Hungarian Lobster Tail Helmets

Look at this typical Hungarian Lobster Tail Helmet from all angles, displayed in the Haáz Rezső Museum (in Székelyudvarhely, Romania).

Lobster Tail Helmet aka “Rákfarkas sisak”, without ear-pieces. (16–17th century, length: 41 cm, height: 30 cm, diameter: 20 cm, weight: 3,6kg)

It is indeed a fact that this kind of Lobster Tail Helmet was created in this final form in Hungary and then it was spread in the world from here. Yet, the question is more difficult than that.

The Eastern Roots of the Lobster Tail Helmet

Historians reach back as far as the Mameluk Empire whose soldiers were able to stop the Mongolian invasion. It may not be known, though, that the Mameluks had been originally Cuman mercenaries who were formidable warriors of the 13th century.

We know that the Mameluk heavy cavalry was using the initial, Eastern forms of Lobster Tail helmets in the middle of the 13th century. The Ottomans were impressed by these warriors and took over many things from them. Soon, we can see that the Turks were using so-called onion-shaped helmets in the 15th century. The Ottoman warriors wore mostly chainmail under the onion-shaped helmet that protected their neck against the cuts – but not against the blows.

Ottoman helmet, 14-15th century

The revolutionary invention of the Lobster Tail could only solve this problem, providing further protection by the earpiece and the nosepiece. There was a screw that fixed the nose-piece to the helmet: it was a revolutionary invention, too. This allowed the warrior to remove the nosepiece when he wanted to eat or drink: he didn’t have to take off the whole helmet to do so. These helmets appeared first in Hungary. 

The inventions made by the Hungarians

The Hungarians are said to have made the above-mentioned inventions on the Ottoman helmets and later “borrowed the fashion back” and copied it. While the Ottomans originally didn’t have the same facial part, the Hungarians had it. Before, the Hungarians had also used a “salap” in 1540-1550, similar to the picture in the book of Dselálzáde Mustafa (1500-1567):

However, the Ottoman Sipahies called their helmets “chichak” (meaning “onion”). Also, “sisak” means “helmet” in the Hungarian language. During the centuries of wars between the Hungarians and the Ottomans, the Hungarians have gained lots of Ottoman trophies of war since the end of the 14th century. They came to like the flexible but strong Ottoman helmets and decided to create their own ones. Allegedly, the early forms of this helmet were in use by the Hungarians in the mid-15th century. 

Even John Hunyadi was said to have used the early forms of Lobster Tail helmets. Many illustrations from the 16th century show him wearing that kind of helmet. In Hungary, this helmet became common in the 16th century, even the infantrymen used it. 

Hungarian helmet from 1560

All in all, the Hungarian helmet is an in-between product between the Burgundian style helmet that had strong but rigid neck protection and the Ottoman helmet of the Mameluks. Note, that a similar process can be observed regarding the development of Hungarian sabers. Below, you can see a Hungarian lobster-tail helmet, iron, 17th century, it is on display in the Museum of Vrsac, Bánát (Banate) Region, Serbia.


The Lobster Helmets abroad

By the middle of the 17th century, the Hungarians were not using this helmet so frequently, it was the time when the Austrians took it over. By the early 18th century, they had shortened the Lobster Tail a little and painted it black, but still called it “zischagge”.

The Polish-style helmets began their development at the end of the 16th century when Báthori István became the king of Poland and Lithuania. Two forms were very common in the early years of the 17th century: in the first type, the helmet’s top was entirely flexibly put together from 13 metal strips while the other had a metal fin on its top.

In England, Oliver Cromwell improved the helmet’s nose-piece by making it adjustable when he introduced it in his cavalry. This helmet played an important role in the 30-Year War as well.


a Hussar helmet from Sepsiszentgyörgy, Transylvania (photo: Barabás Zsolt)

Source: Arcanum

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