The “Illyrian” or “Greco-Illyrian” type helmet is a style of bronze helmet, which in its later variations covered the entire head and neck, and was open-faced in all of its forms.
Helmets of this type have been discovered in many sites in Albania, Bosnia, Croatia (near the coast), F.Y.R.O.M., and Serbia. Illyrian helmets are found more abundantly in Illyrian graves because of their higher status.
Its earliest styles were first developed in ancient Greece, specifically in the Peloponnese, during the 8th and 7th centuries BC (700–640 BC). Accurate representations on Corinthian vases are sufficient to indicate that the “Illyrian” type helmet was developed before 600 BC. All photos: Mary Harrsch/Flickr
The helmet was misleadingly named as an “Illyrian” type due to a large number of early finds coming from Illyria.
Bronze Funerary Helmet with gold foil mouthpiece depicting two heraldic lions to indicate the valor of the deceased hero from the necropolis at Archontiko, Greece 560-550 BCE. This helmet is from one of the earliest burials in the cemetery’s central grave cluster.
Funerary bronze helmet with gold mask from the necropolis at Archontiko Greek 525-500 BCE. The bronze nail on the front of this helmet would have been used to secure the crest. The small holes on the tips of the cheek guards were used for lacing the helmet. The otherwise undecorated mask includes open eyes and other facial features and is the most naturalistic of the eight death masks excavated at the Archontiko necropolis.
Funerary bronze helmet with gold mouth piece from the necropolis at Archontiko Greek 560-550 BCE. The gold mouthpiece is decorated with an embossed star. Embossed dots of various sizes in simple geometric forms cover the remaining surface.
According to archaeological evidence, the “Illyrian” type helmet evolved from the Kegelhelm (or Kegel type) of the Archaic Period found in Argos. The earliest “Illyrian” type helmets were developed in a workshop located in the northwestern Peloponnese (possibly Olympia), although the first Type II “Illyrian” helmets were created in Corinthian workshops. The first Type III helmets were created in workshops situated somewhere on the Illyrian coast of the Adriatic. The “Illyrian” type helmet did not obstruct the wearer’s critical senses of vision though the first two varieties hampered hearing.
WHO WERE THE ILLYRIANS?
The Illyrians were a group of Indo-European tribes in antiquity, who inhabited part of the western Balkans. The territory the Illyrians inhabited came to be known as Illyria to Greek and Roman authors, who identified a territory that corresponds to Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Slovenia, Montenegro, Kosovo, part of Serbia and most of central and northern Albania, between the Adriatic Sea in the west, the Drava river in the north, the Morava river in the east and the mouth of the Aoos river in the south. The first account of Illyrian peoples comes from the Periplus of Pseudo-Scylax, an ancient Greek text of the middle of the 4th century BC that describes coastal passages in the Mediterranean.
Funerary bronze helmet with gold mask from the necropolis at Archontiko Greek after 530 BCE. The gold mask has two heraldic lions surrounded by geometric and plant motifs representing the “king of the animals.”
Funerary bronze helmet with gold eye and mouth pieces from the necropolis at Archontiko Greek 540-530 BCE. The deceased warrior was found lying on his back holding a gilded sword in his right hand, which bore a gold ring. A large embossed rosette, or the sun, decorates the center of its gold mouth and eyepieces.
Funerary bronze helmet with gold mask from the necropolis at Archontiko Grave 279 Greek mid 6th century BCE. This warrior’s grave also included a bronze shield, iron swords, spear points, gold ornaments, a chariot model, figures, and more. This is one of the earliest gold funerary masks found so far in northern Greece. It appears that the mask was pressed against the deceased’s face so as to render the relief of the nose, brows, and lips. Part of the permanent collections of the Archaeological Museum of Pella.
Funerary bronze helmet with gold mouth piece from the necropolis at Archontiko Greek mid-6th century BCE. This helmet features three narrow gold bands with embossed plant motifs. A multi-petalled rosette surrounding the hideous face of a Gorgon (a mythical creature) seals the lips of the deceased warrior. Embossed lines and plant motifs cover the remaining surface.
There were four types of these helmets and all were open faced: Type I (c. 700–640 BC) left the neck unprotected and hampered hearing. Type II (c. 600 BC) offered neck protection and again hampered hearing. Type III (c. 550 BC) offered neck protection and allowed better hearing. Type IV (c. 500 BC) was similar to Type III but hearing was not impaired at all.
Funerary bronze helmet with gold eye and mouth pieces from the necropolis at Archontiko Greek 550-525 BCE. Lacking any decoration apart from the crest, this is one of the simplest helmets found in the necropolis of Archontiko. The two embossed heraldic lions – symbols of power – on the lozenge-shaped mouthpiece indicate the dead warrior’s valor. The concentric circles embossed into the gold plaques over the eyes indicate that the warrior’s eyes would forever gaze into the beyond.
This warrior was also buried with a black-glazed kantharos – a sumposium vessel par excellence – with an incised inscription reading dolos e o kalios (I [the kantharos] am a sly trap.)
Funerary bronze helmet with gold mask from the necropolis at Archontiko Greek 550-540 BCE. The burial was one of the richest at Archontiko. The helmet was made with an unusual technique that involved hammering a thick sheet of bronze, then adding a central band to support a crest. The mask features plant motifs around the cut-out for the nose and mouth. A complex rosette within a large embossed circle rises like a star over the center of the face.
The Illyrian type helmet was used by the ancient Greeks, Etruscans, Scythians, and became popular with the Illyrians who later adopted it. A variety of the helmet had also spread to Italy based on its appearance on ivory reliefs and on a silver bowl at the “Bernardini” tomb at Praeneste.
The helmet became obsolete in most parts of Greece in the early 5th century BC. These helmets were a privilege limited to the minority of warriors who could afford or obtain them. Its use in Illyria had ended by the 4th century BC.