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Full Version: How Much Protection did Helmets Provide
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I'm curious as to whether the helmet was really the first choice of protection for ancient soldiers as it is for modern soldiers and bicyclists.

I've seen some images of greek helmets which appear to show signs of failure. I've heard sources tell of roman and later helmets which were broken by sword blows. And I know about the Roman helmet eventually being strengthened by a brow. Did metal helmets really protect your noggin against anything other than glancing blows?

Couple of issues come to mind:
1. How heavy can helmets get before they became a nuisance? How thick would they have been on average?
2. How much cushioning would have been worn underneath?



[Image: 2974938976_f80b9f9243.jpg]
I think of them as different than bike helmets, since they are more designed for concussion contact.

A Roman helmet would be good for, spear thrusts, arrows, glancing/partially blocked blows, sword slashes (likely not direct), lower end concussion hits, such as punches and shield hits.

Most helmets were probably 1-1.5mm thick. My Third century Neiderbieber helmet brace with the rivets intact, shows that as a thickness.

In terms of cushioning, the jury is still partially out on that. Some believe that the Later Roman Pilus cap was a form of cushioning, however many later Roman helmets simply had a leather lining inside. What you wore under that is up for debate...
Quote:Did metal helmets really protect your noggin against anything other than glancing blows?
Without any amount of testing i can tell you that they did. Ancient people were not stupid - helmets as eleborate object, if they had indeed offered but little protection, people would hardly have bothered to produce them for eons.

Quote:Couple of issues come to mind:
1. How heavy can helmets get before they became a nuisance? How thick would they have been on average?
2. How much cushioning would have been worn underneath?
1. Would that not depend on the physique of the owner?
2. I would say at least an inch of felt, probably. That, too, would be personal, based on experience I guess.


Quote:[Image: 2974938976_f80b9f9243.jpg]
My guess is that the owner could well have survided this damage (if the damage was done in battle and not in the archaeological dig, of course). :wink:
I can say from experience that wearing a metal helmet they can take a decent blow without you being harmed. I imagine these things would do wonders when facing troops using sling bullets.

The browband on my Gallic A is pretty hearty and it could probably take quite a blow without the force being concentrated on my helmet, I can't imagine what exactly caused the damage to that Corinthian style helmet posted
When attacking fortifications Roman troops sometimes had to make wicker helmet covers to protect from the impact of heavy rocks thrown from above.

"caes.civ.3.62": [3.62] Upon receiving this intelligence, Pompey, who had already formed the design of attempting a sally, as before mentioned, ordered the soldiers to make ozier coverings for their helmets, and to provide fascines. These things being prepared, he embarked on board small boats and row galleys by night, a considerable number of light infantry and archers, with all their fascines, and immediately after midnight, he marched sixty cohorts drafted from the greater camp and the outposts, to that part of our works which extended toward the sea, and were at the furthest distance from Caesar's greater camp. To the same place he sent the ships, which he had freighted with the fascines and light-armed troops; and all the ships of war that lay at Dyrrachium; and to each he gave particular instructions: at this part of the lines Caesar had posted Lentulus Marcellinus, the quaestor, with the ninth legion, and as he was not in a good state of health, Fulvius Costhumus was sent to assist him in the command.

"caes.civ.3.63": [3.63] At this place, fronting the enemy, there was a ditch fifteen feet wide, and a rampart ten feet high, and the top of the rampart was ten feet in breadth. At an interval of six hundred feet from that there was another rampart turned the contrary way, with the works lower. For some days before, Caesar, apprehending that our men might be surrounded by sea, had made a double rampart there, that if he should be attacked on both sides, he might have the means of defending himself. But the extent of the lines, and the incessant labor for so many days, because he had inclosed a circuit of seventeen miles with his works, did not allow time to finish them. Therefore the transverse rampart which should make a communication between the other two, was not yet completed. This circumstance was known to Pompey, being told to him by the Allobrogian deserters, and proved of great disadvantage to us. For when our cohorts of the ninth legion were on guard by the sea-side, Pompey's army arrived suddenly by break of day, and their approach was a surprise to our men, and at the same time, the soldiers that came by sea, cast their darts on the front rampart; and the ditches were filled with fascines: and the legionary soldiers terrified those that defended the inner rampart, by applying the scaling ladders, and by engines and weapons of all sorts, and a vast multitude of archers poured round upon them from every side. Besides, the coverings of oziers, which they had laid over their helmets, were a great security to them against the blows of stones which were the only weapons that our soldiers had. And therefore, when our men were oppressed in every manner, and were scarcely able to make resistance, the defect in our works was observed, and Pompey's soldiers, landing between the two ramparts, where the work was unfinished, attacked our men in the rear, and having beat them from both sides of the fortification, obliged them to flee.
Quote:
rrgg post=298833 Wrote:Couple of issues come to mind:
1. How heavy can helmets get before they became a nuisance? How thick would they have been on average?
2. How much cushioning would have been worn underneath?
1. Would that not depend on the physique of the owner?
2. I would say at least an inch of felt, probably. That, too, would be personal, based on experience I guess.
Outside the SCA, I haven't seen any helmets with room for that much padding anywhere but on top, and most early modern helmets had 5-10 mm of padding. Probably the idea was that keeping edges and points out of your body was the important thing, and that you should just 'suck up' bruising and headaches and vision problems. Compare the resistance today whenever someone suggests increasing the protection in contact sports.
Most well preserved ancient helmets with face protection that I have seen measured weighed 800-2000 g. That is much lighter than, for example, greathelms from high medieval Europe (which typically weighed 2500-5000 grams), but ancient soldiers would rarely have axes beating on their helms!

I agree that different soldiers would have worn different amounts of padding, from just a thin layer of cloth inside their helmet to a thick felt cap, but I'd be surprised if it was ever as thick as an inch.
Quote:I agree that different soldiers would have worn different amounts of padding, from just a thin layer of cloth inside their helmet to a thick felt cap, but I'd be surprised if it was ever as thick as an inch.

I agree. If you look at the size of the originals (unless the heads were considerably smaller) there was no way an extra huge layer of padding could be worn all around. A lot of the helmet clearly had room to spare at the top, so having some sort of pad at the top of the helmet seems very likely.
During my 1st tour in Iraq I wore a 3.5 lb helmet with an attached night vision monocular with accessories weighting another 1-1.5 lbs. To top it off I also had a landwarrior system attached weighing 1.5-2 lbs. And a strobe light and helmet light weighing another .5-.75 lb. Grand total = 7 lbs approx
The night vision systems attached to helmet at an 45 deg upward angle, it definitely made wearing it annoying but when the night vision wasn't attached I barely notice the weight.

I read that Romanesque helmet ranged from 3-5 lbs but distributed the weight better from their designs.

Another issue other than weight with any type of helmet is how it deals with heat. Modern kevlar versions generally cause a rise in core body temperature, heat can't dissipate properly. Wearing any sort of armor leads to MANY heat induced injuries like heat exhaustion (kind of serious) and heat stroke (really serious, even if you survive you will never be the same again). To keep temp down one has to drink lots of water, stay in the shade as much as possible and drop kit whenever possible. All three seem to fly in the face in many persons' understanding of ancient warfare. But it doesn't matter how tough someone is, if they get too hot they drop and do the funky chicken in the dirt.
Not to draw too much away from the original topic, but I wonder if the Later period helmets in their shiny gold and/or silver surfaces helped with the heat, by at least reflecting the stuff from outside away
Quote:Not to draw too much away from the original topic, but I wonder if the Later period helmets in their shiny gold and/or silver surfaces helped with the heat, by at least reflecting the stuff from outside away

Yes, I have thought about this too. In addition how about in very cold conditions? There must have been thick insulation / padding on the helmets when serving in the winter conditions. A metal thing in your head in frosty conditions doesn' t sound very nice :wink: ...
A needlebind woolen hat under the helmet helps in winter.
Or as mentioned before the leather lining.

A padded cap takes the sharpness of a blow away.
The thicker the cap, the more impact absorbing.

There are enough marks on my helmets (Gallic A, Hoplomachus, Augst ridgehelmet, Spangenhelm , Bascinet and "modern"fencingmask) that show marks from steel swords, spears and axes that have glanced of the helmet.
The range of the metal thickness of these helmets lays between 1mm and 2mm.
Under each different helmet I wear a padded cap made for that helmet.

During last August Wolin Festival I wore a Polish made 2mm thick helmet.
I only wore a woolen hat under it and caught a full horizontal blow from a blunt one-handed axe to the side of the helmet, causing a 5cm long and a 3mm deep dent.
If this would have been a average 1mm thick original or replica helmet I would not have been typing this reply, but possibly pushing up the daisies.

Don't forget that the old method of making sheet steel in the past was a different process than today.
As tests have shown: Sheet metal today is not as strong as ancient sheet metal, copper plate being stronger.
But even in ancient times helmets had to be reinforced with browbars and/or crossbars

There are enough examples of ancient helmets and skulls that show the damage that has been caused by the weapons used in those days.
Some skulls even have fragments of the helmet in the original wound.

The stupid thing is that you feel saver in certain situations wearing a helmet regardless of its protection value/level or thickness.
Must be the mind playing tricks on you :twisted:
That photo of the Greek helmet with the big hole in it

Keep in mind this hole may have been a Votive/sacrificial offering to honor the wearer who died, likely by some other means.

To the best of my knowledge, Greek warriors would purposely damage a fallen [hero] helmet, theoretically so that noone else could wear that helmet - so it in essence stayed with that warrior for all time. If that helmet belonged to Achilles, who dies in battle, let's say, you wouldn't want Apelles to put it on, as he'd become an imposter, as he's wearing Achilles' helmet.

Although I admit I don't know where the reference for that lays, as that is what I learned from my days working at an armory museum *shrug*

Either way, helmets can provide a lot of protection - a lot has to do with the padding that goes under it, but that it acts as a 'secondary' defense (IMHO). You're not going to run onto the battlefield and challenge someone to hit you on the head as hard as they can. You have a big shield...Use that instead. If something happens to come through, you have some chance of being protected.
Quote:I can't imagine what exactly caused the damage to that Corinthian style helmet posted

My guess would be sagaris.
Quote:If that helmet belonged to Achilles, who dies in battle, let's say, you wouldn't want Apelles to put it on, as he'd become an imposter, as he's wearing Achilles' helmet.
Wouldn't Achilleus' helmet have gone to Odysseus, along with the rest of his gear?
I think the helmet was the main protection used by the ancients in fact any helmet will become damaged if hit enough times, many helmets were beaten out into shape which did often create weakness.
Indeed if we look at the Coolus types shown in the H.R.Robinson book it becomes clear that many of these were hammered out and they all appear to have very much the same area of weakness one third up the side of the bowl.
However having said that the soldiers would have welcomed the fact of having one far more than being without any helmet at all not so much from the point of blows but from cuts to the head,
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