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27 Jul

Medieval Helmets

Helmets which were an important component of military equipment already in the Bronze Age went through some modifications in the Medieval Times. The knights wore the mail armor until the 14th century, while the head was usually covered with mail hood over which was worn a separate helmet – either the Spangenhelm or Ridge Helmet. Spangenhelm consisted of three to six metal plates connected by metal strips which also formed the framework of the helmet. It was curved with the shape of the head and culminated in a point resembling the shape of a cone. The front of the Spangenhelm often featured a nose protector or a nasal. Ridge Helmet originating from Persia was introduced to Europe by the Romans and was very popular in the British Isles and Balkan Peninsula in the Early Middle Ages. Ridge Helmet consisted of two pieces joined by a ridge running from the forehead to the back of the head in the middle of the helmet. It usually featured a nasal, while some versions also came with neck, ear and cheek protection.

Detail from the Bayeux Tapestry depicting Harold Godwinson and his housecarls wearing Nasal helmets

Bayeux Tapestry depicting Harold Godwinson

Both Spangenhelm and Ridge Helmet greatly influenced the design of the Nasal helm which was the most popular head protection from about 10th to the 13th century. Nasal helm greatly resembled the Spangenhelm and Ridge Helmet but it was made of a single piece of metal.

Great helm in the 13th century

Great helm in the 13th century

Great helm which introduced in the late 12th century was the most popular helmet throughout Europe until the 14th century. Its design resembled a flat-topped cylinder, while later designs were more curved to lessen the impact of blows. Great helm provided much better protection than the Nasal helm because it completely covered the head and it was not overtly heavy nor uncomfortable. However, very small openings for the eyes and mouth limited the vision and provided poor ventilation. Underneath the Great helm the knights sometimes wore the cervelliere, a round and close-fitting steel cap.

Typical example of Bascinet


Cervelliere eventually evolved into the Bascinet which replaced the Great helm by the middle of the 14th century. The main difference between the Great helm and Bascinet was hinged visor resembling a muzzle or a beak. For that reason Bascinet was often called “dog faced”. The early models sometimes featured a neck protection of mail known as the aventail. Later, the neck was protected by a steel collar called the gorget.

In Italy, was at the same time popular the Barbute with a distinctive “T” or “Y” shaped opening for the eyes and mouth, resembling the classical Greek helmets.

Example of a classical armet


Bascinet came out of use in the 15th century and was replaced by the Armet in Italy, while predominant head protection in Western Europe and Britain was the Sallet. Armet was notable for completely protecting the head and being light at the same time. It usually consisted of four pieces: skull, two hinged cheek pieces with lock at the front and a visor. Armet often featured a neck and chin protection called the wrapper.

Example of a sallet


Sallet replaced Bascinet by the middle of the 15th century. Its design greatly varied from country to country but it was usually close-fitting to the line of the nose and featured a visor in a form of a slit. Since it reached only the line of the jaw Sallet was usually worn with a bevor to protect the jaw and the neck. Despite regional varieties most of Sallets were distinctive for the helmet tail which became especially pronounced at the end of the 15th century.

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