The posting below highlights Professor B. A. Litvinsky’s discussion of Partho-Sassanian helmets in an article on pre-Islamic helmets in the Encyclopedia Iranica on December 15, 2003.

The version printed below is different from that which appeared in the Encyclopedia Iranica in that (excepting the drawing panel entitled “Figures 34-58“) in that it has embedded two painintgs and a photo that were prodcued in textbooks published  by Osprey Publishing. All descriptions under the paintings and photo (excepting the drawing panel entitled “Figures 34-58)  are from Kaveh Farrokh’’s lectures at the University of British Columbia’s Continuing Studies Division and Stanford University’s WAIS 2006 Critical World Problems Conference Presentations on July 30-31, 2006


Helmets of the Parthian period are known from works of art. A sculptured head from Nisa (2nd–1st cent. B.C.E.) wears a bowl-shaped helmet with corrugated visor, high crest, and moveable cheekpieces. This type of helmet probably goes back to Hellenistic prototypes. Ares and Athena depicted on the rhyta from Nisa wear helmets of different types. A late Parthian helmet appears on the rock-relief in Firuzābād (see ARDAŠIR I ii.). It is a hemispherical helmet of a noble Parthian with a neck-guard surmounted with a knob and a plume.
A recreation by Peter Wilcox (painting by the late Angus McBride) of the battle at Firuzabad between the Parthians, led by Ardavan V (r. 219-224) and the Sassanians led by Ardashir I (r. from 206 AD at Istakhr and died as king of Sassanian Iran in 241 AD). Interestingly, the panel at Firuzabad shows the battle in the manner of a grand joust. The helmet of the young Sassanian knight (1) is different from that of his Parthian counterpart (2) in that the latter sports Sarmatian style scale armour for neck protection. In the background rides a Sassanian standard bearer whose helmet also sports mail, which was invented later than scale armour (Picture source: Wilcox, Rome’s Enemies” Parthians and Sassanid Persians, Osprey Publishing, 1986, Plate D).
Graffiti from Dura-Europos depict late Parthian conical helmets of several rows of metal plates fastened together with rivets (Du Mesnil du Buisson, 1936, pp. 192-97, fig. 16; Rostov-tzeff, 1933, p. 216, pl. XXXIII/2; Ghirshman, 1962, figs. 62, 100, 165; James, 1986, pp. 118-28, figs. 13-18; Gall, 1990, p. 69; Invernizzi, 1999, pp. 22-24, fig. 6, pl. A). Several types of helmets were in use in Central Asia in the Kushan period. In Bactria there were conical ribbed helmets.

Figures 34-58. Pre-Islamic helmets, 2nd century B.C.E.–7th century C.E. 34. Archebius; 35. 36. Helmet of the Greco-Bactrian king Eucratidus I, on a bronze medallion from the Temple of the Oxus. Antialcidas; 37. Menander. 38. Antimachus. 39-40. Bronze cheek-plates of Hellensitic helmets, from the Temple of the Oxus. 41. Parthian helmet of a clay sculpture, from Old Nisa. 42. Parthian helmet, represented on Ardašir I’s rock-relief at Firuzābād. 43. Parthian helmet, graffito from Dura-Europos. 44. Kushan helmet depicted on the coin of Kujula Kadphises. 45. Kushan helmet on the coin of Huvişka. 46. Kushan helmet, terrakota from Kitab (Kashka-Darĭa[Kaška-Daryā] region). 47. Kushan helmet from Taxila. 48. Kushan helmet, from a sculpture, Khalchayan. 49. Kushan helmet (reconstruction by M. Gorelik), Charsada (Čārsada). 50. Sasanian helmet, on a rock-relief at Naqš-e Rostam. 51. Sasanian helmet (Brussels museum). 52. Sasanian helmet (Iraq Museum, Baghdad). 53. Sasanian helmet (The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York). 54-58. Sogdian helmets (54. from Varakhsha [Varaḵša]; 55-58. from Penjikent).

One of the Khalchayan sculptures shows an egg-shaped helmet with a low visor projecting forward and a horizontal welt running along the edge of the bowl. Remains of a Kushan helmet made of narrow vertical plates of iron were found in Charsada (Čārsada). The helmet was a standard item in Sasanian armor (Ṭabari, tr. Nöldeke, Geschichte der Perser, pp. 248-49). Finds of early Sasanian helmets include one from Dura-Europos consisting of two halves riveted to two bars and provided with a pointed apex; a mail piece was attached to its lower edge. Many figures represented on Sasanian rock reliefs of the 3rd-4th centuries C.E. wear hemispherical helmets with neckpieces and bindings along the base. On Naqš-e Rostam No. 5, the cap is ornamented and has a knob on the top, while a mail piece is attached to the lower edge (Herrmann, 1977, p. 7, Pls. 1-3).

Sassanian Spangenhelm Helmet recovered from Nineveh in modern-day Iraq which would have been a part of Sassanian Enpire (224-651 AD) at the time. The Spangenhelm helmet was constructed by fastening metal plates together by rivets (Picture Source: Farrokh, K., Shadows in the Desert: Ancient Persia at War, Osprey Publishing, pp.223).

The greater ayvān of Ṭāq-e Bostān attributed to Ḵosrow II (591-628) shows a different kind of helmet, namely the “segmented” or “‘four-spanged helmet” [spangen helmet] (Fukai and Horiuchi, 1972, Pl. 36; Fukai et al., 1984, pp. 69-70); several helmets of this type are known. These are egg-shaped, made of four vertical iron segments fastened below with a horizontal bronze rim, from which come wide bronze bands crossing at the top. To these bands the iron segments are riveted; the latter are covered with thin, silver leaves for ornamentation. The horizontal rim has holes in its lower part through which a piece of chain mail extending from the shoulders was attached to the helmet (Granicsay, 1948-49, pp. 272-81; Harper, 1978, pp. 89-90, fig. 31; Overlaet, 1982, pp. 193-96, Pls. I-V).

Sassanina knight at the time of Shapur II (309–379) engaging Roman troops invading Iran in 333 AD. Note the Spangenhelm helmet and suit of mail covering arms and torso.  This knight resembles early Sassanian warriors in which he sports a decorative vest over his chest. What makes him different from his earlier predecessors is the medallion strap on his chest and his Spangenhelm helmet. He has lost his lance in an earlier assault and is now thrusting his heavy broadsword using the Sassanian grip (known in the west as the ‘Italian’ grip) in the forward position for maximum penetration effect. The sword handle is based on that depicted for one of Shapur I’s swords (British Museum B.M.124091); the sheath is based on the Bishapur depictions. His sword tactic is meant for shock and short engagements; he will then retire and discharge missiles. The bow and missiles in the left hand will be deployed as the Peshmerga redeploys at least 20 meters away. The quiver is modelled on that of King Pirooz (New York Metropolitan Museum Inv.34.33) (Picture Source: Farrokh, K., Elite Sassanian Cavalry-اسواران ساسانی-, Osprey Publishing, 2005, Plate D, pp.61) .

For a detailed discussion about the origin and typology of Sasanian helmets, see von Gall, 1990, pp. 69-72. Monumental art of Central Asia indicates that in that region several other types of helmets were used in the 6th-7th centuries. The most common was a sphero-conical helmet, which was hemispheroid in its lower half but gradually turned into a cone towards the top and was surmounted with a finial ornament. The rim was decorated with festoons. Often it was provided with a narrow bar protecting the nose and with cheekpieces. A piece of chain mail attached to the helmet covered the neck, shoulders, and almost the whole face except the eyes. Such helmets were most often constructed of metal plates, although there were also some made of multiple scales mounted on leather background (Shishkin, 1963, p. 163, Pl. XVII; Belenitskiĭ, 1973, Pls. 8, 9, 12, 21; Raspopova, 1980, p. 84, figs. 57-59).


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