For any of my Hollywood movie star, hedge fund owning, kleptocrat dictator readers, Christie’s offers a collecting guide to a very interesting (and hideously expensive) hobby.
Ancient Greek helmets are a source of fascination for the modern audience as they provide a glimpse into this ancient culture and how their warriors functioned. Primarily, helmets were physical protection, worn in battles beginning in the Archaic period, together with greaves, chest plates and shields in many cases.
Helmets were also often symbols of status, with more ornate examples worn by an elite group. ‘Many buyers are looking to understand the ancient world through physical objects,’ says Hannah Fox Solomon, Antiquities Head of Sale and Specialist at Christie’s New York. Ancient helmets are just one example from which to do so.
The Illyrian helmet, one of two helmets to appear in the early 7th century BC, is the most common type. It is recognisable by its square face guard and pointed non-hinged cheek pieces, as well as the smooth dome featuring raised parallel ridges to which a crest made from horsehair, wood or leather would be pinned in place by a rivet at the crown.
The Corinthian helmet is the other 7th century helmet, with its characteristic almond-shaped eyes and rounded nose guard. ‘I think that the eyes are especially beautiful,’ says Solomon. ‘It’s an immediately recognisable shape: the domed head, the slightly flaring neck guard, the elongated eye openings . Aesthetically, it’s a beautiful form that has a lyrical nature.’
The Samno-Attic helmet, a later variation on the earlier types, features cheek pieces attached by hinges, and generally has a lighter feel with wider openings for the face and ears. They are often more ornate, some with moulded decoration and tall tubular plume-holders. Feathers were believed to be connected to Ares, the god of war, and scholars believe warriors wore feather atop their helmets as a means of intimidating the enemy. …
As with many objects on the market, condition has a major impact on the value of a helmet. ‘Some helmets are perfect, but some helmets have evidence of what we call the “death blow”,’ says Solomon, referring to damage on the side of the dome. ‘While I can only hypothesise whether or not that is true, occasionally you’ll find helmets with damage that makes you wonder if it was the result of battle.’
Importantly, however, not all damage is immediately visible. Often helmets need to be x-rayed in order to establish their condition. An x-ray can reveal cracks, areas lost or that have been filled with modern material, all of which affects the value.