Bringing Definition To The Greek Helmet

When you think of the defining head gear of ancient Greece, the Spartan or Corinthian helmet is most likely the first to enter your mind.  After all, these types tend to be the typical ones seen in film and other media.  However, Greek helmets were vast in their assortment.  Thus it hardly seems fair to call either one of these the dominant Greek helmet of the day.  In taking a closer examination of ancient Greek style, you will notice similarities in each Greek helmet, as well as aspects that set them apart.  In addition, the different styles are telling of the territories conquered and ruled by Greek warriors.

The Corinthian helmet is believed to be the first Greek helmet to emerge in ancient Greece.   Its major appearance is in the 8th century BC, but archeological finds show its first sightings much earlier.  It originated from the city-state of Corinth and was worn both in and out of battle.  It was made of bronze and characterized by full face coverage with limited visibility.  Later versions expanded visibility and the inclusion of protection for the back of the head and neck.  It had a solid run into the 1st century AD.  Bearing strong resemblance to the Corinthian helmet was the Spartan helmet.  Its design was basically the same, but with shorter cheek guards.

Corinthian Helmet

Corinthian Helmet

As an improvement from the Corinthian helmet came the Chalcidian helmet, which had widespread use during the 4th and 5th centuries BC.  It is believed to have emerged from the European city-state of Chalcis, although there is debate over this claim.  This piece was made of bronze and offered better visibility and hearing than the Corinthian.  It was shaped like a hemispherical dome with two hinged cheek pieces, a nose guard, a nose guard, and loops on the sides to fit the ears.  This helmet was often decorative with etchings or elaborate designs and protrusions, such as combs, on the top.  The Chalcidian helmet later gave rise to the Attic helmet, which was almost identical, but lacked a nose guard.

Brass Chalcidian Helmet

Brass Chalcidian Helmet

Another familiar Greek helmet is the Illyrian helmet which came into prominence in the 7th and 8th centuries BC.  Developed in the Peloponnese, this bronze head gear was open faced and comprised of two pieces joined together at the crown.  Though visibility was good, hearing was impaired in the earliest design. Later variations improved on its audible nature and also incorporated coverage for the full head and neck.  Ridges along the sides were also characteristic of this style and aided in extra reinforcement.

In terms of classic Greek helmet types, the Phrygian helmet is as classic as it gets, especially since it originated in Classical Greece.  This bronze head gear was worn all throughout the Mediterranean.  It is characterized by a high and forward pointing apex attached to the skull.  The apex served to protect the upper part of the face and shield the eyes.  Another distinct part of this helmet were the large cheek pieces that were so prominent that they often met at the center with just enough space for the eyes and nose to stick out.  The Phrygian endured from the Classical era into the Hellenistic period.

In addition to the styles discussed here, Greek helmet designs had many other variations.  While the basic designs served as the foundation, it is still nearly impossible to define the head gear of ancient Greece with just one type of Greek helmet.  This is indeed a testament to the sharp minds and innovation of the Greeks.

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