When Karl Edward Wagner got “The Hour of the Dragon” into print sans editorial amendments, I was curious about the three terms for helmet that Howard had used, apparently not realizing, according to some, that they defined “three specific and different” styles.
When Conan dons the helmet, it’s a “plain morion”. Later, it’s a “basinet” and later still it is a “burganet.”
Researching this in my “Complete Encyclopedia of Arms and Weapons,” I quickly found that these are actually not very specific terms, but describe evolving trends, many of which are quite different from their predecessors. And rather than being distinct from each other, the burgonet and the morion merge in a hybrid known aptly as the burgonet-morion.
The basinet, which is commonly associated with jousting knights, actually started off as a simple cap with an attached coif, rather like Barry Smith’s depiction of Turanian helmets. It then evolved into the great bellows-visored helmet worn by knights in tourneys. A basinet offers good protection to the neck. The morion is associated with the Spanish conquistadors. Most were made of two plates joined along the middle with a mohawk-like “comb” running from front to back, but some were made with only one piece, which would make them similar to basinets.
The same is true of the burgonet, as it could also be made with one piece.
I think it is totally possible, even likely, that Howard knew exactly what these words meant when he used them. The Nemedian smith who created this helmet knew nothing of burganets, basinets, or morions when he made it — they wouldn’t be invented until our own age. Yet what he made had some basic characteristics of all, and in trying to describe what is basically an alien artifact from another age Howard used terms that would let a reader imagine something along the lines of what it was; a single-plate cap with an aventail or coif to protect the neck, a fall or eyeshade to keep the eyes sheltered, and an openable visor.