types of helmets

Decoding Diverse Medieval Helmet Types

In the world of medieval warfare, helmets played a crucial role in protecting warriors on the battlefield. This article delves into the fascinating realm of medieval helmet types, shedding light on their origins, evolution, features, and historical significance.

The Great Helm

Origins and Evolution

The Great Helm, also known as the “heater shield,” emerged in the 12th century and became one of the most iconic helmet styles of the medieval era. This section explores the origins of the Great Helm, tracing its evolution from early prototypes to its standardized design.

Features and Characteristics

Unyielding and imposing, the Great Helm boasted distinctive features and characteristics. From its conical shape to the narrow eye slits and ventilation holes, this subsection examines the key design elements that made the Great Helm both protective and formidable on the battlefield.

Historical Examples

Throughout history, renowned knights and warriors donned the Great Helm, leaving their mark on the annals of medieval warfare. This section highlights notable historical figures and battles where the Great Helm played a significant role, showcasing the helmet’s enduring impact on military strategy and tactics.

By exploring the origins, evolution, features, and historical examples of the Great Helm, we gain a deeper understanding of this iconic medieval headgear and its lasting influence on the art of warfare.

The Basinet

Design and Purpose

The Basinet, a versatile medieval helmet, holds a prominent place in the realm of head protection. This section explores the design and purpose of the Basinet, examining its distinctive shape, materials used, and the primary objective of safeguarding the wearer’s head in battle.

Variations and Adaptations

Over time, the Basinet underwent various adaptations and regional variations to suit the evolving needs of knights and warriors. This subsection delves into the different styles of Basinet, such as the Pigface Basinet, Klappvisier Basinet, and Hounskull Basinet, shedding light on their unique features and the geographical areas where they were popularized.

Notable Military Orders

Throughout the medieval period, several renowned military orders favored the Basinet as their helmet of choice. This section highlights notable orders such as the Knights Templar, Teutonic Knights, and Hospitallers, exploring their use of the Basinet in their quests to protect Christendom and the Holy Land.

By examining the design, purpose, variations, and notable military orders associated with the Basinet, we gain insights into the diverse applications of this iconic helmet and its significant role in shaping the tactics and identities of medieval warriors.

The Sallet

Artistic Design and Style

The Sallet, an elegant and distinctive helmet, stands out for its unique artistic design and style. This section delves into the aesthetic aspects of the Sallet, exploring its graceful curves, decorative motifs, and the influence of Renaissance art on its ornamentation.

Functionality and Practicality

Beyond its visual appeal, the Sallet was also highly functional and practical on the battlefield. This subsection examines the practical features of the Sallet, such as its visor design for improved visibility and ventilation, as well as its effectiveness in protecting the head and face during combat.

Influence and Legacy

The Sallet left a lasting impact on both the world of arms and armor and the broader cultural context of the Middle Ages. This section explores the influence of the Sallet on subsequent helmet designs and its portrayal in contemporary art and literature, showcasing its enduring legacy in the realms of military technology and cultural symbolism.

By delving into the artistic design, functionality, and influence of the Sallet, we gain a deeper appreciation for this remarkable medieval helmet and its significance as a blend of form and function, beauty and practicality.

The Bascinet

Origins and Evolution

Tracing its roots back to the late 13th century, the Bascinet emerged as a versatile and widely-used helmet during the medieval period. This subsection explores the origins and evolution of the Bascinet, examining its development from earlier helmet styles and the influences that shaped its design.

Features and Variations

The Bascinet displayed a range of features and variations, allowing for customization and adaptation to different combat scenarios. This section highlights key elements of the Bascinet, such as the movable visor, extended tail, and additional protective features, showcasing the ingenuity and versatility of this helmet.

The Barbute

Design and Construction

The Barbute, with its distinct open-faced design, represented a departure from conventional closed helmets. This subsection delves into the unique design and construction of the Barbute, exploring its origins in Italy, the materials used, and the anatomical considerations that influenced its shape.

Historical Significance

The Barbute played a significant role in the history of medieval warfare, being favored by various armies and mercenaries. This section examines the historical significance of the Barbute, discussing its use by prominent military forces and its impact on the tactics and strategies employed on the battlefield.

The Visored Helmets

Design and Functionality

Visored helmets, characterized by their movable visors, offered enhanced protection and flexibility to knights and soldiers. This subsection examines the design and functionality of visored helmets, exploring the mechanisms used to open and close the visor and the advantages they provided during combat.

Symbolism and Heraldry

Visored helmets also served as a canvas for heraldic displays and personal symbolism. This section delves into the symbolism associated with visored helmets, discussing the use of crests, colors, and heraldic devices to represent the wearer’s identity, allegiance, and achievements on the battlefield.

The Armet

 Innovations and Development The armet, a type of helmet used extensively in the 15th and 16th centuries, marked a departure from the traditional great helm or bascinet designs. Its defining feature was its close-fitting nature, fully enclosing the head while keeping the weight low and distributing it evenly for improved comfort. The armet also innovated in its design, featuring hinged cheek pieces that could be opened for better vision and ventilation, while providing excellent protection when closed. The helmet’s design integrated the bevor, which protected the lower face and throat—an enhancement from the bascinet.

Usage and Popularity

The armet was particularly popular among the knights of Western Europe, being used extensively in France, Italy, and Spain. Its usage spread across the continent and even reached the British Isles. The helmet’s popularity was owed in large part to its balanced design, offering good protection without drastically limiting the wearer’s vision or mobility. As plate armor began to evolve and improve, the armet design fell out of favor, largely replaced by other styles like the close helm. However, for a time, it represented the height of armored head protection.

The Burgonet

Design Specificities

The Burgonet helmet, dating from the late 16th to the 17th century, was distinctive for its open-face design, adorned with a crest or comb on the top and usually featuring a falling buffe (face guard) to protect the face. Unlike many of its predecessors, the burgonet did not have a visor. However, it often came equipped with a peak over the brow, a cheek guard, and a neck guard. This helmet was often elaborately decorated, bearing high-quality engravings, and was usually worn by cavalry officers and infantry officers, reflecting its balance between protection and visibility.

Impact on Warfare Tactics

The design of the burgonet, with its focus on visibility and mobility, had significant impact on warfare tactics. Its open-face design offered greater field of vision, and it was lighter than many previous designs, allowing for faster movements on the battlefield. This facilitated the use of more sophisticated battlefield tactics, particularly for cavalry units, where visibility and quick reactions were crucial. Furthermore, the burgonet was instrumental during the transition period from heavily armored knights to the more lightly armored, mobile units that came to dominate later periods of warfare.

The Morion 

Origin and Cultural Significance

The Morion, recognized by its distinct crest and brimmed design, originated in early 16th century Europe. Its iconic silhouette, high crest, and broad brim were designed to deflect blows and protect the wearer from projectiles. Most famously, it became associated with the Spanish conquistadors, forever immortalizing its image in popular culture. The helmet held deep cultural significance as it was often depicted in paintings and tapestries of the era, symbolizing the explorers and warriors of the time.

Adaptation in Various Armies

Beyond Spain, the Morion found popularity in various other armies around Europe. Its practical design was adopted by foot soldiers in Italy, France, and England. In the late 16th and early 17th centuries, the Morion was a common sight on European battlefields, particularly among pikemen. By the end of the 17th century, its use began to decline as armies started to favor lighter, less obstructive headgear. Nevertheless, its distinctive shape made it a popular choice for ceremonial military uniforms, and it can still be seen today in the dress uniforms of the Swiss Guards at the Vatican.

The Spangenhelm

Unique Construction

Techniques The Spangenhelm was a popular helmet design throughout the early Middle Ages, from the 6th to the 10th century. Its name, derived from the German word ‘Spangen’, refers to the metal strips that form the structural framework of the helmet. The helmet’s design consisted of several conical or flat sections held together by these strips, often with a nasal guard for added protection. Unlike later helmets that were made from one single piece of metal, the Spangenhelm was essentially constructed from several pieces, which made it easier to produce with the metalworking techniques of the time.

Role in Early Medieval Warfare

The Spangenhelm played a crucial role in the warfare of the early Middle Ages. Due to its relatively simple construction, it could be produced in large quantities, thus outfitting large numbers of soldiers. This helmet was used widely across Europe, the Middle East, and even into the reaches of Asia. It was worn by various groups, including the Vikings, Normans, and the armies of the Byzantine Empire. The Spangenhelm’s design offered a balance of protection and comfort, making it ideal for both infantry and cavalry. Its use declined as metalworking techniques improved and more protective designs, such as the fully enclosed helmet, came into favor.

The Cervelliere

Design and Practicality

The cervelliere is a simple, round helmet of the High Middle Ages, largely used during the 12th and 13th centuries. Made from steel or iron, it was a type of skull cap that was designed to be worn over a mail coif, adding an extra layer of protection to the head. Due to its simplicity, it was relatively easy to produce, contributing to its widespread use. Its shape could resist and deflect the downward force of blows, offering protection without adding substantial weight.

Use in Crusades and Beyond

The cervelliere saw significant usage in the Crusades, as it provided an important measure of protection for the Crusaders against the cutting attacks of their adversaries. Despite its primitive design, it played an essential role in many battles. As armor technology advanced, the cervelliere was gradually replaced by more protective designs like the bascinet. However, it continued to be used as a secondary helmet, worn underneath larger, more comprehensive helmets to provide an additional layer of defense.

The Kabuto (Japanese Helmet)

Unique Design and Symbolism

The Kabuto is a type of helmet that was used by the samurai class in feudal Japan. It is recognized by its strong bowl, the “hachi”, which protected the crown of the head, and a suspended series of articulated plates (the “shikoro”) to protect the neck. Often, it included a front crest or “maedate”, and side crests (“wakidate”), which could signify the wearer’s rank, clan, or be imbued with symbolic meaning. Kabuto were often elaborately decorated with lacquer and other artistic embellishments, embodying the samurai’s honor, status, and personal identity.

Influence on Samurai

Warfare Kabuto were more than just a practical piece of armor; they were a symbol of the samurai’s courage, honor, and status. Their influence on samurai warfare extended beyond the battlefield. They played a critical role in the ceremonial aspects of samurai culture, often used in rituals and parades. The unique design of the Kabuto offered good protection while allowing for the samurai’s high level of discipline and mobility, and their elaborate decoration served to intimidate enemies, demonstrating the samurai’s skill and determination.

The Corinthian Helmet (Ancient Greece)

The Symbol of the Hoplite

The Corinthian helmet is perhaps one of the most recognizable pieces of ancient Greek armor. Originating in the 8th century BC, it was worn by the fearsome hoplites, the citizen-soldiers of the Greek city-states. Made of bronze and covering the entire head and neck, with slits for the eyes and mouth, it provided excellent protection. The helmet was a potent symbol of the hoplite’s status as a free citizen and his commitment to defend his city-state.

Transition to Symbolic

Use Over time, as warfare tactics and armor designs evolved, the Corinthian helmet gradually fell out of use due to its restricted vision and hearing. However, it remained a powerful symbol of ancient Greek military power and heritage. It became a popular decorative motif in Greek art and was often featured in statues and funerary monuments. Today, the Corinthian helmet is an iconic symbol of Ancient Greece, representing bravery, valor, and the martial tradition of the Greek city-states.

The Galea (Roman Helmet)

Variations and Design Improvements 

The Galea, the standard helmet of the Roman Legionary, underwent numerous variations and improvements over the centuries. Early versions were influenced by Greek and Etruscan designs, while later versions showcased unique Roman innovations. Among these were the Coolus helmet, the Montefortino helmet, the Imperial Gallic helmet, and the Imperial Italic helmet, each offering increased protection, comfort, and practicality. Some designs featured detachable face guards, plumage for rank identification, and cheek plates for added protection. These improvements were driven by practical experience on the battlefield, showcasing the Romans’ ability to adapt their equipment to various combat situations.

Role in the Success of the Roman Legion

The Galea played a pivotal role in the success of the Roman Legion. It provided substantial protection to the wearer during combat, while its varying designs helped identify rank and unit within the disciplined Roman military structure. Moreover, the presence of a uniformly equipped and heavily armored force had a psychological impact on the enemy, reinforcing the Romans’ formidable reputation on the battlefield. The practicality of the Galea, its adaptability to different combat scenarios, and its role in the identity of the Roman military all contributed to the overall success of the Roman Legions.

Helmets of the Middle Ages

Diversity and Functionality 

Helmets of the Middle Ages showcased a remarkable diversity, reflecting the evolution of warfare tactics, technology, and the cultures that produced them. From the simple skull caps and nasal helmets of the early Middle Ages to the sophisticated full-plate designs of the late medieval period, each type of helmet served specific functional requirements. The great helm provided complete protection but limited visibility, the bascinet balanced protection and visibility, and the sallet improved mobility. The evolution of these helmets represents a continual struggle to balance protection, visibility, comfort, and cost.

Cultural and Historical Impact

Medieval helmets had a significant cultural and historical impact. They were symbols of knightly virtue, and their designs often reflected the heraldry and prestige of the wearer. They played a significant role in tournaments and were central to the pageantry of the chivalric culture. Even today, they form an integral part of our image of the Middle Ages, symbolizing the knight, the central figure of medieval warfare.

Modern Interpretations and Reproductions

Accurate Replicas and Their Importance

Today, accurate replicas of historical helmets are highly valued by collectors, historians, and reenactors. These replicas help us understand the practical realities of ancient and medieval warfare, the technological advancements of different periods, and the cultural significance of these pieces of armor. They also provide a tangible connection to our past, allowing us to explore and appreciate the craftsmanship and ingenuity of the armorers who created the original pieces.

Popular Culture and Helmets

Helmets, particularly those of medieval and ancient times, have a significant presence in popular culture, especially in movies, TV series, and video games. They are essential elements in the portrayal of historical events, fantasy worlds, and science fiction universes. From the Spartan helmets in “300” to the medieval-inspired armors in “Game of Thrones” and the iconic helmet of “Star Wars'” Darth Vader, these designs continue to captivate audiences, inspire new interpretations, and contribute to the visual storytelling of these works. They symbolize power, bravery, mystery, or villainy, and continue to be a critical aspect of character design and world-building in popular media.


Medieval helmets were more than mere protective gear. They were symbols of power, craftsmanship, and technological advancements of their time. Throughout this exploration of various medieval helmet types, we have gained insights into their origins, evolution, features, and historical significance.

From the imposing Great Helm to the elegant Sallet, the versatile Bascinet to the distinctive Barbute, and the innovative Visored Helmets, each helmet type had its unique design, purpose, and impact on medieval warfare. We have discovered how these helmets evolved in response to changing combat techniques, providing increased protection, visibility, and maneuverability.

These helmets were not only functional but also works of art, showcasing the skills of armorers and the artistic tastes of their wearers. From intricate engravings and crests to personalized heraldic displays, medieval helmets served as expressions of identity, loyalty, and social status.

The influence of medieval helmets extended beyond their immediate historical context. Their legacy can be seen in the armor and weaponry of subsequent eras, as well as their representation in art, literature, and popular culture.

As we conclude this journey through the types of medieval helmets, we appreciate the ingenuity, craftsmanship, and historical significance encapsulated in these remarkable pieces of armor. They stand as enduring symbols of the knights, warriors, and chivalry that defined the medieval era.