Ancient, News

Ancient Greek Helmets: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

You may be familiar with what Greek hoplite soldiers looked like. It’s all thanks to the famous Hollywood movies like Troy and 300. The ancient Greek hoplites were citizen-soldiers primarily armed with spears and shields.

These soldiers were the military ideal of ancient Greece, recruited through the wealthy middling ranks of society, particularly the farming class.

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Hoplite soldiers wore armoured breastplates, shin guards, shoulder pads, and thigh and forearm guards. However, the most easily recognizable – you guessed it – is the hoplite helmet.

An impressive Attic helmet with cheek guards and ‘wings’. It was closely copied later by the Romans.

Pop culture has iconified the Corinthian Helmet style. Yet, the ancient Greeks had various helmet styles. These styles complemented the rest of their armour as it evolved through the ages. While some armours emphasized protection, others helped increase situational awareness.

Wealthier Greeks, however, had an advantage. They would decorate their helmets with colourful plumes, horsehair crests, and intricate designs. What can we say? Money makes the mare go!

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Read on to learn more about ancient Greek helmets:

The Classic Corinthian Helmet 

As said before, the Corinthian Helmet is easy to identify among all ancient Greek helmets. This style of helmet features ancient Greek sculptures and pottery. The surprising part? People also continue to use it on university logos and military insignias today!

Designed around the end of the 8th century BC, the Corinthian Helmet was most popular during the Archaic and early Classical periods. It continued to remain in favour until the 1st century AD.

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The Corinthian Helmet offered a superior degree of protection. Most helmets of this category protect the wearer’s entire head and face. Although it did mean the wearer had to compromise on their field of vision and sense of hearing!

The Pilos Helmet

Some historians theorize that soldiers preferred the humble Pilos Helmet instead of the  Corinthian Helmet. Inspired by the pileus hat, the Pilos helmet dates back around the 5th century BC. The pileus may be worn as an extra padded layer under the Pilos helmet.

A Pilos helmet gave good all round vision on the battlefield. , C. 350 BC. (Credit: Phokion)

The goal is to enhance ease and comfort. Although humble in its design, the Pilos Helmet offered its wearer an unobstructed view of the battlefield. Moreover, it was much easier to mass produce than the more complicated helmet designs.

The Chalcidian Helmet

This helmet style was very popular between the fourth and fifth centuries BC. The Chalcidian Helmet struck a perfect balance between protecting its wearer and maintaining the soldiers’ sense of situational awareness in the middle of a battle.

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An interesting theory about this helmet claims that the piece originated in the European city of Chalcis. People believe that archaeologists scavenged a piece of pottery that showed this helmet. And that is how the helmet got its name – the Chalcidian Helmet.

There’s another equally plausible theory. It claims the Chalcidian Helmet is a derivative of the classical Corinthian Helmet. This style of helmet is unique in its inclusion of cheekpieces, a neck guard, and a nasal bar.

The Chalcidian helmet offered cheek , neck and nasal protection. (Credit: Walters Art Museum)

`As a result, it offers more protection to its wearer than a simple Pilos Helmet. Moreover, it also maintains better situational awareness than the Corinthian.

The Phrygian Helmet

Also known as the Thracian Helmet, the Phrygian Helmet was especially popular with the infantry of Alexander the Great. The cavalry of his father, Philip II, favored it extensively. The Phrygian Helmet also seems to have been based on a hat style native to the Phrygians and Thracians.

Its most distinctive feature is its high, forward-inclined apex.

The Boeotian Helmet 

The Boeotian Helmet, like many other variants, was based on the folded-down Boeotian variant of the petasos. It is a type of Greek sun hat commonly made of felt.

Xenophon, an Athenian military historian and a mercenary soldier, wrote that the Boeotian Helmet offered “the greatest protection to all the parts above the cuirass, but allows free vision.” That makes it the ideal choice for mounted soldiers. As a result, the piece gained popularity in Alexander the Great’s Thessalian and Companion cavalries.

The Attic Helmet

This form of helmet became popular in the 4th century BC. Unlike most Greek helmets, the Attic helmet has a unique design. In addition, this helmet was made of iron, not bronze. Similar in style and form to the Chalcidian Helmet, the Attic helmet does not feature a nose bar. 

Interestingly, this helmet was also very popular outside of Greece, especially in Central and Southern Italy. In Roman reliefs, Roman officers are frequently depicted wearing the Attic Helmet. Just look at the artistic helmet! Who wouldn’t want it?

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With that being said, we conclude the list of ancient Greek helmets. Nevertheless, the most important question still remains. If you were a Greek soldier going on a war against the Persians, which helmet would you have picked?