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An Unusual Greek Bronze Helmet

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  21 April 2011


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Copyright © The Society of Antiquaries of London 1987

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1 The helmet was first publicly exhibited in 1986: see Sotheby's, Classical Antiquities from Private Collections in Great Britain. A Loan Exhibition in aid of the Ashmole Archive, selected and catalogued by Carlos A. Picón, 15–31 January 1986 (Sotheby's London), no. 3, p. 17 and pl. 11, 5. I wish to thank the owner for permission to publish the helmet and for allowing it to be examined in the British Museum Research Laboratory. In addition to those colleagues acknowledged in the notes below, my thanks are also due to Brian Cook, Ellen Macnamara, Paul Craddock, Mike Hughes, Andrew Oddy, Ian McIntyre, Marilyn Hockey and Nigel Williams, all of the British Museum; Robert Broomfield, Denys and Sybille Haynes, Carlos Picón, and especially Peter Connolly, Professor Anthony Snodgrass and Dr Peter Stary.

Dimensions of helmet: ht. 21·6 cm.; base max. width from side to side 21·4 cm., max. width from front to back 24·4 cm.; bowl max. width from side to side 18·1 cm., from front to back 21·3 cm.; skirt narrowest width from side to side 17·6 cm.; eye-holes max. ht. 2·2 cm., max. width 2·7 cm.; nasal max. length (from top of eye-holes) 6·6 cm., max. width 3·0 cm., min. width 2·3 cm.

Patina: exterior: blackish-brown, uneven but smooth and hard, substantial traces of cuprite on cheek-pieces, esp. right, and lower part and edges of nasal; interior: similar to exterior but rougher; inside top of bowl: smooth brown, lightish-green on lower part; inside cheek-pieces, and possibly also above nasal: artificial green patina (removable with acetone); lower outer edge mottled with black deposit and cuprite, with patches of bare bright metal.

2 I am grateful to Lindsay Stainton and Paul Goldman, Department of Prints and Drawings, British Museum, for examining the water-colour and for help with references. The paper has no water-mark and is difficult to date precisely.

3 William Page, R.A. (1794–1872): see Mallalieu, H. L., Dictionary of British Water Colour Artists up to 1920 (Antique Collectors Club, 1976)Google Scholar and Graves, A., Royal Academy of Arts. A Complete Dictionary of Contributors and their Work from its Foundation in 1769 to 1904, vi (London, 1905–6), 39Google Scholar.

4 DrPage, William, F.S.A. (1862–1934): Antiq. J. xiv (1934), 196Google Scholar; he was Vice-President 1916–20. Bernard Nurse, Librarian of the Society of Antiquaries, kindly helped me to find this information.

5 Budapest, Museum der Bildenden Künste, no. 44: Olympia Bericht, vii (1956–8), 77, 82, Taf. 42, 43, 46.

6 Ibid., 77 ff. See also Connolly, P., Greece and Rome at War (London, 1981), 60–1Google Scholar.

7 Stary, P. F., Zur eisenzeitlichen Bewaffnung und Kampfesweise in Mittelitalien (Mainz am Rhein, 1981)Google Scholar, Taf. 26, 2; 39, 2; 41, 1.

8 GR 1904. 10–10·2: ht. 21·5 cm.; base max. width from side to side 19·1 cm., from front to back 22·5 cm.; bowl max. width from side to side 19·1 cm., from front to back 21·1 cm.; skirt narrowest width from side to side 17·6 cm.; eye-holes max. ht. 5·5 cm., max. width 6·8 cm.; nasal max. length (from top of eye-holes) 7·3 cm., max. width 1·8 cm., min. width 1·4 cm. Thickness of helmet approx. 1–1·5 cm., 2–2·5 cm. at edges (slightly flanged). From the sanctuary of Zeus at Dodona, though inscribed ‘OLUMP’, as if intended for dedication at the sanctuary of Zeus at Olympia.

9 cf. Connolly, op. cit. (note 6). A red-figured kylix in the British Museum, B.M. Cat. Vases E 22, shows a hoplitodromos being assisted by two companions, one of whom hands him a crested helmet, the other a helmet-shaped object without a crest, which could well be a liner.

10 See dimensions, above n. 1

11 I am grateful to Chris Dobson of Milan Armouries for discussing this point with me.

12 My thanks are due to Dr M. S. Tite for allowing scientific examination of the helmet in the British Museum Research Laboratory, and particularly to Janet Lang for X-radiographic and metallographic examination of the helmet.

13 Certain ‘jockey-cap’ helmets of Montefortinotype (fourth-first century B.C.) appear to be made in one with cast rims and hollow knobs at the top, and to have a rigidity similar to that of the London helmet, e.g. British Museum GR 1847.8·6. 159 (B.M. Cat. Bronzes 2727); GR 1851.8·13. 46; GR 1867.5·8. 202 (Cat. 2728); GR 1873.8·20. 226 (Cat. 2840); GR 1975.6·3. 1 (Cat. 2725); cf. Robinson, H. Russell, Arms and Armour of Imperial Rome (London, 1975), 17Google Scholar, figs. 2–5, and 19, fig. 9. Although Robinson (ibid., 13) discounted the possibility that any of these were cast, on the grounds that a blow could shatter a cast helmet, I am informed by metalsmiths that this is not necessarily so, and that the strength of a helmet is dependent upon the alloy and subsequent coldworking. Dr Stary refers to this type of helmet as being cast: Foreign elements in Etruscan arms and armour: eight to third centuries B.C.’, Proc. Prehist. Soc. xlv (1979), 179206Google Scholar, esp. 199. John Paddock has suggested that some Montefortino helmets, and also some pilos helmets of Classical and Hellenistic date, were spun to shape, claiming the reason to be that spinning was cheaper than coursing and more suited to production on a large scale: ‘Some changes in the manufacture and supply of Roman bronze helmets under the Late Republic and Early Empire’, in Bishop, M. C. (ed.), The Production and Distribution of Roman Military Equipment, Brit. Arch. Rep. Internat. ser. 275 (Oxford, 1985), 142–59Google Scholar, esp. 146–7.

14 Cf. Rolley, C., Les vases de bronze de l'archaïsme récent en Grand Grèce, Bibliothèque de l'Institut français de Naples, deuxième série v (Naples, 1982), 23–4CrossRefGoogle Scholar, and idem, Greek Bronzes (London, 1985), 27. Jantzen estimated that the maximum size of bronze object that could be cast in the seventh century B.C. had its greatest dimension at no more than 25 cm.: Jantzen, U., Griechische Greifenkessel (Berlin, 1955), 55Google Scholar. The present writer has suggested that certain metalworking scenes on Greek vases may allude to the involvement of lost-wax casting in the process of manufacturing helmets: Oddy, W. A. and Swaddling, J., ‘Illustrations of metal working scenes on Greek vases’, in Furnaces and Smelting Technology in Antiquity, Brit. Mus. Occas. Pap. 48 (London, 1985), 4357, esp. 48–9Google Scholar.

15 Atomic absorption analysis of a sample taken from the helmet was carried out by Duncan Hook:

Cu 89·6 Sn 10·4 Pb 0·012 As <0·03 Ag 0·007

Au <0·003 Ni 0·005 Zn 0·004 Fe 0·13 Sb 0·02

Bi <0·02 Mn 0·004 Cd <0·0004 Co 0·0003

A tin content much higher than 10 per cent would make the alloy too brittle for extensive working; a low lead content in a copper alloy is very important if it is to be hammered to shape, as lead does not dissolve in the alloy but sits at grain boundaries and too great a percentage leads to failure of the metal when beaten. The composition of this helmet is typical of Greek armour previously analysed by DrCraddock, P. T. (J. Arch. Sci. iv (1977), iii)Google Scholar.

16 I am grateful to Brian Cook for this particular suggestion.

17 I am most grateful to Professor A. M. Snodgrass for drawing this helmet to my attention, and to Dr Thomas Schäfer for permission to publish it. Photographs are courtesy of Deutsches Archäologisches Institut Athen, Neg. nos. 02 2991 and 02 2992. The following information was kindly provided by Herrn Hitzl. The helmet was found 2 May 1940 in a well-shaft in the so-called Mosaiksaal in the south-east area; unfortunately there were no dating criteria. Dimensions: ht. 20 cm., max. width from front to back 25 cm., max. width from side to side 19·5 cm.; eye-holes ht. unequal, 2 and 2·3 cm. The nasal is 8 mm. thick, and the rest of the helmet on average 2 mm. thick.

18 For the use of axes as weapons in early Greece down to the seventh century B.C., see Snodgrass, A. M., Early Greek Armour and Weapons (London, 1964), 83, 166–7Google Scholar, and idem, Arms and Armour of the Greeks (London, 1967), 40, 85. For their use in seventh-century Italy, see Stary, op. cit. (note 13), 188–9; cf. also the Etrusco-geometric amphora, c. 600 B.C., in the British Museum, GR 1849·5–19·3 (B.M. Cat. Vases H241), showing warriors apparently bearing axes.