Since ancient times, helmets have played a significant role in military history, with various cultures developing distinctive designs to protect soldiers in combat.

The history of ancient helmets is an intriguing and intricate tale that spans from the oldest known examples in the Bronze Age to the elaborate helmets of the Classical world.

The earliest helmets were made of leather or cloth, but as metalworking, advanced, more efficient, and long-lasting helmets could be produced.

Charles V’s Nemean Lion Parade burgonet. Made by Filippo Negroli in Milan c. 1541.

The earliest bronze helmets are those from the eighth century BCE, like the famous Corinthian helmet worn by ancient Greek soldiers.


Only the eyes and lips were visible due to the full head coverage of these helmets, which frequently had a crest or plume on top for decoration. The Boeotian and Attic styles of headgear were among the others worn by the Greeks.

Helmets were also used in the Roman Empire, with the Galea being one of the most iconic models. The bronze Galea had cheek guards, a visor that could be raised or lowered, and a broad brim that shielded the neck and ears, and these features were all included.

Roman helmets were frequently embellished with colorful plumes or other decorations, serving as both a prestige symbol and a piece of protective equipment.

Emperor Charles V’s helmet. It was crafted by Desiderius Helmschmid, a member of the Helmschmieds of Augsburg, one of late medieval Europe’s foremost families of armorers, c.1540.

To better safeguard the wearer, helmets kept developing throughout the Middle Ages. The Great Helm or Crusader Helm, another European knight’s headgear name, was a well-liked style in the 12th and 13th centuries.

This steel helmet had a conical shape that covered the complete head and was frequently equipped with a visor that could be adjusted up or down.

The sallet, which had a more pointed shape and protected the back of the neck, and the bascinet, which had a more rounded shape and could be worn with a separate visor, were other varieties of medieval helmets.

Helmets continued to advance to offer more protection as warfare became more complicated and firearms were introduced.

Emperor Charles V’s burgonet helmet. Kolman Helmschmidc, a member of the Helmschmieds of Augsburg, c. 1530, crafted it.

To help deflect projectiles and increase their strength, Renaissance helmets were built with fluting or ridges.

Soldiers wore helmets frequently in the 17th and 18th centuries but they were more ceremonial and ornamental than practical.

Modern designs for helmets incorporate cutting-edge materials and technologies to offer the highest level of protection for troops and other personnel. Helmets are still a crucial component of military gear today.

The history of ancient helmets is a testament to human ingenuity and the enduring need for protection during the conflict. From the earliest leather and cloth helmets to the sophisticated designs of the modern era.

Gala armor of the Italian general Alessandro Farnese, Duke of Parma and Piacenza (1545-1592), workshop of the armor are Lucio Piccinino, Italy, 16th century, Vienna, Kunsthistorisches Museum.

Armour of the Italian general Alessandro Farnese, Duke of Parma, and Piacenza.

Armour of the Italian general Alessandro Farnese, Duke of Parma, and Piacenza.

Horned Helmet of Henry VIII.

Horned Helmet of Henry VIII. Royal Armouries, Leeds – October 2015: Horned Helmet of Henry VIII.

The “Horned Helmet,” which was created for Henry VIII, is among the collection of the Royal Armouries’ most enigmatic artifacts. It was a piece of a magnificent suit of armor that the Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I had ordered in 1511 as a gift for the young king, who would have worn it for royal pageants rather than battle.

The grotesque mask’s ornamentation is etched, and there is a noticeable drip beneath the nostrils in addition to lifelike facial details like chin stubble and crow’s feet.

A set of spectacles complete the mask, adding to the helmet’s surreal appearance. This extraordinary piece is completed by two exquisitely crafted ram’s horns made of sheet iron. Because of its exceptional qualities, it was selected as the object to represent the Royal Armouries museum in Leeds when it first opened in 1996.

Charles the V’s ceremonial close helmet. Made by The Helmschmieds of Augsburg c. 1540.

Burgonet with Falling Buffe and scenes of battle between the Lapiths and the Centaurs, c. 1555

The Battle of Centaurs and Lapiths, a common theme in Renaissance art, is depicted in Greek mythology on the medallions on either side of the basin.

The compositions were partially inspired by the designs of Rosso Fiorentino (1494-1540), an Italian artist hired by the French government to work at Fontainebleau.

Later in the sixteenth century, the helmet, probably made for Henry II of France (reigned 1547-59), was given as a diplomatic present to the Medici court in Florence.

It is depicted in a painting of Cosimo II de Medici (1590-1621), the grand duke of Tuscany, that is part of the collection of the Metropolitan Museum (acc. no. 22.150). (Source: Metmuseum.

Burgonet of Guidobaldo II della Rovere, Duke of Urbino, Milan, c. 1532-35

Helm for the Joust of Peace (Stechhelm), German, probably Nuremberg. 1500s.

Various great helm that first appeared around 1400 and persisted into the first quarter of the 16th century was the frog-mouth helm (or Stechhelm, which is German for “jousting helmet”). Instead of being worn on the battlefield, mounted knights mainly wore helmets during competitions (jousting).

The ocularium, the slit through which the helm’s user could see, was likened to the open mouth of a frog, hence the frog-mouth allusion.

The helmet provided higher security during jousting competitions from lances that would splinter upon contact with the opponent’s body armor.

Early stechhelms were constructed from a single piece of metal, whereas later helmets had flexible designs allowing disassembly.

The frog-mouth helm.

Helm of Emperor Charles V (Charles I of Spain), 16th century. Royal Armory, Madrid.

An Anglo-Saxon Helmet of gold and silver from the 7th century. (Photo by Birmingham Museums Trust).

Using pieces discovered nearby Lichfield, England, archaeologists were able to recreate a rare gold and silver Anglo-Saxon helmet from the 7th century.

The Birmingham Museums Trust is home to the Staffordshire Hoard, the largest Anglo-Saxon gold and silver accumulation ever found.

Samurai helmet(Kawari Kabuto) with buffalo horns, ears, and a devilish mask.

The helmet of a secutor, a type of gladiator, will be displayed at the Queensland Museum. The object was found in the Ludus Gladiatorius barracks in Pompeii.

Warrior helmet found in the grave. 7th century AD, Sweden.

Bronze Corinthian helmet, c. 500 BCE, Staatliche Antikensammlungen.

Ancient Greece gave rise to the Corinthian headgear, named after the city-state of Corinth. It was a bronze helmet with slits for the mouth and eyes, and later versions encompassed the full head and neck. A substantially curved projection covered the nape of the neck.

Greek hoplites wore their helmets tipped upward when not in a battle for ease. Since the helmet was no longer pulled over the face but rather worn cap-like, this practice led to some variant shapes in Italy, where the slits were almost completely closed.

The Italo-Corinthian types persisted in use until the first century AD, being used, among others, by the Roman army. The Greeks abandoned the traditional Corinthian helmet in favor of more open types.

A Negroli helmet in the form of a dolphin mask, 15th century.

Samurai demon head-shaped helmet with hair, 17th century.

Helmet embossed as a conch shell (awabi uchidashi kabuto), Japan, 1618. Made by Nagasone Tojiro Mitsumasa.

Decorative helmet of Gjergj Kastrioti Skanderbeg, c. 1460. Bought for Skanderbeg by Archduke Ferdinand II. Unknown artist, of Italian manufacture, possibly from Urbino.

Celtic (Gallic) parade helmet, 350 BCE.

German Pickelhaube.

Ottoman zischagge helmet, mid-16th century.

It is not surprising that heraldic elements frequently incorporated the shield and the helmet, as these are frequently the most visible pieces of a knight’s military gear, given that the coat of arms was originally intended to distinguish noble combatants on the battlefield or in a tournament, even while they were wearing armor.

Around 1587–1615 saw the emergence of the practice of denoting peerage through the display of barred or grilled helmets. Around the time of the Stuart period, the following heraldic convention of wearing rank-designating helmets became popular in the United Kingdom:

  • Sovereign: A gold tournament helm with a barred visage stands in front
  • Peer’s helmet: a steel helm (earlier jousting helm, later close helm) positioned affronté with the visor open
  • Knight’s or baronet’s helmet: a silver barred-face (tournament) helm placed in profile
  • Esquire’s helmet: a steel helmet with the visor closed and positioned in profile

However, earlier rolls of arms show that early heraldic helmets were portrayed in a way that was accurate to the designs used in the military or in competition at the time.

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