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Body armour cast in the form of a man’s torso with eyelets for threading on both sides. - click to view larger image
Cuirass (body armour)

SOPHIA: Remember at the start when Lucas and I said Ancient Greece was all about competition? Nothing says competition like soldiers in armour! Back then, wars were fought face-to-face and hand-to-hand, so good armour was a must if you wanted to win.

The helmet protects the head. The greaves protect the legs, like shin-guards in cricket. And the cuirass protects the chest and back.

Oh wow! Look at the dent in the cuirass. Halfway up the front of the ribs? Imagine a soldier wearing this right in the heat of battle and THUNK! he’s stabbed in the chest with a spear. This armour might have saved his life.

Do you reckon this armour would fit you? Or your parents? It’s not really that big, is it? That’s because the Ancient Greeks were much shorter than most people today – except Lucas, who would probably fit this armour perfectly.

LUCAS: SOPHIA!

SOPHIA: Right. Sorry! The soldier who wore these would have been the height of a 13-year-old boy today. Yet a suit of armour could weigh over 22 kilograms. That’s like 11 2-litre bottles of milk. Imagine that in your backpack on the way to school!

Why was the armour so heavy?

It was made of bronze because it was the best material the Ancient Greeks had to make strong armour with. But bronze is super heavy and seriously hard to move in – and really expensive too.

Check out the helmet. It might save you from a sword to the head, but it would have been very hard to see out of. And I bet it was really hard to dodge and run if you were wearing a cuirass and greaves like these.

So, what do you do if you’re an Ancient Greek army who want the very best armour to protect themselves, but still want to be able to move in it and crush their opponents under their heels?

You work out a way to have the best armour and fight effectively. They invented a battle formation where all the soldiers would stand side by side with other soldiers and move in a solid group, with their shields overlapping. This was called a phalanx and it was very hard to fight.

Even then, war was messy and terrifying. You couldn’t see or hear well through your helmet. Metal clashed against metal. Men were shouting and screaming.

Being a soldier in Ancient Greece was not for the faint-hearted!

Disclaimer and Copyright notice
This is an edited transcript typed from an audio recording.
The National Museum of Australia cannot guarantee its complete accuracy.

© National Museum of Australia 2007–21. This transcript is copyright and is intended for your general use and information. You may download, display, print and reproduce it in unaltered form only for your personal, non-commercial use or for use within your organisation. Apart from any use as permitted under the Copyright Act 1968 (Cth) all other rights are reserved.

Date published: 17 December 2021

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