Ancient Warfare Answers (305): What was the difference between bronze and iron?

In a second question from his postcard, Gus asks, what was the difference between bronze and iron weapons and armour in terms of availability, hardness, temper and penetrating ability?

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I understood there was a big issue with the modern definition of bronze for the ancient Eastern Mediterranean because there is so little tin in objects, particularly from the early era – copper alloyed with other metals yes, but with quantities of tin much less than 1% (if at all). Tin sourced from Cornwall amongst other places provided higher proportions of tin for the Western Med from a pretty early date. The modern technical definitions are pretty immaterial because we tend to use “bronze” to match all-encompassing ancient terms anyway.
What is interesting from an ancient metallurgy point of view is which alloys give bronze different characteristics and whether these match with the armour or weapons produced by ancient armourers. I’m pretty sure some work has been done on composition of early iron weapons and armour which indicates that ancient metallurgists were experimenting with the hardness of cutting edges, so I would expect something similar for bronze. Do you know how far this has been studied?

Duncan Whinton-Brown

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