Online Review: Book

Die Helme von Olympia: Ein Beitrag zu Waffenweihungen in griechischen Heiligtümern


By Heide Frielinghaus (OlForsch 33). Pp. xv + 599, figs. 20, b&w pls. 131. Walter de Gruyter, Berlin 2011. $192. ISBN 978-3-11-024596-7 (cloth).

One should not be misled by the title of this book and think that it focuses only on the helmets found in Olympia. The book rather provides the reader with a complete study about the main aspects of the ritual offering of weapons in Olympia. It also includes a new approach to the chronology of Greek weapons.

Before analyzing Frielinghaus’ book, it is important to note two relevant publications that appeared in recent years: the first deals with technical aspects of the helmets (H. Born, Die Helme des Hephaistos: Handwerk und Technick griechischer Bronzen in Olympia [Munich 2009]), and the second provides a useful analysis of the offerings of weapons in all Greek sanctuaries (H. Baitinger, Waffenweihungen in griechischen Heiligtümern. Monographien des Römisch-Germanisches Zentralmuseum zu Mainz 94 [Mainz 2011]).

Die Helme von Olympia presents a catalogue of 882 helmets (1 Kammhelm, 38 Kegelhelme, 67 Illyrian, 628 Corinthian, 3 composite, 1 Cretan, 107 Chalcidian, 33 classical, 1 Assyrian, 2 Negau, and 1 Montefortino helmet) and 127 decorative elements (mostly supports for lophoi and horns). Yet it would be incorrect to reduce the book to a mere categorization of objects, since the author analyzes a class of weapons that are among the most attested objects in the sanctuary at Olympia and represent some problematic examples of ex-votos “by transformation” (using the expression suggested by Morel). In this sense, beyond their large typological variety, helmets can be considered at once as weapons, ex-votos, prestige objects, and media for inscriptions. Despite the many interpretative problems, Frielinghaus has adopted easy and coherent principles and has divided the book into three main parts: an introduction (1–85), analysis (85–232), and a catalogue (233–463).

The first section of the book includes a discussion of the typology of the helmets found in the catalogue; they are categorized into different groups based on the traditional organization of “families” (e.g., Corinthian, Chalcidian, Illyrian). Section 2 provides the study of offerings. Two aspects of this section should be underlined. First, the author has corrected some mistakes from previous publications and thus increased the value of the book (3 n. 17). Secondly, the author’s typological classification allows for the accommodation of Illyrian, Chalcidian, and Corinthian helmets and provides important observations. Finally, it should be noted that a look at the archaeological contexts as well as at recent publications on this topic in both the Italic (Bottini, Montanaro, Tagliamonte) and Balkan area (Teržan, Vasić, Blečić) would have allowed for a broader discussion of the chronology (with many closed and stratified contexts) and the distribution of various types of helmets.

There is no doubt that the second part of the book represents the main contribution to the study. In this section, the author discusses the different procedures related to the offering of helmets (as well as of other weapons) in Olympia. In this part, the author examines the chronology (88–92) and the different modalities related to the exhibition of the objects in the sanctuary (hanging on the wall, as part of trophies, or other possibilities [156–84]) as well as various ways that they were taken out of use (bending of cheekpieces, fragmentation, drilling, or crushing the “calota” and writing dedicatory inscriptions on their surfaces [185–205]). She also attempts to determine the period of the exhibition of the helmets in the sanctuary (536–45, pls. 3a, 3b). This second part of the book also includes a complete catalogue of all votive inscriptions on weapons. Even though the author compares the helmets with other groups of weapons found in Olympia throughout this section, the comparison of data related to the offerings of weapons in Olympia and in other Greek sanctuaries—concealed in the title—is concentrated on pages 216–32.

The analysis is completed through a series of different lists of helmets and other weapons found in Olympia, including their main alterations, chronology, and findspots. This part is followed by the first list ever made of all weapons found in every single well—as favissae serving to collect the offerings of the sanctuary once removed from their display—of Olympia (554–67), which makes this book the ultimate work for the study of Greek armament.

The catalogue, the third part of the book, is organized according to typology. Here, helmets from excavations as well as those belonging to museums’ collections are grouped together. For the latter, the provenance from Olympia is not always certain (helmets said to be from Olympia can be found in Berlin, Athens, London, Vienna, Adolphseck, Hamburg, Boston, Dresden, Basel, Jena, Aachen, Stuttgart, Trieste, Edinburgh, Baltimore, New York, Birmingham [United Kingdom], Budapest, Cambridge [United Kingdom], Amherst College, and an unknown Korean private collection). Many helmets are published here for the first time. Since others had been previously published, not every example is reproduced (there are photographs of almost 300 helmets and 45 supports and decorative elements). Apart from the case of Helmets D.30 and D.495, acquired by William Hamilton between the end of the 18th and the beginning of the 19th century (now missing [267, 389]), the book does not include a historiographical discussion with references to the discoveries of helmets during either of those centuries (see, e.g., A.L. Millin, “Nouvelles littéraires,” Magasin encyclopédique, ou Journal des sciences, des lettres et des arts 8.2 [1802] 242–43); a debate about the reading and the interpretation of some votive inscriptions on the helmets is also missing (e.g., the case of the inscription of Hiero from Syracuse; see J.A. Letronne, “Sur l’inscription d’un casque trouvé a Olympie,” Bulletin des Sciences Historiques, antiquités, Philologie 6 [1826] 352–53; A. Salinas, “Elmo dedicato da Gerone I, esistente nel museo britannico,” BdI 3 [1865] 67–8). This information could provide additional data on some helmets or could put in evidence the evolution of the studies on the Olympian helmets. It has to be said that these topics would probably wander from the subject of the book, being more appropriate for a historiographic study connected to Olympia.

In a brief review, it is hard to express the value of this work, which is both a compilation and detailed analysis with important and thought-provoking interpretations. The book not only allows its reader to learn and discover important information about this class of objects, it also provides answers to many of the questions the reader wanted to ask before opening it. The most extraordinary value of this work lies in the introduction of new topics of discussion related to the study of ancient Greek warfare and the sanctuary at Olympia.

Raimon Graells i Fabregat
Romano-Germanic Central Museum
Research Institute for Archaeology
55116 Mainz

Book Review of Die Helme von Olympia: Ein Beitrag zu Waffenweihungen in griechischen Heiligtümern, by Heide Frielinghaus

Reviewed by Raimon Graells i Fabregat

American Journal of Archaeology Volume 117, Number 2 (April 2013)

Published online at

DOI: 10.3764/ajaonline1172.Graells

Add new comment

Plain text

  • Use [fn]...[/fn] (or <fn>...</fn>) to insert automatically numbered footnotes.
  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Typographic refinements will be added.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
Click "Save" to submit your comment. Please allow some time for your post to be moderated.