Sunday, 13 December 2015

Minoan/Mycenaean helmet pattern

My proposed reconstruction of the Phaistos helmet has two layers of leather: an inner layer that creates the distinctive conical shape, and an outer layer of horizontal bands that will be sewn together.  I'm putting the pattern on the net here in case anyone wants to use it.

This pattern is for the internal layer of the helmet; I'll talk about the outer layer in a future post, but today we're going to concentrate on the helmet's internal construction.  While the exterior design of bronze age Aegean helmets varied considerably, the internal construction seems not to have changed very much.  My helmet is based on a  Minoan relief from the 16th century BCE, but this pattern would work equally well for many of the late Mycenaean designs or for the classic boar's tusk model.  Enjoy!

The neck and cheek guards are of course optional; many bronze age helmets didn't have them.

This pattern makes a helmet whose circumference is 600 mm (24").  It needs to be slightly too big for your head because it will have a felt cap (πιλος) inside it.  If you use this pattern you'll have to check that the dimensions work for your head, but to some extent it's a one-size-fits-most deal.  If it's a bit loose all you have to do is add another layer of felt inside it. Linear B inventories of armour from Knossos and Pylos include helmets, which makes me wonder if they were sometimes mass produced.

The pattern piece is sewn together at the center front with linen thread and the top has been cut into strips, which are tied together in a bundle to give it the conical beehive shape.  This process is more difficult than you might think.  Expect to spend a lot of time fiddling with the top knot to make it work.

If you use very thick leather you'll find, as I did, that it's impossible to tie all the strips together at the top.  I tied only some of my strips into the top knot, and left the others free on the inside of the helmet.  I don't think this affects the protective qualities of the helmet, especially since this is only the internal layer, but it's interesting because when Homer describes Odysseus' helmet he says the leather strips at the top are "interwoven".  I wonder if this is what he meant?

My helmet is made of 5 mm thick veg-tanned armour leather.  Here in NZ it can be bought from Lapco and as far as leather goes it is not too expensive.  Ideally you do want this kind of leather, but if you can't get it or can't afford it you may be able to use an old leather jacket. Part of the reason you need thick, stiff leather is that the top part of the helmet has to keep its shape on its own without any other support.  It is literally strips of leather tied together.

You may be wondering why the seam is at the front instead of the back, which is the more intuitively obvious place.  That's because this helmet has a neck guard at the back.  Putting the seam up the center back would screw up the neck guard, and the seam will be covered by another layer of leather, plus metal reinforcing discs, so it should be safe enough.


  1. Neat! Thanks for the post. Do you plan to test the helmet to see how well it holds up to bashing?

    1. I do want to test the helmet, but may make up a test patch as I did for the linothorax.