EDITOR'S NOTE: As always, this series of articles is designed to educate the average Elanthian on the real world history and nature of each item detailed, and to place them in a better context for those who use them in the Lands.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: All pictures accompanying this article were provided via negotiations with the real-world armorers, who created the actual helmets depicted. The negotiations were conducted by Ardwen Ydwenson, and he selected and prepared the pictures specifically for this article. His assistance is greatly appreciated. A list of the armorers who crafted the armor depicted in these photos and links to their websites are provided at the end of this article.
This article uses a great deal of information from the glossary in Arms and Armor of the Medieval Knight by David Edge and John M Paddock. The Archaeology of Weapons: Arms and Armour from Prehistory to the Age of Chivalry and A Knight and His Armor by R. Ewart Oakeshott also provided valuable resources for much of the article's historical information. The author heartily recommends these titles to anyone interested in the history of medieval arms and armor.
Glossary of Helmets
(and other related terminology)
Helmets, fashioned into tight fitting skullcaps of hammered copper, were first used by the Sumerians nearly three thousand years before the beginnings of commonly recorded human history.
Later, helmets that were designed to protect the entire head were developed by the Greeks. In their ultimate form, only a Y-shaped opening for eye-slits and breathing remained.
The bronze and iron Roman helmets which were worn by the Legionnaires had movable cheek pieces called "mandibulars." When closed, these pieces protected a soldier's face in combat and when opened, allowed for easy removal of the helmet.
In ancient China, clay statues of warriors were constructed, which depict soldiers wearing helmets similar to those of the Romans. In Persia and Turkey, helmets were pointed, with movable cheek pieces and neck guards, or with a camail, a hanging curtain-like piece of mail to protect neck and chest.
Roman innovations in helmet design survived in the armament of the most typical figure of the European Middle Ages, the knight. However, as progress changed the helmet's design, the knight's helmet changed from the cap-like Roman design, until it was conical in shape, with a long metal nose guard. In the 12th century an attached hood, which was known as a coif, became a common addition to the mail shirt.
During World War I soldiers protected themselves by digging trenches and foxholes, but steel helmets were required as protection against shrapnel. The first such helmets were issued as standard equipment by the German army in 1915. Hard hats (a form of helmet) are worn by miners and construction workers and, with elaborate additional protection devices, in many contact sports.
The armet originated in Italy in the mid-1400s and remained in use through the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.
This form of helmet was a close-fitting throwback to Roman design, with large cheek pieces that overlapped and locked together at the chin, giving it a snug fit and obviating the need for a chin strap. This also allowed the bulk of the helmet's weight to be borne on the wearer's shoulder, distributing the weight in such a way as to make it much more comfortable to wear. It often had a short collar of mail attached to the lower edge and was sometimes worn with a wrapper, a reinforcing piece that covered the front of the helmet and the throat.
The armet was often, but not always fitted with a visor. Visor designs for the armet varied greatly, but the most common was called a sparrow's beak, and had a pronounced point, with a flattened top. This provided a angled surface that directed blows directed at a knight's head away from his face. Occasionally, the armet was also fitted with a wrapper that reinforced the helmet's face.
An arming cap was a layer of padded cloth fashioned into a hood and worn beneath a helmet. This protected the wearer's head by absorbing some of the shock from repeated head strikes. It also kept the helmet from sliding and moving in combat.
(Camail, Camaille, Standard)
An aventail was a mantle fashioned of mail, the same as that of a chain shirt, that hung from the bottom of several different types of helmet. It was attached with vervelles and a series of leather cords, and served as protection for the chin, jaw, neck, throat and shoulders.
The aventail was essential, not only as defense against potentially fatal blows to the neck and throat, but also because seemingly lesser blows could be just as lethal. A knight with an injured shoulder most likely would not be able to lift sword, lance or spear against his opponent, and a shattered jaw could easily result in his choking to death on his own blood or a long, slow, agonizing demise from gangrene or blood poisoning after the battle.
An Italian helmet style of the mid-fifteenth century, the barbute was designed as a helmet for common infantry and was widely used. It was most likely a descendant of the bascinet, though usually designed to be worn without a mail aventail.
It is most recognizable because of its close fit to the shape of the skull and the nape of the neck and its long sides, which come down almost to the shoulders.
The barbute came in a variety of closed and open-faced forms, although all were based on the common design. The earliest barbutes were open faced and this style remained popular throughout the rest of this helmet's history. Another version, which bears a striking resemblance to helmets of ancient Greek design, was also used throughout the fifteenth century.
(Bascinet, Basnet, Bassinet, Basnet)
During the 14th century, many knights discarded the heavy and restrictive great helm in favor of the lighter iron skullcap worn beneath it, the cervellier. This design gradually increased in breadth and width until it too, covered the entire head. Its shape was likened to a basin, thus the helmet's name.
The bascinet was initially open-faced, but, as it supplanted the great helm as a knight's primary protective headgear, a variety of hinged visors were developed. The visors of bascinets were often pointed and thus the helmet became commonly known as houndskulls or pig faces, though more rounded styles were common in Germany.
The bascinet was usually fitted with a mail aventail, either linked directly to the helmet along the bottom rim, as in early examples, or attached by means of a removable strip of leather held in place by a cord wound through a series of metal staples, called vervelles.
The bascinet was the predominant knightly helm of the fourteenth century. Its use continued through the mid-fifteenth century and was still occasionally used by foot soldiers into the early sixteenth century.
A bascinet with attached plate armor, or bevor, for the neck, instead of an aventail, was known as a great or grand bascinet.
Sixteenth-century visor with horizontal ridges.
Plate armor for the chin and lower face, sometimes including a gorget. It was a fifteenth-century piece of armour that protected the lower part of the face and was worn with a helmet. It could be affixed to the helmet or the breastplate and it was often hinged, so that it could be lowered when not in use.
This term refers to the holes in the visor or faceplate of a helmet to provide ventilation.
(Falling Buffe, Barbote)
Sixteenth-century armor worn strapped to an open-faced helmet. It evolved from the bevor and was composed of several small sheets of metal called lamés, retained in place by catches composed of springs with hooks on the end that linked to the solid metal portion of the armor. The lamés could be lowered for better ventilation and vision. The Spanish called the buffe a barbote.
An originally open-faced helmet with a peak over the brow, a combed skull, and hinged earpieces. The open-faced design was copied from a design used by the Ottoman Turks. Later versions evolved to point where the comb was less pronounced and the helmets were often affixed with visors.
The burgonet often completed light cavalry armor, but was also used by most other types of troops, including some regiments of the German Landsknecht mercenaries.
Fifteenth-century Spanish helmet with a turned-down brim and an almond-shaped skull ending in a stalk-like projection. It was a descendant of the kettle hat and eventually evolved into the cabasset and then to the morion.
A Spanish version of the morion, derived from the cabacete. The cabasset had an almond-shaped skull ending in a stalk-like projection.
Fifteenth to sixteenth-century open-faced helmet, often of classical design, similar to a burgonet.
A 15th century Italian open-faced sallet.
Steel skullcap typically worn under a great helm and attached to a coif also worn under the helm. The combination of the cap and mail coif eventually evolved into the bascinet, which replaced the great helm in the fourteenth century.
Helmet with a full visor and bevor that completely encloses the head and face. In modern times, the term tends to refer solely to visored helmets, , regardless of the helm's actual type, whose visors pivot open on bolts or rivets on each side of the skull.
The close helmet descended from helmets with hinged cheek-pieces that opened at the front, such as the armet, which it eventually replaced.
Most often, a hood of mail, though the term was also used to refer to padded hoods with similar coverage and design.
Norman and Saxon armies, during the 12th century often wore shirts of chain mail accompanied by coifs. Over time, as maille armor fell out of fashion due to superior weapon design, knights and soldiers took to wearing mail coifs beneath the normal helmets, of various types, for added protection.
Some knights wore their elaborate helmets only in ceremonial or tournaments situations, foregoing them in battle to take advantage of the superior ventilation and visibility provided by the coif.
A curved and often very marked ridge that passed over the skull of the helmet from front to back. The curved ridge strengthened and thickened the helmet in its most vulnerable area -- the center of the skull. The convex ridge also made it more difficult for an enemy to strike a lethal blow to the head, as the curve tended to make the weapon more likely to glance off of the armor.
However, style followed need: In the mid-sixteenth century, the combs of morion helmets were raised and enlarged to an excessive height for 'fashionable' reasons.
Morion with a high central comb on the top of the skull
A heraldic device fixed to the top of the great helm, introduced in the second half of the thirteenth and in wide use by the fourteenth century.
Peak on the brow of a helmet, sometimes hinged at the sides
A descendant of the great helm, the frog-mouthed helm was developed in the fourteenth century. It was usually attached to the breastplate and backplate with rivets or bolts, and the lower edge of the sight projected well beyond the upper edge.
The German term "stechhelm" refers to a variant of this helm, which was bolted to the breastplate, commonly used while jousting with blunted lances. Such jousts were German in origin and were called the Gestech.
A piece of armor, generally of plate construction though sometimes fashioned from maille, which was closely-fit and protected the neck, throat, and upper part of the chest, and formed a part of the double breastplate common in the fourteenth century. Some versions were exceptionally wide and protected the shoulders as well.
Some footsoldiers, conscious of the costs of expensive plate armors, supplemented the gorget with a maille mantle that protected the shoulders and upper chest, called a bishop's mantle.
(Great Helm, Heaume, Pot Helmet)
A massive helmet, which enclosed the entire head and face and which extended almost to the shoulders. It was the first helmet in the Middle Ages to encompass the entire head. It was usually made of four or five iron plates riveted together and reinforced along the seams with brass or other metals.
Some versions of the great helm were fitted with rounded tops and pivoting visors, but the flat topped variety remained very popular, probably because of their relatively low cost of manufacturing.
Originally the great helm was cylindrical in form and worn over a mail coif and/or a small steel skullcap. Toward the middle of the thirteenth century, the top of the mail coif was replaced by a close fitted steel cap called a cervelliere.
Great helms first appeared in the last decade of the twelfth century, and became widespread in the thirteenth and early fourteenth centuries. They remained the primary tournament helmet into the Renaissance, becoming progressively heavier and more massive. After 1420, the helms reached to the shoulders and were bolted to the chest and back.
(Hunskull, Dog-faced basinet)
An English corruption of the German hundsgugel (dog head), a nickname for the pointed visor found on bascinets of the late fourteenth and early fifteenth centuries. Also called "pig face," although this latter term is a more modern nomenclature.
Hat (War Hat, Chapel de Fer)
A plain open-faced helmet consisting of a skull (or cap) with a wide brim, which was very common, appearing at the end of the 12th century.
Due to the fact that it was inexpensive to make, the kettle hat remained popular, primarily with foot soldiers, until the fifteenth century.
It was nearly identical to the civil defense helmets of the twentieth century, or those of American doughboys in the First World War.
A modern term for a rounded visor for bascinets worn in fourteenth-century Germany. It was hinged at the front of the skull of the helmet and protected only the area unguarded by camail or aventail.
Another variant term for this design is "pig face."
Roman term that referred the the movable cheek-pieces that folded in front of the wearer's face, protecting his cheeks and jaw. These flaps were often secured beneath the chin by leather straps. When secured beneath the chin, the mandibles helped distribute a helmet's weight across the shoulders rather than the neck, making a helmet much more comfortable to wear.
Armets, zischagges, lobster tail pot helms, and some versions of the Norman helm were fitted with mandibulars similar to Roman helmets.
The morion was a sixteenth-century version of the kettle hat, widely used by infantrymen. This helmet consisted of a skull with a broad brim (either flat or turned down at the sides) which sweeps upward into a peak at the front and rear.
The morion is clearly an outgrowth of the kettle hat, given the characteristic crease along the bridge of the skull. This crease created sharply angled sides which deflected blows well and also increased the strength and rigidity of the helm itself.
There are two main types: the so-called Spanish morion, or cabasset, which has an almond-shaped skull ending with a stalk-like projection, and the comb morion, which has a high central comb that runs along the apex of the skull.
The morion is often associated in popular imagination with the Spanish Conquistadors, but the style actually developed after Spain's initial conquests in the Americas.
Metal plate attached to the front of a helmet to protect the nose and middle of the face, most often riveted to the bottom of the skull or, as in the case of the zischagge and other similar designs, affixed to the helmet with a threaded bolt that passed through the helmet's brim.
Eleventh-century helmet often associated with the Normans, possessing a cone-shaped skull and a nasal, made either in one piece or of spangenhelm construction.
The early forms of the conical helmet tended to have a pronounced central point, which in the twelfth century was often given a forward tilt, like a Phrygian cap.
It actually predated the Normans, as a culture, by almost a century, originating in the Byzantine empire and brought to Western Europe by Norman mercenaries in the tenth century.
Similar to the spangenhelm, which is actually a term that most often refers to this form of helmet, the Norman helm was incredibly popular mostly because of its ease of construction. It was worn widely not only with the Normans, but with the Saxons, and several other European cultures, being encountered well into the 1500s.
Another style used in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries was a simple round helmet, sometimes possessing a nasal and sometimes not. The helm was usually worn over a padded cap and a mail hood, or camail.
The eye slits in a helmet or visor.
A decorated wreath most often worn around the bascinet in fifteenth-century armor. The term also referred to a thick roll of cloth or leather on a helmet, which formed a base for an ornamental crest.
A wide brim above the facial openings of a helmet. The morion, basinet, and English lobster pots are all examples of helmets with pronounced peaks.
According to the American Heritage Dictionary, a Phrygian cap, or liberty cap, was a brimless, limp, conical cap fitting snugly around the head. It also had a point on its top, that was turned forward.
It was first worn by the Phrygian armies during the seventh and eighth centuries, in what is now Turkey. French revolutionaries wore a cap based on this design during the 18th century, using it as a symbol of freedom. This use harkened back to the cap's use in the Roman empire, when caps of this design were given to a slave in ancient Rome upon manumission. This headgear also serves as the basic origins for the Bishop's mitre and the hats worn by the Rosicrucians.
Norman knights began wearing a helmet very similar in design to the Phrygian cap during the twelth century.
An erroneous modern term, referring to the visor on a hunskull-visored bascinet.
The term was sometimes used to refer to a bascinet with a rounded rather than a pointed visor. The rounded visors were much more common in Germany than elsewhere in Europe.
(English Pot, Lobster Pot, Lobster-tailed Pot, Pot Helm)
This is a general term for a simple, common soldier's helmet. Originally, the term "pot helm" referred to helmets that were simplified, light-weight versions of the great helm.
Some types of pot helm bore a strong resemblance to the bascinet. The design was probably based on that of the more expensive helmet.
Other versions of the pot helm were the English or lobster pot styles of helmet. The typical English Pot was characterized by a brim or "peak" to which was attached a face guard and the segmented neckguard, composed of several lamés, and strongly resembled a lobster tail, which earned it the nickname "lobster pot." This version of the pot helm was descended from, or based on, the zischagge design and was common in England in the mid-17th century, the era of the English Civil War.
A heavy, one-piece sallet designed for the Rennen, a type of German joust fought with sharp lances. It often had a hinged visor and very long tail that protected the wearer's neck.
A metal disk that protects the strap that connects a wrapper to an armet. Sometimes found on other types of helmets.
Used in all areas of western Europe, the sallet was very popular with all classes of soldiers and knights in the fifteenth century. Developed in the early fourteenth century from the Italian celata, a helm resembling the open barbute, it became one of the most commonly used helmets in fifteenth-century Europe. The English referred to the sallet as a salade.
Diverse styles existed, from the simple open sallets used by archers and billmen (foot soldiers who fought using long spears and large shields), to the more elaborate visored versions used by knights, mercenaries, and men-at-arms.
Sallets tended to be closely shaped to the skull, with a long tail. The tail could be either forged to be one with the skull, or made of articulated lamés. The sides tended to slope back at the sides rather sharply, much more so than those of the barbute did. As sallets tended to leave the lower half of the face exposed, they were often worn with a bevor, which covered the throat, chin and lower part of the face, or an aventail, which covered the the chin, jaw, neck, throat and shoulders.
The part of a helmet that covered the top, back, and sides of the head above the ears. It could also denote a simple metal cap.
A simple metal cap, sometimes worn under a great helm. It was also called a cervelliere and sometimes had a mail coif attached. As such, it eventually evolved into the bascinet.
Priests and other clergy occasionally wore a skullcap for ornamental as well as protective purposes.
A conical helmet made of a number of metal plates riveted together. However, when referring directly to helmets, using the term in this fashion is incorrect. The term refers, most accurately, to the method of construction that created helms of this sort.
Helms of this type are commonly referred to as Norman because they were a favorite of that warlike people. However, this form of helmet predates the Normans by nearly a century. Long after they had been absorbed by the various peoples they conquered the helm was still in common use.
It was the helm of choice of the Norman armies that invaded England in 1066, but it was equally popular with the Saxons that opposed them. This sort of helmet remained in use throughout Europe for another 400 years, well into the 16th century.
Scholars have discovered several different historical examples of helmets which were constructed in this way, although the designs of these helmets differed considerably from each other. Other examples of this sort of helmet include the great helm, the sugarloaf helm, and the common kettle hat.
Great helm with a conical skull. Although more expensive to produce than other great helms with cylindrical shapes and flat tops, the conical shape of this helm allowed it to shed blows much more easily.
Term that refers the portion of a helmet that extends from the helmet's back to protect the wearer's neck and, sometimes, shoulders.
Thirteenth-century flap on a mail coif that drew across the mouth to protect the face. A length of leather cord frequently secured the vervail. The term also referred to the movable front of a visored helmet.
Staples or metal rings which were attached to the lower edge of a helmet. Aventails and camails were affixed to helmets by means of the vervelles and a series of leather cords.
To prevent the camail or aventail accidentally coming loose or falling off at an inconvenient time, such as during combat, the vervelles were often covered by a strip of leather, which was attached using the same series of cords that kept the camail affixed to the helmet.
Part of a helmet that protected the eyes and face, often attached to the skull of a helmet by a pivot or hinges, which allowed it to open or close as needed. Occasionally, a series of leather straps, rather than hinges, joined the visor to its helm. Some styles of visor were called ventails.
Reinforcing plate on the brow of a helmet.
Armor, strapped to the front of the helmet, that covered the chin and the lower half of the visor. A rondel was a common accompaniment to the wrapper, protecting the leather strap and its fasteners at the back of the helmet.
Wrappers were most commonly used by mounted knights in the joust or tournaments, to help reinforce the armor against the devastating blows a mounted knight's lance, or mounted strike with a sword, mace, or hammer, could inflict.
A light, open- faced cavalry helmet, introduced to Eastern Europeans during the Ottoman incursions along the Danube in the early 16th century. Its usage spread quickly, thanks to its ease of manufacture and it saw extensive use throughout Europe for most of the 16th and 17th centuries.
An articulated tail and hinged cheek plates provide additional protection. The long, sliding nasal bar was held in place by new innovation in armoring technology: the threaded bolt.
used in this article are copyright © 2003 by their original owners and
may not be reproduced without their permission.
Photos used with permission, from the following:
Christian Fletcher Armories
MacKenzie-Smith Medieval Arms and Armor
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