When it comes to Ancient Greek helmets, there are seemingly countless types to learn about spanning across the many years of the classical period. That’s why we have produced our ultimate guide to the most influential Ancient Greek helmets, to help inform you of what might want to add to your collection next! 

Boar Tusk Helmet:

The boar tusk helmet is one of the earliest Grecian armour finds in the archaeological record. As its name suggests, it was made from boar ivory – requiring anywhere from 40 to 140 boars to construct. This ivory reinforced a conical leather framework, and would often be embellished with a plume on the top. Everson argues that this was the most sophisticated form of reinforcement available in this period, as techniques to make Bronze alloys often ended with embrittlement. 

Boar Tusk Helmet from Mycenae 14th century BC, in the collection of the National Archaeological Museum of Athens

The boar tusk helmet was a staple of Mycenaean armour until the 10th century BC, and had wider cultural significance beyond its utility in battle. Around 800 years after its fall from popularity, Homer makes multiple mentions of the boar tusk helmet in The Iliad, describing the “boars white teeth” that “grinn’d horrid o’er [Ulyssess’] head” as he prepared to face the Trojans (The Iliad, Book X, 187), and the boar tusk helmet passed down to Odysseus. The boar tusk helmet is, as such, a foundational and iconic piece of early Greek armour.

Corinthian Helmet:

There is perhaps no Greek helmet as infamous as the Corinthian helmet – this list simply wouldn’t be complete without it! In the contemporary imagination of the Greek period, you will most likely see depictions of Hoplites wearing the Corinthian – or Spartan – helmet. This is also true of the classical period – archeological finds evidence  multiple depictions of the Corinthian helmet across art, numismatics, and literature.

Corinthian Helmet, sold by Pax Romana Auctions October 2019.

Distinctive for its almost complete facial covering and ocular slits, the Corinthian helmet eponymously hails from the Greek city-state Corinth and was originally designed for the purpose of totally protecting the head during combat. The Corinthian helmet rectified the flaws of earlier armoury by reducing the seams in its manufacture – forged from a single piece of bronze in its latest iteration rather than the multiple required by the earlier Kegel helmet, the Corinthian was significantly less fragile and thus less likely to break. As such, archaeologists speculate that this was the most popular form of helmet in Ancient Greece.

This did not mean the Corinthian helmet was without its own flaws: the helmet was so restrictive that Hoplites would often wear it tipped back when not in combat, and later iterations such as the Italo-Corinthian helmet would be worn more like a cap than a full helmet. Regardless, the Corinthian remained popular for over three hundred years, only falling out of favour at the end of the fifth century. 

Chalcidian Helmet:

Following the decline in popularity in the Corinthian helmet, the Chalcidian helmet was an evolution of the Corinthian with a more open form and smaller nose guard. Its cheek pieces also tended to be less pronounced, and were often rounded to increase the helmet’s overall ergonomic quality. These slight improvements, alongside its more lightweight design, made for a much easier wearing helmet whilst still offering the protective coverage of the Corinthian. 

Chalcidian Helmet Ca. 500 – 300BC , currently in the collection of Pax Romana.

Like its predecessor, the Chalcidian was also exceedingly popular, with a high geographic range – examples have been discovered from the Spanish Black sea to Romania. Picured above is one stunning XRF-tested example from our collection, originating from around 500 – 300 BC.

Phrygian Helmet:

Another successor to the Corinthian helmet, the Phrygian helmet has its origins in Thrace, Dacia, and Magna Graecia. Compared to the Corinthian and Chalcidian, the Phyrigian helmet is significantly more open in style, most often protecting just the crown of the head. Occasionally, the helmet had cheek plates attached – however, these models retained a much more open field of view than either of the aforementioned models, covering only the very sides of the face and ears. Models such as these were often ornately decorated, usually with a faux mustache and beard – one way in which wealthy Greeks flaunted their means and status.

Phrygian Helmet Ca 500 – 300 BC, currently in the collection of Pax Romana.

However, as evident from the above photo, these were far from the Phrygian helmet’s most distinctive feature. The helmet featured a scroll-like plume that extended forward toward its wearer, a design that came from the shape of the Phrygian cap. The helmet was fashioned from just two sheets of bronze – one forming the skull, and another forming the plume.

The Phyrgian helmet is most famously associated with the Macedonian kings, as it is hypothesised that it was Phillip’s choice for his cavalry, and was later worn by Alexander the Great’s Pikemen. The Phrygian helmet is also depicted in the illustrations of Alexander’s military campaigns on the Alexander sarcophagus.  

Illyrian:

Conversely to the Chalcidian and Phyrgian helmet, the Illyrian evolved from the Kegelhelm – another early helmet featuring a conical cap, cheekpieces, and a forehead guard. The Kegelhelm had severe structural weaknesses, owing to the fact that it had five joining points. The Corinthian helmet replaced the Kegel in popularity, and its shape fell out of fashion until the invention of the Illyrian helmet. 

Illyrian Helmet Ca 700 – 600 BC , sold by Pax Romana Auctions in March 2020.

The Illyrian helmet improved upon the design of the Kegel by crucially reducing the amount of joinage. Characteristically, the Illyrian helmet had fixed cheek pieces and a wide, squared-off opening for the face. Once again, it also offered a crucial increase in field of vision compared to the Corinthian helmet, the trade off in comparison to designs such as the Corinthian or Chalcidian being a decreased ergonomic function.

Leave a Reply