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Ancient Greek and Etruscan Helmets From Battle of Alalia Discovered in Italy

Chalcidian helmet discovered in Velia, souther Italy, thought to be from the battle of Alalia.
Archaeologists in Italy have unearthed significant ancient Greek and Etruscan artifacts, including warrior helmets believed to be from the ancient Battle of Alalia. Image: Chalcidian helmet discovered in Velia, Southern Italy. Credit: Parco Archeologico di Paestum & Velia

Archaeologists in Southern Italy have unearthed several significant artifacts, including two helmets, fragments of weapons and armor, and pottery shards, at an archaeological site in the ancient Greek city of Velia.

Velia was the Roman name of the ancient city on the coast of the Tyrrhenian Sea. It was founded by Greeks from Phocaea as Hyele around 538 to 535 BC.

The items uncovered in Southern Italy were discovered by a team of archaeologists who have been at the Velia excavation site since last July. The researchers believe the artifacts are from an important maritime conflict “that changed the balance of power in the Mediterranean nearly 2,500 years ago.”

Upon unearthing, the archaeologists determined that the ancient Greeks seem to have abandoned the artifacts after the Battle of Alalia.

Between the years 541 and 535 BC, a fleet of Phocaean ships from the Greek settlement of Alalia on the island of Corsica moved into the Tyrrhenian Sea to oppose attacks from nearby Etruscan and Carthaginian forces.

The Greeks won the battle, but the cost of the conflict was extreme, and so the Phocaeans were forced to leave Alalia and make their homes in the Greek colonies of the southern coast of Italy, known as Magna Graecia—the Roman name for the Greek-speaking settlements of Southern Italy.

The Phocaeans sailed to the mainland and bought the site that would eventually become Velia, as reported by Smithsonian magazine.

Experts suggest that Greek soldiers might have stolen this piece of armor from Etruscan forces during the Battle of Alalia, before moving to modern-day Italy.
Experts suggest that ancient Greek soldiers might have stolen this piece of armor from Etruscan forces during the Battle of Alalia. Credit: Parco Archeologico di Paestum & Velia

Etruscan and Ancient Greek Helmets

The archaeologists posit that one of the helmets is made in the Greek Chalcidian style, while the other bears resemblance to the Negua headpieces worn by Etruscan fighters. They speculate that the Greek soldiers may have taken the helmets from conquered Etruscan warriors during battle.

Ancient brick walls were also uncovered at Velia, thought to date back to the city’s founding. The researchers suggest these walls may have formed part of a temple dedicated to Athena, the Greek goddess of war and wisdom.

The walls, measuring just over eighteen meters in length and seven meters in width, were constructed after the Battle of Alalia, according to Massimo Osanna, the director of the archaeological park and head of Italian State museums, who also suggested that the Phocaeans may have offered their enemies armor as a tribute to the goddess.

Osanna theorized that it could be possible that the Phocaeans, who fled from Alalia, built the temple when they arrived in Velia, because it was customary for them to do so.
“The relics were offered to their goddess to propitiate her benevolence; they added the weapons snatched from the enemies in that epic battle at sea,” Osanna declared in a statement.

The team also unearthed pottery fragments inscribed with the Greek word for “sacred,” and further discovered parts of bronze and metal weaponry as well as fragments of a large, decorated shield.

Lastly, Osanna stated that there may be inscriptions within the helmets, too. This was common practice with ancient armor, as it was a way to trace its history and the identity of the soldiers who wore it.

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