from shaft grave IV at Mycenae, made around 1,550 BCE

The elaborate gold and rock crystal hilt on a Mycenaean sword found by Schliemann
The elaborately decorated hand grip from a type Di sword from Knossos, made around 1,350 BCE

A gold hilt with a rock crystal pommel from a type Di sword from Mycenae, made around 1,350 BCE

A type A sword from Mallia with a rock crystal pommel and gold hilt, made around 1,700 BCE

Swords underwent much development throughout the MM and into the LM period, as seen in these diagrams by Kirk Spencer. Type A swords which were prolific in the early MM period had morphed into the type B swords by 1,600 BCE. These type B swords were shorter and more broad, and usually included more rivets than type A swords, possibly type B swords were imported from the near east.

Type C swords are a great improvement on A and B swords, with a thinner blade better suited for cutting, and a “horned” hand guard. Type C swords are found across the Aegean and into central Europe.

By 1,450 BCE the type D sword had evolved out of type C swords, often called “cross” swords the hand guard stuck out straight instead of arcing downward as in type C swords. Both C and D swords were intended for slashing as well as cutting, a general trend in sword warfare in the LM period.

By the LM period sword technology and design had drifted towards creating slashing weapons, many LM period swords could be used for both slashing and piercing as opposed to older classical Minoan swords (type A). The slashing sword was popular through the invention and proliferation of iron, which allowed the trends in LBA sword design to be exacerbated. In the post 1,450 Minoan world dominated by written Linear B, a few variations of swords are spotted drawn as signs in the new script. As the LBA world continued the type E sword was introduced between 1,350-1,300 BCE, designed to be a short and quick cutting blade. In this late period of the Minoan world, LM IIIB-C (1,300-1,100 BCE) a few novel sword types were common, such as: type G (variation on type C and a final native Minoan style which lasted through the Sub-Minoan period), and type F (variation on type E and introduced by migrating foreigners in the LBA collapse).

A complete diagram of MM and LM period swords, by Andrea Salimbeti

Knossos linear B glyph KN *233 a, representing a sword

Knossos linear B glyph KN *233 b, sword with triangular point

The LBA collapse brought type F swords to the Aegean, a general cutting design found across the Aegean, Sicily, and even in Cornwall. The collapse also brought central European influences to the Aegean in the form of the Naue II type sword, which was popular in the Sub-Minoan period. First seen in northern Italy around 1,450 BCE the design spread into central Europe and reached south into the Aegean and Levant by 1,200 BCE. It was used until the 7th century BCE, staying popular through the introduction of iron. It was designed to both cut and thrust, although being more suited to cutting. The popularization of this pure slashing weapon developed hand-in-hand with a general shift in fighting styles during this era. The introduction of the Sea Peoples likely forced many old empires to revisit their military strategies, the primary tactic of massed chariot charges (while still effective) was usurped by the massed charge of semi-well armed infantry with slashing swords. The sickle sword was a symbol of the Pharaoh in Egypt and associated with Kings in Sumer, but it too found its way into the Aegean, a bronze statuette from Delos dated to LH IIIA-B (1,400-1,200 BCE) shows a warrior with a curved sickle sword. The weapon died out in practical use in Egypt around 1,300 BCE. It is unknown what place the sickle sword held in LBA Aegean society.

A type G2b sword seen on a reconstruction of Odysseus by Peter Connolly

Knives and Daggers

A Mycenaean bronze dagger made between 1,600-1,100 BCE

Knives were also very common, more so than swords. They were used by pretty much everyone, pretty much every day. They were not only your primary utensil, but your primary method of security. Type Ei and Eii swords were most likely only used as daggers, since they are unusually short and have wide flat blades, although some Eii types would have been long enough to be used as short piercing swords. The use of small sharp tools for cutting included many more items than simply knives, from cleavers to leaf shaped razors their sizes and shapes varied considerably. By the Sub-Minoan period Naue II type knives became popular, along with the swords. Leaf shaped razors were popular from around 1,600-1,350 BCE until cleaver style razors became fashionable. The post 1,350 BCE cleaver style razors are remarkably similar to modern razors.

A diagram of the various types of Minoan metal knives

Bronze knives with ivory handles from Kolophon, in Anatolia, made around 1,200 BCE


A Minoan spear wall on the left facing off against a Minoan levy on the right, from the Age of Bronze mod for Rome II

Spears were a common item in life, developing in tandem with early swords. Copper spear points are found in graves at Sesklo and Dimini during the neolithic period, and leaf shaped spear heads are found in throughout the Cycladic culture during the contemporaneous EM period. By the mid 3rd millennium BCE (mid-EM period in Crete) Sumerians were fighting in phalanxes six men deep, utilizing rectangular shields to form a wall. Minoan frescoes also show warriors with spears and with rectangular shields, although no depiction of Minoan phalanx warfare has been found. It is certainly possible that Aegean civilizations developed the phalanx independently or had acquired it within 1,000 years of its Sumerian invention.

Facing a Minoan spear wall, from the Age of Bronze mod for Rome II

A fresco from Akrotiri showing Minoan warriors with long spears and rectangular shields, 1,600 BCE

Minoans used both long and short spears for close combat and javelins. Spears are shown in seals being used to fight not only other humans, but lions and animals as well. Generally throughout the bronze age, swords were much harder to make and to maintain than spears. For this reason spears were the most common weapon on the ancient battlefield. While not everyone may have owned a spear probably everyone had a knife for daily use and when needed, for close combat. Probably only the nobility could afford bronze (or copper) swords, a trend radically changed by the introduction of iron and the groups like the Sea Peoples.

A diagram of a tiny amount of Minoan spearheads, they came in all shapes and sizes

An early Achaean spearman, by Alive History Miniature, ca. 1,600 BCE

Another shot of an early Achaean spearman, by Alive History Miniature, ca. 1,600 BCE

Spears were not static objects as well, and occasionally innovations have been found. One such innovation was the double headed spear, as found at Agios Onoufrios (near Phaistos). This piece was used in the 1,500s BCE and was most likely designed for fishing. Minoans also developed tridents for fishing, such as a hooked trident found at Agios Nikolaos, Crete. This piece was made around 1,450 BCE and again was primarily a fishing weapon. Items such as these give us an interesting glimpse into the worldview of avergae Minoans, as it shows that the inventors manipulated all aspects of their technological world including the well-developed design of the spear. It is easy to forget that a bronze smith, as someone at the forefront of weapon technology in the LBA, was not only a community necessity (for tools and weapons) but part inventor as well.

A bronze trident from Agios Nikolaos, Crete

A double headed bronze spear from Agios Onoufrios

A Minoan spear point (Group H) with gold inlay decoration on its blade, from Arkhanes, 1,500 BCE

The Koryvantes reenacting group has beautifully reconstruction a warrior wearing armor and using the double pronged spear. This is not entirely accurate, as the item was used by commoners for fishing and not warfare. If commoners were drafted into militias in times of need, and used their farming equipment as weapons (as often occurred throughout many cultures in history) then it is possible that a fisherman would have used dual-pronged spears and tridents in warfare. Even then, a fisherman would not have had at their disposal the rich interlocking bronze plate armor that a chariot-born noble would have.

A reconstruction of a Cretan noble by the Koryvantes reenacting group, with the double headed spear

Two reenactors from the Koryvantes reenacting group, on the left is a Mycenaean Eqeta, and on the right is a Minoan noble

Another shot of the two reenactors

The two reenactors in combat

Other Weapons

In addition to swords, daggers, and spears, in warfare Minoans also used bows, slings, javelins, and possibly double axes. First used for hunting, the bow was invented in the paleolithic period sometime before 10,000 BCE. The bow spread across the world, or was independently invented multiple times throughout prehistory. It had migrated with humanity to every continent (or was developed in the Americas separately) prior to recorded history. Minoans used curved bows strengthened with sinew, as first seen on a seal around 2,500 BCE. The more complex composite bows used five materials: wood, horn, tendons, sinews, and glue. There are a few depictions of archers from this period, one on the Lion Hunt Dagger and another on the silver Siege rhyton, both of which are Mycenaean and show archers crouched while firing. This is presumably the archery technique used by the Minoans as well.

A diagram of Aegean bow designs. A and B were simple curved bows used by the Minoans in the bronze age. C and D are double convex bows, and E a double concave bow which were all regional elaborations on earlier curved bow designs. F and G were triangular bows mainly used in the near east and Egypt in the bronze age, and H was the Scythian design used in the EIA (early iron age) and classical periods in the Pontic steppes

A seal using Cretan hieroglyphics from Mallia, Crete, made around 2,500 BCE showing a bow and arrow

A simple curved bow used by an crouched archer, as seen on the Lion Hunt dagger

An early Achaean archer by Alive History Miniature, ca. 1,600 BCE

A diagram of Aegean arrowheads from Nicolas Grguric

A few Achaean arrowheads from Troy, 1,300-1,200 BCE

Axes were very common, with metal (copper) axes first found at Sesklo. By the EM period, sharp and mounted axe heads are found around the Aegean. On the north Aegean coast of Anatolia both stone and jade axes were found in the Troy I level (2,900-2,450 BCE). Cycladic culture, blossoming in the mid 3rd millennium BCE, also made sharp copper axes. Certainly by the MM period both Minoans and early Mycenaeans had sharp metal axes, large enough to fell trees.

Two copper axes from Sesklo, Thessaly, Greece. 4,500-3,300 BCE

Two stone axes found by Heinrich Schliemann at Troy, likely dated to the Troy I period (2,900-2,450 BCE)

Copper axes from the Keros-Syros Cycladic island culture, 2,700-2,200 BCE

During the MM period Aegean axes assumed a basic form which is still seen in modern axes. In warfare, early copper and bronze axes were not broad but coalesced to a point, being used as a piercing weapon. As axes began to broaden in the EM period they operated as effective slashing weapons, much more so than swords of the time. Once bronze age warriors began to wear bronze plate armor, many axes are seen with piercing adornments allowing the combatant to use multiple strategies against their foe.

A battle axe and a conical helmet, as seen on the Phaistos disk

A highly decorated stone axe from Mallia, Crete, 1,600-1,500 BCE

A practical double axe and an even more practical pickaxe, from Mycenae, 1,550-1,500 BCE

Slings are extremely difficult to preserve, yet the simplicity of the weapon means that it was most likely invented in the prehistoric period, along with bolas and other similar weapons. The earliest example of slings in the Aegean world is from a fragment found on the island of Naxos, made around 2,000 BCE, although sling stones are found throughout the neolithic period around the Aegean (at Lerna, Sesklo, Dimini, and the Cyclades). Slingers were almost always recruited from the poorer classes and would not have well made weapons and armor. They were often underestimated, and a well placed slingshot could take down a heavily armored warrior, codified into a parable moralizing fable of David and Goliath. Even by the iron age (the period of the writing of the Old Testament) slingers had become mythologized for their often forgotten power on the battlefield. EM and later periods used mainly limestone or unfired clay as sling projectiles, although in the MM period people sometimes used bronze projectiles.

An engraving of a possible slinger from Naxos made around 2,000 BCE

A bronze sling bullet from Maa-Palaeokastro, Cyprus. 1,200-1,100 BCE

Javelins were extremely powerful against soldiers of this era, the force delivered by this weapon would have frightened even a soldier in full plate armor. Chariot warriors also threw javelins, increasing its damage significantly. Javelins, bows, spears, and chariots all complimented each other in warfare, and when used against an enemy without such innovations, were devastating. When the Hyksos invaded Egypt from the near east around 1,720 BCE, their up-to-date military included chariots, composite bows, penetrating axes, swords, helmets, body armor, and arrow quivers. This was the first existential crisis for the Egyptian people, their military had only fought intra-Egyptian wars and had not developed along with other near eastern powers in the bronze age arms race of the 3rd millennium BCE.

By the Minoan and Mycenaean periods javelins would have been common, although the most heavily armored soldiers who wore something similar to the Dendra panoply could not have used them properly in a chariot. The shafts of short spears (considered heavy javelins) were sometimes covered in a bronze embossed tube to give extra strength mainly for when they were thrown. The javelin bearing charioteers who are shown are not only wearing lighter armor, but are armed with multiple javelins. Since the weapons were commonly seen both in and out of chariots, possibly many warriors had a javelin (or even a few), although their frequency is entirely unknown.

Fresco fragment from Tiryns showing javelins

Double axes were also invented and popularized in the MM period, with the earliest coming from the MM IIB (1,750-1,700) and MM III (1,700-1,600 BCE) periods. Some double axes are even engraved with designs, such as of helmets, figure eight shields, quivers, and linear A symbols. It is not known whether these early stone and bronze double axes were tools, weapons, or purely ceremonial objects. It is certainly more likely that early double axes, with a practical rectangular shape and made with a practical thickness, were originally utilitarian and took on a ceremonial role. As the MM period continues, it is assured that the super thin and elaborate bronze axes used as standing icons or votive offerings were absolutely ornamental. As the stark form of bronze axes developed into thin quadruple axes, the object took on new roles in society. It became associated with religious iconography and bull sacrifice. Even in the LM period seemingly utilitarian bronze double axes were produced, although by this period it is difficult to determine which ones are strictly tools and which are ornamental.

Two double axe heads from Voros, Crete, LM III (1,400-1,100 BCE)

fanciful depiction of a group of soldiers wielding double axes, from the Age of Bronze mod for Rome II


An Achaean heavy chariot charging

Ornate Achaean and coastal Anatolian maryannu, by Giuseppe Rava and Raffaele D'Amato

Chariots, as in a wagon with wheels, were simultaneously invented in the near east, the Caucasus, and central Europe in between 4,500-4,000 BCE. Neolithic wagons used full wooden blocks for wheels. The Sumerians, in the 3rd millennium BCE used wooden wheeled wagons pulled by donkeys to great success in battle. Even with these early donkey driven chariots, the massed chariot charge (with spears, javelins, and bows) became the most valuable battlefield tactic. It became the standard tactic used to break the enemy's line, and until the introduction of cavalry in the early iron age it was paramount. Through the 3rd millennium, as horses became stronger and stronger, eventually people began to use them instead of donkeys, and the chariot became even faster and more powerful. Around 2,000 BCE in northern Kazakhstan people of the Andronovo culture invented the spoked wheel. This new technology was applied to the chariot, and with this new weapon they conquered their rivals. The drastic improvement quickly spread across the globe, entering India, Europe, and China by 1,500 BCE. The Minoans and the Mycenaean picked up this devastating weapon around this time, becoming the primary tool of war used by the nobility.

A Mycenaean gold seal ring showing a charioteer hunting, made around 1,600 BCE

A Mycenaean chariot

A charioteer in the Dendra panoply outside of Mycenae

Around 1,450 BCE the chariot is first seen in seals and Linear B tablets on Crete. It was used for both charging in battle, but also general transportation on the field. It is unknown how chariots were integrated into civilian transportation during this period. The main use of horses during this period were to power such chariots, although lightly armored troops could rise LBA horses. It would not be until the iron age when horses had reached such strength as to be ridden by fully armored troops, allowing cavalry to become the dominant force on the battlefield and finally outpacing chariotry.

A Minoan chariot

A carnelian seal showing a chariot, from Crete dated to around 1,450 BCE, it is one of the earliest depictions of chariots on the island

A Minoan charioteer in battle by Giuseppe Rava

Chariots were designed with four spokes, and an axle positioned in the center of the cab. The skeleton of the cab was made of steam-bent wood, covered in ox-hide or wicker. The floor most likely consisted of interwoven rawhide thongs. The early (16th century BCE) Mycenaean chariots were small, being manned by either one or two people. In the LBA period Hittite chariots were mainly used for charging whereas Egyptian chariots were mainly used as firing platforms for archers. It is unknown which style of chariot combat the Mycenaeans and Minoans focused on, but seals and frescoes show both lancers and bowmen in chariots. Chariots were also designed as toys, although it is unknown whether these objects were playthings or votive offerings.

A toy chariot found in Thessaly, 1,300-1,200 BCE

A goddess or priestess in a chariot led by griffons, from the side of the Agia Triadha sarcophagus

A fresco from Tiryns of female figures in an elaborately decorated chariot

A warrior with spear or javelin in box chariot, from carnelian seal from Vapheio, 1,500-1,400 BCE

A Mycenaean chariot team

Cavalry are seen, albeit uncommonly as either toys or painted on pottery. By 1,500 BCE the four wheeled wagon had reached Greece, and it was used throughout the LBA and into the iron age. Between 1,400-1,300 BCE the lighter rail chariot was introduced or invented in Greece and Crete. This simpler version was much weaker and was probably only or mostly used for transportation. The rail chariot was also used into the iron age, and along with the four wheeled wagon were the only forms of chariot design to endure the LBA collapse.

A toy mounted warrior with a spear, from Greece, 1,200-1,100 BCE

Mycenaean box chariot and charioteer in the Dendra panoply, typical to 1,300 BCE

A pottery fragment from Mycenae showing a warrior holding the reins of his mount, dated to LH IIIC (1,200-1,100 BCE)

A Mycenaean four wheeled wagon, by Giuseppe Rava

A couple of Mycenaean warriors and a late era rail chariot

Mycenaean Warfare

Mycenaean fresco depicting combat

Mycenaean armor and type F sword

Ivory Mycenaean soldier from Artemis sanctuary at Delos. 1,400-1,200 BCE

Mycenaeans generally utilized the same forms of armor as the Minoans: leather with bronze support disks, segmented bronze slats, or full bronze plate. A few unique sources of Mycenaean armor have been found. One strange type is seen on the Warrior's Vase, which shows a kind of “armored poncho”, which may be a bronze plate or bronze segmented reinforcements. Another curious object is an elaborately decorated gold breastplate found in grave shaft V at Mycenae. It is a one-of-a-kind object, but points to the glorification of gold and warfare in the upper levels of Mycenaean society.

Detail of the armor on the Warrior's Vase

Reconstruction of a soldier wearing a segmented version of the Warrior's Vase armor

The gold breastplate found in grave shaft V at Mycenae, 1,600-1,500 BCE

A reconstruction of the gold breastplate on a warrior, by Giuseppe Rava

Mycenaean culture emerges around 1,600 BCE, creating its own distinctive styles of weapons and armor. Both Mycenaeans and Minoans shared many fashions, armors, and weapons, but each culture kept a specific unique identity. Through the MM and LM periods Mycenaeans looked very distinctive, most recognizably so in the Warrior's Vase. A reconstruction of various Mycenaean armor and weapons by the reenacting group Koryvantes helps show the striking appearance of a Mycenaean Eqeta.

Two Mycenaean warriors, by Giuseppe Rava, on the right is a reconstruction of a warrior from the Warrior's Vase

Mycenaean nobles

A Mycenaean Eqeta, from the Koryvantes reenacting group

A Mycenaean Eqeta with horned helmet, from Koryvantes

A Mycenaean Eqeta with horned helmet and weapon raised, from Koryvantes

The Mycenaeans also may have used a shield wall and the phalanx formation. As chariot charges became the dominant form of breaking an enemy line, certainly longer spear and shield walls would have been an effective counter strategy.

Mycenaean pikemen in formation, from the Age of Bronze mod for Rome II

A Mycenaean pike formation

A Mycenaean shield wall

The biggest difference between Knossos and Mycenae is that Mycenae had large walls surrounding its citadel. The city was designed as a fortress, with the guarded Wanax at its center. On the mainland, with the threat of northern invasions and a significantly greater proportion of city states, Mycenaean culture thrived on warfare and raiding. The Minoans must have regarded their fleets and island safety in high esteem. By the 13th century BCE the Sea Peoples had raided and spread their culture throughout the eastern Mediterranean, and by this period typical Sea People's weapons and armor are seen around Mycenae and Crete. The Denyen tribe mentioned in Egyptian records as one of the Sea Peoples may be related to the ancestral term for Greeks Danaan. Although this link is purely etymological and very tenuous, it is not unreasonable to think that some Mycenaeans joined the hordes of the disaffected who roamed the seas during this period.

An illustration of Mycenaean combat

Mycenaean soldiers as they existed around 1,200 BCE, strongly influenced by the Sea Peoples

Homeric Warfare

An illustration of Achilles fighting Hector made by iliaskrzs

The mythical Trojan War, pitting various Greek lords led by King Agamemnon of Mycenae against King Priam of Troy and their mischievous allies. While the myth contains some aspects of truth, like mentioning the at-that-time unknown boar tusk helmet, more importantly it is entirely narrative and framed within the classical Greek mythos. The existence of the entire war in question is speculative, but supposing that some set piece details were continued from the Mycenaean world, we can reconstruct the armor of many individuals in the Iliad. The Homeric Greek word for their armor is thorekh, which does not tell us much. We can reference the Dendra and Theban panoplies to fill in the gaps and suggest possiblities.

Agamemnon's armor is first mentioned as a gift from Kinyras from Cyprus. The armor was made of strips: 4 of black enamel, 12 of gold, and 20 of tin. Three enamel snakes pointed to his neck on each side of the armor. It went to his waist and included a metal band around the waist. His greaves had silver ankle protectors, he wore a baldric fitting with silver suspensions to attach the sword. Assuming the snakes pointing toward the neck were on a neck guard, Andrea Salimbeti derives a few reconstructions.

A Theban panoply based version of Agamemnon's armor by Andrea Salimbeti

Cypriote near eastern scale version of Agamemnon's armor by Andrea Salimbeti

A drawing of Agamemnon in Cypriote near eastern scale armor by Andrea Salimbeti

Achilles is mentioned using two sets of armor in the story. The first was used by Patroclus and then given to Hector. It was “dazzling” bronze and full of stars. His greaves were reinforced with ankle protection. When Hector takes the armor off Patroclus, it is “unlaced”.

Hector wearing Achilles' first panoply, by Giorgio Albertini

A reconstruction of the Achilles' first panoply
Achilles' second panoply was created by Hephaestus to replace the first. It was forged out of copper, tin, silver, and gold. Not much is said of this second panoply, other than it shined brighter than a fire. An interesting detail is that when first wearing the armor he tests its freedom of movement first. The second panoply also includes silver ankle protection.

Achilles wearing his second panoply, by Giorgio Albertini

A reconstruction of Achilles' second panoply

Homer uses three words for shields: aspis, sakos, and rhinos. Shields are described to be constructed out of layers of ox-hide, to be circular, and to be reinforced with metal. Achilles' shield crafted by Hephaestus is given extreme detail in the Iliad, and was expertly reconstructed by Raffaele D'Amato. Agamemnon's shield is described in the Iliad as well, it had 10 bronze circular bosses, 20 tin bosses, and a cobalt boss in the center. Presumably on that central dark boss was the face of a gorgon, with Deimos (Fear) and Phobos (Terror) inscribed on or around it. Ajax the Greater's shield is also described. It is large enough to cover his body, not explicitly mentioned as circular, and was stuck in place in the ground for some time. Cebriones recognizes him based off his uniquely shaped shield, and Ajax is described “as a wall”. Andrea Salimbeti uses this information to postulate that he carried a tower shield and not the usual circular shield. On at least one occasion Hector's shield is mentioned as hitting his ankles and neck, presumably also a reference to a tower shield.

A reconstruction of Achilles' shield by Raffaele D'Amato

A reconstruction of Agamemnon's shield by Andrea Salimbeti

In the Iliad, while helmets are not given much description they are often described with the adjectives shining or bronze. Other various materials for making helmets are described, such as: goat skin, weasel skin, and bull skin. Some are even said to be gilded. Various additional pieces of the Homeric helmet are also mentioned, such as: throat straps, plumes, strap buckles, felt, plates, and tubes (or translated as crests). Helmets are mentioned being specifically with or without plumes, which were called either manes, horse manes, or an equine tail. Some are said to have two tubes/crests/plumes, and some having four tubes/crests/plumes. Cheek guards are mentioned, as well as quilted neck straps.

Agamemnon's helmet is mentioned being made of four plumes, two tubes or crests, and with horsehair on top. Achilles' first helmet was made of bronze, and also had horsehair on top. It had a tube or crest to support the horsehair plume as well. Achilles' second helmet made by Hephaestus is mentioned as having a golden plume which was fastened into its ridge, and had four crests or tubes. Odysseus is mentioned wearing a boar tusk helmet.

Agamemnon's helmet by Raffaele D'Amato and Peter Connolly

Achilles' first helmet, by Raffaele D'Amato and Peter Connolly

An Anatolian version of Achilles' first helmet by Raffaele D'Amato and Peter Connolly

A four horned version of Achilles' second helmet by Raffaele D'Amato and Peter Connolly

The Warrior's Vase version of Achilles' second helmet by Raffaele D'Amato and Peter Connolly

Other people mentioned in the book are usually given without much detail. Meneleus' armor is mentioned, but only that it includes a mitra or protection belt, and that he had a circular shield and wore a bronze helmet. King Idiomeneus of Crete is wearing shining bronze armor, Ajax Oileus wore a linen cuirass, Odysseus wore a decorated cuirass, and Hector's whole body was encased in bronze.

A reconstruction of Meneleus' armor by Andrea Salimbeti

Drawing of Meneleus by Andrea Salimbeti

Ajax the Greater

A drawing of Hector by Christos Giannopoulos

Ajax Oileus by Christos Giannopoulos

An interesting reconstruction of the “Heroes of the Trojan War”, Aeneas is given a Sea People's feathered headdress since he left his homeland and his tribe migrated in a band

Needless to say, a horrendous reconstruction of Achilles' armor in the movie Troy


The Minoans, by Rodney Castleden
Armor, Weapons, Shields, Chariots
Total War, Age of Bronze Mod for Rome II


  1. Hey! AoB Dev here, I was doing some research and actually came upon this webpage, very nice stuff!

    I will say this, our screenshots back then are a little bit iffy on some of the specifics of the minoans and mycenaeans. Heres a link to a later preview if you want something more accurate:

    1. Hello there, thanks, funny that you found this while researching! I have to say thank you for your wonderful mod and all the serious work you all have done. It's absolutely astounding that, for myself, I actually can see reasonable reconstructions of LBA warfare from just a group of inspired people on a forum! All other reconstructions of warfare of this period are in movies or static images in books. It may sound over the top but you all are filling a niche in reconstructive archeology. I have never seen ANY reconstructions of Harappan warfare until your mod!

      Thanks for that, and thanks as well for the link. I loved the new reconstructions, they're fantastic as well.

  2. Are you who run this blog a professional historian / archeologist or just an amateur? I find your way of reasoning very much the same as for example Cynthia Eller´s: just knocking down strawdolls. Are there anyone - or even Evans himself- claiming the LM period being peaceful? And what evidens have you got for the interpretations of the old bird goddesses with a little hat or crown on their heads, instead being warriors with helmets?

    1. Ouch! Strawdolls? I hope this post was more informative; and I'm just an amateur and a reader. These posts were mostly based off of Rodney Castleden's book on the Minoans, which has many flaws. I thought that Evans insinuated the Minoans were a non-warlike that not the case? And which object are you referring to, with bird goddesses being warriors?


  4. Thank you for some very valuable facts and clues, useful for my current research project.