Monday, 15 July 2013

Boar tusk helmet reconstruction

This is actually another Historical Sew Fortnightly project that I did some time ago but have only just got around to posting.  This time the challenge was to reproduce something from literature, and I naturally gravitate to anything Bronze Age, so it was probably inevitable that I would decide to reconstruct the boar tusk helmet that Meriones gives to Odysseus in the Iliad.

This project was absolutely fascinating.  I researched theories on how these helmets were constructed and built my version around layers of leather thongs that give the helmet its shape.  For cost reasons I wasn't able to use real boar tusks, but I made some fake ones out of polymer clay and I'm pretty happy with the results.  Apart from the fake tusks, all the materials I used were available in the Greek Bronze Age and are the same materials described by Homer.

The finished helmet is fairly heavy, but it's flexible and I can see it providing a reasonable amount of protection in battle.  The layers of leather and felt inside would help to absorb impact energy from a sword or arrow - this is how kevlar works and while ancient people didn't have kevlar they certainly knew how to use other fibers like linen, leather and silk to absorb impact energy.

Here's the original description of a boar tusk helmet from the Iliad, courtesy of Wikipedia:

Meriones gave Odysseus a bow, a quiver and a sword, and put a cleverly made leather helmet on his head. On the inside there was a strong lining on interwoven straps, onto which a felt cap had been sewn in. The outside was cleverly adorned all around with rows of white tusks from a shiny-toothed boar, the tusks running in alternate directions in each row.
—Homer, Iliad 10.260–5

Or if you prefer it in Greek:

Μηριόνης δ' Ὀδυσῆϊ δίδου βιὸν ἠδὲ φαρέτρην / καὶ ξίφος, 8ἀμφὶ δέ οἱ κυνέην κεφαλῆφιν ἔθηκε / ῥινοῦ ποιητήν: πολέσιν δ' ἔντοσθεν ἱμᾶσιν / ντέτατο στερεῶς: ἔκτοσθε δὲ λευκοὶ ὀδόντες / ἀργιόδοντος ὑὸς θαμέες ἔχον ἔνθα καὶ ἔνθα / εὖ καὶ ἐπισταμένως μέσσῃ δ' ἐνὶ πῖλος ἀρήρει.

As per the source description, my helmet has a felt cap sewn into it as a lining.

This image by Peter Connolly shows the internal construction of the helmet, and lets you see how the leather thongs support the boar tusk plates.

A great cutaway view of the helmet.