Alexander’s Armour

By now the noise of the engagement had reached the king, who came to the front line, dismissing from his mind the danger of which he had been forewarned – though in deference to his friends’ pleas he did put on his cuirass, which he rarely wore.
(Curtius Bk. 4 Chapter 6)

When I read the above passage this morning*, the last four words immediately jumped out at me – which he rarely wore. What, I thought to myself, Alexander rarely wore armour? That cannot be; Curtius has made a mistake.

In Chapter 13 of Book 4, however, he once again observes that Alexander ‘very rarely… wore his cuirass’ and that when he did, it was only ‘at the request of his friends’.

But, Alexander definitely wore armour. This is confirmed by the Alexander historians**, including Curtius himself.

[Alexander’s] courage was great, but the danger greater for, conspicuous in his royal insignia and flashing armour, he was the prime target of enemy missiles…
(Book 4 Chapter 4)

Visual references also show that he wore armour. For example, the famous Alexander Mosaic.

Mosaic of Alexander the Great

The only thing I can say about the mosaic is that it was made around 100 B.C. – just over two hundred years after Alexander’s death; it is believed, however, to be based on an early third century B.C. original (see its Wikipedia entry here).

On the other hand, the sculpture of Alexander on the side of the Alexander sarcophagus appears to me to show the Macedonian king without any armour at all.

Alexander_Sarcophagus

Now, for all I know, he is wearing armour – it’s just underneath his tunic (though this would be unlikely?) or the sculptor only omitted it for propaganda/aesthetic reasons (more likely).

As I see them, the options as regards Curtius are these,

1. He is correct. Alexander really did only wear armour rarely
2. He is deceiving us (to make Alexander look good? Or bad, e.g. reckless)
3. He is incorrect as a result of misreading his source(s)
4. He is incorrect as a result of being deceived by his source(s)
5. He is both wrong and right. Alexander wore armour but only wore a particular type of cuirass rarely – perhaps the muscular cuirass (below)?
Museo_archeologico_regionale_paolo_orsi,_corazza_in_bronzo,_da_tomba_5_necropoli_della_fossa,_370-340_ac._01

Can you think of any other options – or know the answer to this puzzle? Even if you have as much idea as me, feel free to leave your comment below!

* For my post As the Crow Flies

** ‘… they could see Alexander himself, an unmistakable figure in magnificent armour… (Arrian Bk 1)
‘That it was Alexander who stood there was plain to all: his almost legendary courage no less than his shining armour proclaimed him.’ (Arrian Bk 6)
‘[Alexander] put on his helmet. He was already wearing the rest of his armour…’ (Plutarch 32)

Categories: On Alexander | Tags: | 7 Comments

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7 thoughts on “Alexander’s Armour

  1. I think we must interpret Curtius literally: ‘rarely’ means Alexander did wear armour, but not always when fighting. Therefore I choose your no.1.

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  2. I’d go with option 5. It’s the specific mention of cuirass which suggests that.

    Am reminded of long discussions about the Amphipolis regulations of Philip V where the cuirass and half-cuirass suggest heavier armour for the file leaders of the phalanx. Some (eg Hatzopolous) suggest that there’s a distinction being drawn between metallic and non-metallic armour. Perhaps that’s the distinction being drawn here too between what we see in the Pompeii mosaic to something similar to what was found at Vergina, or something similar to what you’ve already suggested.

    [img]http://deepdigging.files.wordpress.com/2010/01/armour.jpg[/img]

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  3. Numerius

    There’s a very good chance that Philip II’s tomb is actually Alexander’s. Think about it. The frescoe at the entrance describes a known hunt involving Alexander, so this idea isn’t a stretch. The armour and whatnot are probably his.

    Something isn’t right about that place, regardless.

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  4. Numerius

    A source for your consideration:

    http://www.scribd.com/mobile/doc/17285605

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