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Roman Army helmets

Evseenkov A.S.

Galea or Cassis - (Lat. Galea / Cassis) - the ancient Roman name for a helmet. In the Roman army, the helmet was one of the main items of protective equipment and was used by all combat units, such as legionaries, auxiliaries, praetorians. Usually, it was used with a cap comforter made of felt, fabric or leather.

Roman army helmets didn't protect head completely - the face was uncovered, but due to the tactics used, it wasn't a problem. The only exceptions were horsemen and parts of the banner group, whose face could be protected with a mask. The helmet was designed to protect the cheeks, crown, and back of the head, so almost all the head was protected by metal. The only parts remained unprotected by a helmet were ears and a face. In a combat stance, the back of the helmet also protected part of the neck and a back, leaving a very small area for damage.

History

Almost every ancient nationality used helmets. First models of the helmets may have come into ancient roman culture because of the Celtic culture influence. Helmets, as a protective gear, were particularly widespread in Celtic culture. First Roman helmets models were almost completely copied from the Celts. The type of helmet was called "Montefortino", named because of the Celtic burial site Montefortino in northern Italy. The first models didn't have such large neck guards, and these helmets had a slightly different protective features. These helmets were commonly produced out of bronze alloys. There are different views, that the helmets could not only be made by forging, but also by casting or by combining these methods (at first they cast a blank of the helmet and then they completed the helmet by forging). Often, on the top of the helmet, there was a plume mount shaped as a small "bump", where were inserted feathers or horsehair. Montefortino was used from the 4th century BCE to the 50s CE.

Montefortino helmet from the Celtic necropolis of Serra San Quirico. 3rd century BCE
Montefortino helmet bas-relief. Carsulae Archaeological Park of Umbria. Dating from the 3rd century BCE to the beguinning of the 1st century CE
Connoppoli helmet "evolution" scheme

Helmet in the Roman Empire

At the beginning of the principate era montefortino helmet was replaced by a new helmet type, often called imperial helmet. However, it should be noted that the replacement wasn't immediate. Montefortino helmet was used with the imperial helmet throughout the 1st century CE. Legionaries used imperial helmet in the I-III centuries CE. Also, helmets are often called after the discovery place, for example, in Germany, these helmets are known as Weisenau. Connolly, ancient historian divides the imperial helmet into two subtypes: Imperial Italic and Imperial Gallic. The main difference, which classified them, was Gallic helmets' relief waves image ("eyebrows") in front. The division is very relative, due to the findings' variety the individual helmet classification is tricky. Connolly also believes that auxiliaries used helmets similar to legionnaires', but simpler and cheaper to produce. There is also a version that worn out legionaries' equipment was put into auxiliaries service. At present preserved pictorial sources don't allow to distinguish legionary's helmets and auxiliary's helmets due to the art style.

A legionnary wearing a helmet. Trajan's column. Early to mid 2nd century CE
A legionnary wearing a helmet. Trajan's column. Early to mid 2nd century CE
An auxillary wearing a helmet. Trajan's column. Early 2nd century CE

Imperial helmets were made out of bronze and iron alloys. Moreover, iron gradually replaced bronze, which still prevailed in the 1st century CE (there are way more bronze helmets' findings). The situation changes radically by the second century CE: the vast majority of archaeological finds from the period are iron made. Imperial helmets had a dome with two cheek plates mounted on a slip joint. Usually, the helmets had rich decorations: metal ornaments, engravings, enamels, and sometimes helmets were silvered. Metal, especially iron, could be processed to be more corrosive resistant. The helmet's dome was reinforced with crosshairs, giving additional resistance against blows from above. Helmets had cap peaks for additional face protection, and neck guards for additional back and back neck protection.

Imperial gallic E helmet. Iron with bronze decorations. National Archaeological Museum of Madrid. Mid-1st century CE
A Weisenau helmet. Bronze. The Axel Guttmann collection. Mid to late 1st century CE
Imperial italic J1 helmet. Theilenhofen. Iron with bronze inserts. First quarter of the 2nd century CE

Lets now look at helmet's service life. Roman army had a tradition - signing yours belongings in order to show it's yours and to prevent thefts. There are helmet findings, which have three different names. Even if we assume that not every helmet owner left the service alive, helmet's service life is still significant - about 50 years.

A Signed helmet. Imperial Gallic I type. Found in Rijswijk, on the Rhine, 15 km from the Batavian settlement of Til Passevaie. Mid to late 1st century CE
A Signed helmet. Imperial Gallic I type. Found in Rijswijk, on the Rhine, 15 km from the Batavian settlement of Til Passevaie. Mid to late 1st century CE
Imperial Gallic I helmet type. Found in Rijswijk, on the Rhine, 15 km from the Batavian settlement of Til Passevaie. Mid to late 1st century CE

Crests and officer's helmets

Probably, officers used the same helmet type as legionnaires did, but with some modifications. Members of the banner group could wear it with a mask, and could fix varmint's skin on top. Centurions attached to the helmet a crosshair crest (or plume) of horsehair or feathers. In order to attach it the helmet had a "socket" for the crest holder, and two rings on the sides to fix it in lateral position. There is an option, often seen among Western reenactors, that The optiones used longitudinal crests and a pair of feathers placed on the sides, but there is no archaeological evidence for this. There is only a find of an imperial helmet with inserts on the sides, but were they used for feathers, or wether it was optio's helmet is highly questionable.

A fragment of a stele with a centurion from the 15th "Apollonian" Legion (Legio XV Apollinaris Pia Fidelis). Discovered in 1880 in the ruins of the Roman Carnuntum (Latin Carnuntum), reposited in Austria, Vienna Kunsthistorisches Museum. 1st century CE
Imperial Italic D helmet. There is a "socket" for the crest. Iron with bronze decorations. Found at the bottom of the Rhine, Mainz (Germany). City Museum of Worms. 4th quarter of the 1st century CE
Imperial Gallic F helmet. The main material is iron. Found in Witcham Gravel, Ely, Cambridgeshire. Reposited in the Canterbure Roman Museum. Early to mid 1st century CE

The idea, that helmets had crests comes from a helmet found with a with black horsehair crest. There are also a lot of "forks" findings, which are designed to be attached to different helmets. If it was centurion's helmet, crests were tightly laced to the side rings, placed near ear holes, or placed on the forehead and on the back of the neck if the crest was placed longitudinally. Legates and praetorians could also have longitudinally placed crests, and could have the plume inserted into a special groove, in a similar way to a"cassette".

Crest holder. The material is a copper-containing alloy. Windisch, Switzerland. 40-140 CE
A horsehair crest. Chesterholm Museum Bardon Mill, Hexham NE47 7JN, England. 1-2 century CE
Crest holder. Early to mid 1st century CE

Reenactment

Most helmets are suitable for both legionnaires and auxiliaries. The most important thing is to accurately choose reenactment period. As there is information that the helmets could change owners several times, the helmet's use period could exceed 50 years! This means that for reenacting early second century one can use earlier helmets, but not vice versa - one can't use later helmets for reenacting earlier periods. There are to approaches to helmets' production in reenactment - first one is authentic solid-drawn and a wielded with an appropriate stylization. The last option is cheaper and advisable for the beginners, it is also recommended to begin with the most simple and cheapest helmet type for example imperial Italic J1. Later, you can strive for more interesting and solid-drawn helmets.

Imperial Italic J1 helmet, reenactment
Imperial Italic D helmet, reenactment
Imperial Italic G helmet, reenactment

Similar topics

Legionnary, Auxiliary, Centurion, Vexillarius, Praetorian, The Celts, Optio

Literature

Коннолли, Питер. Греция и Рим. Энциклопедия военной истории. — М.: ЭКСМО-Пресс, 2001. — ISBN 5-04-005183-2.

Early to mid first century

Imperial Gallic B helmet. Museum Carnuntinum, Austria, Bad Deutsch-Altenburg. Beguinning of 1st century CE
Imperial Gallic B helmet. Museum Carnuntinum, Austria, Bad Deutsch-Altenburg. Beguinning of 1st century CE
Imperial Gallic B helmet. Museum Carnuntinum, Austria, Bad Deutsch-Altenburg. Beguinning of 1st century CE
Imperial Gallic B helmet. Museum Carnuntinum, Austria, Bad Deutsch-Altenburg. Beguinning of 1st century CE
Imperial Gallic B helmet. Museum Carnuntinum, Austria, Bad Deutsch-Altenburg. Beguinning of 1st century CE
Imperial Gallic C helmet. Found in Sisak, Croatia, in the Kupa River. Archaeological Museum of Zagreb. Second quarter of the 1st century CE
Imperial Gallic C helmet. Found in Sisak, Croatia, in the Kupa River. Archaeological Museum of Zagreb. Second quarter of the 1st century CE
Imperial Gallic A helmet. Iron. From Nijmegen. Beguinning of the first century CE
Imperial Gallic A helmet. Iron. From Nijmegen. Beguinning of the first century CE
Imperial Gallic A helmet. Iron. From Nijmegen. Beguinning of the first century CE
Imperial Gallic A helmet. Tinned bronze. Private collection of Axel Guttmann. Beguinning of the first century CE
Imperial Gallic A helmet. Tinned bronze. Private collection of Axel Guttmann. Beguinning of the first century CE
Imperial Gallic A helmet. Tinned bronze. Private collection of Axel Guttmann. Beguinning of the first century CE
Imperial Gallic A helmet. Tinned bronze. Private collection of Axel Guttmann. Beguinning of the first century CE
Imperial Gallic B helmet. National Archaeological Museum of Madrid. Early 1st century CE
Imperial Gallic B helmet. National Archaeological Museum of Madrid. Early 1st century CE
Imperial Gallic F helmet. The main material is iron. Found in Witcham Gravel, Ely, Cambridgeshire. Reposited in the Canterbure Roman Museum. Early to mid 1st century CE
Imperial Gallic F helmet fragment. The main material is iron. Found in Witcham Gravel, Ely, Cambridgeshire. Reposited in the Canterbure Roman Museum. Early to mid 1st century CE
Imperial Gallic F helmet fragment. The main material is iron. Found in Witcham Gravel, Ely, Cambridgeshire. Reposited in the Canterbure Roman Museum. Early to mid 1st century CE
Imperial Gallic F helmet fragment. The main material is iron. Found in Witcham Gravel, Ely, Cambridgeshire. Reposited in the Canterbure Roman Museum. Early to mid 1st century CE
Imperial Gallic F helmet fragment. The main material is iron. Found in Witcham Gravel, Ely, Cambridgeshire. Reposited in the Canterbure Roman Museum. Early to mid 1st century CE
Imperial Italic helmet Weisenau. Bronze. The height of the helmet with a stand is 400 mm, the depth is 360 mm, the dome width is 200 mm, the neck guard width is 260 mm. Cheek plates are a modern reenactment. Sold at the Hermann Historica auction. May auction # A79aw, lot # 1051. Early to mid 1st century CE
Imperial Italic helmet Weisenau. Bronze. The height of the helmet with a stand is 400 mm, the depth is 360 mm, the dome width is 200 mm, the neck guard width is 260 mm. Cheek plates are a modern reenactment. Sold at the Hermann Historica auction. May auction # A79aw, lot # 1051. Early to mid 1st century CE
Imperial Italic helmet Weisenau. Bronze. The height of the helmet with a stand is 400 mm, the depth is 360 mm, the dome width is 200 mm, the neck guard width is 260 mm. Cheek plates are a modern reenactment. Sold at the Hermann Historica auction. May auction # A79aw, lot # 1051. Early to mid 1st century CE
Vaisau helmet type, Imperial Italic. The height of the helmet is 19.5 cm, it weights 1400 g., made out bronze. Courtesy Hermann Historica, International auction-Munich-D. Early to mid 1st century CE
Vaisau helmet type, Imperial Italic. The height of the helmet is 19.5 cm, it weights 1400 g., made out bronze. Courtesy Hermann Historica, International auction-Munich-D. Early to mid 1st century CE
Vaisau helmet type, Imperial Italic. The height of the helmet is 19.5 cm, it weights 1400 g., made out bronze. Courtesy Hermann Historica, International auction-Munich-D. Early to mid 1st century CE
Imperial Gallic B helmet. Found in Klakanje, Yugoslavia. Beguinning of 1st century CE
Weisenau Imperial gallic C helmet. Found in Siscia. Arheological museum in Zagreb, Croatia. Early to mid 1st century CE
Roman bronze helmet. Found in France (Druzenheim). Early to mid 1st century
Roman imperial gallic helmet, Weisenau. Iron. Nijmegen. Beguinning of the 1st century
Coolus type E helmet. Bronze. The British Museum. Early to mid 1st century CE
An Agent-Port helmet. Found in Rouen, France. Reposited in the Aalen Museum, Germany. First half of the 1st century AD
Vaisau helmet type, Imperial Italic. The height of the helmet is 20 cm, bronze. Private collection. Beguinning of the 1st century CE
A Roman helmet dating from the 1st century CE. The helmet was discovered in ancient amphitheater near Besancon, France. The helmet was originally silvered, and also the helmet has mounts for the crest.

Mid to late first century

Imperial Italic D helmet. There is a "socket" for the crest. Iron with bronze decorations. Found at the bottom of the Rhine, Mainz (Germany). City Museum of Worms. 4th quarter of the 1st century CE
Imperial Italic D helmet. There is a "socket" for the crest. Iron with bronze decorations. Found at the bottom of the Rhine, Mainz (Germany). City Museum of Worms. 4th quarter of the 1st century CE
Imperial Italic D helmet. There is a "socket" for the crest. Iron with bronze decorations. Found at the bottom of the Rhine, Mainz (Germany). City Museum of Worms. 4th quarter of the 1st century CE
Imperial Italic D helmet. There is a "socket" for the crest. Iron with bronze decorations. Found at the bottom of the Rhine, Mainz (Germany). City Museum of Worms. 4th quarter of the 1st century CE
Imperial Italic D helmet. There is a "socket" for the crest. Iron with bronze decorations. Found at the bottom of the Rhine, Mainz (Germany). City Museum of Worms. 4th quarter of the 1st century CE
Roman iron helmet. Leiden-Matilo, Leiden, Rijksmuseum voor Oudheden. Mid to late 1st century CE
Imperial Gallic D helmet. It was destroyed during the Second World War. Mid-1st century CE
A survived fragment of the Imperial Gallic D helmet. Mid-1st century CE
Imperial Gallic G helmet. It was found on the Rhenish Limes, in Germany, in the Mainz-Wiesenau area. The Museum of Worms. Mid to late 1st century AD
Imperial Gallic G helmet. It was found on the Rhenish Limes, in Germany, in the Mainz-Wiesenau area. The Museum of Worms. Mid to late 1st century AD
Auxiliary Cavalry B type helmet, "Weiler". Bronze. Mid to late 1st century.
Auxiliary Cavalry B type helmet, "Weiler". Bronze. Mid to late 1st century.
Imperial italic C helmet. Found in Po in the Soarz of Villanova d'Arda in 1895. Weights 1655 g. Courtesy Stibbert Museum, Florence. Mid to late 1st century CE
Imperial italic C helmet. Found in Po in the Soarz of Villanova d'Arda in 1895. Weights 1655 g. Courtesy Stibbert Museum, Florence. Mid to late 1st century CE
Auxiliary infantry roman helmet, type B. Bronze. Found on the Rhine near Mainz. Mainz Museum, Germany. Mid to late 1st century AD
Auxiliary infantry roman helmet, type B. Bronze. Found on the Rhine near Mainz. Mainz Museum, Germany. Mid to late 1st century AD
Vaisau helmet type, Imperial Italic. Bronze. Found in Kiel (Germany). Römisch-Germanisches Zentralmuseum - Mainz. Third quarter of the 1st century CE
Vaisau helmet type, Imperial Italic. Bronze. Found in Kiel (Germany). Römisch-Germanisches Zentralmuseum - Mainz. Third quarter of the 1st century CE
"Vaizau" helmet type. Bronze. The Axel Guttmann collection. Mid to late 1st century CE
"Vaizau" helmet type. Bronze. The Axel Guttmann collection. Mid to late 1st century CE
"Vaizau" helmet type. Bronze. The Axel Guttmann collection. Mid to late 1st century CE
"Vaizau" helmet type. Bronze. Bedriacum, Courtesy Civico Museo Ala Ponzone – Cremona-IT. Mid to late 1st century CE
"Vaizau" helmet type. Bronze. Bedriacum, Courtesy Civico Museo Ala Ponzone – Cremona-IT. Mid to late 1st century CE
Bronze Roman helmet. Cortesia, Carnuntinum Archaeological Museum. Mid-1st century CE
Bronze Roman helmet. Cortesia, Carnuntinum Archaeological Museum. Mid-1st century CE
Bronze Roman helmet. Cortesia, Carnuntinum Archaeological Museum. Mid-1st century CE
"Vaizau" helmet type. Bronze. The Axel Guttmann collection. Mid to late 1st century CE
"Vaizau" helmet type. Bronze. The Axel Guttmann collection. Mid to late 1st century CE
"Vaizau" helmet type. Bronze. The Axel Guttmann collection. Mid to late 1st century CE
"Vaizau" helmet type. Bronze. The Axel Guttmann collection. Mid to late 1st century CE
"Vaizau" helmet type. Bronze. The Axel Guttmann collection. Mid to late 1st century CE
"Vaizau" helmet type. Bronze. The Axel Guttmann collection. Mid to late 1st century CE
"Vaizau" helmet type. Bronze. The Axel Guttmann collection. Mid to late 1st century CE
"Vaizau" helmet type. Bronze. The Axel Guttmann collection. Mid to late 1st century CE
"Vaizau" helmet type. Bronze. The Axel Guttmann collection. Mid to late 1st century CE
"Vaizau" helmet type. Bronze. The Axel Guttmann collection. Mid to late 1st century CE
Imperial Gallic C helmet. Found in the Kupa River, Croatia. Mid-1st century CE
"Vaizau" helmet type. Iron. Augsburg Museum. Mid to late 1st century CE
Imperial Gallic K helmet. Iron. Found in Wiesbaden (Germany). Municipal Museum - Wiesbaden-D. Mid to late 1st century CE
Imperial gallic C helmet. It has preserved organic traces (marten, skin and feathers). It may have been "adapted" to use for the Batavian auxilia. Burg Linn Museum. Mid to late 1st century CE
Coolus I helmet. Bronze. The helmet can be considered as a hybrid between the Haguenau model and the subsequent Weisenau model. Height 18 cm, width 30.9 cm, length 31 cm. Mid to late 1st century CE

Early to mid second century

Roman iron helmet. National Museum of the Roman Legion Carleon. 100-125 years
Roman iron helmet. National Museum of the Roman Legion Carleon. 100-125 years
Roman iron helmet. National Museum of the Roman Legion Carleon. 100-125 years
Roman iron helmet. National Museum of the Roman Legion Carleon. 100-125 years
Roman iron helmet. National Museum of the Roman Legion Carleon. 100-125 years
Imperial italic J1 helmet. Theilenhofen. Iron with bronze inserts. First quarter of the 2nd century CE
Imperial italic J1 helmet. Theilenhofen. Iron with bronze inserts. First quarter of the 2nd century CE
Imperial italic J1 helmet. Theilenhofen. Iron with bronze inserts. First quarter of the 2nd century CE
Imperial italic J1 helmet. Theilenhofen. Iron with bronze inserts. First quarter of the 2nd century CE
Imperial Italic G helmet. Found in a cave near Hebron (Palestinian Authority, Israel). It is believed that it belonged to the legionnary from Legio X Fretensis. Early to mid 2nd century CE
Imperial Italic G helmet. Found in a cave near Hebron (Palestinian Authority, Israel). It is believed that it belonged to the legionnary from Legio X Fretensis. Early to mid 2nd century CE
Imperial Italic G helmet. Found in a cave near Hebron (Palestinian Authority, Israel). It is believed that it belonged to the legionnary from Legio X Fretensis. Early to mid 2nd century CE
Weisenau model of imperial Gallic with a crosshair reinforcement on the top of the helmet. Found in Caras Severin in Romania. Iron. Size 29.5 x 11.5 x 19 cm. Beguinning of the 2nd century CE