Bronze Age armour

Cuirasses from Marmesse, France
Cuirasses from Marmesse, France

The 3-year-long fellowship on ‚Development, Technology and Usage of Bronze Age Defensive Armour in Central and Eastern Europe‚ started in July 2011 and ended in June 2014. It was funded with an ‘Erwin-Schrödinger-fellowship’ from the FWF (Austrian Science fund) and Marie-Curie-Actions, FP7 and involves close, intense cooperation with more than 20 museums and laboratories in over 12 European states. Further funding came from the ÖFG and the FP-7 funded CHARISMA programme. I was the project and scientific leader for all four CHARISMA-projects and the ÖFG project.

Weapon design often applies the most advanced technologies a society has to offer after they have been experimented with and refined by working jewellery and ornaments. They can therefore be used as an indicator of the technological and socio-cultural complexity of a society or culture. Most studies on Bronze Age defensive weaponry (cuirasses, greaves, helmets and shields) in Eastern Europe were carried out over 20 years ago, and even the latest publications on defensive armour tended to focus on typology and the analysis of distribution patterns. Many fundamental aspects of their manufacture, use and functionality have not been comprehensively investigated and we are still left with a very incomplete picture of this aspect of Bronze Age craftsmanship.

This project enhances our understanding of the social, cultural and technological milieu in which the earliest metal defensive armour in Europe was developed and used. The study focused primarily on the processes of manufacture of helmets, greaves and cuirasses. By analysing their material properties, shape and manufacture we gain further insights into the capability of these weapons to withstand impact during combat.

The study area was in particular the Carpathian Basin and the eastern Alpine-Carpathian area, where the earliest European Bronze Age defensive armour is found. All armour from this area was documented and studied on site. The bronzes were studied at the museums, documenting traces of manufacture and usage (e.g. impacts of offensive weapons as swords, axes or spearheads). Surface analyses were carried out by using a reflected-light microscope and a digital camera in each of the museums concerned.

The greave from Lengyeltóti, Hungary.
The greave from Lengyeltóti, Hungary

Working at the Laboratorio di Metallurgia e Materiali, Dipartimento di Chimica e Chimica Industriale (DCCI), Universitá degli Studi di Genova, in Genoa, Italy, the following methods of analyses were used to study alloy composition, microstructure and corrosion types of the armour: (portable) XRF, SEM-EDXS-EBSD, microstructure analyses (microprobe analyses, metallographic analyses using optical microscopes), (portable) hardness measurements, and Raman microspectroscopy. Portable equipment for analysing the armour in a non-invasive way was used whenever possible. Where sampling has been authorised, the analyses of the microstructure as well as the alloy of selected bronze armour were carried out using optical microscopy and SEM-EDXS. Additionally, non-invasive analyses as PGAA, PIXE and ToF-ND were carried out on the Hungarian armour (see Charisma projects).

This project with its innovative and t­rans-national scope achieved improved knowledge about the development, manufacture and usage of the first metal defensive armour in the European Bronze Age. It did not only allow us to explain technological changes through time and space, but also contributes significantly to our understanding of the social and economic impacts of these objects as part of the extensive networks of trade and as testimonies of conflict that permeated later Prehistory.

For further information see the project description on the FWF-homepage

ÖFG-project on Bronze Age defensive armour in Hungary, Croatia and Slovakia

The project involved research on the topic `Bronze Age Warfare in Eastern Europe: Development, Technology and Usage of Defensive Armour’, including literature review, data collection and analyses (alloy composition, X-ray, surface examinations) from published sources as well as primary study of material in various museum collections.

CHARISMA-projects on Bronze Age armour

  • 05/ 2013: CHARISMA-Archlab at the British Museum, London
    • I could study non-invasively the European Bronze Age armour kept at the British Museum, London.
  • 06/ 2012: 2nd CHARISMA-Fixlab at the Budapest Neutron Centre
    • In June 2012, the second part of the Hungarian Bronze Age defensive armour was studied. As already in 2010, the main goal was to gain more information about alloy composition and texture. Since the objects were not allowed to be brought outside the country and were not allowed to be sampled as well, only non-invasive surface and bulk analyses as PIXE, ToF-ND and XRF were used.
  • 04/ 2011: CHARISMA-Archlab at the CNRS-LC2RMF, Paris
    • Scientific reports, analytical data, pictures and x-radiographies of western European Bronze Age defensive armour collected at the C2RMF are the perfect base for comparison with Eastern European Bronze Age defensive armour, its manufacture and usage. Therefore, the CHARISMA-Archlab at the C2RMF was a perfect base for the 3-year-lasting ‘Schrödinger fellowship’, which started in Genova in July 2011. This project lays a perfect base for a comprehensive study of not only Eastern European, but European Bronze Age defensive armour in general.
  • 02/ 2011: 1st CHARISMA-Fixlab at the Budapest Neutron Centre
    • The main goal of the CHARISMA project carried out at the Budapest Neutron Centre was to gain more information about alloy composition and texture of Hungarian Bronze Age defensive armour. The objects were not allowed to be brought outside the country or to be sampled as well. Therefore, only non-invasive surface and bulk analyses as PIXE, ToF-ND and PGAA were used.


  1. Mödlinger, M. – Tsirogiannis, C. 2020. Recent Cases of Unprovenanced Armour in the Antiquities Market and Its Clients. Archäologisches Korrespondenzblatt 50/3 50/3, 323-337. (download here)
  2. Mödlinger, M. – Kockelmann, W. – Godfrey, E. – Schillebeeckx, P. – Postma, H. 2020. Neutron analyses on eight Austrian Bronze Age swords: addressing the question of ‘stabbing’ or ‘cut-and-thrust’ weapons. Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports 33, 102521. doi 10.1016/j.jasrep.2020.102521
  3. Mödlinger, M. – Godfrey, E. – Kockelmann, W. 2018. Neutron diffraction analyses of Bronze Age swords from the Alpine region: benchmarking neutron diffraction against laboratory methods. Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports 20, 423–433. doi: 10.1016/j.jasrep.2018.05.017
  4. Mödlinger, M. 2018. Metal body armour in the European Bronze Age: manufacture and use. In: Dolfini, A. – Crellin, R. – Horn, C. – Uckelmann, M. (eds). Prehistoric warfare and violence: Quantitative and qualitative approaches (Springer), 177-198.
  5. Mödlinger, M. – Leandri, F. – Peche-Quilichini, K. 2018. Boys don’t cry. Considérations sur les figurations de protections céphaliques et pectorales des statues-menhirs corses. Archäologisches Korrespondenzblatt 48/4, 473-492.
  6. Mödlinger, M. 2017. Protecting the body in war and combat: metal body armour in Bronze Age Europe. Oriental and European Archaeology 6 (Wien: ÖAW). Open Access
  7. Mödlinger, M. 2016. Technological studies on Bronze Age metal body armour: From the Aegean to Western Europe. Techné 43, 90-93.
  8. Mödlinger, M. 2015. Bronzezeitliche Bewaffnung und Kampfesweise in Mitteleuropa. In: Meller, H. – Schefzik, M. (eds), Massengrab von Lützen / Archäologie des Krieges, 6.11.2015 – 22.5.2016 Landesmuseum für Vorgeschichte Halle / Saale (Halle 2015), 269-272.
  9. Mödlinger, M. 2015. Bronzezeitliche Schutzwaffen. In: Meller, H. – Schefzik, M. (eds), Massengrab von Lützen / Archäologie des Krieges, 6.11.2015 – 22.5.2016 Landesmuseum für Vorgeschichte Halle / Saale (Halle 2015), 293-296.
  10. Mödlinger, M. 2014. Bronze Age bell helmets: new aspects on typology, chronology and manufacture. Prähistorische Zeitschrift 88/1, 152-179. doi: 10.1515/pz-2013-0005.
  11. Mödlinger, M. – El Morr Z. 2014. European Bronze Age sheet metal objects: 3000 years of high level bronze manufacture. JOM 66/1, 171-177. doi: 10.1007/s11837-013-0794-x
  12. Mödlinger, M. – Kasztovszky, Z. – Kis, Z. – Maróti, B. – Kovács, I. – Szőkefalvi-Nagy, Z. – Káli, G. – Horváth, E. – Sánta, Z. – El Morr, Z. 2014. Non-invasive PGAA, PIXE and ToF-ND analyses on Hungarian Bronze Age defensive armour. Journal of Radioanalytical and Nuclear Chemistry 300/2, 787-799. doi: 10.1007/s10967-014-3064-7
  13. Mödlinger, M. 2013. European Bronze Age Cuirasses: aspects of chronology, typology, manufacture and usage. Jahrbuch des Römisch-Germanischen Zentralmuseum Mainz 59 (2012), 1-50.
  14. Mödlinger, M. 2013. From Greek boar tusk helmets to the first European metal helmets: New approaches on development and date. Oxford Journal of Archaeology 32/4, 391–412. doi: 10.1111/ojoa.12021
  15. Mödlinger, M. 2013. Star Ornamentation on Late Bronze Age Helmets, Cups and Decorated Discs in Central and South-Eastern Europe. Arheološki vestnik 64, 65-101.
  16. Mödlinger, M. – Piccardo, P. – Kasztovszky, Z. – Kovács, I. – Szőkefalvi-Nagy, Z. – Káli, G. – Szilágyi, V. 2013. Archaeometallurgical characterization of the earliest European metal helmets. Materials Characterization 79, 22-36. doi: 10.1016/j.matchar.2013.02.007 Open Access
  17. Mödlinger, M. – Piccardo, P. 2013. Manufacture of Eastern European decorative discs from 1200 BC. Journal of Archaeological and Anthropological Sciences 5/4, 299-309. doi: 10.1007/s12520-012-0111-6
  18. Piccardo, P. – Mödlinger, M. – Ghiara, G. – Campodonico, S. – Bongiorno, V. 2013. Investigation on a “tentacle-like” corrosion feature on Bronze Age tin-bronze objects. Journal of applied physics A doi: 10.1007/s00339-013-7732-1
  19. Mödlinger, M. 2013. Bronze Age metal defensive armour in Eastern Europe: status symbols and symbolic weapons only? In: Rezi, B. – Németh, R. E. – Berecki, S. (eds). Indications for the usage as weapons. Bronze Age Crafts and Craftsmen in the Carpathian Basin’, Târgu Mureş, Romania, 5-7 October 2012, 279-290.
  20. Mödlinger, M. 2012. Manufacture of Bronze Age defensive armour in Eastern Europe. Forum Archaeologiae 65/XII/2012 (online: 15.12.2012).
  21. Mödlinger, M. 2011. Bronze Age Warfare in Eastern Europe: Development, Technology and Usage of Defensive Armour. A short presentation of a forthcoming project. Bulletin de l’Association pour la Promotion des Recherches sur l’Age du Bronze 8, 86–88.

Invited lectures, conference participations: presentation of project results

  • 07/ 2018 – Ruhr-Universität Bochum, Germany
  • 11/ 2017 – Aarhus University, Aarhus, Denmark
  • 10/ 2017 – Deutsches Archäologisches Institut (DAI), Berlin, Germany
  • 05/ 2017 – Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Boston, USA
  • 02/ 2016 – University of Cork, Ireland
  • 01/ 2016 – State Museum of Prehistory in Halle, Germany
  • 06/ 2015 – Archaeometallurgy in Europe IV, Madrid, Spain
  • 12/ 2014 – Plenarsitzung des Clusters 2, DAI, Berlin, Germany
  • 10/ 2014 – The Historical Metallurgy Society, Salisbury, UK (with B. Molloy)
  • 09/ 2014 – Annual meeting of the EAA, September 10-14, 2014, Istanbul, Turkey
  • 06/ 2014 – Workshop: Konflikt und Innovation, RGK Frankfurt, Germany
  • 06/ 2013 – University of Padoa, Institute of Archaeology, Italy
  • 05/ 2013 – Ciclo de Conferências de Mação, Instituto Terra e Memória, Mação, Portugal
  • 04/ 2013 – XIXe Colloque du GMPCA, Université de Caen, France
  • 04/ 2013 – Budapest Neutron Centre, Budapest, Hungary
  • 02/ 2013 – University of Genoa, Institute of Archaeology, Italy
  • 11/ 2012 – Master Besançon/Dijon, University of Burgundy, Dijon, France
  • 10/ 2012 – International conference ‘Bronze Age Crafts and Craftsmen in the Carpathian Basin’, Târgu Mureş, Romania
  • 05/ 2012 – University of Graz, Institute of Archaeology, Austria
  • 02/ 2012 – University of Genoa, Institute of Archaeology, Italy