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by David Nicolle

An extract from The military technology of classical Islam by D Nicolle

Part Two - Muslim Military Equipment.




       The helmet may have increased in importance in the Middle East following the first wave of Arab conquests. Certainly this item of equipment was more noticeable in Byzantine armies of the 9th and 10th centuries than it had been previously,1 probably as a result of Muslim military pressure. Given Byzantium's poverty in metal resources,2 one may assume that a similar importance was given to helmets in the relatively iron-rich world of Islam. Various forms of head protection are frequently mentioned in Muslim sources throughout the period under review, while a variety of terms were used to describe a comparably varied collection of helmets. Add to this the fact that a helmet was on one occasion listed as worth only slightly more than a hauberk,3 and it might appear that helmets were about as common as those other forms of armour.
       While there is plenty of evidence to show that many Muslim helmets were gilded,4 just as they had been in Rome,5 and still
1. Haldon, "Some Aspects of Byzantine Military Technology from the 6th to the 10th centuries" pp. 25-26.
2. Lombard, Les Métaux dans l'Ancien Monde du Ve eu XIe Siècle, pp. 142-150.
3. Cahan, La Campagne de Mantzikert d'après les sources musulmanes", p. 636.
4. ʿImād al Dīn, op. cit., p, 307; Firdawī, op. cit., pp. 303-304, 382, 384, 477 and 803-804; Schwarzlose, op. cit., p. 320; al Jarbūʿ, op. cit., p. 249; al Ṭabarī, op. cit., vol. II, pp. 1162-1163; Fries, op. cit., pp. 59-60; al Gindi, op. cit., p. 169; Canard, Sayf al Daula, Recueil de textes, p. 221; Mayer, Mamluk Costume, pp. 36-48; Anon., The Song of Roland, verses 81 and 112; Arié, op. cit., p. 246; Fulcher of Chartres, in Recuil des Historiens des Croisades, (Paris 1844-95), vol. III, p. 363.
5. A. H. M. Jones, The Later Roman Empire, (Oxford 1964), p. 835.


were in Russia,6 or could be covered in a shagreen leather decoration,7 there is less information concerning their precise construction or shape. Such details may, however, in part be deduced and in part guessed.

The bayḍah
       This "egg-like" helmet was probably round rather than pointed. It may, of course, have had an oval or domed shape but is unlikely to have been of a segmented spangenhelm, construction. The latter system generally produced a more pointed outline than the two-piece helmet of late-Roman or Persian "Parthian Cap" type. These latter two fashions (Figs. 9, 40, 56, 85, 95 and 618) are likely to have corresponded to the original Arab bayḍah though there is little reason to suppose that this term was not used more broadly in later centuries. A surviving helmet of very uncertain date from Tunisia could show that this form of construction, in which the constituent parts were joined fore-and-aft, persisted well into the Middle Ages (Fig. 191). An extension to protect the wearer's neck on this particular North African helmet might, perhaps, be the dabirah or rear of a bayḍah helmet which itself could be fastened to a hauberk.8 A very similar neck extension is illustrated in an astrological manuscript from Morocco, dated 1224 AD (Book of fixed Stars, by al Sūfī, Vatican Lib., Ms. Ross 1033, f. 6), although here it is fastened to a spangenhelm. Nor would references to the bayḍah being festooned with rivets9 necessarily contradict the above interpretation.

6. Kirpitchnikov, Medieval Russian Arms, Armour, vol. III, pp. 90-91.
7. Canard, "La procession du Nouvel An chez les Fatimides," pp. 367.
8. Ibn Hudhayl, op. cit., pp. 264-268; Schwarzlose, op. cit., p. 349.
9. Schwarzlose, op. cit., p. 351.


Rivets were, of course, used in large numbers to construct many "Parthian Cap" helmets, though less so in later-Roman styles.
    A wider use of the name bayḍah or perhaps a later fashion of adding decorative spikes or plumes10 could account for the fact that in the early 14th century a warrior was advised to remove his bayḍah helmet before trying to take off or put on a hauberk.11
    The bayḍah was also large enough to be worn over a mighfar or coif.12 It could be held in place by straps or laces,13 though whether these went under the chin or were drawn around the temples and tied at the back is not clear. Both systems were known in Byzantium and western Europe,14 but the latter seems to have been more popular in the Middle East, perhaps being comfortable in hot weather (Figs. 119, 216, 330, 331, 337, 340, 348 and 445).
    Round helmets, with or without fixed or removeable neck-guards, brims or other extra features, are very common in the 7th to 13th century art of the area under study, even if one excludes those of apparent segmented construction (Figs. 13, 132, 134, 178B, 190A, 196, 201, 207, 211, 220, 235, 251, 256, 291, 292, 300, 316, 331, 337, 338, 339, 367, 378, 392, 401, 410, 419, 422, 447, 494, 515, 520, 524, 525, 526, 545, 580, 597, 604M and 610).

10. Ibn Hudhayl, loc cit.
11. Al Aqsarā'ī, op. cit., p. 319.
12. Al Ṭabarī, op. cit., vol. II, p. 1278; Canard, Sayf al Daule, Recueil de textes, p. 212.
13. Beshir, op. cit., pp. 67-70; al Agsarā'ī, op. cit., p. 320; Anon., The Song of Roland, verses 55 and 79.
14. Haldon, "Some Aspects of Byzantine Military Technology from the 6th to the 10th centuries," p. 21.


The tark
       This form of helmet has a variety of similar names, such as a tark, tarik, tarikah and tarq. Unlike the bayḍah, it was probably a true spangenhelm or may have been built up of directly riveted segments. This latter system was known in early medieval Europe and tended to rise to a very sharp point (Figs. 100, 101, 614 and 617). The framed spangenhelm, which was better known in a European context,15 was, however, likely to have been included under the title of tark. Specimens of iron or bronze spangenhelm frames and iron, bronze or horn segments have been discovered in various parts of the world.16 Archaeological evidence and that of illustrated sources do, however, show that this style of helmet probably had an eastern Mediterranean or Central Asian origin.17
       It has, In fact, recently been suggested that the very similar name Turk, referring to a specific Central Asian linguistic group of peoples, could have sprung from an Old Turkish term for a helmet of unspecified type.18 On the other hand, the particular style worn by many late Sassanian warriors could have been of 6th century Byzantine inspiration19 (Figs. 16, 41, 55, 93, 101 and 330) which would not, of course, contradict an ultimate Turkish origin.
15. Blair, op. cit., p. 25.
16. Ibid.
17. Oakshott, op. cit., p. 66; Stocklein, "Arms and Armour", p. 2563; H. Klumbach, edit., Spätromische Gardehelme, (Munich 1973), pp. 13-14.
18. E. Nowgorodowa, Alte Kunst der Mongolei, (Leipzig 1980), p. 210. First recorded in 6th century BC China as TUKIU, the name Turk is normally linked with the mythical folk-ancestor Tur.
19. Oakeshott, loc. cit.


       Documentary evidence suggesting that the tarīkah was a segmented helmet includes descriptions that refer to its "stripes", tarāʾiq20 or ḥubuk,21 and its "onion-like" appearance.22 The latter feature could refer both to an overall shape of a helmet that rose to a point and to its closely spaced vertical segments. Although Ibn Hudhayl is uncharacteristically unspecific about the helmets of 14th century al Andalus, he does suggest that all these various forms of tark were similar to a rabiʿah23 which was almost certainly a four-segment spangenhelm.
       Other sources of information state that the 10th century Khuriāsānī tarq or tark was heavy and could gall its wearer's head,24 and that it could be made of steel.25
       Although there are exceptions, most of the available pictorial evidence for segmented helmets tends to be rather unclear (Figs. 119, 124, 127, 132, 140, 155, 173, 185, 209, 218, 219, 250, 266, 282, 347, 335, 428, 429, 430, 431, 439, 444, 445, 446, 454, 463, 464, 478, 479, 498, 506, 517, 536, 540, 577, 581, 587, 606 and 641).

The Mighfar
       The mighfar was a separate coif. It may not necessarily have always covered the chin or the front of the neck, as would
20. El Gindi, op. cit., p. 169.
21. Ibid.; Schwarzlose, op. cit., p. 350.
22. Schwarzlose, loc. cit.
23. Ibn Hudhayl, op. cit., pp, 264-268.
24. Firdawsī, op. cit., pp. 1223-1224.
25. Ibid., p. 956.


be normal in later medieval Europe, nor must it necessarily have been of mail. Some of the earliest types were probably or leather.26 Such a reasonably sturdy leather head-covering has, in fact, been excavated in an 8th century Alano-Saltove site in the northern Caucasus27 (Fig. 411B). Although this lay outside the frontiers of Islam, it was within the wider Iranian cultural world and may well have had parallels within Islamicized Iranian provinces to the south.
       Some mighfars might, even in the early days, have been covered with scales, being structurally similar to the dirʿ hauberk. Such coifs may, in addition, have still been used in 14th century al Andalus.28 Various other types of mighfar were, of course, known, including those of mail29 and those covered in decorative silk.30
       All these coifs seen to appear in the art of the area and the period, although many such representations are exceptionally difficult to interpret (Figs. 175, 178B, 214, 257, 250, 288, 300, 306, 336, 439, 451, 580 and 597). Mighfars drawn across a warrior's face were also characteristic of many regions in a variety of centuries
26. Al Balādhwrī, op. cit., vol. I, p. 361; al Ṭabarī, op. cit., vol. II, p. 339; Firdawsī; op. cit., p. 431; Fries, op. cit., pp. 59-60.
27. A. Jeroussalimskaya, "Le Cafetan aux Simourghs du Tombeau de Mochtchevaya Balja (Caucase Septentrionel)”, Studia Iranica, VI (1978), pp, 184-186.
28. Ibn Hudhayl, loc. cit.
29. Fries, loc. cit.; Canard, Sayf al Doule. Recueil de textes, p. 212; Schwarzlose, op. cit., pp. 341 and 350.
30. Ibid.


in the Muslim world,31 as they were of Byzantium in the 10th century.32 Such a fashion is confirmed by surviving pictorial sources Figs. 178B, 250, 300, 422, 429, 431, 433, 440, 462, 515, 519, 521, 523, 525, 537, 540, 545, 548 and 641). Unfortunately it is not always possible to state with certainty that any particular illustration shows a coif rather than a face-covering aventail33 of a type that would appear on many of the earliest surviving Muslim helmets (Fig. 266). Mighfars could also be laced to a hauberk,34 just as later aventails seem to have been. Coifs of mail would, however, have been more suitable in such a situation as their greater flexibility would not have hindered the wearer from turning his head as a leather-based coif might do.
       Mail defences, mighfars or zardīyah coifs, chashmak or sirash aventails,35 or girībān throat-covering gorgets,36 all appear in the pictorial sources and seem to have been quite widespread (Figs. 122, 146, 220B, 292, 422, 428, 430, 434, 445, 446, 447 and 507).
       But which of the various forms of mighfar corresponded most
31. Pérès, op. cit., pp. 350-355; Norris, op. cit., p. 98; Canard, "L'Expansion Arabe: Ie problme militaire", p. 47; Ibn Ishāq, op. cit., p. 109; von Kremer, op. cit., p. 79; ʿImād al Dīn op. cit., p. 77; al Mutanabbi, in Wormhoudt, op. cit., p. 70; Mubārakshāh, op. cit., p. 252.
32. Haldon, "Some Aspects of Byzantine Military Technology from the 6th to the 10th centuries", pp. 37-38; Howard-Johnson, op. cit., p. 292.
33. Mayer, Mamluk Costume, loc. cit.; Bosworth, "Armies of the Prophet", p. 208; H. Stocklein, "Die Waffenschatze im Topkapu Sareyi Mzesil", Ars Islamica, (1934), p. 204.
34. Schwarzlose, op. cit.,.p. 350; al Ṭabarī, op. cit., vol. Il, pp. 586-587.
35. Mubārakshāh, op. cit., p. 252; Firdawsī, op. cit., pp. 59 and 725; Ayyūqī, op. cit., verse 710.
36. Firdawsī, op. cit., p. 818.


closely to the contemporary Byzantineskaplion is difficult to say, although one may assume that the mighfar and skaplion did fulfil the same function. They may even have had similar origins and probably embraced the same variety of structural materials37 (Figs. 201, 220A, 228, 236, 251, 625 and 636).
       What is almost certain, however, is that while both Muslim and Byzantine warriors made extensive use of such detachable coifs, their contemporaries in western Europe did not adopt this item of equipment until the late 11th century.38 The separate coif was not, in fact, to become widely popular in the West until the late 13th century39 although it might have been adopted somewhat earlier in Italy40 and Spain (Figs. 523 and 550), Any such trend strongly suggests that the separate mail coif, primarily a defence against arrows, was introduced into Europe either from Byzantium or from the Muslim world or perhaps from both (Figs. 551 and 590).

The khūd
       The khūd, khūdh or kūdhah was probably of Persian origin. Some authorities consider it to have been synonymous with the Arabic mighfar.41 and as such to have been a coif. Elsewhere it is made clear that these helmets were worn with coifs or aventails, sirash, chashmak or lithām, but were not synonymous with any of

37. Haldon, "Some Aspects of Byzantine Military Technology from the 6th to the 10th centuries", p. 21; Aussaresses, op. cit., pp. 48-49.
38. Blair, op. cit., p. 27
39. Ibid.
40. Terenzi, op. cit., p. 96.
41. Schwarzlose, op. cit., p. 350; Bivar, “Cavalry Equipment and Tactics on the Euphrates Frontier,” p. 291.


them.42 One such source states that a khūdhah islāmiyah had a solid ‘anf or nasal that could be bent but not broken by a javelin.43 This strongly suggests an iron helmet. Elsewhere, however, the khūdh is specifically described as being made of cuir-bouilli hardened leather.44 A third source could suggest that the helmet's construction included leather as it needed to be dried out rapidly if ever dropped in water.45
       Al Tarṣūṣi's instructions for making a khūdh of cuir-bouilli show that its pieces were moulded, just as were the individual lamellae of a cuir-bouilli jawshan. He does not, unfortunately, indicate the precise shape and size of these pieces. Perhaps they were scales, for such helmets seem to have existed in medieval Islam,46 although some of the illustrated material could indicate mail (Figs. 65, 241, 420, 432, 447, 455, 578, 581, 629 and 651). On the other hand, segments of cuir-bouilli may have been riveted to an iron frame, thus forming a spangenhelm. Thirdly, a cuir-bouilli khūdh may have been moulded almost in one piece with, perhaps, a separate neck-guard. Elsewhere the khūdh and presumed spangenheim tark are, however, clearly distinguished.47 Nevertheless, a Saracenic warrior in a khūdhah helmet could be mistaken for a Crusader,48
42. Ayyūqi, op. cit., verse 710; Mubārakshāh, op. cit., p. 252; Usamah ibn Munqidh, op. cit., pp. 46 and 124.
43. Usāmah Ibn Munqidh, op. cit., pp. 51-52.
44. Tarṣūṣi, op. cit., p. 116.
45. Firdawsī, op. cit., p. 344.
46. Mayer, Mamluk Costume, pp. 36-48; Robinson, Oriental Armour, p. 131.
47. Firdawsī, op. cit., pp. 369-370 and 431.
48. Usāmah ibn Munqidh, op. cit., p. 144.


among whose comrades spangenhelms were clearly popular.49
       Taken altogether, this evidence need not contradict the suggestion that the khūd was essentially comparable to those generally low-domed, rounded or slightly pointed helmets with large neck-guards that appear in Persian and other pictorial sources. Their Sassanian origins are almost certain, and their gradual spread westwards corresponds quite closely to the spread of the khūd as indicated in the literary sources (Figs. 48, 50, 51, 53, 153, 175, 180, 196, 209, 210, 220A, 223, 224, 230, 241, 249, 256, 276, 292, 293, 294, 305, 306, 316, 335, 378, 392, 410, 416, 419, 421, 422, 447, 471, 474, 480, 484, 534, 571, 580, 597, 603, 606, 608, 609B, 634, 642C, 645 and 651).
       Their shape could equally suggest, though by no means confirm, a cuir-bouilli construction. At this time inadequate metallurgical technology would surely have limited the large-scale production of helmets beaten from a single sheet of iron although, of course, such helmets were known to exist in various parts of the world. The fact that such presumed khūd helmets were often painted blue in various manuscript illuminations similarly need not prove that most were of iron. They also appear in a variety of colours and occasionally have fanciful shapes that make a metal construction most unlikely.
49. Ibn al Qalānisī, op. cit., p. 342.

Parts of the helmet
from page 220 to page 222


from page 223 to page 228

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