Monstrous masks, bizarrely designed helmets, demonic statues, and dirty makeup in war

Jan 2017
84
North Carolina
When I was watching Jackie Chan Adventures, they had a season where Jackie Chan had to collect these magical Oni masks that were worn by the Samurai. In addition to their magical powers, they were supposedly legendary for inspiring terror in the battlefield when the Samurai generals that worn them joined the thick of battles.

Now I know Jackie Chan Adventures is a cartoon but I learned in real life the Oni Masks were a thing and that Samurais really worn them to invoke terror to their enemies. Quite related I learned that the Celts painted their faces to scare the militia of towns they raided and it was standard for the Teutonic Knights and other orders to wear horned helmets or other very bizarre looking helmets to unnerve their enemies. The Catholic armies would often put gargoyle statues around their castles for protection.

Worse yet there are many cases of it working. Muslim armies lead by Saladin who were trained as professionals were known to collapse after seeing the iconic Templars in their badass helmets charging on horse and collapsing to a rout. DESPITE the fact these same Muslim armies were just fighting regular Crusader infantry just moments (even defeating them). British accounts describe nervousness as Mahicans suddenly jumped out of bushes and tress and charging out of an ambush, pointing specifically at their strange war paint on their faces as being unnormal. Even the religious and hardened Conquistadors described Aztec warriors looking like cat demons from hell as they marched into formation. The American Indians often place war totems of angry animals and mythological creatures around their villages and it actually would make other American Indian tribes hesitant of attacking and can call of attacks after a brutal battle before entering the village.

I am curious why are stuff like the Oni masks worn by Samurai so scary? I don't see how a bunch of South American guerrillas painting their faces in black can affect conventional South American armies to abandon their positions after a prolonged fire fight. Nor can I understand why an appearance of a single Celt visiting in a town would scare even local police armed with swords just because he was wearing a bear skin with a very long beard and hairy mustache.

What makes Chinese soldiers wearing helmets designed after the face of mythological demons such a trump card? Especially if the same forces that are terrified and demoralized after seeing a the Mongol put up bring a Tengri statue were able to defeat canon fodder infantry sent 30 minutes ago?

I mean those Medusa statues and other mythic creatures don't look so scary to me so I don't understand why bringing them in battle could affect morale. Nor can I understand why simply adding horns to helmet can scare away local militia!
 
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Jan 2016
608
United States, MO
I think a closer reading of the primary sources may reveal that the effectiveness of these attachments is overblown. Simply put, there is nothing about a primary source that can be trusted without first subjugating a claim to the highest scrutiny.

Take the example of Saladin's armies being frightened by horned helmets. What document holds this claim, what biases does the author hold? What is the purpose of the document?

In short, can we actually believe that people really were scared of these things? or is this simply a narrative within the sources.
 

Tulius

Ad Honorem
May 2016
6,040
Portugal
I think that in war is part of the human nature to try to scare the enemy. Apart from Jackie Chan, you gave there numerous examples of that, but some of them seem quite mystified (the Muslims running from the Templars due their helmets?! Their helmets were not so different from the other orders and the other knights!).

We could add some more example of peoples and tribes trying to scare the enemies, other masks and facial changes could be for scaring the enemies or because of ritual and cultural behaviors, or even a mix:

For instance I have already read, but can’t confirm, that some Brazilian/Amazonian Indian males used the lip plate, not only for singing but also for military purposes (to scare the enemy)!

Some masks could also have that effect, at least of scaring the spirits, besides other ritual behaviors, like the Celtic or pre-Celtic Iberian Masks:

https://pt.wikipedia.org/wiki/Máscara_ibérica#/media/File:Carnaval_de_Podence_2008_17.jpg or https://pt.wikipedia.org/wiki/Máscara_ibérica#/media/File:Chocalheiro_da_bemposta.jpg

This reasoning can probably be extended to many tribal masks, in Africa, in Papua New Guinea and in other Pacific Islands.

I also recall reading somewhere that the shakos from the late 18th and 19th centuries were high to make the soldiers taller, and have a psychological impact on the enemy. Can be nonsense, maybe someone can confirm or deny this.

In short, in many cases even if the masks/body changes have a military/psychological value against the enemy, they always seem to have a strong ritualistic/religious/cultural value.

Anyway, masks and helmets can have a psychological effect, but don’t know if we have reliable sources that point them as decisive in a battle.
 

johnincornwall

Ad Honorem
Nov 2010
7,806
Cornwall
Worse yet there are many cases of it working. Muslim armies lead by Saladin who were trained as professionals were known to collapse after seeing the iconic Templars in their badass helmets charging on horse and collapsing to a rout. DESPITE the fact these same Muslim armies were just fighting regular Crusader infantry just moments (even defeating them).
Whoa. What's this 'trained as professionals' business? Whilst Saladin would have had some professional soldiers, like most armies of it's day it was largely full of people who had to go home and tend the crops in Autumn. This is what made groups like the Templars - and their Rabida-trained muslim equivalents, so powerful and so fearsome in battle or war. As heavily armed horse knights, spending every day of their lives training in combat or praying for faith they were head and shoulders above opponents and contemporaries.

If anyone was 'collapsing' I would suggest it was because a body of Templars was riding at them and they were poorly disciplined, rather than being afraid of the headgear.
 

caldrail

Ad Honorem
Feb 2012
5,325
Yet still capable of losing, as the troops defending Jacobs Ford found when Saladin attacked the unfinished castle there (1187?)
 

Todd Feinman

Ad Honorem
Oct 2013
6,562
Planet Nine, Oregon
I think that in war is part of the human nature to try to scare the enemy. Apart from Jackie Chan, you gave there numerous examples of that, but some of them seem quite mystified (the Muslims running from the Templars due their helmets?! Their helmets were not so different from the other orders and the other knights!).

We could add some more example of peoples and tribes trying to scare the enemies, other masks and facial changes could be for scaring the enemies or because of ritual and cultural behaviors, or even a mix:

For instance I have already read, but can’t confirm, that some Brazilian/Amazonian Indian males used the lip plate, not only for singing but also for military purposes (to scare the enemy)!

Some masks could also have that effect, at least of scaring the spirits, besides other ritual behaviors, like the Celtic or pre-Celtic Iberian Masks:

https://pt.wikipedia.org/wiki/Máscara_ibérica#/media/File:Carnaval_de_Podence_2008_17.jpg or https://pt.wikipedia.org/wiki/Máscara_ibérica#/media/File:Chocalheiro_da_bemposta.jpg

This reasoning can probably be extended to many tribal masks, in Africa, in Papua New Guinea and in other Pacific Islands.

I also recall reading somewhere that the shakos from the late 18th and 19th centuries were high to make the soldiers taller, and have a psychological impact on the enemy. Can be nonsense, maybe someone can confirm or deny this.

In short, in many cases even if the masks/body changes have a military/psychological value against the enemy, they always seem to have a strong ritualistic/religious/cultural value.

Anyway, masks and helmets can have a psychological effect, but don’t know if we have reliable sources that point them as decisive in a battle.

https://youtu.be/BI851yJUQQw
 
Sep 2017
771
United States
I think something has to be said for the effect such stuff has on the force wearing it. A war mask might intimidate an enemy, but the warrior wearing the war mask probably feels a lot more intimidating and courageous.

I'm sure the tribal warriors who applied warpaint before battle felt empowered by it, which consequently meant they were more confident and aggressive.

A Templar wearing a horned helmet must've felt like an absolute badass, and seeing all his compatriots in similar garb probably would boost his confidence as well.
 
Oct 2016
1,174
Merryland
IIRC some Persian troops wore ominous masks

the 'immortals'?

IIRC just cloth around the faces; they could see you but you couldn't see them
 
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Tulius

Ad Honorem
May 2016
6,040
Portugal
I think something has to be said for the effect such stuff has on the force wearing it. A war mask might intimidate an enemy, but the warrior wearing the war mask probably feels a lot more intimidating and courageous.

I'm sure the tribal warriors who applied warpaint before battle felt empowered by it, which consequently meant they were more confident and aggressive.

A Templar wearing a horned helmet must've felt like an absolute badass, and seeing all his compatriots in similar garb probably would boost his confidence as well.
Agree, except with the premise that the Templars used horned helmets. I don’t recall any source about it.