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Male Votaries with Conical Helmets and Other Headgear (Classification Category or Type)
Documentation Note

Warrior? Dignitary? Priest? Ceremonial Participant? Worshipper? Perhaps the biggest question confronting anyone searching for the meaning of the myriad forms of headgear worn by male statues in Archaic Cyprus is the identity of those who wear them. It is significant that almost all male votives in both limestone and terracotta in the Cypro-Archaic period wear some sort of head covering, which, together with the relative lack of detail for dress, suggests that headgear was a primary marker of identity. The multivocality of these various headgear types in the eastern Mediterranean has always made it difficult to interpret their meanings, and this has proven even more challenging to discern in local Cypriot contexts with a dearth of textual and literary evidence. Whether the headgear functioned as a marker of military status, identified ceremonial and ritual actors, or signified a specific rank, age, and social status is often unclear; it is possible that a particular headgear could connote one or more of these simultaneously. It is not a coincidence then that the first monumental examples of this type appeared with the rise of large sanctuaries across the island. These sacred and public sites provided a new venue and context for elite display and presentation.

The beginning of monumental stone sculpture in the ancient Greek world in the seventh century BCE, which occurs roughly at the same time as the appearance of large-scale terracotta and stone sculpture in Cyprus, features predominantly male (kouros) and female (kore) standing types used in both funerary and religious contexts, serving as either grave markers or dedications, respectively. In Cyprus, sculpture in the round (in stone or terracotta) is not used to mark graves, but seems to be exclusively used for votive offering. Moreover, the differences in type and dress of large-scale Cypriot sculpture differ from their Greek counterparts. While limestone sculpture never appears in graves, terracotta figurines were a feature of grave goods or offerings in some areas of Cyprus. Carved grave stelai, on the other hand, are common in the late Archaic and Classical periods on the island (a practice that mirrors and is likely influenced by the Greek mainland), along with a uniquely Cypriot tradition of elaborately carved sarcophagi.

Beginning with the earliest statues in terracotta and limestone in the seventh century BCE and well into the sixth century BCE, the conical helmet is the most common form of headgear. Its origins in the ancient Near East have been well-documented: eighth- and seventh-century BCE examples in north Syrian and Anatolian (Cilician) art are abundant and it seems likely that these images prompted a complex artistic negotiation in Cyprus, where the conical helmet’s meaning was transformed (translated?) into a uniquely Cypriot context . Outside Cyprus, the headgear is associated with military exploits, sometimes worn by kings, but other times by non-royals, and always on male figures. In Cyprus conical helmets are often associated with elite males, but absent additional attributes like armor and weapons in most examples, the military connection is not clear. The helmet is typically rendered with the cheekpieces pulled up to the side (indicated by incised lines or paint) and fastened at the top, at times creating a distinctive knob at the crest in limestone and terracotta examples. The helmet itself was made of a soft material, likely leather or fabric, and in some cases patterns or seams in the material are represented.

The helmet is usually paired with an ankle-length chiton combined with a himation (sometimes decorated along the hem), although other variations in dress appear (and the chiton/himation combination is used with other types of headgear). In most cases, the himation covers the right arm (contra AAP-AM-1574), which is bent across the torso with fist clenched—a gesture associated with deference, piety, and/or adoration in a religious context. For limestone examples, the lack of complementary militaristic attributes (e.g., weapons, shields, armor) that would demand a martial interpretation complicates our understanding of these figures in Cypriot sanctuaries. Even if these figures wear warrior gear (whether that is a helmet or a helmet combined with arms and armor), as may be seen in early terracotta examples (e.g., Ayia Irini), this could emphasize the rank of elite men rather than indicate an explicit military function. For the vast number of Cypriot limestone and large-scale terracotta examples, the gestures and dress suggest that these figures fulfilled other roles, even if we accept the helmet’s association with military functions, and their presence as dedications in sanctuaries is likely related to social, economic, or religious functions, or, more likely, a combination of these roles. For example, it is often noted that limestone bearded examples (AAP-AM-329) tend to be life-size and larger, while beardless votaries (AAP-AM-2185) are rendered on a smaller scale, suggesting that social status and/or rank are tied to age and desire for ostentatious display, but perhaps also to economic status as the larger statues were more expensive. Curiously, this pattern does not hold true for terracottas, where bearded types dominate at all scales. AAP-AM-4653 is a somewhat uncommon example of a small-scale terracotta unarmed votary wearing a conical helmet and adopting the gesture of bent arm across the chest and wrapped in a himation. Once again, material plays an important role. While early large-scale terracotta examples can be armed or unarmed, the helmet becomes a standard attribute for small-scale armed terracotta figurines identified as warriors, worn by freestanding warriors as well as warriors riding horses and in chariot groups (see the essay on Warriors, Horses, and Chariots). For limestone sculpture, however, the helmet is only occasionally—and exceptionally—associated with weapons or other militaristic gear. Although many of these conical helmets appear to be made of soft material (leather or even cloth), some terracotta figurines wear a conical helmet with an upright spike that seems to represent a metal helmet (AAP-AM-3535). Another variation, also common in terracotta, shows a conical helmet with a bent, pointed top that falls to the back of the head, which must have been made of a soft material (AAP-AM-1218+1459+2007; AAP-AM-5140; AAP-AM-5151).

In addition to conical helmets, less common headgear appears during this same period, including crowns of Egyptian inspiration, plain headcloths (AAP-AM-830), and turbans (AAP-AM-2132). The headcloths may be a local version of an Egyptian “klaft” and these are sometimes combined with other headgear. The turban appears on only a handful of statues; it has been interpreted as a Cypriot form of the royal mitra (mentioned by Herodotus, Histories 7.90, as worn by Cypriot kings) or a headgear specifically associated with sacrifice and ritual activity.

Suggested Citation

Derek B. Counts. (2020) "Male Votaries with Conical Helmets and Other Headgear". In Visualizing Votive Practice: Exploring Limestone and Terracotta Sculpture from Athienou-Malloura through 3D Models. Derek B. Counts, Erin Walcek Averett, Kevin Garstki, Michael Toumazou (Ed). Released: 2020-07-28. Open Context. <>

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