Hostname: page-component-848d4c4894-wzw2p Total loading time: 0 Render date: 2024-05-27T14:17:02.458Z Has data issue: false hasContentIssue false

An Illyrian helmet in the British Museum

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  12 June 2012

Marilyn Hockey
British Museum
Alan Johnston
University College London
Susan La Niece
British Museum
Andrew Middleton
British Museum
Judith Swaddling
British Museum


Recent research on a helmet of Illyrian type, found in the River Alpheios and purchased by the British Museum in 1914, has yielded interesting historical, epigraphical, and technological information. The helmet was made between about 550 and 525 BC, and it was probably dedicated to Olympian Zeus in the latter years of the century; it was embellished with various types of silver decoration, notably appliqués of horsemen on the cheek-pieces. The inscription, incised in unusual herring-bone fashion, indicates that the helmet was dedicated by the Koroneans, and the event commemorated by the dedication is here considered.

Copyright © The Council, British School at Athens 1992

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)


1 The first section, on conservation and experimental technology, is the work of MH; the second, on the scientific examination, is by SLN and AM; the third, on the typology and provenance, by JS; and the fourth, on the inscription, by AWJ, who coordinated the contributions. We are grateful to the Trustees of the British Museum for permission to publish the helmet, and to Brian Cook, W. A. Oddy, and Sheridan Bowman for reading the paper in draft; also to those who attended the seminar held in the Research Laboratory of the British Museum on 21 Mar. 1990, at which our research on this helmet was originally presented, for various suggestions, and especially to Brian Shefton. SLN and AM would like to thank Yvonne Shashoua for FTIR analysis, and Janet Ambers and Keith Matthews for supplying advice and materials for the lime plaster. AWJ acknowledges the help of Prof. H. Kyrieleis, Prof. U. Sinn, and the Greek Archaeological Service for facilitating access to material at Olympia; he is also grateful to Prof. A. Schachter for very pertinent comment.

2 Oddy, A., Pearce, P., and Green, L., ‘An unusual gilding technique on some Egyptian bronzes’, in Watkins, S. and Brown, C. (eds.) Conservation of Egyptian Materials (London, 1988), 35–9.Google Scholar

3 Kingery, W. D., Vandiver, P. B., and Prickelt, M., JFA 15 (1988), 219–44.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

4 For a comprehensive discussion of Illyrian helmets see H. Pflug, ‘Illyrische Helme’ (cited above), 54; Snodgrass, A., Early Greek Armour and Weapons (Edinburgh, 1964), 1820Google Scholar; 266 n. 48. For wearability, see Foster, P., Greek Arms and Armour (Greek Museum, University of Newcastle upon Tyne, 1978), 89.Google Scholar

5 Budapest, Musée Hongrois des Beaux Arts, 8442; Kukahn, E., Die griechische Helm (Marburg, 1936), n. 137Google Scholar; Courbin, P., BCH 81 (1957), 363 ff., fig. 16CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Snodgrass, A., Early Greek Armour and Weapons (Edinburgh, 1964), 13.Google Scholar JS is grateful to Janos Szilàgyi for information about this helmet. The other example appeared in Sotheby's sale catalogue for 19 June 1961 (p. 28, no. 117).

6 For a useful illustrated typology of Greek helmets, see Connolly, P., Greece and Rome at War (London, 1981), 60–1.Google Scholar

7 Pflug (n. 4), 42.

8 JS is grateful to Martin Price for information about this class of coinage, and for providing the illustration of coins in the Department of Coins and Medals. The British Museum; left, top; BMC Macedonia, 9; middle; BMC Macedonia, 7 (Alexander I and Perdiccas II); bottom; BM CM 1949.4–11.264, Mavrogordato Bequest (all the above c.425 BC); right: CM 1919.11–20.8/R 4651, Forrer, L., The Weber Collection, ii: Greek Coins (London, 1924), 2010, pl. 77 (probably 450–425 BC).Google Scholar

9 Pflug (n. 4). 43: distribution map, p. 57.

10 Pflug (n. 4), 52.

11 B 5316: Ol. Ber. viii (1967), 123 ff., Taf. 66–8; 135, Abb. 43; Mallwitz, A. and Herrmann, H. -V. (eds.), Die Funde aus Olympia: Ergebnisse hundertjähriger Ausgrabungstätigkeit (Athens: DAI, 1980), 92–3Google Scholar, Taf. 52: Ashmole, B. and Yalouris, N., Olmpia: The Museum and the Sanctuary (Athens, 1987), 64Google Scholar; 65, fig. a. H. 29.0 cm; W. across crown 18.5 cm. We are grateful to the Deutsches Archäologisches Institut for permission to publish these photographs, and to Dr Sabine Rogge for providing the prints and the above measurements.

12 Payne, H. and Young, G. M., Archaic Marble Sculpture from the Acropolis (London, 1950), 52Google Scholar; 77; pls. 139–40. Cf. also vase-paintings of the period, e.g. Panathenaic amphora in the British Museum, GR 1849.11–22.1, BM Cat. Vases, B 144; CVA i (GB 30), pl. 6. 2. The technique of gilding clay appliqués on pottery vessels seems to begin late in the century; see Noble, J. V., The Techniques of Attic Painted Pottery, (rev. edn, London, 1988), 137Google Scholar; Kopcke, G., ‘Golddekorierte attische schwarzfirniskeramik des vierten Jahrhunderts v. Chr.’, MDAI 78 (1963), 58–9Google Scholar; Jahn, O., Über bemälte Vasen mit Goldschmuck (Leipzig, 1865), 3.Google Scholar I am indebted to Dyfri Williams for the observation about gilt appliqués and for the references.

13 Cf. e.g. Anderson, J. K., Ancient Greek Horsemanship (Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1961), pls. 18bGoogle Scholar; 26 d. With small bronze statuettes of horses, however, the style remained much the same until at least the 470s: cf. e.g. the horses in the Olympia Museum, inv. B 1000 (Rolley, C., Greek Bronzes (London, 1986), 96–7Google Scholar); and in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (ibid. 117; Mattusch, C. C., Greek Bronze Statuary (Ithaca and London, 1988, 28–9Google Scholar); the latter now considered perhaps a copy of the 1st cent. BC/1st cent. AD).

14 Belgrade National Museum, inv. 3166. For refs. see Pflug (n. 4), 54 n. 73. A silver appliqué of a boar, hollow behind and with the same double groundline as the appliqué horsemen, which was found much further N in Sarajevo, almost certainly belongs to such a cheek-piece; see Hoernes, M., Wissenschaftlichen Mittheilungen aus Bosnien und Herzegovina (Bosnisch-Hercegovinischen Landesmuseum in Sarajevo), 6 (Vienna, 1899), 51Google Scholar; Beaumont, R. L., JHS (1936), 56Google Scholar; 185. I am indebted to Brian Shefton for information about this piece and for the reference to the belt (n. 15).

15 Detail of silver gilt belt showing helmet fallen from rider: Venedikov, I. and Higgins, R. A., Thracian Treasures from Bulgaria (British Museum exhibition catalogue, 1976), 54Google Scholar, no. 204; Venedikov, I. and Gerasimov, T., Thracian Art Treasures (Sofia and Lund, 1975)Google Scholar, figs. 248; 250 (late 5th cent. BC).

16 Mallwitz, A., Olympia und seine Bauten (Munich, 1972), 116Google Scholar; Herrmann, H.-V., Heiligtum und Wettkampfstatte (Munich, 1972), 205.Google Scholar Abb. 142–3; Swaddling, J., The Ancient Olympic Games (London, 1980), fig. p. 13.Google Scholar

17 Mallwitz (n. 16). 41 ff

18 Ol. Ber. ii (1937–8), 22: Ol. Forsch. viii (1967), 16–82. 83 ff on dedications found in wells and pits in the stadium: cf. Drees, L., Olympia: Gods, Artists and Athletes (London, 1968), 89.Google Scholar

19 The inscription is mentioned in LSAG 2 434. Boiotia 12 b.

20 Such a surface would aid the keying in of pigment. A basic, if unanswerable, question is how long the dedicators expected their trophy to remain visible and its inscription legible. I am not aware of any colour being preserved in the normally incised inscriptions on armour and weapons, but no doubt such pigment could appear very much like normal calcareous accretion. MH detected no possible traces of pigment in the grooves, which do not have the shallowness of many such surfaces prepared for keying. For painted decoration on bronze see Born, H. (ed.), Archäologische Bronzen (Berlin, 1985), 72 ff.Google Scholar

21 Ol. Ber. viii. 98. Abb. 34. 2: pl. 47: M. L. Lazzarini, Le formule delle dediche votive nella Grecia arcaica, no. 957: Etienne, R. and Knoepfler, D., Hyettos de Béotie (BCH supp. 3), 215–18, 226Google Scholar: LSAG 2 434, no. 12 a.

22 Chaironeia seems to be dependent on Orchomenos in our earliest literary source (for 447/6 BC), Thuc. i. 113.

23 See LSAG 2; also Roesch, P., Proceedings of the 3rd Conference of Boeotian Studies, 135–51.Google Scholar

24 The well in which the greave was found seems to have been closed before c.475 BC; see Gauer, W., Ol. Forsch. viii. 1415Google Scholar; 243; Brunne 17. St. N. When studying the amphorae from Olympia, I noted that the piece mentioned by Gauer is Samian, and that a second Samian amphora foot was found in the well. Profiles are given in Fig. 2. There seems to be no reason to date these two pieces below Gauer's lower limit.

25 (1) LSAC 2 95, Boiotia 11: (2) ibid., no. 12; (3) Ol. Ber. v. 36–7. Lazzarini (n. 21), nos. 994, 958, and 968 respectively.

26 Here it is relevant to mention LSAG 2, 95, Boiotia 17, almost certainly to be dated (because of the sculptors mentioned in it) to 475–450; as Jeffery remarks, older forms are retained along with more recent ones (more recent than on Hy. and Lon.). The possible retention of older forms at Orchomenos naturally has a bearing on the date of the Orchomcnian LSAG 2 11 also; it is dated to 446 by Clairmont, C. (Patrios Nomos, 188)Google Scholar, but such a low date has no epigraphic or archaeological support, especially when it is compared with LSAG 2 17. Although no name of dedicator is preserved, we should include in this group of armour LSAG 2 93 n. 2.

27 Lokroi shield: LSAG 2, 286, no. 2. Nike of Paionios; ML 74, with p. 313. Serpent Column; ML 27; Laroche, D., BCH 113 (1989), 183–98.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

28 Athenian base in front of Treasury: Bommelaer, J.-F., Guide de Delphes: le site, 137–8Google Scholar (with earlier bibliography). Athenian stoa: see in the latest instance, with interesting arguments for a substantially post-Persian date, Walsh, J., AJA 90 (1986), 319–36.CrossRefGoogle Scholar The inscription on the step mentions only πολεμίων; could this mask a multiple identity of the opponents? Or, if no opponents' name is inscribed, could we assume such a polyvalence?

29 Ol. Ber. viii. 100–6.

30 Dull, C., Proceedings of the 3rd Conference of Boeotian Studies, 33–9.Google Scholar

31 Etienne and Knoepfler (n. 21), 211–26. A useful résumé of Boeotian 6th-cent, history is Schachter, A., Boiotika: Vorträge vom 5. Boötien-Kolloquium, München, 1986, 7386Google Scholar; see also Ducat, J., BCH 97 (1973), 5973.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

32 Opinion canvassed among numismatists is against the notion that Hyettos could have been responsible for such a heavy issue, but the lack of an aspirate on the coins of Haliartos less than two generations later is a point that should be taken seriously.

33 Kraay, C., Archaic and Classical Greek Coins, 110Google Scholar; for Thessalian parallels especially, see Franke, P., AA 1970, 8593.Google Scholar There are no issues at this time other than fractions, a very relevant point of which Prof. Schachter reminds me.

34 Chalkis coin: An Inventory of Greek Coin Hoards, no. 1874, ‘Chalcis and Boeotia’; MacDonald, D., JNG 37–8 (19871988), 23–9.Google Scholar esp. n. 11, where I feel that a (slightly) high dating of the earliest owls is compared with a (slightly) low dating of Aeginetan reverse punches in order to obtain the relative dating of the early Boeotian coins and the Chalkidian issue. Schachter (n. 31) argues for a post-480 date for the major ‘alphabetic’ issues in Boeotia, but this can hardly stand on numismatic evidence. See more recently for Aegina, Arnold-Biucchi, C., Beer-Tobey, L., and Waggoner, N., American Numismatic Society Museum Notes, 33 (1988), 135. esp. 21Google Scholar; and for Athens. Root, M. Cool, NC 1988, 812.Google Scholar Attack on Attica: Hdt. v. 74. 2. Theban expansion: Hdt. vi. 108: Thuc. iii. 68: for a recent justification of the date given in the MSS of Thuc. see L. Prandi. Platea. 31 ff.: Schachter (n. 31), 83.

35 We may note, inter alia, the dispute about the date when Thebes gained ‘control’ of Akraiphia, presumably a prerequisite for Hyettan adherence to any federation. Ducat, J., Les Kouroi du Ptoion, 450Google Scholar, cautiously suggests ‘after 540’.