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Bascinets' domes: special features and peculiarities

Bascinets' domes: special features and peculiarities 2018-05-18

Part III

Today is a good day to talk about bascinets’ domes. As we have already give you general idea of such medieval helmet as bascinet (Part I), and also showed different, amazing (and sometimes very weird!) types of bascinet’s visors (Part II), it’s time to have a closer look at domes and steps of its evolution.

Painting of bascintes

Painting of bascintes in the «Chroniques de France ou de St. Denis», 1380-1400 years, The British Library, London, UK

Within more than century and a half of its existence as main head protection, bascinet underwent substantial transformations from simple cervelliere, which covered a head to the forehead line only, to the Grand bascinets, which were protecting not only head, but also face and neck.

This helmet was really one of the most popular head protection not only in the days of active use, but also in current times during medieval fencing, tournaments and reenactments. Success of bascinet is based on few factors:

- Such medieval helmet is rather simple in crafting;

- It’s considered to be one of the most reliable model;

- Bascinet was commonly used head protection not only by knights, but also by lower-class.

As a result of popularity, such helmet actually represents entire epoch.

single-ocular bascinet

Using of bascinet in the present-day historical reenactment. Helmet is made by Steel Mastery

History of bascinet has started from the simple iron headpiece, which looked like semi-spherical crown (main part of helmet). It was called “cervelliere”, and actively used in XII-XIV centuries as separate helmet. Also, it was worn as additional protection under the Great Helmet, or under fashion hats and berets (in the XVI-XVII centuries).

Joshua, fragment of illustration from Maciejowski Bible

Joshua in armour, which is typical for Europe of the XIII century - hauberk and cervelliere. Fragment of illustration from Maciejowski Bible, mid-XIII century

Cervelliere covered the head very firmly. This type of helmet didn’t have “extra” elements for face protection, with few exceptions, when undercap was supplemented by nasal plate. It could be worn both, under or over the mail coif. Quite often, representatives of lower class were wearing the single cervelliere. Noble warriors used such caps as metal “liner” - under-helm. Under-helm was worn under the Great helm (Topfhelm), reducing the possibility of head injury after hit in upper part of Topfhelm.

using of cervillier as under-helm with topfhelm

Using of cervillier as under-helm with Topfhelm. Illustration from Eugène Emmanuel Viollet-le-Duc

Under-helm had one more benefit. After tilt, Topfhelm was usually taken off, when the knight dismounted from a horse. Active fight was almost impossible in such helmet, because it limited knight’s sight and breath. That’s why presence of cervelliere under the helmet was a large advantage.

Bascinet with mail aventail of 1360 year

Bascinet with mail aventail of 1360 year, from The German Historical Museum, Berlin, Germany

Bit a time, semi-spherical undercap assume the more extended shape, which protected part of head under the ears. These changes were necessary due to usage of cervelliere as independent head protection, not as accompaniment for Topfhelm.

Such small bascinet had special holes and vervelles, which allowed reliable fixation of chain mail aventail. It was fixed with wire or leather string, threaded through the vervelles. Additional mail protection was required, as cervelliere covered only top part head. Aventail protected the major part of face, neck and shoulders of wearer.

One of the classic example of small bascinet is kept in Berlin, in The German Historical Museum (Deutsches Historisches Museum, DHM). This bascinet is dated by 60s of the XIV century. But historians state, that bascinets with aventail had appeared early XIV century.

German bascinet-cervelliere with holes for aventail

German bascinet-cervelliere with holes for aventail attaching, The Metropolitan museum of Art, New York, USA

During all period of bascinet’s using, shape of crown was being constantly changed. Up to the mid-XIV century, bascinet has become much more loose-fitting, than simple undercap, it assumes rounded conical (domical) shape. That shape is deemed the most typical for bascinets. Its popularity can be retraced by gravestones of noble-born men of the XIV century.


From the left:

- Gravestones of John Beauchamp in Worcester Cathedral, England, 1388;
- Effigy of Burkhard von Steinberg in Hildesheim, 1397 year. Kept in The Germanisches Nationalmuseum, Nuremberg, Germany
- Monumental brass of John De Argentine in Horseheat (died in the 1382 year)

Bascinet with mail aventail, without visor. Made by Steel Mastery.

Bascinet of rounded conical shape goes below and cover back of the head. There were archwise opening for the face from the front of such helmet, and slight neckline. On the edge of bascinet, there were vervelles and holes for aventail’s attaching. Quite often, nasal plates were used with these helmets. But as such plates were rather ineffective, they didn’t gain widespread currency. So, approximately to the 70-s of the XIV century, nasal plates were displaced by other types bascinet’s visor.

Italian bascinet with holes and vervelles for aventail

Italian bascinet with holes and vervelles for aventail, 2nd part of the XIV century,  The Metropolitan museum of Art, New York, USA

In the second part of the XIV century, German and Italian armourers have started to seek the ways of how to enhance reliability of head protection. Thus, crown of helmet could have smooth form or it was reinforced with central ridge, which passed front side from the top of bascinet to the frontal arch. Such improvement was determined by the major problem during the fight: front side of bascinet had to bear the tilt.

Classical bascinet with visor “hounskull”

Classical bascinet with visor “hounskull”. As may be supposed, it was made in France in the end of the XIV century. The Philadelphia Museum of Art, USA

bascinet with hounskull visor

Bascinet with hounskull visor, made by Steel Mastery

Along with issue of bascinet’s reliability, there was a problem of comfortable wearing of such helmet, as it was not lightweight. Total weight of italian bascinet of the 1390-1410 years (without visor) was more than 3 kg. Main weight of dome was more than 2 kg and mail aventail weighed about 1.24 kg. It was not easy to wear, so necessity of weight shift. As a result, top of helmet was shifted back. At the same time, back side became straighter.

These experiments with crown shape had lead german armourers to the so called anatomic shape, which is also known as “ogival-shape” or onion-top bascinet. Such bascinet gained popularity early XV century. Examples of onion-top bascinet can be seen in the Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York, USA) and in the gallery of the Veste Coburg castle (Coburg, Germany).

German onion-top bascinet of the anatomic shape

German onion-top bascinet of the anatomic shape. Lineaments are nicely curved sides, which follow the shape of head. Such bascinets were popular in Germany in the early XV century. This example is dated by 1420-1430 years and is kept in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, USA

At the same time, italian crafters make other especial shape of bascinet’s dome - top-pointed bascinet “Mousehelm”, which was called this way due to uncommon pointed “tail” from the top of crown. As may be supposed, «Mousehelm» had been crafted in the period from 1390 to the 1420 years.

Italian top-pointed bascinet Mousehelm with pigface visor 1390-1420

Italian top-pointed bascinet “Mousehelm” with “pigface” visor. It is dated 1390-1420 year, kept in the Musée de l'Armée, Paris, France


Bascinet “Mousehelm”, made by Steel Mastery

Therefore, throughout its existence and wide spreading all over Western Europe, bascinet is constantly being changed and becomes more reliable and comfortable in using. It makes this helmet one of the most popular among the noble class during more than century and a half. Dozens of masterpieces of art, gravestones of noble knights as well as well-preserved bascinets in European and American museums confirm great popularity of this medieval helmet.

Crafting of helmets is a real forte of Steel Mastery. Our crafters make bascinet or another medieval helmet with one or few movable visors for individual parameters of customer. And such helmet will perfectly protect the most important part of your body during medieval fencing, BOtN, reenactment, festival or another historical event. You can see all models of helmets here

If you didn’t pick suitable model of helmet from the presented at our site, please send photo to us at [email protected] and we’ll gladly make it for you!

We used some information and illustrations for this article from: Claude Blair “European armour, circa 1066 to circa 1700”; David Edge, John Miles Paddock “Arms & Armor of the Medieval Knight: An Illustrated History of Weaponry in the Middle Ages”; “European Weapons and Armour” Ewart Oakeshott; "Helmet", and everpresent web:) Pictures, not belonging to "Steel Mastery", are taken from the web. We do not pretend to be an owner of them and use them as illustrative example only.

Bascinets' domes: special features and peculiarities



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