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The Men of Bronze

An important change in the Greek burial customs took place around 700 B.C. when the men were no longer buried with their weaponry. At the same time, the old monarchies disappeared giving way to the aristocratic governments based on the new urban structure of the Poleis. At first, the Aristoi were able control the power within the cities, creating an aristocratic republic. This was soon followed by the change in economic situation, which was based upon the development of the commerce and craftsmanship, and favoured the rising of the middle classes of the demos (the people).

These social changes were also reflected in the new military tactics and the general weaponry of the warriors. The innovations in the warfare increased the importance of the middle class: the combat chariots were progressively abandoned, and replaced by new formations of heavy infantry, wearing full bronze equipment and carrying iron and bronze weapons. The increase of the economical resources of individuals allowed the richest citizens to equip themselves with the entire panoply, usually at their own expense, and the richer cities to raise entire armies of men protected by bronze gear: helmet, shield and armour (often comprising heavy protections for legs, feet, arms and groin area). The most effective formation of the time was the phalanx, which was developed and universally accepted as the best way to deploy such heavy armed warriors. This change in the warfare lasted for no less than 300 years.

The rise of the hoplitēs (fully armed infantrymen) characterised this new period of the Greek military, and the relevant development of arms. Arms and armour were now a patrimony of the family, and no longer buried in the graves but transmitted from generation to generation, and sometimes displayed as a trophy or as ex-votos in the great sanctuaries of the Greek world. It is from the archaeological excavations of these sanctuaries that the main specimens of weapons of this period have been found.

The hoplite was not the only Hellenic fighter of this period, but his social status and effectiveness was supreme compared to the others. The efficacy of the hoplite tactic enabled them to dominate the Greek and foreign battlefields for two centuries. They also offered their services as mercenaries to Egyptian pharaohs and other Mediterranean rulers.

Four Greek typological helmets are offered in the next TimeLine auction being held on 23rd-27th May 2023, comprising Chalcidian, Corinthian and Illyrian typologies. The most archaic is the Illyrian helmet (Lot 253), the type of which appears already in the late 7th century pottery representations, and in particular on Corinthian ceramics. This type was especially widespread in the historical regions of Peloponnesos (Olympia), in central and northern Greece (Philia, in Thessaly), Epirus (Ioannina, Epidamnos, Apollonia), Rhodes (Lindos) and Macedonia (Kozani, Lefkadia, Bucri, Ungrej, Kypanova). The finds of DonjaDolina and Kaptol confirm the wide diffusion of these helmets also in the North Western Balkans, the southern borders of the Hallstatt Culture. The Romano-Etruscan iconography of 7th – 6th century (Palestrina friezes, helmet of Minerva from the Archaic temple of Saint Omobonus) allows to extend its diffusion also in the central Italic regions and Rome itself.

The Roman legionaries, differently from the fake armour seen on movies, were substantially armed like Greek Hoplites during this time. The recent finds of Illyrian helmets, without reinforced edges dotted on the borders, have shown that the variants of this typology could have evolved independently during the late period of their employment (from mid 6th to 4th century BC). Earlier specimens of this new type have been found in Olympia and Trebeniste (North Macedonia), although the neck protection was formed in the style of archaic Illyrian types. This typology was favouredby the Macedonian warriors, the Illyrian fighters and the Greeks in Sicily and Peloponnesus, resulting in concentrated finds in the corresponding areas. The helmets were fitted with a high crest: attached with animal glue and composed of horsehair, positioned inside a holder set between the raised ridges and fastened to the front and back pins. Alternatively, since so little trace of the fittings for the crest survive on original helmets apartfrom small holes and pins or loops, the mounts may also have been made of organic materials, tied to the crown and designed to give way in an emergency.

Dr Raffaele D’Amato, archaeologist at L.A.D., Laboratorio Antiche Province Danubiane, University of Ferrara, 28 April 2023