Corinthian type helmet - ROM2012_12766_8


Corinthian type helmet

Medium:Bronze, cast and sunk
Geography: Allegedly found at Marathon, Greece
Date: circa 500-490 BC
Period: Classical Greek
22.9 x 26.9 x 21.6 cm, 1193.1 g
Object number: 926.19.3
On view
Gallery Location:Gallery of Greece
DescriptionThe Corinthian helmet type is one of the most immediately recognisable types of helmet, romantically associated with the great heroes of Ancient Greece, even by the Ancient Greeks themselves who rapidly moved to helmet types with better visibility, but still depicted their heroes in these helmets. In modern portrayals of Ancient Greek warriors, it is always the Corinthian type that is depicted, although often modified to suit the look desired - for instance in one movie the helmet was modified to expose more of the face of the actor. This specific helmet (ROM no.926.19.3) was purchased by the ROM in 1926 from T. Sutton of 2 Albemarle St., London, England, via Sotheby's (auction of 22 July 1926, lot 160). A skull (ROM No. 926.19.5) was said at one stage to be inside it, and in this condition was excavated by George Nugent-Grenville, 2nd Baron Nugent of Carlanstown, on the Plain of Marathon in 1834, according to letters from Sutton dated to 2 & 20 August 1826. Also a part of this lot, which sold for 80 pounds, was a helmet of "Spartan type" found by Nugent at Thermopylae in 1834 (ROM no. 926.19.4). Nugent (1788-1850) was High Commissioner of the Ionian Islands from 1832-5, but died without issue, and the Sutton letters state that the finds "came by descent in the family into the possession of the Boileau family, and remained with them until they were sold to me (Sutton) by Lt. Col.R.F. Boileau of Ketteringham Park, Norfolk". The Battle of Marathon of 490 BC is thought to be one of the most pivotal battles in history, as it was in this battle that the Greeks defeated the invading Persians, thereby enabling the development of the Greek Classical civilisation. Thermopylae, being a narrow pass, was the site of a number of battles, but Nugent would probably have been interested in finds from the battle of 480 BC,the battle in which the 300 Spartans (plus some other Greeks that people tend not to talk about so much) held the pass against the invading Persians. How reliable this attribution is we cannot be entirely sure, but Nugent would have been in Greece very shortly after its freedom following the Greek War of Independence (1821-1832) during which the British Navy had been very influential, so it is conceivable that a British antiquarian digging around these sites could indeed find these helmets at these important sites, and they are indeed of the types that would be used on these dates. As for the skull, it is difficult to be certain of the association. Since Marathon was a victory for the Greeks they would have been in a position to not leave any body parts or any useful equipment on the field, and the only damage to the helmet seems to be from age. So it is conceivable that it is just as unlikely that a helmet would be lost as much as the head that may have worn it, and we certainly have the helmet. I do not have any problem with the general idea of a helmet being found with a head still in it, as such things are found on battlefields, although typically not those of the victors. The alleged discovery of the object in 1834 seems sound, and Nugent may have been a romantic, but nothing in his biography would necessarily indicate a tale-spinner. However, 100 years passed between the finding of the object and our records, and we do not know how reliable may have been the transmission of information over that 100 years, perhaps especially since Nugent's house and contents were not inherited by his own children. Really, we cannot be certain that the skull belonged to the owner of the helmet, but really we cannot discount it, either. A DNA and radiocarbon study could tell us that it was a Greek of the time, but that is not presently planned.
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