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Customized Bronze Corinthian Helmet Found In Israeli Waters

Customized Bronze Corinthian Helmet Found In Israeli Waters

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The Israeli Antiquities Authority (IAA)  recently announced  they were in possession of  an ancient Corinthian helmet  that had been worn by a Greek warrior in either the sixth or fifth century BC. Miraculously, the well-preserved helmet was scooped up intact off the bottom of the Mediterranean Sea by a Dutch dredging vessel working in the harbor waters of Haifa back in 2007. The Dutch were quite surprised by this unexpected retrieval, and they immediately turned the Corinthian helmet over to the IAA as required by Israeli law. 

Archaeologists have spent the past decade-plus examining this unusual artifact, and at the end of February this year they put out a press release acknowledging this exciting discovery.

“The helmet probably belonged to a Greek warrior stationed on one of the warships of the Greek fleet that participated in the naval conflict against the Persians, who ruled the country [modern-day Israel] at the time," theorized Kobi Sharvit, the director of the IAA’s Marine Unit.

The well-preserved Corinthian helmet that was found on the Mediterranean seabed in 2007, just off the coast of Haifa, Israel. (IAA)

The well-preserved Corinthian helmet that was found on the Mediterranean seabed in 2007, just off the coast of Haifa, Israel. ( IAA)

The Corinthian Helmet Was Underwater For 2500 Years!

While the bronze helmet was rusted through in spots, it was in remarkably good condition given that it had presumably been resting on the sea bottom for more than 2,500 years. Still maintaining its original form, the helmet was constructed from a single sheet of bronze, which had been heated, molded, and hammered into shape by  skilled metalworkers .

The customized, lightweight, one-piece helmet had likely been manufactured to fit a specific individual and would have been made to fit snugly but not so snugly that it couldn’t be quickly and safely removed. 

The archaeologists who studied the helmet were able to trace its precise origin based on its distinctive design. The helmet was designed and manufactured in  Corinthian style , which was named after the city in ancient Greece where this type of headgear was made, beginning in the sixth century BC. 

IAA officials point out that this is the only helmet of its kind to be found in  Israeli waters , making it a rare discovery indeed. The helmet is now on display to the public at the National Marine Museum in  Haifa, which is located along Israel’s northern coast.

Ancient Greek helmets: Top (from left to right): Illyrian type helmet, Corinthian helmet. Bottom (from left to right): Phrygian type helmet, Pileus, Chalcidian helmet.  (Staatliche Antikensammlungen / CC BY-SA 4.0)

Ancient Greek helmets: Top (from left to right): Illyrian type helmet, Corinthian helmet. Bottom (from left to right): Phrygian type helmet, Pileus, Chalcidian helmet.  (Staatliche Antikensammlungen /  CC BY-SA 4.0 )

Historical Background: The Greco-Persian Wars

Bronze Corinthian helmets made in this style were in use among the Greeks in the fifth and sixth centuries BC. During the latter part of the sixth century, and for the first 50 years of the fifth century, the Greeks were in constant conflict on land and sea with the mighty  Persian Empire , which was also known as the  Achaemenid Empire .

The Greco-Persian Wars lasted 50 years and the Greeks fought many sea battles with the Persians, who used ships like these. (Omicroñ'R / CC BY-SA 4.0)

The Greco-Persian Wars lasted 50 years and the Greeks fought many sea battles with the Persians, who used ships like these. (Omicroñ'R /  CC BY-SA 4.0 )

The trouble between the Persians and the Greeks began in earnest in 547 BC, when the founder of the Achaemenid Empire,  Cyrus the Great , revealed the depth of his territorial ambitions when he sent his forces to occupy the Greek-populated region of Ionia, in order to subjugate previously independent Greek city-states in that area. This provocation was never forgotten, and in 499 BC a duplicitous Ionian tyrant named Aristagoras, who had been collaborating with the Persians, suddenly turned on his patrons and incited  the Greeks in Ionia into open revolt

This was the event that launched the Greco-Persian Wars, a series of tense confrontations, minor skirmishes, and bloody large-scale battles that kept the two warring powers at each other’s throats for 50 years. The ebb and the flow of those wars saw the Persians get the better of the Greeks in the early stages, while in the latter stages it was the Greeks who were most often on the offensive and winning.

The Greco-Persian Wars ended not with a bang but with a whimper. After the efforts of the Greek fleet to take control of the island of Cyprus in 451 BC met with failure, the Greeks withdrew and the intensity of the fighting between the two sides waned significantly. By this time, the whole five-decade experience for each of the participating powers had essentially degenerated into a prolonged and unbreakable stalemate, and the physically and emotionally exhausted Persians and Greeks mutually agreed to end the war via peace treaty in 449 BC.

The soldier who wore the Corinthian helmet during the Greco-Persian wars would have been dressed for battle like this. (Tilemahos Efthimiadis / CC BY-SA 2.0)

The soldier who wore the Corinthian helmet during the Greco-Persian wars would have been dressed for battle like this. (Tilemahos Efthimiadis /  CC BY-SA 2.0 )

Who Was the Helmeted Warrior? Likely Another Tragic Victim

The Greek warrior who wore the recovered bronze Corinthian helmet was likely active in the latter stages of the Greco-Persian Wars, specifically sometime during the last 25-30 years of the conflict when the Athens-led Delian League carried the action for the Greeks. The area that is now Israel and Palestine was a part of the Achaemenid Empire in the fifth and sixth centuries BC, and Greek ships would have been quite active in the waters near Haifa during the time when the Persians were often on the defensive.

The helmeted warrior may have served on patrol ships that were assigned to secure the area. Or, he may have been assigned to a battleship that was attacking Persian vessel or seeking an opportunity to land on Persian soil to deploy its troops.

There is no way to know for sure how the warrior’s helmet ended up in the ocean, or when it left his possession. He may have met with some misfortune that ended his life prematurely, which led to the helmet falling into or being discarded into the water. Or, he may simply have thrown the helmet away on his own, because it had been damaged or because he found it uncomfortable to wear. 

As a historical artifact, the bronze Corinthian helmet represents a forgotten time of great conflict and intense violence, in which tens of thousands of men lost their lives in a series of fierce battles that would ultimately produce no sustainable advantages for either side.

The owner of the helmet may very well have been one of the many senseless casualties produced by a half-century of pointless warfare, which would put him among the ranks of the hundreds of millions who’ve lost their lives in the tragic and usually pointless wars that have been fought by warring nation-states or their equivalent over the past several millennia.

Top image:  The well-preserved Corinthian helmet that was found on the Mediterranean seabed in 2007, just off the coast of Haifa, Israel. Source:  Israel Antiquities A uthority

By Nathan Falde

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