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Thread: The supposed widespread adoption, by Sparta and other city-states, of the Pileus/Pilos helmet is plainly unfounded?

  1. #1

    Icon4 The supposed widespread adoption, by Sparta and other city-states, of the Pileus/Pilos helmet is plainly unfounded?

    So I've decided to look it up lately, since it was something that has gradually been building up in the current popular image and depictions of the Hoplites of Sparta and their league, specially in the time frame of the Peloponnesian Wars and later that event, that they, in almost an uniform fashion, wore the Pilos Helmet, and for those not familiar with it, theres the image:





    Also, to substantiate what I mean by current popular image (I'm not talking of purely entertainment mediums such as Hollywood), here are examples of how the spartans are seen wearing it uniformly in games such as Rome: Total War and Rome II: Total War, as well as in both iterations of Europa Barbarorum:






    I could fish for more examples, but those will suffice for me. If you want to challage my claim that its not the popular image, and that other images or depictions are way more widespread, then its fine, I'm not here necessarily to argue that point, its just that I've seen gradually, across the years, a buildup in the depiction of the spartan armies with widespread use of the Pilos helmet, amongst other "claims of accuracy".


    This is just an hypothesis, but it seems to me that this trend started/catalysed specially with the advent of the movie 300 and the popularization of the fictional spartans in that movie, as well as with other media that told us the history of Thermopylae. It seems like the historical community, and the history academia, in a general sense, set foot on not necessarily exploring the truth behind the vastly sparse documentation we have about the gear and tactics of those fighting greeks, but rather decided to conjure up their own image of the spartan to contrast it with the more widespread and pop images and depictions that were around, be them from 300, or from the History Channel, or from any other, with degrees of fatasy varying.

    I dont come to evaluate the whole picture of that image, but rather only one of its most iconic aspects: the reiterated depiction of the Lacedaemonians with the previously mentioned helmet.




    Part of my skepticism comes from the precious little I've found regarding the subject, and also from the fact that the little I found seems to, quite frankly, prove nothing... Wich makes me wonder if such an image is put foward less with the intent of being "accurate" and more with the purpose of being a sort of contrarian, born of an intellectually arrogant posture of one needing to show that he is right and he knows the "accurate", "correct" and "true" version of things, which even if not true for the grand picture, definitively is true for some people in these forums.


    I wouldnt use that premise to criticize or challenge the whole bibliography that EUII links in these forums, specially because I'm not familiar with most of it, but it does concern me the lack of primary historical sources in that list. In the best case scenario its because this community is so well accostumed with the works of Herodotus, Thucydides, Caesar, Xenophon, Polybius, Livy and others that, to them, knowing of these works is quasi self evident and they only link what the academia produced because of how it cross references primary sources and reveals more esoteric and less known archeological findings or the like. In the worst case scenario, what is happening to some degree is a severe case of historian circlejerking and conjecture in order to view the whole discipline of History like a "science", with a "correct" or "accurate" way of interpreting/revisioning it and an incorrect one, notwhitstanding the evident lack of information we have about various time periods, which have so many gaps about so many things that historians constatly feel the need to fill with their theorizing, not with accuracy.


    But the above is a larger concern I have, and just an anecdote to the objective aim of this post: enquire on what sources and basis does a community like this one used to depict their version of the Lacedaemonians with an uniformed use of the Pilos helmet.

    It sounds like a pedantic question, but realizing the nature of the discussion in this place, I hope it shouldnt be. I'm not here necessarily to disprove the depictions, thats why I came presenting my concerns and then asking about it. If I had certainty that it was incorrect I wouldnt write the post like this.


    I did look up some information about the helmet, what I found sometimes cited as a source (either in the TW Forums or Wikipedia) was A Brief History of Greek Helmets by Jesse Obert, where he states the following:


    "The first widespread adoption of the Pilos Helmet occurred in Sparta at the end of the 5 th century BCE. Apparently, when they adopted the helmet they announced that “they had nothing to hide, no fear or passion in their faces” [...] The Spartans argued that by adopting the PilosHelmet they were exemplifying their bravery. Some scholars argue that this boast put social pressure on other Greek communities essentially forcing them to adopt the Pilos Helmet."



    However, the author provides no evidence for any of these claims, he only cites as a reference the work Soldiers and Ghosts, by J. E. Lendon. He also has the disclaimer in his work: "Please note that the papers posted here were not peer-reviewed -- they are non-academic. They were written for the purposes of entertainment and I strongly discourage anyone from citing them in their own research or writing."


    So I looked up the passage he cites and attributes to the work Soldiers and Ghosts (page 63-64), and, in whatever I could find of that book and that passage (I shouldnt really cite it here I suppose, but idk), heres what came up:

    "The quirks of the city and its folk were on display in the way the city fought. The Spartans particularly prided themselves on, and were admired by other Greeks for, their quality of sophrosyne. They displayed this in their daily life with their famous terse, Laconic style of speech and in battle in the way they advanced to combat. The phalanxes of other states often broke into a shambling run before contact, overwhelmed by the excitement of danger, so ruining the dressing of their ranks. The Spartans, by contrast, advanced to the tune of pipe players, a practice intended “to remove anger from the warriors,” and proceeded at a walk, “without a gap in their lines, and with no confusion in their spirits, calmly and cheerfully,” without “excessive fear or passion.” It makes sense in this context that when Greeks abandoned the all-concealing Corinthian helmet in the fifth century, it was the Spartans who adopted the most revealing helmet of all, the conical pilos (see figure). In the competition of selfcontrol, the pilos announced, the Spartans had nothing to hide, no fear or passion in their faces. And, naturally, stung by the challenge, many hoplites all over Greece adopted the pilos beginning in the late fifth century." (the bold text and other marks were made by me).

    The figure mentioned above that he links is the following:




    First of all, what is already concerning about the archeological reference he presents is, well... it in no way connects to what he is claiming: it is a depiction of what appears to be a tegean hoplite from the fifth century BC. To just see this and jump to the wild conclusion that this artistic representation of what seems to be a single tegean hoplite is substance for a theory that Sparta in the fifth century adopted widely the pilos helmet and foced the peloponnesian league to conform to it is just varios degrees of speculation and overtheorizing. Specially when we take into consideration that archeology from the fifth century BC has found things that are now present in the Sparta Museum, some in the British School at Athens, that depict soldiers from what we assume was sparta throught the ages, and none of these depictions show lacedaemonians wearing the pilos helmet, but instead some form of corinthian/chalcidian variants:












    Also, it seems that to substantiate his claims, the author cites Plutarch (Lyc. 22.3) for the passage concerning how the spartans marched without a gap in their lines and without fear or passion, and Thucydides (1.68.1, 1.84.3) for when he talks about the Spartan virtues and sophrosyne. However, when it comes the Pilos helmet passage, there are no primary sources or any historical reference cited, the author merely links the work P. Dintsis, Hellenistische Helme vol. 1 (Rome, 1986) pp. 57–73, and things like The Cambridge Ancient History« Plates to Volumes V and VI (Cambridge, 1994) pp. 167–94 at 175–8, which I presume merely talk of the helmet itself, not its adoption by the spartans or any army or any of the conjecture I can only assume the author came up with.


    And if even there was some vague reference to a text or anything like it, a passage of Xenophon talking of the Pilos in the similar manner he talks of equipment in his On Horsemanship, or anything that would vaguely suggest this theory that Sparta adopted this helmet for their armies and influenced the Peloponnesian League to adopt it, the author simply doesnt provide it... No primary historical source, no concrete archeological evidence, no substantiated reasoning, nothing. Quite frankly, the only thing he seems to be providing is his fan fiction as to why the spartans, who had nothing to hide, adopted a helmet that didnt cover their faces... but even if anyone could substantiate this, there are loads of greek helmets who do not cover the soldier's face, making the hypothesis that the Pilos was the one selected, again, pure conjecture.




    Now, maybe I'm just not doing my homework right, and in such a case, I come here to ask of anyone interested in substantiate what I exposed and elucidate to me what I'm missing, and since I dont have access to all historical material out there, neither am I an academic, its hard to me to get a vast bibliography aside from what is avaliable through the classics. As it stands, however, it seems to me that all of this is some kind of academic circlejerking, as I do not recall myself ever reading any historical source that claims or suggests the spartans adopted any kind of helmet for any reason such as the ones above mentioned, and when I look at all of this and reasearch, all I find as a paper citing a historian citing another paper citing another historian etc, etc, etc... but no historical integrity or compelling evidence...


    Cheers.

  2. #2

    Default Re: The supposed widespread adoption, by Sparta and other city-states, of the Pileus/Pilos helmet is plainly unfounded?

    Thucydides, History of the Peloponnesian War, 4.34.3.

    τό τε ἔργον ἐνταῦθα χαλεπὸν τοῖς Λακεδαιμονίοις καθίστατο: οὔτε γὰρ οἱ πῖλοι ἔστεγον τὰ τοξεύματα
    (Spartan hoplites in 425 BC wearing piloi)


    Aristophanes, Lysistrata, 561-562.

    νὴ Δί᾽ ἐγὼ γοῦν ἄνδρα κομήτην φυλαρχοῦντ᾽ εἶδον ἐφ᾽ ἵππου
    ἐς τὸν χαλκοῦν ἐμβαλλόμενον πῖλον λέκιθον παρὰ γραός:
    (an Athenian phylarkhos, commander of the cavalry of a tribe, wearing a pilos)



    Spoiler Alert, click show to read: 
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    Bronze plaque, thought to be a cheek guard of a helmet, discovered at the ancient shrine of Dodona.


    Many archaeological finds suggest a fairly widespread use of the pilos. Demosthenes said that in a painting by Mikon of the battle of Marathon, the Plataean hoplites are clearly distinguished by the Boeotian helmets which they wear. Snodgrass suggests that the Boeotian helmet was an early development of the pilos.

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    Default Re: The supposed widespread adoption, by Sparta and other city-states, of the Pileus/Pilos helmet is plainly unfounded?

    Quote Originally Posted by mephiston View Post
    Thucydides, History of the Peloponnesian War, 4.34.3.



    (Spartan hoplites in 425 BC wearing piloi)


    Aristophanes, Lysistrata, 561-562.



    (an Athenian phylarkhos, commander of the cavalry of a tribe, wearing a pilos)



    Spoiler Alert, click show to read: 
    Click image for larger version. 

Name:	dodona.PNG 
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    Bronze plaque, thought to be a cheek guard of a helmet, discovered at the ancient shrine of Dodona.


    Many archaeological finds suggest a fairly widespread use of the pilos. Demosthenes said that in a painting by Mikon of the battle of Marathon, the Plataean hoplites are clearly distinguished by the Boeotian helmets which they wear. Snodgrass suggests that the Boeotian helmet was an early development of the pilos.
    Great response! The OP presents a reasonable, decent argument, but he has not weighed all the evidence for why this claim exists in the first place.

    For instance, the pilos helmet was adopted even in the Kingdom of Macedon by the early 4th century BC, before the reign of Philip II. We see it on a stone-carved relief from the archaeological site and capital city of Pella dating to that period, an infantryman wearing it while also wielding a short sword. Nicholas Viktor Sekunda, in his "Macedonian Army" (2010, Companion to Ancient Macedonia edited by Roisman and Worthington, Wiley-Blackwell, p. 449) explains how this relief shows a pronounced Spartan influence on the Macedonian army. It makes sense as well, because by that point the Kingdom of Macedon had already been allies and enemies of Sparta (just like Athens). For example, the Macedonians under Perdiccas II had a shaky relationship with the Spartan general Brasidas.

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    Default Re: The supposed widespread adoption, by Sparta and other city-states, of the Pileus/Pilos helmet is plainly unfounded?

    I think the op is contesting the exclusive use of the pilos by the Spartans. This is an interesting topic, mainly not covered by textbooks focusing on ancient helmets. However, the OP is mixing different things, using 5th century BC evidence to disprove the widespread adoption of the pilos during the second half of the 4th century BC and 3rd century BC (videogames representations). What are the evidences that the Spartans used exclusively the pilos since this period? I dunno.

    Edit:
    Quote Originally Posted by Mephiston
    Thucydides, History of the Peloponnesian War, 4.34.3.

    τό τε ἔργον ἐνταῦθα χαλεπὸν τοῖς Λακεδαιμονίοις καθίστατο: οὔτε γὰρ οἱ πῖλοι ἔστεγον τὰ τοξεύματα

    (Spartan hoplites in 425 BC wearing piloi)
    So the interpretation comes only from Thucydides saying that the Lacedaemonians struggled to defend themselves against projectiles because of their piloi, which both could designate a hat and a helmet. I don't think this is enough to draw the conclusion actually used in "historical" representations. The exclusiveness cannot be inferred from this.

    To defend a bit the common "historical" representations, there are indeed some coins suggesting a common use of the pilos even among higher position in Spartan society:


    But it is also the case in other Greek cities, like Mytilene


    Birytis


    Kyzikos


    Lipara (in Sicily)


    Messana


    Massalia



    Macedonia


    Fun fact: even in a 105 BC Roman coin:



    For the moment, I have the feeling that the pilos and pilos helmet are rooted in the hellenistic culture and are widespread in the whole Greece. Even as a symbol.
    Last edited by Genava; May 23, 2019 at 04:00 AM.
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    Default Re: The supposed widespread adoption, by Sparta and other city-states, of the Pileus/Pilos helmet is plainly unfounded?

    Well, I don't know whether Thucydides may be considered sufficient for this claim or not. I just addressed the OP's point about the lack of "any historical source" and the supposed "academic circlejerking" by doing a (literally) 30-minute research on the topic. Maybe there are more sources that do corroborate the historical interpretation, maybe there aren't, but lack of "any historical source"? This for sure is wrong. Also, I think the point the OP is contesting isn't that piloi were used exclusively by Spartans, but that Spartans used mostly piloi (without any reference to the habits of other cities).

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    Default Re: The supposed widespread adoption, by Sparta and other city-states, of the Pileus/Pilos helmet is plainly unfounded?

    Great examples, Genava! I would rep you for them, but I've repped too many people in the past 24 hours.

  7. #7

    Default Re: The supposed widespread adoption, by Sparta and other city-states, of the Pileus/Pilos helmet is plainly unfounded?

    Quote Originally Posted by Roma_Victrix View Post
    Great examples, Genava! I would rep you for them, but I've repped too many people in the past 24 hours.
    Roma, what you need is to break the system. Some puny forum cannot hold back such a force of nature!


    The Pilos is one of my favorite types of helmet, btw.
    I recommend a pugio rather than a spear, because in close quarters combat, a dagger will serve you better than a spear.

    Rad, 2016.

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    Default Re: The supposed widespread adoption, by Sparta and other city-states, of the Pileus/Pilos helmet is plainly unfounded?

    Quote Originally Posted by Rad View Post
    Roma, what you need is to break the system. Some puny forum cannot hold back such a force of nature!
    Break the wheel Roma, break the wheel!

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    Default Re: The supposed widespread adoption, by Sparta and other city-states, of the Pileus/Pilos helmet is plainly unfounded?

    Quote Originally Posted by Lusitanio View Post
    Break the wheel Roma, break the wheel!
    Long live Bran the Four-Wheeled Chair
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    Alexandra Elbakyan. Even in my country, Switzerland, we cannot afford the access to all the publishers material. Sci-hub and Library Genesis help thousands of researchers in the world. Support them.

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    Default Re: The supposed widespread adoption, by Sparta and other city-states, of the Pileus/Pilos helmet is plainly unfounded?

    Well thanks everyone for the input, and if people want to keep giving more of their takes, the discussion doesnt need to end because of my reply;


    I think I left the impression I didnt want to leave when I commented about the "historical circlejerking" thing; I wasnt either confirming nor disavowing what many academic publications/books on the matter were saying about it, my frustration and skepticism came from the fact that most of them referenced themselves instead of going to the point like @mephiston did in his first reply. I did look the matter up but I explained in my post where it did led me to, so if some of you got better search results or came across the answers before replying, that is good, it was what I was looking for after all... In hindsight, the fact that one cannot read tone from text can make my post sound a bit scummy, not my purpose. I also didnt include this on my OP not to extend it any further, but a vast number of other explanations I found before consisted of some or other form of reasoning rather than sourcing, like for example people saying it was adopted because of the need for faster and less encumbering helmet to deal with the increasing deployment of peltastai or the "iphicratean" style of soldiers.


    For those of you who got confused, my main question was about the Lacedaemonians - more specifically the Spartiatai - using the Pilos in an standardized fashion by - at least as some claim - the 5th century BC onwards.

    Albeit the quote from the first reply is really good, and makes me more acceptive of some of these claims, what @Genava said also crossed my mind: if the passing mention that the Lacedaemonians' caps/piloi werent able to hold the enemy projectiles at Sphacteria is a comment specifically predicated on the type of helmet that was being used, or a general comment just to emphasize the overwhelming situation in which the battalion found itself, as it was "overbombarded" so to say (theres also comments about the projectiles sticking in their armors and something along those lines).

    The are also more specific things to consider, like the fact that the passage refers to the battle at Sphacteria, an encirclement of about less than a mora/battalion (~600 men) of the Lacedaemonians, mostly composed of the Spartan allies/vassals, and of which a minority were Spartiates, some of which later were captured as hostages (about 100 or more).

    All of this still makes me think of it as a bit of a stretch to see the helmet being deployed in a standardized fashion - meaning everyone using it exclusively, despite rank or any difference in division, for combat purposes. Whilst I can see it being a possibility, what makes me wonder is, well, firstly, some of the things we associate with the Spartiates in a general sense (such as the crimson cloaks and the long hair) come from Xenophon, who, when talking about these things in specific, talks of them as of them being used in a widespread sense. Its strange to me that such a thing as a helmet would have no mention, if it was so iconic to the point of standardized adoption. Some of the things we associate with them, however, arent even necessarily true, just a possibility, like the famous lambda (/\) painted on every hoplite's shield.

    Another thing that makes me wonder is the fact that the Pilos is not the only helmet of its type.. meaning, many other helmets have a similar degree of coverage and utility, such as the Konos helmet, for example, so even if one can give credit to some of the rationalizations about the change of warfare in the Peloponnesian war, it still doesnt make the case for the Pilos alone.



    "off-topic"
    About the comments on the looks of the helmet, I'd say that, different from the looks of helmets such as the Corinthian and the Chalkidian for example (who give me more of an "ornamental" feel), the Pilos gives me a very "soldiery/professional" feeling, specially when depicted standardized by an entire unit, and despite the greeks using it also for war, I wonder if it was in such an uniformed way, as the impression I always get is that greeks (even the spartans) had more in the way of personalized equipment instead of a very quasi modern looking standardized one (aside from the core aspects of their style of fighting, such as the hoplon, but even those had various "paintjobs" and differing art).

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    Default Re: The supposed widespread adoption, by Sparta and other city-states, of the Pileus/Pilos helmet is plainly unfounded?

    I'm very mad at you, Achilles. You mentioned Mephiston and Genava but you didn't mention my post at all regarding Macedon being influenced by Sparta!

    Notice me, Senpai!

    I agree, though, that the Greeks had more personalized equipment than standardized equipment, although the Greek states generally shared the same traditions when it came to wearing different styles of armor and helmets.

    Quote Originally Posted by Rad View Post
    Roma, what you need is to break the system. Some puny forum cannot hold back such a force of nature!
    The Pilos is one of my favorite types of helmet, btw.
    Quote Originally Posted by Lusitanio View Post
    Break the wheel Roma, break the wheel!
    Quote Originally Posted by Genava View Post
    Long live Bran the Four-Wheeled Chair
    This turned into a Game of Thrones thread super fast, faster than Bran in a wheelchair race for the Special Olympics.

    I repped you Genava! Now...I rest [to quote Ser Alliser Thorne of the Night's Watch, cuz why not at this point, since I'm fuming with anger that Achilles ignored my post].

  12. #12

    Default Re: The supposed widespread adoption, by Sparta and other city-states, of the Pileus/Pilos helmet is plainly unfounded?

    I think it's possible that more than a few of the depictions on the coins above as well as other reliefs and sculpture are depicting the pilos hat as opposed to the helmet. It is hard, maybe impossible to discern between the two. This representation of the hat gives the impression that the pilos helmet is more widespread in its use than it was in reality. Just a point to consider.

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