Description & Technical information

A very wealthy and/or important Greek soldier or mercenary in the employment of a country’s army probably owned this stunning Corinthian bronze helmet originally. Beautifully decorated with an inscribed grotesque gorgon Medusa on the fore-brow, and mirrored lions that prance up each cheek panel, it is a unique surviving artefact that provides insight in to ancient Greek armoury and social history. Its motifs, creatively mixing real and imaginary figures, are inspired by the Greco-oriental repertoire that spread through the Mediterranean during the Orientalist period, as a result of trade between mainland Greece and the Near East, and echoes the decorative vocabulary found on proto-Corinthian ceramics. Likewise, the method of engraving used on the helmet relates to the ‘Black Figure’ technique of vase painting found in Corinth around 670 BC., where incised lines are used to add detail to figure’s silhouettes.
 
Developed in the 7th century BC., the Corinthian style of helmet had no holes where the ears are, offering rounded protection at the cost of discomfort, and also had a distinct phallic-shaped nose guard. The decorated cheek pieces and neck guard are flared, in a highly unique shape that offers manoeuvrability during combat.  A horsehair crest would have once been attached to top ridge of the helmet, in a display of ornamentation mimicking the fur of a beast standing on end when threatened, whilst also signalling the wearer’s rank[1]. Offering full facial protection and with padding originally glued on the inside, this helmet was part of the equipment of the hoplites – heavily armed soldiers whose appearance coincided with adoption of new bronze weapons, with an origin ascribed to a workshop in Argos[2].
 
Art historical evidence suggests that these helmets were often worn pushed back on the head to reveal the face during times of peace such as during processions and festivities. The style’s popularity endured for hundreds of years throughout Archaic and Classical Greece, and is commonly found on Greek and Roman sculpture as they type worn by both mortal heroes and divine gods, drawing association with the a noble and glorious past[3]. The Greeks revered it as a helmet type worn by valiant Homeric conquerors, which was an association adopted by the Romans in their love of all things Hellenistic.
 
Because of its deep bronze colour and lack of verdigris (due to oxidization), this exceptional helmet was most probably discovered in water, perhaps as part of a shipwreck hoard. The ornate decoration and excellent condition, make this helmet one of the finest surviving pieces of early Greek armour.
 
A strikingly similar helmet was found in Haifa Bay, Israel, during construction works in 2007, and is now in the National Maritime Museum in Haifa, Israel[4]. It is supposed that it belonged to a Greek mercenary working for the Egyptian Pharaoh Necho II, as no Greek colonies existed in Israel, meaning it was likely part of band of travelling warriors who accidentally deposited it there. The similarities between the two helmets suggest that this example could also be from one of these Greek colonies in Ionia (modern day west-coast Turkey). The Haifa helmet is also decorated with beasts – snakes, lions and a peacock’s tail are inscribed in to the surface which still contains traces of its original gold-leaf, hinting that this example may have too once been covered in the same precious metal.
 

SOLD


[1]
 T. Everson; Warfare in Ancient Greece, The History Press, 2004, p.22.



[2] D.L. Fink; The Battle of Marathon in Scholarship, Research, Theories and Controversies since 1850, McFarland, 2014, p.41.


[3] O. Palagia and J.J. Pollitt, Personal Styles in Greek Sculpture, Cambridge University Press, 1999, p.57.


[4] Bronze Corinthian Helmet, National Maritime Museum, Haifa, Israel.

Date:  6th Century B.C.
Period:  Antiquity
Origin:  Spain
Medium: Bronze
Dimensions: 26 cm (10¹/₄ inches)
Provenance: Acquired from a famous Private Collection formed in Madrid, Spain during the early 1970’s. Accompanied by a Spanish Cultural Passport dated 14.03.14
Prior to that purchased on the Spanish Art Market. 
 
Literature: David Aaron, 2017.
Categories: Arms & armour, Classical & Egyptian antiquities