of the Helmet
Defensive covering for the head, one of the most universal
forms of armour. Helmets are usually thought of as military
helmets date from ancient times. Their basic function was
to protect the head, face, and sometimes the neck from the
cutting blows of swords, spears, arrows, and other weapons.
The Assyrians and Persians had helmets of leather and iron,
and the Greeks brought helmet making to a pinnacle of craftsmanship
with their bronze helmets, some of which covered the entire
head, with only a narrow opening in front for vision and breath.
The Romans developed several forms of helmets, including the
round legionary's helmet and the special gladiator's helmet,
with broad brim and pierced visor, giving exceptional protection
to head, face, and neck.
northern and western Europe, early helmets were of leather
reinforced with bronze or iron straps and usually took the
form of conical or hemispherical skullcaps. Gradually the
amount of metal increased until entire helmets were fashioned
of iron, still following the same form. About the year 1200
the helm, or heaume, emerged. It was a flat-topped cylinder
that was put on over the skullcap just before an engagement;
experience soon dictated rounded contours that would cause
blows to glance off. At the same time, the skullcap developed
into the basinet, with pieces added to protect the neck and
with a movable visor for the face. By 1500 several highly
sophisticated types of helmets were in use, employing hinges
or pivots to permit the piece to be put on over the head and
then fitted snugly around head and neck so that it could not
be knocked off in combat.
the 16th and 17th centuries light, open helmets with broad
brims became popular. In the 18th and 19th centuries, with
the growing effectiveness of firearms and the consequent decline
in use of the sword and spear, helmets largely disappeared
except for the use of light helmets by cavalry. The steel
helmet reappeared, however, as a standard item for infantry
in the opening years of World War I because it protected the
head against the high-velocity metal fragments of exploding
artillery shells. The French first adopted the helmet as standard
equipment in late 1914 and were quickly followed by the British,
the Germans, and then the rest of Europe. The typical helmet
is a hardened-steel shell with an inner liner and weighs about
1 to 4 pounds (0.5 to 1.8 kg).
iron and steel helmets -- developed in medieval Persia, Turkey,
and India -- are valued as works of art because of their fine
forging and delicate damascening. In Tibet and China, helmets
of bronze, leather, and horn have been made for centuries,
while Japanese helmets with detachable face guards, finely
forged and lacquered, have been recognized as outstanding
examples of the armourer's craft.