The Ancient Greeks Invented Kevlar Over 2 Millennia Ago

In 356-323 B.C. Alexander the Great of Macedon conquered almost the entire known world by military force. Surprisingly, not much is known about how he did it! An ancient and mysterious armor called Linothorax was apparently used by Alexander and his men which may have been one of the reasons for his ever so successful conquest. A group of students at the University of Wisconsin Green Bay (UWGB) have been investigating in detail and making their own version of it.

The problem is this type of armor decomposes naturally over time unlike more solid artifacts of stone and metal — meaning there is no physical proof or evidence of its existence. It has been described in around two dozen pieces of ancient literature and seen in over 700 visuals such as mosaics, sculptures and paintings — but there are no real examples of it. It is made (or thought to be) of many layers of linen glued together, much the same way that Kevlar body armor works.

The cool thing about this project is the students are designing their own Linothorax using authentic fabrics and glues that would have been available in that time period. The samples have been quite successful, surviving sharp arrows, swords, and even swinging axes at it. If this is the secret to Alexander the Great’s success… no wonder!

The group has lots of information on the topic and a few videos — stick around to learn more!

[Thanks Repkid!]

53 thoughts on “The Ancient Greeks Invented Kevlar Over 2 Millennia Ago

      1. Kevlar is a very different kind of fiber, body armor uses woven, not glued sheets and modern soft body armor actually sucks against pointy things, like arrows and knives :P

        What they are playing with is COMPOSITE armor! ;-)

        Also – why does everyone have to use the DuPont trademark? The family of materials is called aramids, some manufacturers even sell it by that name.

        1. if it bothers you enough to give you a headache, you could take an ‘aspirin’…or we can ‘band-aid’ it with some scripting to change all Kevlar references to aramid in your browser. Failing that we could dowse your computer in ‘kerosene’ and set it on fire. Brings a tear to my eye – somebody hand me a ‘kleenex’.

      1. He isn’t wrong. Plus, it is entirely plausible that the Phone-cians invented the first mobile telephone. Hell, they seemed to invented everything else, including what you are reading right now (alpahbet).

    1. Pay attention no PHYSICAL evidence, as stated there are stories and portraits from that time where he is wearing some kind of non-metal armor.

      But if you can find 2000 years old paintings/mosaics where people have mobile phones and 20000 year old stories about them using them, then yes I advise you to publish.

      1. It’s basic journalism. “Greeks had some sort of composite armour made out of fabric” isn’t particularly eye-catching. “Ancient Greeks invented KEVLAR!!!” is much more so. “Kevlar!? I thought that was only invented in the 1970s or something. Honey! Come quick, read what it says about the Ancient…”

        It’s a cheap and old trick, and they pull it a bit too often on HaD. When it doesn’t work, we end up with threads like this one, full of disappointment.

    2. They also used materials and technology available at the time. Sure there might not be proof that the armour they have made was used back then, but it’s a reasonable theory given the evidence available.

      1. Come to think of it, all the materials to make a mobile phone, or two way radio, has been around since the late neolithic. Copper, acids, heavily abundant quartz, it was all there. Kinda sad when you think about how long we could have at least invented a bell style phone but never figured it out.

        Similarly we could have had cast iron steam engines 2500 years ago. Imagine it, Jesus on palm sunday scooting into Jerusalem riding his donkeyless wagon.

        The turks had everything to make a crude steel internal combustion engine 3800 years ago!

        Sirs and madams, we have been slakcing!

        1. Indeed! If the Babylonians had old clay pots with electric cells in them, they could have at least ventured into electromagnetism, and with a bit of effort come up with the carbon granule mic (made from charcoal, essentially), and the primitive phone speaker (a coil of wire and a flat bit of iron). If they’d really put the effort in we might’ve had an Internet of Pascalines by the Renaissance, web sites stored as pins on rotating drums or something.

    1. So they are not very serious historians because hackaday put ‘Greek’ in the title of the story?

      Their website (and the summary above) state “In little more than two decades Alexander the Great of Macedon (356-323 B.C.) conquered by military force nearly the entirety of the known world”

      Although before Alexander the Great, Greece was a bunch of separate city states, and Macedon could have been included as one of the Greek city states. They spoke Greek and shared a lot of culture. So even if they did say Greek, they might not necessarily be totally wrong.

    2. So you are suggesting that the Ancient Macedonians where speaking a bulgarian dialect in the time that the Bulgarians and all of the slavic speaking people were far away from the Balkans?

    3. This is a matter of some dispute between Greece and the current country of Macedonia (or technically The Former Yugaslavian Republic of Macedonia). The territories that used to make up historical Macedonia was part of Greece for a long time, but it’s now split about 50-50 between Greece and the contemporary Macedonia, but Greece claims ownership over the name Macedonia because it was part of their territories and, until the formation of the contemporary Macedonia, was a name only used for a region of Greece.

      Contemporary Macedonia of course claims that they own the name because they’re made up entirely of territory which was part of the historical Macedonia, even if it isn’t the entire area. Claims over being the birthplace of Alexander the Great are part of the dispute over the naming, as it’s been a point of pride for Greece for a long time that he was born in Greek territory, even if it wasn’t Greece back then

  1. Kevlar is not a glued layered fabric. It is a tightly woven mat of Aramid fibers. However, the US federal government found that “spider webs” are even more impervious to projectiles and even more light weight than Kevlar. Spider web bullet proof vests are very expensive but easier to conceal. The feds use them.

    The ancient Japanese knew this and used “silk” vests to protect them from arrows probably long before Alexander. The key to Alexander’s success was not his choice of military tools. It was his sheer head-strong ambition which his enemies did not expect and where totally unprepared to meet his military forces. However, he met his match when he entered India.

    Can anyone explain the “flying shields” over the city of Tyre during one of his earlier successful campaigns? Now that’s a mystery to research.

    And how is Macedonia not Greece? Greeks don’t want to claim their ancient hero? I don’t get it. Or will you Greeks only claim Archimedes with his fabulous “sun death ray”? Google that. A famous university is checking that one out too. It appears to have been a true story…

      1. You’re right… Even Kevlar and Spider Web vests don’t technically STOP the projectile as you can still be horribly bruised or penetrated slightly. It just mitigates the wounding as bullets bounce all around your insides severing arteries and breaking bones killing you without the vests. And yes arrows would still stick in you just not bury too deeply and allows easier removal, just as you said. The Mongols also displayed this technology too.

      1. You must be an uneducated person. In Ancient Greece they had city states and kingdoms. Most of the southerns had city states and most of the northern (Epirotans and Macedonians) had tribal kingdoms. Wars between all of them were very common. Sparta, like Athens or Thebes or Corinth, was a city state and it was in a direct war with Athens most of the time for the reason of controlling all of other Greek states and kingdoms. The kingdom of Macedonia, for example, was an ally with Sparta due to their common ancestry from Dorian Greeks, while Athens was ally with many islands and Ionian city states in Minor Asia (Anatolia in Ancient Greek) because of their common Ionian Greek origin. There was not a single national state at that era anyway. They were either multinational empires (see Persia), kingdoms or small states (either the city level or multi-city).

      2. Macedonia or Macedon, were Alexander was from and was king, was an ancient Greek kingdom.

        “Greeks want to claim everything now”
        Aristotle, Socrates, and Plato they can have ’em! I heard they were all homosexuals, which was not uncommon in ancient Greece, I hear.

        1. Aristotle taught Alexander. All his intellectual abilities were derived from his teachings. They did not get along though. Aristotle was a intellectual with a strong sense of ethics while Alexander was a spoiled rich boy being used to having everything handed to him.

      3. I saw that movie too (300). However, the ancient Iranians (Persians) did not look like that. Leonidas did not just have 300 men. There was about 7,000 total at Thermopylae. But no match for Xerxes’ 2,000.000 men.

  2. While not Kevlar by any means, this was quite advanced for the time and the materials at hand. Think what they could have done if they had modern materials to work with.

    1. If they’d had advanced plastics, presumably the enemy would have had gunpowder, machine guns, and similar 1965-era technology. So it would’ve been a lot like Vietnam, except possibly less insane.

      1. Gunpowder predates Alexander. The Chinese invented it and were using it in a rudimentary hand cannon. If Alexander had used their rocket technology that the Chinese had even in his day he could have taken the Indians. It would have bolstered his war-weary men too. The Chinese were just north of India but didn’t think to try and conquer that area until now via Tibet.

        I wish there was more information on the giant cave lizards (obviously monitors or kimodas) he encountered in India. Fascinating subject.

        ” So it would’ve been a lot like Vietnam, except possibly less insane.”
        You mean he would have LOST the war(s) like we did in Vietnam? Technology did not help us there. I think it made us more complacent and arrogant trying to conquer ancient jungle-warriors like the Viet Cong. Like we are now learning with desert-warriors in ancient Afghanistan. It’s difficult to beat someone when your not the HOME team. Unless you are UCONN university – GO HUSKYS!

        1. We lost Vietnam for the same reason we weren’t able to reunite Korea… Because they were backed by the Chinese, pure and simple. Had nothing to do with hardened jungle warriors.

  3. Micarta. A light, tough solid that can be made with very rudimentary materials. Like linen fabric and hide glue. It’s labor intensive to make but with the right mold and press can be manufactured in shapes. In an infantry battle of evenly matched forces a slight advantage in body protection is a big plus.

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