Armor Up: Quick Bite

Today on Museum Quick Bites were armoring up with the flashy and functional turban helmet. Handcrafted from silver and steel in Western Iran, this late 15th century helmet was designed for soldiers fighting in the heavy cavalry. Let’s zoom in and take a closer look at this stylish headgear.

Turban Helmet (c1475-1500), Western Iran, Art Institute of Chicago

Starting at the top, note the pointy piece projecting from the crown. It’s unclear if this piece had a functional purpose or if it is merely decorative. Regardless, it reminds me of a qubba (mosque dome) or a blunt-ended version of the German pickelhaube.

Moving down the crown, note the grooves and delicate design etched into the metal. The Art Institute of Chicago (AIC) does not indicate if these etchings are script or an ornate motif. However, several examples of the turban helmet on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art possess engraved text, which provides advice to the owner on how to achieve virtue and honor one’s leader.

Upper Left: Close-Up of Turban Helmet (c1475-1500), Western Iran, Art Institute of Chicago

Lower Left: Muhammad Ali Mosque, Photo (cropped) by Luciana, Wikimedia Commons

Right: Otto von Bismarck (1871) wearing German Pickelhaube, German Federal Archives, Wikimedia Commons

Finally, note the semicircular eyeholes and protective chainmail. Soldiers who wore the turban helmet no doubt appeared fierce, but after a long day of battle, especially in the desert heat, this flashy headgear must have been a sweaty, headachy, pain in the neck to wear.

Upper & Lower Left: Close-Up of Turban Helmet (c1475-1500), Western Iran, Art Institute of Chicago

Right: Turban Helmet (late 15th century) Iranian, Metropolitan Museum of Art

The AIC’s turban helmet was created and worn during the Aq Qoyunlu Dynasty (1378-1508). Founded by Kara Osman (ruled 1378–1435), the Aq Qoyunlu means those with white sheep, and was comprised of a coalition of Turkmen. After Osman’s death in 1435, internal rivals battled back and forth for the throne. Finally, after 17 years, Uzun Hasan (1423-1478) emerged the victor. A strong leader, Hasan secured stability within his ranks and forged international alliances in an effort to combat the Aq Qoyunlu’s enemies, namely the Ottomans and a rival band of Turkmen called the Kara Koyunlu, meaning those with black sheep. Under Hasan’s leadership, Aq Qoyunlu allies included the Venetians, who were fellow enemies of the Ottomans, as well as Burgundy, Egypt, Muscovy (i.e., Principality of Moscow), Poland, and the Karamanid Dynasty in Southern Anatolia. Hasan furthered his international relations by marrying Princess Catherine of the Trebizond Empire (1204-1461), an offshoot of the Byzantine Empire and located in northeastern Anatolia.

Left: Uzun Hasan, Google Photos

Right: Turban Helmet (late 15th century) Iranian, Metropolitan Museum of Art

Fun Arty Fact:  According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, Anatolia is the, “historical name for the western part of Asia Minor, specifically the peninsula bounded by the Black Sea to the north, the Mediterranean Sea to the south, and the Aegean Sea to the west.”

Left: Uzun Hasan on Postal Stamp of Azerbaijan (2012) Wikimedia Commons

Right: Turban Helmet (late 15th century) Iranian, Walters Art Museum

In 1461, the Trebizond Empire was defeated and overtaken by the Ottomans. That same year, Hasan and his troops donned their flashy turban helmets and went to war with their sworn enemies, the Kara Koyunlu. Hasan and the Aq Qoyunlu were victorious and as a result they seized the Kara Koyunlu’s territory, which included Iran, Iraq, Eastern Anatolia and Azerbaijan. Hasan continued to press his offensive and within eight years, he added all of Iran to his domain. However, his hold on the territory only lasted four years. In 1473, Hasan and his troops were defeated at the Battle of Tercan by the Ottomans. According to Encyclopedia Britannica, the Venetians had promised and failed to deliver necessary military aid. Hasan died five years later at the age of 55, and was subsequently succeeded by his son, Yaʿqūb (ruled 1478–90). Yaʿqūb held onto power for 12 more years, but after his death more internal fighting led to the Aq Qoyunlu’s demise. The Safavids (1501-1736) eventually took control and ruled the territory for the next 200+ years.

If you’d like to learn more about Uzun Hasan and the turban-helmet wearing white sheep cavalry, click on this Aq Qoyunlu link, courtesy of Encyclopedia Britannica. If you’d like to dig deeper into helmets and other headgear, click on this Museum Bites: Mind Your Head Part 1 and Museum Bites: Mind Your Head Part 2 links.

That wraps up our look at turban helmets. I’ll be back next week with more Museum Quick Bites. Until then, be safe, be kind, and take care 🙂

Cover photo by Alina Kuptsova, courtesy of Pixabay.


Art Institute of Chicago: Turban Helmet (1475-1500)

Britannica: Ak-Koyunlu

Britannica: Trebizond

Britannica: Uzun Hasan

British Museum: Aq Qoyunlu

Metropolitan Museum of Art: Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History: Iran 1400-1600 CE

Metropolitan Museum of Art: Turban Helmet (late 15th Century) Iranian-1

Metropolitan Museum of Art: Turban Helmet (late 15th Century) Iranian-2

Metropolitan Museum of Art: Turban Helmet (late 15th Century) Iranian-3

Walters Art Museum: Turban Helmet (late 15th Century) Iranian

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