Everyone who knows me for more than 5 minutes knows I’m a huge Star Wars fan. I don’t know what gives me away; maybe it’s the nerdy t-shirts. So today, for our virtual journey, I’ll take you to a galaxy far, far away.
In my humble opinion, the series “the Mandalorian” is the best thing in the Star Wars franchise in the past few years.
The Mandalorian helmet worn by the title character (and others) is one of the most iconic artifacts of Star wars. We saw it for the first time worn in the “Empire Strikes back” by the bounty hunter Bobba Fett. The closed helmet with its narrow, T-shaped opening gives the wearer an ominous air, combined with mystery.
In the series, Mandalorians are a group of elite warriors, connected by a common creed and code of conduct. Although they bear the name of the planet Mandalore, they can be found in other planets and accept in their ranks people of different species.
For Mandalorians, their distinctive and top-quality arms and armor are an important part of their identity. The helmet especially has great symbolic value and a true Mandalorian never takes it off in front of another member of a sentient species.
As I watched the older Star Wars movies or, more recently, the Mandalorian, I couldn’t help the archaeologist and military historian in me raising their heads to take a closer look. And they both noticed that the Mandalorian helmets look oddly familiar.
Both the helmet of Bobba Fett and that of the newer Din Djarin, remind me of a type of renaissance helmet called barbute (or barbuta). These helmets were made in Italy in the 15th century CE, and cover the head from all sides. Similarly to their Star Wars counterparts, they have a T-shaped opening. In some of them, the opening is more like a Y, with a small nose guard, making them very similar to the better known Corinthian ones.
Helmets like these were found in the 19th century in the Greek town of Chalkis, which had been under Venetian control until 1470. Some of them can be seen in the National Historical Museum of Athens, while others are exhibited in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.
In the series, there is another character, called the Armorer, whose helmet, although recognizable as Mandalorian, is somewhat distinctive. It is bronze-colored and is reminiscent of quite a lot of things. On one hand, it looks a bit like the Y-shaped barbuta helmets I mentioned above. On the other hand, it has many similarities with ancient Greek Corinthian-type helmets.
To top it all, those ridges above the eyebrows, in the cheeks and the crown look like a faint echo of Viking helmets, like the one found in Gjermundbu. Come to think of it, it looks like the child of a Corinthian helmet married to a barbuta, who had a Nordic grandparent. The tiny horns (or studs) are a Star Wars thing; none of the historic examples I mentioned had anything even remotely like them.
Looking at the concept art for the design of Bobba Fett (the initial Mandalorian) it seems to me that the producers started with a variety of influences in mind. However, the end result, even though it was made for use in a galaxy far, far away, looks remarkably similar to tried and tested historic designs. Why? Because, this is the way (to make helmets).
May the 4th be with you.
Disclaimer: Star Wars, the Mandalorian, Bobba Fett, Din Djarus and the Armorer, are all property of Lucasfilm Ltd/Disney and/or the Walt Disney Company. No copyright infringement is intended and low resolution images have been chosen explicitly for that purpose. The use of names and pictures in no way hinders the creators from advertising or selling their products.
Viking helmet from Gjermundbu
The Mandalorian (image 9, cropped)
The Armorer (image 38, cropped)
Barbute helmets: Edge, D., Paddock, J.M., Arms and Armour of the Medieval Knight, 1988, London.