Saturday, November 13, 2010

Cool Hats

In the comments to my last post, Limpey speaks positively of the helmets worn by the Teutonic Knights and I can't say I blame him. Those helmets are pretty awesome, even if, as I understand it, they're actually the medieval equivalent of "parade dress" and no knight would ever have gone into battle wearing one (though I'm sure someone will speak up if I'm mistaken in this impression). Still, the helms go a long way toward establishing the German crusaders as sinister villains, so I'm willing to forgive the historical inaccuracy. In fact, in watching Alexander Nevsky, I noticed there is a lot of cool headgear associated with the German characters.

Take, for example, these helmets, worn by the footsoldiers of the crusading army. Again, I don't believe they're historically accurate for the 13th century, but they are appropriately sinister. That they look a lot like the German Stahlhelm is, of course, entirely the point.

And here's Hermann von Balk, Grand Master of the Teutonic Knights, in his terrific horned helmet, surmounted by a crown to denote his status as a lord. The real Von Balk did not participate in the Battle of the Ice, having been dead for several years beforehand, but he is remembered for his military conquests and his ruthlessness toward pagans in the Baltic lands who resisted Christianization.

Here are three lords among the Teutonic Knights, each of whom has a distinctive ornamented helmet. The two on the left, Hubertus and Dietlieb, are granted fiefs in the conquered Russian lands by the Grand Master.

My favorite in the above picture is the unnamed guy on the right, who can also be seen below:

The Knights aren't the only ones who get nifty hats. The unnamed high-ranking cleric among the crusaders wears some noteworthy headgear. The first is this broad-brimmed galero, which would suggest that he's a cardinal, even though the galero didn't enter common use until after the Battle of the Ice took place. Again, I won't fault Eisenstein for his decision, because the galero is a great hat.

And, of course, no discussion of the hats of Alexander Nevsky would be complete without the aforementioned cleric's miter, which rather unsubtly includes swastika-like symbols in place of crosses.


  1. Any fans of the comic "Girl Genius" will understand when I say that "dey haf nize hats".

  2. I think the full helms for the Germans were to dehumanize this some. They become the "faceless" aggressors, while the faces of the Russian troops are quite visible. The movie might be pretty blatant propaganda, but that does not mean it isn't brilliant and entertaining.

  3. Hey James. These are almost as cool as my Wimpy new Kid, hat.

  4. Duh. I meant to write, new Wimpy Kid hat. Did you guys get your copy?

  5. James: Your favorite helmet, with those two tall and square 'rabbit ears' is taken right from a portrait that is supposedly of 'Sir' Wolfram Von Eschenbach, famous 12-13th century Bavarian poet and author of 'Parsifal.' My parents have a copy of the famous picture hanging on the wall of their dining room; my father is a great admirer of Eschenbach's, so sight of that distinctive helmet made me have an 'aha' moment. I did a quick search for the picture online (and found a copy on Wikipedia: ), but was also disappointed to learn that although the picture is traditionally used to represent Eschenbach, that pair of black rectangular antennae is really not his coat of arms. Still looks cool and sinister, though.
    I used to have some books about arms and armor by the illustrators Fred and Lilaine (sp?)Funken (which I have lost and, sadly, seems to have become a collector's item with absurd prices when I looked to replace it). In it, I remember seeing illustrations of 'historically accurate' medieval German helmets that looked just like the late WW1/WW2 Stahlhelm... except some of them were painted in checkerboard patterns and similar less-than-regulation color schemes. Some seemed to lack the cool-as-hell eyeslits and looked exactly like the WW2 headgear.
    I'm no expert, but some of the helmets shown on the Germans in the stills (like the guy in the middle in the pic of the 3 knights) are wearing jousting helmets. That particular helmet was (I think) bolted to the breastplate and the wearer would be unable to even move his head... not suitable for field use and I think from much later than the Battle of Lake Peipus. Similarly, the big crests and things on top of the helmet were usually for jousting/parade use, the theory being that all sorts of decorations (other than feathers or cloth) would just increase the likelyhood of snagging an opponents weapon in an manner that would inconvenience the wearer. I was also disappointed to learn that Vikings didn't have horns on their battle helmets for the same reason. But it looks cool as hell and if I were making my own movie version of "Battle on the Ice" I'd have the funky helmets instead of the more plain ones the Teutops probably actually wore.
    OK -- enough nerding out over medieval German helmets for me --- I have some chores to do.

  6. @limpey: It's a weird mix (not surprising for a movie, really). The helms in the first picture look mostly like 15th c. sallets (a stylistic forebear of the German stahlhelm). In their day, sallets were nigh-ubiquitous, seeing service among knights and soldiers alike. And yes, the Germans were known for painting theirs.

    The one in the second picture is pure fiction. It's sort of a flat-topped riveted barbute (a 15th c. Italian design) with a nasal. Very weird, but no worse than many offenses against armour committed by Hollywod.

    The one in the center of the third pic is a "frog-mouth" jousting helm, used in tournaments from the late 14th c. on. It's kind of like seeing a guy wearing a football helmet in a WWII movie.

    The last picture, though, that one is pure 13th century beauty. The knight probably wouldn't have worn the crest into battle, but the rest of the helm is completely appropriate for a warrior of the time.

    (And before anyone else mentions it, yeah, I've been accused of knowing too much about armour on occasion.)

  7. Theron said: (And before anyone else mentions it, yeah, I've been accused of knowing too much about armour on occasion.)

    Being accused of "knowing too much about armour" is like being accused of being "too handsome" or having "too much beer on hand before friends come over."

  8. I actually got to wear one of those "frog mouth" helmets. You have to tilt your torso forward to see ahead of you, as you would when jousting but definitely not what you'd want on a battle field. But definitely what you want to look menacing and neat for a movie.

  9. PSA: this movie is available as an instant watch through netflix. I'm going to watch as soon as the kids go to bed.

  10. With regard to the last image, here is one of my favourite period illuminations: Battle of Anticoch.

  11. Hats and Old School D&D go together like gin and tonic (or like olives and martinis). Check out my random hats tables:

    : )

  12. Yes, some of my players have begun to obsess over helmets as well, and my favorite NPC villain group of all time, who appeared in one of my 1990s campaigns, all wore antler-helmets -- that is, full helms like those above, with elk antlers affixed to the sides. (I think I was riffing on a helmet worn by one of the "Knights Who Say Ni" from MONTY PYTHON AND THE HOLY GRAIL.) Thanks for sharing the pics, James, and thanks for the random hats table, JB!

  13. "I think the full helms for the Germans were to dehumanize this some."

    Well of course, that's a standard technique; just like in the famous scene in Battleship Potemkin where you see the marching soldiers as a row of marching boots, a form of mechanised aggression, and the victims of the shooting as human faces. On the other hand, take a look at this great, trippy propaganda piece assembled to the score of "White Army, Red Baron": Important distinction: when the idealised everyman becomes one with the Idea, he or she also becomes faceless and mechanical, but that's a good thing, because he is with Us Good Folks (e.g. see from 2:03).

    Oh, back to the post: indeed; great movie and cool hats!

  14. a stylistic forebear of the German stahlhelm
    AFAIK the stahlhelm was deliberately modeled on the sallet, as a bit of nationalistic historicizing uniform design. So it's a bit like calling the clown a stylistic forebear of Ronald McDonald.

    The score and the choreography for the Teutons in the Battle on the Ice also emphasize how machine-like they are: it's clearly part of the film's agenda to cast the Russians as men and the Teutons as an inhuman, mechanistic threat. Which is suddenly making me wonder if there's any direct borrowing from Nevsky either in Star Wars or in the Terminator series.

  15. ...besides the white stormtrooper armour, of course (d'oh. Thanks, sirlarkins)

  16. On the subject of great hats, you should check out the hat Viggo Mortensen wears in "Alatriste"

  17. Just to throw it out there, the swastika had (and still has) great religious connotations in the Eastern world before the Nazi party ruined it just as Hitler ruined the Chaplin 'stache. You can also thank the Nazi party for ruining a bunch of Celtic symbols and runes.

  18. Since we're discussing historical accuracy of armour, I thought you all might be interested in the Rochefoucauld Grail, with its contemporary pictures of the state of the art in 14th century France - yours for "between £1.5 million and £2 million." Alas, the hats are kinda pedestrian.

  19. "You can also thank the Nazi party for ruining a bunch of Celtic symbols and runes. "

    Eh? Maybe you're thinking of some modern American neo-Nazis. The real Nazis had no interest in Celtic imagery, since they were Germanic.

  20. Showed the youtube to my son, who was horrified to spot jousting helmets in a battle!

    The helmets are:
    Pic 1: Sallets c. 1420-1500s.
    Pic 2: Argh my eyes my eyes. A 12th century helmet done as a 15th century barbut.
    Pic 3: Middle chap is wearing a jousting helmet, post 1390s.
    Pic 4: Reasonable great helm, fine for either side of 1300.

    Some debate in our household as to who the good guys are; Kurtzhau thinks anybody who keeps back the barbarians can't be all bad.

  21. I meant to write, new Wimpy Kid hat. Did you guys get your copy?

    I did -- and read it alongside my daughter.