Archaic Bronze Helmet of the Corinthian Type
Period: middle of the 6th century B.C.
Dimensions: H: 26 cm
Ex-American private collection (California).
Published:Sotheby’s London March 1, 1966 , Lot 149
Complete helmet in excellent condition, aside from minor breaks (forehead, eyebrows, lower edge) and cracks; surface with ample traces of green patina and reddish brown marks in places.
This helmet was modeled from a thick sheet of bronze, probably cast and then hammered when cold. The skull is perfectly rounded; a vertical front opening leaves the mouth and nose largely uncovered, while two almond-shaped openings correspond to the eyes of the warrior; a thick nose protector fi ts over the nasal ridge. At the front, the helmet terminates with two wide, pointed cheek protectors that, unlike other types of helmets, are not removable but part of the headgear. At the back, a projection with a rounded outline protected the neck. Observing the profile, one notices a slight protrusion going all around the head, which emphasizes the shape of the skull.
The surface is undecorated, except for the small regular holes on the edges that probably had a specific purpose, like attaching a lining (made of leather or felt) to make the helmet more comfortable for the warrior. As of the High Archaic period, the helmets known as Corinthian (that most probably originated in the isthmus city of Corinth) became a key piece of the panoply of Greek infantrymen (the renowned hoplites, around whom was organized the Greek military strategy based on the combat of two phalanxes). Appearing towards 700 B.C., when they were already depicted on ceramics, Corinthian helmets were the most common type in the mainland Greek world (many examples come from the sanctuary of Olympia) and were also commonplace in the Western colonies; their main asset, that of almost totally protecting the head and face, also generated their most obvious flaws, namely their heaviness and a signifi cant handicap as regards hearing (ears entirely covered) and sight (restricted visual field). For these reasons probably, Corinthian helmets never completely supplanted other types of contemporary helmets.
Technically, the manufacture of a helmet hammered from a single sheet of bronze is still deemed a considerable achievement nowadays. The process, which was almost certainly invented by the Greek blacksmiths of the time, is documented by a series of ancient images (statuettes, ceramics, glyptics) showing the craftsmen in their workshops during the successive phases of production. Our example, whose formal simplicity and precision should be admired, already announces the late type of the classification usually attributed to Corinthian helmets, characterized by the separation between the skull and the element protecting the nape and neck; it can be dated to the decades just preceding the mid-6th century B.C., around 550 B.C.
Published: Sotheby’s, London, March 1966, lot 149
On Greek helmets in general, see: FEUGERE M., Les casques antiques: Visages de la guerre de Mycènes à l’Antiquité tardive, Paris, 1994, pp. 15 ff. SNODGRASS A., Armi ed armature dei Greci, Rome, 1991, pp. 59 ff.
On the manufacturing technique and iconography showing blacksmiths at work: BORN H. and HANSEN S., Frühgriechische Bronzehelme: Band III, Sammlung Axel Guttmann, Mainz/Rhine, 1994, pp. 103 ff.
On helmets of this type, see: Antike Helme: Sammlung Lipperheide und andere Bestände des Antikenmuseums Berlin, Mainz/Rhine, 1988, pp. 65-107; pp. 384-417.
PFLUG H., Schutz und Zier: Helme aus dem Antikenmuseum Berlin und Waffen anderer Sammlungen, Basel, 1989, pp. 20-22; pp. 51-59, nos. 5-22 (especially nos. 15, 18, 21).