Tag Archives: artifacts

Greek Helmets

Ancient Greek Helmets

A few days ago, I posted some illustrations of Egyptian weapons from an 1894 text on arms and armor. Continuing in that vein, here are some pictures of various Greek and Etruscan helmets.

Greek Helmets

First row, from left to right:

  • Greek casque called a “kataityx”, probably in leather, from the 8th century BC.
  • Etruscan casque in bronze, first period.
  • Etruscan casque in bronze.
  • Bronze casque attributed to the Umbrians (allies of the Etruscans)

Second Row:

  • Etruscan casque in bronze. A similar helmet exists in gold.
  • Etruscan casque in bronze with fixed visor.
  • Greek casques in bronze with inscriptions.
  • Greek casque of the hoplites. Bronze.

Third Row:

  • Greek casque in bronze.
  • Greek casque in bronze with reliefs, antennae and a crest-holder.
  • The perfect Greek classic casque seen in many sculptures (though no actual artifacts have survived).
  • Greek casque ornamented with horsehair.

Fourth Row:

  • Greek casque with horsehair crest and embossed details.
  • Crest of a Greek casque in bronze.
  • Greek casque with neck covering in bronze.
  • Greek casque with chin-strap. Bronze.
  • Greek helmet with neck-covering and plume-holder for a horseman.

The illustrations and descriptions have been taken from An Illustrated History of Arms and Armour: From the Earliest Period to the Present Time, by Auguste Demmin, and translated by Charles Christopher Black. Published in 1894 by George Bell.

Terracotta mask from 395CE-332BCE

Oldest Surviving Masks

What is the oldest surviving prop in the world? It is a tricky question, as we often are unable to tell whether something was a prop or an actual object. In my article about props in Molière’s time, we saw that one of the chairs originally used in his plays is still displayed at the La Comédie-Française. I’ve yet to find earlier examples, but I’ll admit my research in that area is just beginning. There are, however, some examples of masks from earlier times.

Some may question whether masks are actually props. Often they are considered costumes, and in some cases, they can be considered a completely separate department. However, I feel that because they are physical objects of the theatre, they are worth investigating for historical purposes. In Ancient Greek theatre, the mask-makers were the same craftsmen who would make other theatrical props called for in the show (read my article on Ancient Greek Theatre props for more information), and it is not implausible to believe that such was the case in other theatrical traditions.

I would like to add one further caveat as well before continuing. Masks were used in many early societies as parts of rituals. Ancient Greek theatre rose out of such rituals, and many other early rituals evolved into forms of theatre as well. While rituals are not theatre per say, they can be considered part of the theatrical tradition. In any event, masks and mask-makers may be viewed as the earliest predecessors of props and prop artisans.

Though no Greek theatre masks have survived to the modern day, we have some examples of Roman New Comedy masks which have evolved out of the Greek tradition.

Terracotta mask from 395BCE-332BCE
Terracotta mask from 395BCE-332BCE

Many early theatre traditions made masks out of leather or hide, and included feathers and fur as decorations. While clay and stone masks may been less prevalent, they are the only kinds which have survived, as anything organic has long since decomposed.

Preceding the Greeks were the Ancient Egyptians. Here we see a ceramic Anubis mask, one of the only surviving helmet masks from Egypt.

Ceramic Anubis mask
Ceramic Anubis mask

Currently held in the Hildesheim Pelizaeus-Museum, the mask weighs about 17 pounds and is believed to date from about 600BCE. Notice the two holes below the head; these are eye-holes for the priest who wore it. Unlike the Roman mask above, this mask was used in a more ceremonial rather than theatrical purpose.

One of the oldest masks believed to be in existence is this stone mask from the neolithic period.

Neolithic stone mask, photograph by Gryffindor
Neolithic stone mask, photograph by Gryffindor

Dating from 7000BCE, the mask is currently held at the Musée de la Bible et de la Terre Sainte in France, which displays artifacts from the Palestinian area.

The Mask Makers Web has far more information about Mask Traditions around the world if you are so interested.