Eastern Anatolia region of modern day Armenia, Turkey, Iran, Azerbaijan and Georgia, Urartu (Urartian or Urartaean), Iron Age III, ca. 8th to 7th century BCE. Captivating for its astonishing artistry, iconography, and beauty, this helmet is comprised of skillfully hammered bronze sheet, of a conical form to fit snugly against the skull of a warrior, tapering sharply to a tall point, and is extensively decorated in repousse as well as engraved with motifs that contribute to its charm and layers of symbolic meaning (see more below). Demarcating and separating the registers on the front and back are horizontal ridged bands with incised running zigzag motifs and cross-hatching adorning the recessed registers. There are two pairs of perforations set at the sides presumably for attaching a leather or felt lining to make the helmet more comfortable. Size: 9" W x 10.5" H (22.9 cm x 26.7 cm); 18.5" H (47 cm) on included custom stand.
The iconographical program on this helmet is quite impressive. The front side presents an elaborately dressed deity standing in profile flanked by 8 serpents with lion heads and bodies that arch to form a quasi-rainbow effect - serving to ward off evil and protect the owner. Below is a band of 6 deities spaced equidistantly with 3 on the left facing the 3 on the right - all making dramatic, almost dancing gestures and holding ritualistic instruments as if engaged in a ceremony. All are the same height, indicating that they are of equal importance; however, the figure above, given his superior position, is most likely being heralded for his superior position or rank. Perhaps this figure is a king or Haldi, the supreme deity praised throughout Urartian history. On the verso are 2 registers of majestic animals - lions in the upper register and horned bulls in the lower - all delineated with painstaking attention to detail. Look closely and you will see wonderful engraved furry coats, claws, and eyes.
The civilization of Urartu was one of several states that arose following the destruction of the Hittite state in approximately 1200 BCE. Others included Tabal, Phrygia, and Lydia - each one possessed its own distinct language, religion, ethnicity, and visual culture. According to the Metropolitan Museum of Art Heilbrunn essay, "In their inscriptions, the Assyrians of Mesopotamia refer to the Urartians as their northern enemies from the eleventh to the seventh centuries B.C. However, the earliest known Urartian written document, a rock inscription at Van (ancient Tushpa), records the earliest reference to the state. There it says that Urartu was ruled by a king named Sarduri (r. ca. 840–830 B.C.), and mentions a male deity, Haldi, the supreme god throughout Urartian history."
See an analogous Urartu helmet that would have been worn by a soldier under King Argishiti I's command in the permanent collection of the History Museum of Armenia, Yerevan illustrated in Joan Aruz, Sarah B. Graff & Yelena Rakic, eds, "Assyria to Iberia (New York, 2014) cat. 30, pp. 88-90 (http://www.nomadexhibitions.com/blog/2015/6/1/object-focus). An article written for the exhibition "Armenia: Legend and Reality" (2016-2020) discusses this helmet in the context of an enlightening quote by King Argishti I of Urartu inscribed in what is known as Sarduri's Rock at Van in the 8th century: "On approaching the land at Minni, the populations I carried away, the cities I burnt; their plunder for a spoil I acquired; the men and women, the boys and girls I carried off. I slew and took prisoner thousands of men. I carried off horses, camels, oxen, sheep…" These words describe the fierce approach of King Argishti I of Urartu's 14 military campaigns. Scholars generally regard his reign from 785 to 753 BCE as the pinnacle of Urartian might and influence. The curatorial team sheds further light on the Urartian empire, "Religion, war, art and slavery were the cornerstones of the empire. The Urartian people were guided by a pantheon of deities, led by the male god of gods, Khaldi, and his wife, Arubani, the supreme female goddess. The kingdom was characterised by strategic imperial expansion and the Urartian military followed a relentless cycle of invasion, abduction and exploitation of captured peoples for the purpose of slavery. These slaves strengthened the empire and stimulated economic growth as their captive labour was channelled into the development of a solid state infrastructure of citadels, fortresses, canals and roads."
cf. another in the Schaffhausen Museum, illustrated in Ralf-Bernhard Wartke, "Urartu, Das Reich am Ararat" (Mainz, 1993), pl. 82 (helmet on left); one with 3 serpents in the Azerbaijan Museum, illustrated at http://www.livius.org/pictures/a/anatolia/urartaean-helmet/; another in the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, inv. 2014.7, illustrated at https://www.mfah.org/art/detail/121046?returnUrl=%2Fart%2Fsearch%3Fculture%3Durartian
For a scene of soldiers wearing this type of helmet on a bronze plaque, see Oscar White Muscarella, "Bronze and Iron" (New York 1988), no. 576, pp. 428-429.
This piece has been tested for the presence or absence of particular elements via XRF elemental analysis. A basic 1-page summary of the XRF screening will accompany purchase, identifying each element present in the sample, as well as the quantity of elements present. A more complete analysis detailing historical data / comparisons is available for additional charge – please contact us.
Provenance: private East Coast, USA collection; ex-Manukyan Family Collection, USA/France, 1970's
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Restoration to the upper undecorated section. Surface shows some expected wear; however, the iconography and decorative motifs - in repousse as well as incised - are incredibly well preserved. Helmet has developed an amazing age patina with rich verdant green and russet patina.