By Periklis Deligiannis
This is a little bit late dedication, but I was just informed about the death of the great Russian archaeologist, academician, historical author and illustrator Mikhael V. Gorelik (Михаил Викторович Горе́лик) who died on January 2015 in Moscow. Gorelik had been one of my favourite scholars and writers. I really admire his lifetime work especially on the study of the warfare of the Eurasian Steppes nomadic peoples.
The Phrygoboeotian (Phrygo-Boeotian) helmet is a case of hybrid helmet used by the Macedonian armies of Alexander the Great and his Successors (Diadochoi and Epigonoi), as the archaeological finds demonstrate – either original pieces or artistic representations.
The Phrygoboeotian helmet was actually the old Boeotian casque with the addition of the peak of the “ethnic” Macedonian helmet known as Phrygian or Thracophrygian.
The Boeotian helmet was a patent of the Boeotians, initially appearing when they manufactured in metal form the shape of their characteristic leather caps. Xenophon in his “Hipparchikos” considers this casque as the ideal one for the cavalry due to its advantages, mainly the fact that it ensures a wide visual range for the cavalryman.
The Phrygian helmet had already become the “national” helmet of the Macedonians during the reign of Philip II and had also widely spread among the other Greeks of the mainland, and even among the Etruscans (on the contrary it seems that it did not become popular in Magna Graecia). In the southern Greek states it had largely supplanted the pilos type that was prevalent having in its turn displaced the older Corinthian helmet from the late 5th century BC. The spread of use of the Phrygian type can be attributed to the rapid growth of the Macedonian power and influence.
Concerning the causes of the composition of those two types in the hybrid Phrygoboeotian we shall propose the following version:
As the archaeological finds demonstrate, the Phrygian casque seems to have been prevalent in the Macedonian Companion cavalry of Philip II but along with the presence of the Boeotian, the Thracian, the pilos-type and perhaps other types. The presence of the Boeotian helmet among the Macedonian cavalrymen can be seen as an influence mainly by the neighboring Thessalians who had already adopted it a century earlier, and as it is evidenced they had a significant influence on the development of the Macedonian cavalry. Besides, it is known that some “Macedonian” Hetairoi (Companions) were actually Thessalian settlers invited by Philip to settle in his realm.
Phrygian or Thracophrygian type
Alexander was a passionate reader of the earlier classical writers and he obviously had read Xenophon’s Hipparchikos and the author’s advice to the cavalrymen on using the Boeotian helmet. Besides, Alexander possibly found out himself the virtues of the latter in combat, although the type of helmet that he was bearing in the battles still remains under discussion. Concerning this problem, I shall only point out that the “heroic” or official artistic representations of him at his time or shortly after (usually with two characteristic types of helmet), has no actual connection with the reality of the military engagement and its needs. That is to say that maybe during the battle he was bearing a Boeotian helmet.
In any case, Alexander encouraged the use of the Boeotian type by his Hetairoi (Companion cavalry), but the new look of the Macedonian cavalry perhaps alienated some veterans and the people of Macedonia, who observed that their cavalrymen did not differ much from the Thessalians and the Boeotians, and specifically just a minority of them were still bearing their ethnic Phrygian helmet. We can assume that some metallurgists of Alexander and his Successors found a compromise, when they manufactured a new helmet type that maintained the trunk of the Boeotian casque and therefore all its virtues – especially the wide range of view – in which was added as a kind of national banner, the characteristic peak of the “curled flame” of the Phrygian helmet. The pezetairoi pikemen of the Macedonian phalanx, the hypaspistae and the other infantrymen went on using mainly the Phrygian type.
However, the rare presence of the Phrygoboeotian helmet among the archaeological findings and representations indicate that it did not become popular. The Boeotian helmet and the Neo-Phrygian types followed independent carriers as helmets of the cavalry of the Late Successors (Epigonoi). The Boeotian helmet became popular in Italy as well and in the equestrian forces of the Republican Rome.