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By Periklis Deligiannis

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A typical Negau helmet.
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The Etruscan weaponry was probably the most diversiform in the ancient world. The archaeological finds denote that the Etruscans (or Tyrrhenians or Tyrsenians) were very fond of their weaponry and armoury. They were taking much care of their weapons, in order to be effective and forceful but also elegant. Some of the Tyrrhenian weapons were real works of art, but always lethal. It has been estimated that the Etruscan armies had a magnificent appearance. During the seven centuries of their military history, the Tyrrhenians were using defensive armour and offensive weapons of Anatolian, native Italian (mostly Umbrian and Early Oscan), Venetic (ancient Venetian), Archaic and Classical Greek (Southern mainland and Macedonian), Assyrian, Punic and other Semitic, Iberian, Celtic (La Tene culture), Hellenistic Greek, Late Oscan, Campanian and other origins. But it would be wrong to consider them as common copyists. Although they ‘borrowed’ a large part of their weaponry from other peoples and warlike cultures, they developed it enough to produce their own distinct types of effective and elegant weapons.

etruscan visor mask.Vulci, V c B.C.

Etruscan visor for the protection of the cheeks and the chin. It was added to Negau, ‘hat’-type or other ‘open’ types of helmet (Vulci, V cent B.C.)


The Etruscan defensive weapons (helmet, shield, armour, greaves, pactorale etc) were made predominantly of bronze, but by the 4th c. BC, the use of steel was more and more common. Offensive weapons were made of steel during almost all the centuries of Etruscan history.
The helmets of the Etruscans or Tyrrhenians were covering a large scale of types of different origins. The local Italian (Italic) helmets included the types Negau (named after the archaeological site where it was found in great numbers), Negau-Vetulonia (Vatluna, in the Etruscan language), pot-type helmets, “calotta” types (meaning the lid in modern Italian), ‘hat’-types, disc-type helmets etc.

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An Etruscan ‘hat’-type helmet of native Italian or Illyrian style.
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The native Italian types were used mostly by the Etruscan fighting men of the Classes II and III, and by the heavy axemen (battleaxe-bearers). These types were very popular in the Italian peninsula (except Magna Grecia), the Po Valley and also in the regions of later Pannonia and Dalmatia (modern Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina and western Hungary). It is probable that they were invented in Pannonia or Dalmatia (Pannonian-Illyrian origin). During the early 4th c BC, the Etruscans introduced the use of the Montefortino helmet, a Celtic type, usually with trilobe cheek-protectors. The Montefortino helmet (named after the archaeological site where they were found in great numbers) was brought to Italy by the Celtic invaders of the Senones tribe. Another Gallic helmet adopted by the Etruscans and other Northern Italians was the Celtic pilos-type (similar enough to the Greek pilos).

Etruscan montefortino

An Etruscan Montefortino-type helmet (copyright: Christie’s).
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The Tyrrhenians were using all the types of Greek helmets: Corinthian, Chalkidian, Attic (Athenian), Boeotian proper (mostly by the cavalry) the Laconian pilos-type, and during the later centuries of their independence the Thracian, Phrygian (of Phrygian origins, used by the Greeks) and the total group of the Hellenistic types. They had a particular preference for the three former mentioned types. I have to be more articulate on two kinds of Greek-originated types: the Italo-Corinthian and the Attic (and Italo-Attic).
The Italo-Corinthian type (also known as Apulo-Corinthian or Etrusco-Corinthian) was originated from the habit of the fighting men of ancient Italy to wear their Corinthian helmet raised, even when the battle began. Because of this, its protective visor developed into a decorative ‘pseudo-visor’ while the helmet was now manufactured in a way that did not cover the face. Cheek-protectors of the Attic type were added to it later. Until the recent decades it was believed that the Etruscans probably developed the Italo-Corinthian helmet types. But lately it is believed that its developers were the Apulians (Iapyges in ancient Greek) of Southeast Italy.

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A disc-type helmet from modern Slovenia (a part of ancient Pannonia). This type was popular in North and Central Italy. It was also used by the Etruscans of the Po Valley.
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Pilos type helmet,4th-3rd centBC

A pilos-type helmet from Italy (4th-3rd cent BC).

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The Attic or Athenian helmet was equally popular to the Etruscans who used to wear it with its cheek-protectors raised. This type had a course of over a thousand years, which paradoxically belongs mostly to the Italian-Roman weaponry, and less to the Greek one from which it originates. The Attic helmet was a variety of the Chalkidian, developed by the Athenians of the 5th century BC, and it was spread throughout the Hellenistic world and later throughout the Graeco-Roman world. The peoples of Italy adopted it massively, gradually developing their own Italo-Attic types.

Italo-Attic
An Italo-Attic helmet (copyright: Christie’s).
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The Attic type became popular among the Tyrrhenians who developed a series of special Etrusco-Attic types, the Osci (Oscans) who also developed their Osco-Attic types (especially the Samnites), the Apulians, and other nations including the Romans. The latter introduced it permanently as the type worn by their senior officers from the chiliarch to the consul, including the Emperor in the Imperial era. On the contrary the centurions and the common legionaries used Italian, Gallic and (later) Gallo-Roman types of helmets.
The crests and plumes were either directly attached to the helmet (Greek style) or raised (Italian style). The Etruscans used also the transverse crests of the Spartan type. This type of crest on the helmet rather implied an officer as it did in the Spartan army. The Tyrrhenians bequeathed the transverse crest to the Roman centurions.

Italo-CorinthianAn Italo-Corinthian helmet.
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APPENDIX:

THE GREEK INFLUENCE ON THE TOTAL ETRUSCAN WEAPONRY

The Greek civilization had a major influence on the Etruscan warfare and total weaponry: in fact, the larger influence than any other. The Proto-Etruscans of the Villanovan culture were using mostly native Italian weaponry with some Late Mycenaean and Anatolian influences. Probably by the end of the 7th BC, the Tyrrhenians gradually introduced the tactics of the Greek hoplite phalanx, together with the hoplite weaponry. They were almost the only people in the Mediterranean who had the anticipation to watch closely the evolution of the Greek fighting tactics and weaponry. They adopted swiftly any changes in Greek warfare, because of their close commercial relations with Greece, Sicily and Magna Graecia (colonies in South Italy).

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Etruscan hoplites of the city-state Tarquinia with Greek arms and armour, 4th century BC. The one on the right wears an Attic proper helmet. The hoplite on the left has a mixed Phrygo-Attic type of helmet (tomb fresco in the necropolis of Tarquinia).
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For example, when the Southern Greeks adopted many Macedonian types of weaponry (during the middle and late 4th c. BC) the Etruscans made haste to do the same. But the Tyrrhenians did not adopt the use of the Macedonian phalanx, nor did the majority of the Greeks (mainland and colonial). The influence of the later was sartorial also, even in the poorer classes of the Etruscan society, i.e. the Tyrrhenian ‘psiloi’ (lightly armed warriors) used to wear the ‘petasos’ (petasus), a typical Greek hat for the days of war and peace alike. On the other hand, the later Etruscans insisted in some selective archaisms, such as the use of the hoplite phalanx and the Argive shield, even when these were abolished by the Greeks.
The warriors of the coastal city-states of Etruria and their colonies in Latium and Campania favored mostly the Greek warfare and weaponry. The city-states of the Etruscan hinterland (inland Etruria) and the Po Valley favored the use of native Italian weaponry, mostly of Umbrian and Venetic origins.
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Periklis Deligiannis
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A Tyrrhenian helmet of the original Corinthian type.
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BIBLIOGRAPHY
(1) Parlavecchia Paolo (Editor) : GLI ETRUSCHI E L’ EUROPA, Milano 1992
(2) Fossati Ivo: GLI ESERCITI ETRUSCHI, Milano 1987
(3) Connolly, Peter: GREECE AND ROME AT WAR, London 1981
(4) Ridgway D. and Ridgway E. : ITALY BEFORE THE ROMANS, London 1979
(5) Hencken, Η. : TARQUINIA AND ETRUSCAN ORIGINS (Ancient peoples and places), London 1971
(6) Naso, Alessandro: I PICENI: STORIA E ARCHAEOLOGIA DELLE MARCHE IN EPOCA PREROMANA, Milano, 2000.