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CORINTHIAN HELMET

If we try to imagine a Greek soldier, what probably comes to mind is the figure of a battle-hardened soldier armed with a helmet, sword and shield, with clear values of heroism and leadership. Cinema has strongly contributed to establishing this image of the Greek warrior in the popular imagination; films such as "300" and "Troy" are prime examples of this. Certainly, this image, although with some subtle differences, isn't so far from the reality of the soldiers who fought to defend their rights in their own lands and further afield.

We are referring to the Hoplites, who are linked to the political evolution of the Greek police. As the stories of Homer (one of the main sources of the so-called "Dark Centuries" of Greek History) tell us, in the Era of the ancient gods and kings, the aristocracy dominated the rest of society. They were nobles from distinguished families who fought to defend their individual interests in the form of a struggle in which the concept "I" prevailed over that of community. The peasants and traders were excluded from the task of war for both social and economic reasons. In Ancient Greece every soldier had to pay for their own military equipment; taking into account that the items for war (swords, helmets, shields,...) were produced by hand, their cost was very high. Therefore, military equipment was usually passed on from generation to generation.

Corinthian helmet from the movie Troy

The movie "Troy" is an argument the Achaean war between armed with swords and spears against Trojans


Leonidas helmet of the 300 movie

Leonidas Helmet (Gerard Butler) who ported in the film "300"

When the Greek cities were gaining power and territory, the reasons why war had come about varied substantially. Eight hundred years before our times, Greece embarked on colonial expansion on a huge scale, extending from the Peloponnese throughout the Mediterranean as far as what is now the Iberian Peninsula. As a result of this, it became necessary to create a larger army which could defend the territories it wished to conquer. The conditions for this were favourable.

Corinthian helmet found in Guadalete Jerez

Corinthian helmet found in Jerez, near the river Guadalete (Andalucia), dating to the seventh century B. P.

Given the Greek territorial expansion, many peasants gained access to new agricultural plots and saw their incomes grow. With this extra income they could purchase the military equipment they needed to go to war, fighting side by side with the aristocrats. This was how the figure of the Hoplite soldier was born, linked to a specific type of combat: closed formation. The phalanx formed the essential unit of combat consisting of a specific number of soldiers who assembled on the ground in the form of a single line of combat. The Greek Hoplites armed with a sword (right hand) and shield o "hoplon" (left hand) were positioned alongside each other, safe in the knowledge that their left side was always protected by the shield of their Hoplite comrade. Different luck ran along the right side of the formation, which was reinforced by strategically positioning the stronger soldiers.

This type of formation in battle had a direct impact on the socio-political organisation of the Greek police. The Hoplite peasants and traders noticed that the ideals of solidarity and comradeship which they inhaled on the battlefield didn't translate into a genuine equality of rights in the city. The aristocrats continued to hold power and govern the law in an arbitrary way. Therefore, they started to demand greater participation in the public life of the city to form part of the community. This demand constituted the seeds of the subsequent appearance of democracy, a complex process which we won't go into in detail.

General Pericles Greek Corinthian helmet 

Sculpture of Pericles with Corinthian helmet dating from the V century B. P.

 

Focusing on the figure of the Hoplite, we will briefly highlight some of the armaments which accompanied him in every battle. The double-bladed short sword (approximately fifty centimetres). The shield or hoplon, mentioned above, manufactured in bronze and wood with a diameter of roughly ninety centimetres. The breastplate which was originally made in bronze and was developed over time with lighter materials such as leather and linen. The greaves, usually made from bronze and decorated, which protected the shins of the Hoplite. The lance, the length of which exceeded one metre eighty centimetres. And last but not least: the helmet.

The model of helmet that we could consider as very well-known is the Corinthian helmet. This helmet is considered a true work of art from the ancient Greek world. Every helmet was created in a delicate way by the hands of Greek artisans who became real masters in silversmith technique. Normally the Corinthian helmet was produced from a single sheet of bronze, however, archaeology has brought us examples of helmets made in two pieces, such as the helmet from the 7th century BC discovered in the city of Olympia.


 Greek pottery with craftsman making a Corinthian helmet

Greek Painting (century V B. P.) which represents a craftsman making a Corinthian helmet


The
origins of the Corinthian helmet are believed to date back to the 8th century before our Era. Its classification as the "Corinthian helmet" is a reference from modern historical science, like other names such as the kegel, chalcidian or Italo-Corinthian helmets. However, some research on the texts of Homer and ceramic specimens indicate the idea that the ancient Greeks had already called this type of helmet Corinthian. Technically, the Corinthian helmet is defined as a helmet which fully covered the face of the Hoplite and which only displayed two openings for the eyes and the nose. As it evolved over time, the shapes of the Corinthian helmet varied: the cheeks became longer, the ear and nose holes increased; and the size varied over time facilitating its adaptation to the cranium. The Corinthian helmet displayed an inner lining padded in leather or linen to prevent the material from harming the Hoplite. This inner padding could be fixed to the helmet using small backstitches which were sewn to the metal through small holes or glued to it thanks to elements such as resin.


Greek coin with goddess Athena and Corinthian helmet 

Greek trihemiobolo (fourth century B. P.) which depicted the goddess Athena wearing Corinthian helmet on the obverse of the coin

The Corinthian helmet had an approximate weight of two and a half kilos, although this may seem an excessive amount, it isn't recalling that other helmets from history such as the Roman gladiator helmet exceeded seven kilos. However, this characteristic combined with the heat of the spring and summer months, which was when wars took place, and the few holes in the helmet, gives some indication as to the suffering which the Greek Hoplites must have experienced during battle. However, when marching, the helmet was worn raised on the crown of the head, as shown by the well-known figure Pericles dating from the 5th century BC. This raised way of wearing the Corinthian helmet had an impact on the appearance of the Italo-Corinthian helmet.

Decoration also played a significant role in Corinthian helmets. Many of them usually incorporated geometric engravings like ovals or dots, animals or floral elements on the cheeks. In addition, plumes made from horsehair, which could be dyed to different colours, also adorned the Corinthian helmet. All these features contributed to increasing the sensation of ferocity and aggressiveness which the helmet would transfer to its opponent to terrify him. As indicated by the historian Fernando Quesada, "the Corinthian helmet is one of the most aggressive looking helmets" in History.

 The Greek Corinthian helmet is one of the most famous in history

The Corinthian helmet conveys a sense of hostility toward the enemy dehumanizing soldier who wears it

 

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