The Shoulder-Flap-Cuirass from Golyamata Mogila

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Categories: Ancient
A photo of an armour comprising a Chalcidian helmet with hinged cheeks, a leather gorget covered in iron scales, and a leather cuirass with a skirt of feathers and two shoulder-flaps (aka. Jarva type IV/tube-and-yoke/linothorax) completely covered with iron scales
From Daniela Agre, “The Tumulus of Golyamata Mogila near the villages of Malomirovo and Zlatinitsa” (Sofia: Avalon Publishing, 2011) p. 73

Although many scholars grumble about reviews of academic books in academic journals, those reviews can still be valuable. In a review of that valuable but frustrating book from the Midwest, Raimon Graells i Fabregat mentioned some relevant evidence which the authors did not discuss:

In chapters 3 and 4, the author’s experiment is described, with a commentary on the materials and techniques used to reconstruct linen body armor. What is surprising is the absence of an analysis of the two iron cuirasses designed in the same way as linothorakes, one from Tumulus II of Vergina and the other from Burial III of Aghios Athanasios or even the complete linothorax from the Golyamata Mogila near Malomirovo and Zlanitsa. These metal cuirasses would doubtless have provided useful support and verification for technical aspects of the reconstruction.

The third armour was excavated a few years ago in modern Bulgaria (ancient Thrace), and pictures have been floating around on the Internet for some time. Fabregat cites the book in which it has been published with parallel Bulgarian and English text. It is made of one layer of medium-weight leather covered with iron scales. The collar should remind readers of the Alexander historians of a certain passage, and the difference between the right and left shoulders should make readers of Xenophon on horsemanship 12.6 ponder. The author has posted her book on academia.edu where it is available for free download (link). Download both files with the Roman numeral III in the title, and start at page 72.

I do not really know what to say, except that there is clearly more work to be done in bringing different communities into contact with each other, whether archaeologists in Bulgaria and historians in Austria, or people who are interested in material culture in an abstract way, and people who are interested in reconstructing it. And while non-archaeologists can be frustrated that archaeologists have not yet published the things which we want to learn more about, there are often other things to read while we wait if we just learn how to find them.

A sketch of the armour spread out flat, and a sketch of the armour tied shut around an invisible body
Illustration III-17, page 75, of Daniela Agre, “The Tumulus of Golyamata Mogila near the villages of Malomirovo and Zlatinitsa” (Sofia: Avalon Publishing, 2011)

Fabregat, the reviewer, also reminds readers that some art from the so-called Celtic regions of Iberia, southern France, and northern Italy seems to show a version of this style of armour worn by warriors who are otherwise dressed like locals. A catalogue of this iconography is available in an article by Fabrice de Backer * and is still useful even though I have some concerns about his general statements about armour.

A misshapen brown object like a dead leaf inside a crumpled piece of corroded metal
The sheepskin arming cap inside the helmet has survived mostly intact, and Agre describes it in detail including the dyes which once coloured it (p. 90). Photo from Daniela Agre, “The Tumulus of Golyamata Mogila near the villages of Malomirovo and Zlatinitsa” (Sofia: Avalon Publishing, 2011) p. 84.

I also think that this find reminds us that even if we are mainly interested in one culture, sometimes evidence from their neighbours can help us understand them better. While this armour is not shaped exactly the same way as armour in Athenian vase paintings, equipment in Crete or the Greek cities in Italy was not exactly the same as Athenian fashions either.

Edit 2016-02-27: Fixed broken link to AJA Online

Edit 2016-03-03: On the tube-and-yoke armour of solid iron plates from Agios Athanasios Tomb III in Thessalonike, Raimon Graelis i Fabregat recommends Μ. Tsimpidas-Avloniti, “Άγιος Αθανάσιος, Μακεδονικός τάφος ΙΙΙ: Ο οπλισμός του ευγενούς νεκρού,” in ΝΑΜΑΤΑ: Τιμητικός Τόμος για τον Καθηγητή Δ. Παντερμαλή [Thessaloniki 2011] pp. 351–63 which is also available as a free PDF in Modern Greek.

* Fabrice de Backer, “Scale-Armour in the Mediterranean Area during the Early Iron Age: a) from the XIth to the IIIrd century BC.” Revue des Études Militaires Anciennes 5 (2012)

0 thoughts on “The Shoulder-Flap-Cuirass from Golyamata Mogila

  1. Pavel Vaverka says:

    Superb set of artifacts I know only from photos. Really helpful, armour which proves Xenophon passage is very useful for me! Thanks a lot. I get trough both articles, but my intuition and sense for practicaity tells me, that there has been surely under armour some form of linen vest or quilted material, it is too thin to absorb pressure from strikes.

    1. Sean Manning says:

      Glad to help … and to “boost the signal” of good research from outside the US and western Europe!

      1. Pavel Vaverka says:

        I briefly have read the whole book, I certainly this week will be reading all chapters again, the most fascinating finds, I couldn’t even imagine. Not just arms, armour, but also medical tools, 2 horses, dog etc. Did you read it whole book? Thank You again, what a luck, that author Daniela Arge made her book bilingual and available. In my opinion (but I don’t have acces to the most recent typology and artefacts) helmet and armour fits more into late 5th CE BC than earl 4th CE BC.

        And one pearl for an end “our experts” at Charles Prague University (UK) and elsewhere had research in Bulgaria recently ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pistiros ) and long term (sometimes from 1950s onward) but, we don’t have this book at UK or national library, or elsewhere, not to mention other new books about Thrace!

        Their idea of work is:

        1) No translations of primary sources (for an example we have one unique copy of Avesta from 2002, number of translation 0, or anyone who wants to do it. Scans here http://web.ff.cuni.cz/ustavy/usj/Pr1_html/Soubory/index.htm there is something terribly wrong with this country…

        Same thing goes for Diodorus, Poseidonius, Curtius Rufus, Justin etc.)

        2) No new books in libraries for student and public

        Internet saviour of us all (at least sometimes)!

        1. Sean Manning says:

          There are certainly many interesting artifacts in there! But because it is too far away from my main research, I only had time to skim it.

          My old post on glued linen got a lot of hits recently, so I was glad to be able to post something positive which is not just arguing about the same few lines of literature or how to interpret paintings.

  2. Some Comments on Turner on Old World Iron | Book and Sword says:

    […] specific types of find like swords and helmets. I think this article overlooks sites in Thrace like Golyamata Mogila because Bulgarian archaeology is mostly published in Bulgarian and Russian and because scholars in […]

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