Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Start at the beginning: the Hoplite helmet of 500 BC

I was getting ahead of myself. Before we really get into this discussion of 20th century helmets we've got to go back in time and pay our respects to the progenitor, the great grand pappy, of combat helmets. Back to what is now Greece in 500 BC.

These are the Hoplites, y'know, Spartans (Go State!). They were the big ass-kickers on the world stage at that faraway time. They had helmets of bronze that provided an extraordinary amount of protection. Heavily armed and highly mobile, the Hoplites gave military tactics the "phalanx"... a formation which exists to this day, primarily utilized by tanks.

An onrushing phalanx of helmeted Hoplites was something to strike terror into the heart.

"Don't ask, don't tell"
The American military could take a cue from these guys. Many Hoplite soldiers were homosexuals, openly so, celebratorally so. The theory seems to be that these men would fight even more ferociously at the side of their lovers, providing mutual protection for a loved one while totally eviscerating the enemy.

These helmeted, oiled-up, and mostly naked terrors, provide a whole new take on "homophobia". I'd be pretty scared.

In my collection I have a replica Hoplite Helmet. I use it for my traveling helmet show that I take to libraries, historical associations, schools, etc.

It's a really cheap helmet hammered out of old Buick bumpers (back when bumpers were still made of steel) and definitely not bronze. But its a logical place to start our exploration into the "tin lid".

The helmet was somewhat restricted in visibility but provided outstanding protection for the head neck and face. Plus it makes the wearer look like an anonymous, featureless, killing machine. Man, that's scary!

Aside from the restricted visibility another drawback is the suspension and lining of the helmet, of which there was none. The hoplite soldier relied on his full head of hair and beard for the needed cushion inside the helmet. I wonder if baldness provided one with a deferment?

Provenance: Helmet (replica) acquired on Ebay in 2004. Purchase price $35.00

So now we're off and running, zooming through time from 500 BC into the more recent past. Next stop will be our only other pre-20th century side trip. The time: 1881. The place: the lone prairie of the United States of America.

Here comes the cavalry!


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