The Spanish conquistador helmet wasn’t worn by Cortez or Pizarro

Tuesday, May 15th, 2018

Someone mentioned “Spanish conquistador helmets” on Twitter, and I helpfully added that the iconic helmet is known as a morion. What I didn’t realize is that the Spanish conquistador helmet wasn’t worn by the Spanish conquistadors we’ve all heard of:

The iconic morion, though popularly identified with early Spanish explorers and conquistadors, was not in use as early as the conquest of Mexico by Hernan Cortez or Francisco Pizarro’s conquest of the Incas in South America. Thirty to forty years later, it was widely used by the Spanish, but also common among foot soldiers of many European nationalities, including the English; the first English morions were issued during the reign of Edward VI. Low production costs aided its popularity and dissemination although officers and elite guards would have theirs elaborately engraved to display their wealth and status.

The crest or comb on the top of the helmet was designed to strengthen it. Later versions also had cheek guards and even removable faceplates to protect the soldier from sword cuts.

Spanish Conquistador Morion

The morion’s shape is derived from that of an older helmet, the Chapel de Fer, or “Kettle Hat.” Other sources suggest it was based on Moorish armor and its name is derived from Moro, the Spanish word for Moor. The New Oxford American Dictionary, however, derives it from Spanish morrión, from morro ’round object’. The Dictionary of the Spanish Language published by the Royal Spanish Academy indicates that the Spanish term for the helmet, morrión, derives from the noun morra, which means “the upper part of the head”.

In England this helmet (also known as the pikeman’s pot) is associated with the New Model Army, one of the first professional militaries. It was worn by pikemen, together with a breastplate and buff coat as they stood in phalanx-like pike and shot formations, protecting the flanks of the unarmored musketeers.


  1. Gary McLaughlin says:

    What type of Helmet did Cortez and Pizarro wear during the Spanish Conquest?

  2. Kirk says:

    Your post led me to this one, and I went looking:

    In that article, they initially say it was the Morion, which leads to the next question: Who’s right?

    Later in the paragraph dealing with helmets and other armor, they refer to the salade and the cabasset. Images for both types come up on Duck Duck Go, showing what they looked like. The salade would be described in English as a “sallet” style of helmet, something that those of us who were fond of reading archaic literature written before the Great Dumbening might have encountered.

  3. Wayne Long says:

    I was given to understand that mounted cavaliers in both both Cortez’s and Pizarro’s expeditions wore visored helmets while in full armor, and morions while in “light armor”. Infantry composed of both matchlock- and crossbow-armed troopers wore morions so that they could see to fight both at distance and in close, in sword, mace and ax fighting with huge masses of Aztec and Inca Warriors.

    Gunners wore morions to see to the handling of their gun and to protect their heads against enemy slingers and bowmen.

    Emperor Montezuma, while in Spanish custody, tried to calm a riotous crowd of Aztecs led by his brother by speaking to them. Although protected by the shields of Cortez’s captains, he was killed by a slinger missile thrown by a warrior in his own army. Apparently he did not rate a Spanish morion helmet.

  4. VXXC says:

    I believe, from reading much of the Conquistadors of Cortez, fighting was done in native padded cloth armor. Keep in mind, during the march back up from Vera Cruz, they were fighting almost daily. The padded cloth was sufficient to ward off the Aztecs’ edged weapons/clubs.

  5. Isegoria says:

    Cloth armor is surprisingly effective.

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