Boar's tusk helmet
Helmets using ivory from boar's tusks were known in the Mycenaean world from the 17th century BC (Shaft Graves, Mycenae) to the 10th century BC (Elateia, Central Greece). The helmet was made through the use of slivers of boar tusks which were attached to a leather base, padded with felt, in rows. A description of a boar's tusk helmet appears in book ten of Homer's Iliad, as Odysseus is armed for a night raid to be conducted against the Trojans.
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.
Μηριόνης δ' Ὀδυσῆϊ δίδου βιὸν ἠδὲ φαρέτρην
καὶ ξίφος, ἀμφὶ δέ οἱ κυνέην κεφαλῆφιν ἔθηκε
ῥινοῦ ποιητήν: πολέσιν δ' ἔντοσθεν ἱμᾶσιν
ἐντέτατο στερεῶς: ἔκτοσθε δὲ λευκοὶ ὀδόντες
ἀργιόδοντος ὑὸς θαμέες ἔχον ἔνθα καὶ ἔνθα
εὖ καὶ ἐπισταμένως: μέσσῃ δ' ἐνὶ πῖλος ἀρήρει.— Homer, Iliad 10.260–5
Fragments of ivory which might have come from helmets of this kind have been discovered on Mycenaean sites (at Dendra, for instance, fragments were found alongside the bronze panoply excavated in 1960) and an ivory plaque, also from a Mycenaean site, represents a helmet of this kind. Although they would not provide as good protection as a metal helmet, they may have been worn by some leaders as a status symbol, or a means of identification.
Homer specifies that the helmet given by Meriones to Odysseus was an heirloom, passed down through the generations, a detail which perhaps suggests its value. Although the number of plates required to make an entire helmet varies - anything from 40 to 140 can be required - it has been estimated that forty to fifty boars would have to be killed to make just one helmet.
- The Shaft Graves Archived 2010-07-03 at the Wayback Machine, Dartmouth College
- Nobuo Komita, The Grave Circles at Mycenae and the Early Indo-Europeans[permanent dead link]
- Kilian-Dirlmeier, I (1997). Das mittelbronzezeitliche Schachtgrab von Αegina. Mainz. p. 46.
- Everson, Tim (2004). Warfare in Ancient Greece: Arms and Armour from the Heroes of Homer to Alexander the Great. The History Press. pp. 9–10.