Chinese Tiger Crowns 虎冠

From the 500s to the 980s, successive Chinese dynasties have employed a distinctive 虎冠 "tiger crown" helmet that marked some of their most elite warriors on the battlefield.

Many scholars are still puzzled as to the origin of this distinctive headgear, ranging from those who staunchly insisted that the headgear was a cultural osmosis from the Greco-Bactrian tradition~ and thus a carry over from Alexander the Great's Hellenic influences in Bactria and Sogdia (northern Afghanistan) which then spilled into China Proper. While others fiercely argued that the emblematic tigers so central to these wears were native to south of China and was perhaps used by the fierce tribes beyond the southern boarders of China, that the first tiger helmets were introduced around the reign of King Wu of Zhou in 1046 BC. where his elite bodyguards~ 虎賁 "Tiger Army" or the "Forbidden Army" was instrumental in establishing and stabilizing his dynasty,

An archer from the Five Dynasties or Ten Kingdoms Period (907-979CE) carved on a tomb door panel from Shaanxi Province. 

Regardless, the idea of the mystical power of the tiger stuck around as well as the idea of a permanent, trusted core of heavy bodyguards. Thus was born the 虎翼, or "Tiger Wing," or "Tiger Wedges" usually denoting an elite cohort of shock troops that became a fixture of nearly every dynasty that succeeded the Zhou all the way until the abolition of the imperial system in 1912.

Warrior, 734 Japan, Nara Period depicting one of the "Four Heavenly Kings," both the design, the method of the sculpture, were clearly modeled on Tang design principles. Equally true for the warrior's tiger crown helmet

Warrior tomb guardian painted in Sancai glaze, early Tang Dynasty 600s.

Sancai tiger crown warrior, Henan region. Tang dynasty

These wings usually gathered the bravest and the highest quality of fighting troops and were tasked with 1. dangerous long distance scouting missions, 2. performing as shock cavalry troops maximized to turn the tide of battle at a decisive moment. For this purpose, they were saddled with the best horses, they were armed with a variety of weapons which allowed them to effectively respond to most situations as well as exploiting each vigorously. Aside from the standard cavalry lance and pikes, nearly all were also armed with the bows, sabers, halberds, and by the late Tang and the Five Dynasty and Ten Kingdom Period  (907-979CE) even grenades and bomb slings.

Stone Lokapala (Buddhist Guardian of Four Directions) ^ See "Four Heavenly Kings," Tang Dynasty (618-907 AD) by the late Tang Dynasty the elite soldiery would be geared with the elaborate mountain scale armor.

By 979, most correlating troops have eschewed these gaudy tiger helmets.

Though in each dynasty such "Wings" would be furnished in different ways, the word and the idea of "Tiger Wings" remained long after the medieval era, even during the Korean War, there were still divisions denoted as "Tiger Wings" (although by then mostly referring to motorized divisions) deployed in the conflict.

Closeup of the mountain scale armor used by the guards.

For more about the Tang military, please check out my
other Tang dynasty pieces.