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Argyle Chair
Charles Rennie Macintosh

Headgear from Ancient Battles
by Bob Brooke


Military use of helmets declined after 1670, and rifled firearms ended their use by foot soldiers after 1700 but the Napoleonic era saw ornate cavalry helmets reintroduced for cuirassiers and dragoons in some armies which continued to be used by French forces during World War I as late as 1915. A combat helmet or battle helmet is a type of helmet, a piece of personal armor designed specifically to protect the head during combat.

Helmets are among the oldest forms of personal protective equipment and are known to have been worn by the Akkadians/Sumerians in the 23rd century BCE. Mycenaean Greeks since the 17th century BC, the Assyrians around 900 BC, ancient Greeks and Romans, throughout the Middle Ages, and up to the end of the 17th century by many combatants. As weapons became more and more powerful, helmet materials and construction became more advanced.

Initially constructed from brass and leather, then bronze and iron during the Bronze and Iron Ages, they soon came to be made entirely from forged steel after about 950 CE. During that time, helmets were purely military equipment, protecting the head from cutting blows with swords, flying arrows, and low-velocity musketry.

Ancient Greek Helmets
Ancient Greek helmets were often a status symbol, with members of elite groups wearing more ornate ones.

The Illyrian helmet, one of two helmets to appear in the early 7th century BCE, was the most common one. It had a square face guard and pointed non-hinged cheek pieces, as well as the smooth dome featuring raised parallel ridges to which a crest made from horsehair, wood or leather would be pinned in place by a rivet at the crown.

The Corinthian helmet was the other 7th century helmet, with its characteristic almond-shaped eyes and rounded nose guard. The domed head, the slightly flaring neck guard, the elongated eye openings created a beautiful form.

The Pilos helmet, a later and simpler variation, featured a conical dome with a recessed band along the lower edge, most likely mirroring a felt or animal-skin cap worn by herdsmen. It was a lighter helmet, with hinged cheek-pieces, and more versatile for the warrior, allowing for more flexibility in battle. Some had ornate molded decorations.

Corinthian helmets originally covered the face for maximum protection but also restricted the ability to see, hear or breathe. Gradually, the eye holes grew, and the nose guard became smaller to become more versatile.

Eventually armorers created helmets from a single sheet f bronze, making them quicker to produce as well as more stable and sturdier for the warrior. This style of helmet was used from 6th century BC to 1st century BC.

Ancient Roman Helmets
Helmets were an important part of the Roman soldier’s equipment..Over the centuries Roman armor changed significantly as a result of new fashions, new technologies, and new challenges. The Roman produced helmets in vast quantities. Surviving examples of Roman helmets range from the plain and simple to the more elaborate.

Roman armorers made the Montefortino helmet from bronze, but they also used iron. It had a conical shape and a raised central knob on top. It also featured a protruding neck guard and cheek plates which protected the side of the head. Often, the helmet had the name of the soldier who wore it inscribed inside of it. Montefortino style Roman helmets are very similar to the Coolus style of Roman helmets.

The Coolus helmet originated with the Celts. The Romans adopted this style because its simple design meant that they could be mass-produced inexpensively. This was critical during this period as many Roman citizens were called upon to serve in the army. The Coolus style came into use during the 3rd Century BCE and remained in service until the 1st Century CE. It saw its greatest use during the period of Caesar’s Gallic Wars from 58 to 50 BCE,

The Coolus style of Roman helmet was usually made from brass or bronze, though it is possible that some were also made of iron. They were globular or hemispherical in shape rather than conical. These Roman helmets also featured a neck guard and a turned, cast soldered or riveted on crest knob. Like most helmets of Celtic origin, they were pierced to allow for ties or cheek guards to be added to the helmet.

Medieval Helmets
A variety of different types of helmets appeared during the Middle Ages. All offered another level of protection to warriors during battles.

Iron and steel were the primary materials used for medieval helmets, just like the rest of the Armor. Back then, armorers. blacksmiths who specialized in making quality armor. Sometimes, ordinary blacksmiths made lesser in quality helmets. To identify a particular regiment, armorers painted symbols or crests on them.

The most common helmets during the early Middle Ages were open-faced, like the spangenhelm. But they didn’t protect a soldier’s face very well. They sometimes offered nasal protection. The head was and still is one of the most important areas of the body to protect, as wounds to the head and skull were often fatal.

For added protection, soldiers usually wore a mail coif--- a hood made of chain mail—and padding underneath the helmet as extra protection for the neck and head. The mail coif was usually sewed to a fabric padding. The padding only covered the head, not the neck. It could be worn underneath a helmet or even without the helmet at all. This was common gear for the soldiers of lower rank. Most soldiers wore close-fitting coif, where the only open parts were the nose and the eyes. A coif didn’t always have mail attached to it. The word ‘coif’ can also refer to the padding alone. To some types of helmets, like the bascinet, soldiers could attach an aventail, a chain mail neck and shoulder protector. Soldiers could also wear a padded coif underneath their helmets, without the chain mail, for extra comfort and protection against bruises and chafing. Coifs could also help a helmet fit better.

The spangenhelms and nasal or Norman Helmets were in use in the early Middle Ages, after which came the bascinet without a visor. By 1180, helmets had visors with a holes to see and breathe through.

Helmets used in Europe from the 9th century up to the 12th century had a nose-guard down the middle of the soldier’s face. They were some of the first helmets mostly made of iron and would eventually be made from single sheets instead of segments. Soldiers wore them over the top of a mail coif that provided additional protection for the neck, throat and head. This type of helmet offered increased protection due to the double layering of mail coif and iron.

The Kettle Helmet, also called Eisenhut and chapeau de fer, meaning “hat of iron,” was the most popular helmet in the 11th century. Its name came from its resemblance to a cooking pot, kettle, or cauldron. These helmets always had a wide brim and were open-faced and were also sometimes worn with a coif underneath. This was a common helmet during the Middle Ages, mostly worn by infantry because it gave good protection to blows that came from above, such as those from horse soldiers, plus it kept the sun out of the wearers' face. Soldiers could add an aventail if they wished.

From the early Middle Ages to the 10th century, the most commonly used was the Spangenheim helmet, which got its name from its frame made of strips, or “spangen” in German. These strips connected four to six metal plates. Usually, the Spangenhelms had a broad nasal strip to protect the nose and where conical in shape.

The earliest Spangenhelms had leather or metal cheek guards. But those worn during the Middle Ages didn’t. Soldiers could also attach an aventail to the helmet. This was a widely used type of helmet because it was so easy to make and thus inexpensive to produce.

The Great Helm evolved from the nasal helmet used from the 12th century to around the 15th century. Knights in European armies during the Crusades used this enclosed barreled style helmet which offered superior protection, but at the cost of visibility and comfort. By the 13th century, knights wore most Great Helms with a mail coif in conjunction with an iron skullcap to provide three layers of protection. Most could stop direct blows from broadswords and maces. At first, these helmets had a square top, but they soon became a target for hammers. Later designs had a conical top which lessened the impact of hammers and swords.

The Great Helm was one of the first helmets that completely protected the face and had small openings for eyes and perforations for the mouth. By the 14th century, the entire helmet rested on the shoulders of the knight. Underneath they wore extra protection made out of cloth and fiber padding. This made the great helms very warm. A leather chinstrap secured it to the head of the wearer.

Often armorers painted these helmets bright colors, matching the knight's shield. They also adorned them with crests and decorated visors.

From the 14th to the 15th century, the Bascinet, usually an open-faced helmet, had a conical visor. This resembled a beak or a snout, thus getting the nickname hounskull, which was medieval for “dog-faced.” And because both knights and infantry used it, it became very popular.

In the 14th century, The Bascinet replaced the Great Helm in popularity. At first, infantrymen wore the Bascinet underneath their Great Helmets. But soldiers often removed their Great Helmets so they could move easier.

The Italians first experimented with a helmet that more resembled the form of the human head in the 16th century. This helmet, called the Arnet, fitted closely around the head and was broader on the top and narrower around the neck. Because the wearer couldn’t slide it over his head, it was necessary to have a mechanism to open and close it easily.

Soldiers wore these helmets, which enclosed the face and head, during the Late Medieval and Renaissance Periods. They were also compact and light enough to move with the wearer. The Armet came into widespread use during the 15h and 16th centuries when European plate armor had been perfected by armorers.

Metal tempering and design greatly improved during this time. Variations in designs limited the gaps in armor, lessening the common weak points. Some Close Helms were even modular for heavy or light field use, tournament combat, and even costume.

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