Armor in the Heroic Age

“Now shield with shield, with helmet helmet closed,
Armour to armour, lance to lance opposed,
Host against host with shadowy squadrons drew,
The sounding darts in iron tempests flew,”
The Iliad, Book IV, 86-89

The Trojan War takes place around the end of the Greek Bronze Age, a time period that lasted roughly 3,000 years. There were three major civilizations that rose and fell during this period: The Cycladic civilization that developed on the islands of the Aegean sea, the Minoans on the large island of Crete, and the Mycenaeans on mainland Greece. By the end of the 10th century BC, the Mycenaean civilization expanded its influence throughout the Greek Mainland, the islands of the Aegean and Ionian sea, Crete, and the coast of Asia Minor. However, they collapsed due to unknown reasons (internal strife or outside invasions). The greek Dark Ages lasted for another 300 years after that, a time period of basic subsistence with no significant cultural or historical development.
Which leads me to the arms and armor available to the players. As a DM, you have to balance the historicity of the late Bronze Age with the fact that this is a game about wizards and dragons. It’s supposed to be fun. As a DM I try not to be so beholden to archaeology to make things not fun. However, enough realism can give the world a sense of richness.

 The most common type of armor was a cuirass, basically a breastplate. Sometimes these cuirasses would be made from thick leather, or bronze, however they were also made from linen. The linothorax was a breastplate made of laminated linen reinforced with a metal sheet around the waist. It is lightweight and flexible. There are no surviving models, instead historians only have Homer’s descriptions and paintings to work from. However, Dr. Gregory S. Aldrete of the University of Wisconsin has been researching the linothorax armor trying to recreate it using authentic materials. In an episode of Penn and Teller Tell a Lie he demonstrates how the linothorax armor was capable of stopping an arrow.
One of the best examples of a heavy bronze suit of armor from the Mycenaean Era is the Dendra panoply or Dendra armor. It is a series of thick bronze plates that include a breastplate, shoulder guards, a neck guard, and lower protection plates. In this setting, this is going to be the heaviest suit of armor a player will have.
Helmets were also very common, and usually made from bronze. Bronze caps, leather caps, and full face helms are very common during this time. However, one of the most interesting pieces is the boar’s tusk helmet. Granted, most of these pieces are older than the Mycenaean Era and not very common. It should be noted that the classic Corinthian helm was not developed yet. It did not see usage until 600 BC. However, that did not stop Greek artists from portraying heroes from the Iliad wearing such helmets. It probably should not stop the DM or players. Those helmets look awesome.
Example of Boar Tooth Helm
In the Iliad, Meriones gives Odysseus the Helmet of Amyntor, an heirloom that has been passed down through generations. The Helmet of Amyntor was a boar’s tusk helmet. These helmets are made of a leather cap lined with slivers of boar’s teeth. According to Homer:

A well-proved casque, with leather braces bound,
(Thy gift, Meriones,) his temples crown’d;
Soft wool within; without, in order spread,
A boar’s white teeth grinned horrid over his head.” (Iliad, Book X, 183-186)
Fresco of Figure Eight Shield
Greek soldiers carried lightweight large shields into battle that could cover their entire body. In the archaeological sources there are three main types: a tall rectangular shield made of wicker and covered with layers of leather, the rim is reinforced with bronze. There were also shields shaped like a figure eight, thin in the middle. These kinds of shields were the most common, and again consist of a layer of wicker followed by layers of toughened leather either glued or stitched together. Finally, the third style was the Proto-Diplon shield, similar to the figure eight, except it had an oval shape with two slices cut out of each side. By the end of the Bronze Age however, shields made of bronze became more common. They would still be covered in cowhide.

The Rules of Bronze Age Armor
Bronze age armor is not nearly as durable as the kinds of armor found in the player’s handbook. They are Fragile which means that if an attacker makes an attack against someone wearing fragile armor and rolls a natural 20, the fragile armor will break. It requires a smith to repair sundered armor. The cost of repairing damaged armor is half the cost of the armor. Fragile armor is the only type of armor available to starting characters and mortals. Heroes, on the other hand, usually have access to superior armor made from superior materials.

Linothorax Cuirass
Cost: 5 gp
Armor Class: 11 + DEX modifier
Stealth: --
Weight: 8 lbs.

Leather Cuirass
Cost: 10 gp
Armor Class: 12 + DEX modifier
Stealth: --
Weight: 12 lbs.

Bronze Breastplate
Cost: 400 gp
Armor Class: 14 + DEX modifier
Stealth: Disadvantage
Weight: 35 lbs.

Bronze Helm
Cost: 10 gp
Armor Class: +1
Stealth: --
Weight: 3 pounds

Cost: 10 gp
Armor Class: +1
Stealth: --
Weight: 3 pounds


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