Ottoman helmets - Miğfer

Generally helmets, one of the most important pieces of armor designed to protect the human body during combat, are made of iron or metals or thick and durable skins. It had been used since ancient times. The earliest depiction of Turkic helmet-like headgear was found in Pazyryk burials, dated back to the 4th-3th centuries BC. Later, similar helmets were used among Huns, Göktürks, Uyghurs, Tatars and Mongols.

Ottoman helmets are similar to helmets of the Akkoyunlu’s, Şirvanşahs, Mamluks, Timurids and the Safavids, except for some minor differences. The helmets of the Mamluks called as el-hûz ez-zeheb el-bahadirîyye were made of skin and metal1. From the sources, we learn that the Ottoman helmet, usually called a miğfer, had different names such as Dâvûdi, tas, tolga /tulga, togulga, dâv’udi togulha, derbendî, kallâvî, şehriyârî, zer-nişanî tulga, serpenâh, şirinkale, and zırh kûlâh2. A take (skullcap), worn under the miğfer to prevent it from hurting the head, was made of feather and called “kedük.” A turban was wrapped around a helmet. Ottoman helmets were generally wrought, sometimes out of a single piece of metal, sometimes by joining several wrought pieces together. The body of the helmet was generally made from a single piece, while the parts, which protected the neck, forehead, nose, and ears, were later riveted on. There are three types of helmet: 1. helmets with veiling in the pointed conical form, 2. brimmed helmets, and 3. armored, conical helmets.

The earliest Ottoman examples were made from iron and steel, these metals being preferred for a long time owning to their strength and resilience. From the 16th century onward, helmets, made of copper, began to gain importance. They were wrought from a single plate and surfaces were engraved with gold or silver. The 16th and 17th centuries are a period of maturity for helmets, the visor giving way to a plate which protected the forehead while the peak and ear guards persisted. Besides helmets made of iron and copper with skin and felt (çuha), helmets covered with tombak, a brass alloy with high copper and zinc content, were preferred. Turkish motifs such as geometric, floral and calligraphic designs were decorated on helmets with various techniques.

During the Ottoman period, helmets were used as protective garb and as an enhancement in state and military ceremonies because of their striking appearance. Some symbolic elements on them were shaped in a way that revealed military success and hierarchical rank. After the 17th century, helmets lost their traditional function due to the widespread use of firearms.

Fulya Bodur, Türk Maden Sanatı / The Art of Turkish Metalworking. Istanbul: Türk Kültürüne Hizmet Vakfı, 1987.
Altan Çetin, Memlûk Devletinde Askerî Teşkilât. Istanbul: Eren yayınebi, 2007.
Tülin Çoruhlu, “Miğfer” mad. Türkiye Diyanet Vakfı İslam Ansiklopedisi. C. 30, Istanbul, 2005, pp. 21-23.
Museum of Turkish and Islamic Art. Istanbul: Akbank Cultural and Art Publications, 2002, pp. 240-243.
The Arts of the Muslim Knight, The Furusiyya Art Foundation Collection. Directed by Bashir Mohamed, Milano: Skira Editore S.p.A., 2008.
Turks, A Journey of a Thousand Years, 600-1600. Ed. By David. J. Roxburgh, London: Royal Academy of Arts, London, 2005.

1 Altan Çetin, Memlûk Devletinde Askerî Teşkilât (Istanbul: Eren, 2007), p. 239.
2 Tülin Çoruhlu, “iğfer,” Türkiye Diyanet Vakfı İslam Ansiklopedisi, 30 (Istanbul, 2005), p. 22.
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