From Homer to Hoplite: Scientific Investigations of Greek Copper Alloy Helmets

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Homer's Iliad contains the earliest account of Greek armour technology, with heroes such as Hector reported as wearing helmets that are flashing and shiny. Corrosion of helmets during their burial limits understanding of their original appearance in antiquity. Evidence of their original appearance is based mainly on interpretation of ancient literature and numerous artistic representations of helmeted warriors on pottery. Shields decorated with enamel, gold and tin are described in the Iliad and this supports the hypothesis that such surface treatment technology could have been used on helmets. Fragments from two archaic period helmets were analysed using SEM/EDX. One of the helmets was tin-plated. This and a similarly dated helmet in the British Museum are of the earliest recorded examples of tinning in the Mediterranean. This raises questions about the original appearance of Greek helmets, visibility of individuals on the battlefield and their status. A large scale investigation of Greek helmets is underway to address these points and examine the possibility that tinning in armour may go back to Homeric times.