The Apulo – Corinthian: the helmet of the Heroes.

When appearance is worth more than function.

The helmet currently called Apulo-Corinthian, owes its name to the fact that it derives from the Corinthian helmet, of which it reproduces the appearance but not the functionality, being in fact intended to be worn on the head without covering the face; and to the fact that most of the known helmets were found in the area of southern Italy historically occupied by the Apulian population, or in its surroundings.

Apulo-Corinthian helmet Milan Museum

Archaeological Museum of Milan

Apulo-Corinthian helmet map

Distribution of the Apulo-Corinthian helmets finds, from Paddock 1993.


The historical region Apulia.

It is therefore a typically Italic helmet, not used outside the peninsula and, for example, not used in Greece, as far as is known. The known finds are almost totally included in a rather restricted chronological and geographical phase, namely Magna Graecia between the 6th and 4th centuries BC. The iconography, on the other hand, gives us an account of its much greater diffusion. It is in fact widely used in Etruscan funerary sculpture of the 3rd – 2nd century BC, often adorned with a central crest in horsehair and lateral feathers, sometimes with a transverse crest, also appears equipped with paragnatids.

The Etruscan representations generally represent themes of the Greek myth, adopted in Etruria centuries earlier: in fact, the Greek myth was adopted in Etruria and made its own, even before the introduction of writing, that is, around at least the 8th century BC (Belelli 2010). The characters and heroes of the myth are therefore represented as high-ranking Etruscan warriors. On the other hand the Apulo-Corinthian helmet, probably born with the aim of physically materializing the iconography of the warrior divinities (Mars and Minerva), and of the heroes, always represented with the Corinthian helmet raised on the head to reveal the face, by definition it was destined to identify the highest military positions and warriors of undoubted prestige. The finds often come from horsemen (probably from the knights order) graves (Diffendale 2007), as well as in Etruscan bas-reliefs they are worn by heroes or horsemen.

Etruscan Urn

Funerary urn from Chiusi, Archaeological Museum of Florence.

Etruscan Urn

Funerary urn from Chiusi, Archaeological Museum of Florence.

Etruscan Cavalryman

Funerary urn from Chiusi, Archaeological Museum of Florence.

It then appears in Roman iconography around the end of the second century BC, in the Altar of Domitius Ahenobarbus, and in the 1st century BC in the bas-relief of the battle of Actium from Praeneste (Palestrina), now in the Vatican Museums; then again probably in the 1st century AD, in the fresco of Hector’s farewell to Andromache, in the Domus Aurea.

The Apulo-Corinthian helmet, or the original Corinthian raised on the head to reveal the face, is always associated, at least in Italic iconography and very often also in Greek and Hellenistic, with divinities or high-ranking military positions.

Roman Mars

Altar of Domitius Ahenobarbus, end of 2nd century BC, Rome, now at the Louvre Museum, Paris, France.

Battle of Actium

Bas-relief from Preneste (Palestrina), Vatican Museums.

Farewell of Hector to Andromache, Domus Aurea, Rome

Room of Hector and Andromache, Domus Aurea, Rome, 1st cent. AD

From the Augustan period onwards, various reinterpretations start that, always based on the association between the Corinthian helmet resting on the head and the Divinity-Hero, assemble the general shape of the Apulo-Corinthian helmet with different decorations and functional fittings (paragnatides, neckguard, face-masks, etc.), such as the Autun helmet.


Autun Roman Helmet

Roman helmet, iron and gilded bronze, 1st century B.C. – 1st century A.D. Rolin Museum, Autun, France.

The reinterpretations continue with the Pseudo-Corinthian helmets, so called for they form recalling the aesthetic of the original Corinthian helmet, probably uninterrupted for several centuries, up to the end of the ancient age. There are numerous numismatic representations of Roman emperors with pseudo-Corinthian helmets. The fortune of these reinterpretations continued until the Renaissance. And it is certainly not surprising, given that the Corinthian helmet is still considered a masterpiece of design and aesthetics.

Pseudo-Corinthian helmet

Pseud-Corinthian helmet from Hedderneim, 2nd -3rd cent. A.D., Museum of Frankfurt, Germany.

d'Avorio dalla Cattedra di Massimiano, Ravenna

Ivory panel from the Chair of Maximian in Ravenna, 6th century.

Silver plate, Byzantine art, 7th century, MET

Silver plate, Byzantine art, 7th century, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, USA.

The Apulo-Corinthian helmet, constitutes one of the most markedly Italic components of the panoplies of the ancient age, and is fortunately known to us, thanks to the funerary use of the Italic peoples of southern Italy, since its appearance, probably in the 6th century BC, where it is very often associated with knights or warriors of the local elite. Strongly associated with the iconography of the Italic hero-warrior, it knew a lasting fortune as a representative helmet of the highest military offices, in the Italic-Etruscan-Roman context. From the fourth century BC onwards, the changed funerary uses, allow us to follow its history almost exclusively through iconography, mainly Etruscan (not surprisingly it is sometimes also called Etruscan-Corinthian) and Roman, at least until the 1st century AD. From the Augustan period onwards, variations develop that greatly transform its appearance and functionality, while always maintaining the formal association with the heroic-warrior value of the bearer and confirming how this type of helmet denotes almost constantly the person who wears it as a warrior of undisputed value, whether he is a hero or a god in myth, or a warlord in earthly life.

Italian burgonet, 16th century, gilt steel,

Italian burgonet, 16th century, gilt steel, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, USA.

Bibliographic notations

Bellelli, V. (2010) L’impatto del mito greco nell’Etruria orientalizzante: la documentazione ceramica, Bollettino di Archeologia on line I 2010/ Volume speciale C / C4 / 4  www.archeologia.beniculturali.it  https://bollettinodiarcheologiaonline.beniculturali.it/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/4_BELLELLI.pdf

Cascarino, G. (2018), Gli elmi dei romani. Dalle origini alla fine dell’Impero d’Occidente, Il Cerchio.

Diffendale, D. (2007), Italica, https://www.sas.upenn.edu/~dpd/italica/apcor/apcor.html

Paddock, J.M.; (1993) The bronze Italian helmet : the development of the Cassis from the last quarter of the sixth century B.C. to the third quarter of the first century A.D. Doctoral thesis , University of London.  https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/1348999/