This evolution largely began after the battle at Chaldoran in northwestern Iran in 1514, a conflict likely caused by growing political and religious tensions between the Ottomans and the recently established Safavid Dynasty in Azerbaijan. Up to this point, the Turkmen tradition could be felt strongly in Ottoman and Safavid societies.
Both had been built upon a strong semi-nomadic Turkmen tradition, and their military elite had been established by Turkmen atabegs.
The Iranian army in general consisted of cavalry, infantry and supply troops.
The armament of a warrior comprised a helmet, a coat of mail and armour plates as well as arm, knee and leg guards. Other defensive arms included the shield. Iranian troops did not always wear full armament, instead choosing various combinations.
The helmet was known across the Islamic world under the general terms mighfar and khud. During the Ottoman and Safavid dynasties, the Arabic term mighfar was in use in Ottoman, Turkmen and Persian languages, whereby khud was more common in Persian. In the fourteenth century, a particular type of helmet emerged in Iran and in neighbouring territories, including Anatolia, home of the Ottomans, and Syria and Egypt, home of the Mamluks.
Featuring a prominent, richly decorated and voluminous body and blunt, facetted finial with additional parts for further protection, this helmet remained fashionable throughout the sixteenth century, when it also became popular with the Mughals in northern India. It is known today as a Turkmen helmet or turban helmet.
This exquisite Turkmen helmet (mighfar) in the collection of the Museum of Islamic Art in Berlin is in remarkable condition and was originally part of the collection of Friedrich Sarre. Most of the silver inlays are preserved, and silver overlay is visible around the eye cut-outs and along the lower edge, where a narrow iron band, decorated with pseudo-calligraphic inscriptions, is attached with rivets.
As with most surviving helmets of this type, its protective aventail is now lost.
However, along the helmet’s lower edge, many of the vervelles (eyelets) that once secured the aventail to the helmet can be seen.
Evidence of a bracket riveted between the eye cut-outs suggests that this helmet was also fitted with a sliding adjustable nasal guard. A small hook is attached with a rivet above the right eye cut-out in order to lock the moveable nose guard when hoisted. Such hooks were formerly thought to lift an aventail (as suggested by Sarre and Martin in 1912), but surviving helmets and miniature paintings clarify their function. The lower part of this helmet is nearly perpendicular, but slants in slightly, possibly revealing a Central Asian influence. The helmet’s striking appearance owes much to the raised ribs and whirling S-shaped cannelures defining parts of its ornamentation. The conical bowl, forged from one single plate of steel, is divided into four separate ornamental registers. Around the base runs an inscribed band with characters spanning the full width of the register. The silver inlaid inscription, decorated with arabesque leaf tendrils, reads: ‘Glory to our Lord the greatest Sultan, the mighty Khagan, master of the necks [of the peoples]’, along with other laudatory phrases and pious wishes for the wearer.
The absence of padding suggests that the user would have worn a quilted cap or small turban under the helmet. The helmet’s site of production is unknown, but cities such as Tabriz and Erzurum, military bases where armourers are known to have worked, are possible centres. In spite of its provincial character, Erzurum was an important trade centre on the Silk Road between Iran and the Black Sea until the fifteenth century. In 1502, with the defeat of the Aqqoyunlu, the city came under Safavid rule for a short period of time. In turn, the Ottomans defeated the Safavids in 1514, forcing them to hand over the city of Erzurum, the bastion of Shi’ism in Anatolia.
The above is a lightly edited version of part of a chapter entitled, ‘The Safavid Era - A Sense of Place’, from a book entitled’, ‘IRAN, Five Millennia of Art and Culture’, edited by Ute Franke, Ina Sarikhani Sandmann and Stefan Weber, published by Museum of Islamic Art.