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4th Century late Roman helmet covering Deurne Berkasovo variant II gold gilded sheathing

Click on Pictures for higher resolution

   

 

 

 

  

Reproduction in silver gilt plating of Main Helmet

 

 

 

DIMENSION/MEASUREMENT SKETCHES

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ridge Section

Material  Silver sheeting with gold gilded surface (found in the Balkans)
Dimensions

(Refer further to sketches with measurements in photo column on left)

Main Bowl:

- Approximately 135mm tall.
- 210mm long (front to back).
- The one remaining half is about 80mm in width, making the complete bowl, including the ridge section (20mm approximate) approximately 180mm in diameter.
- Thickness of metal: average .18mm

Stitching holes:

- 22mm apart along the bottom edge.
- There are 7 holes (larger ones) across the top edge. (70-80mm apart)
- First two are closer, the next 5 spaced further apart.

Nasal area:

- 44mm long curve.
- 9mm wide.

Decorated line pattern:

- 9mm 10mm wide inclusive.
- Total decoration is 5 lines, approximately 30mm (middle) - 37mm (at back of helmet).

Cheek Piece:

- 167mm long (top), 39mm wide (short end), tapering to 53mm.
- 118mm long (at front)
- Thickness of metal: .07mm to.15mm

Stitching holes:

- 18mm apart.


Neck Guard:

- 120mm wide (top)
- 29mm wide to curved section, another 55mm to end in center.
- Thickness of metal: 0.1mm thick on average

Stitching holes:

- 22mm apart.

Helmet II

-22cm x 7.4cm (front)
-.15mm thick

Helmet III

-28cm x 7.8 cm
-.14mm thick
Late Roman Empire Late 4th, early 5th Century AD
Description  

INTRODUCTION:

The fragmented collection of silver sheets, which are gold plated, were at one time covering at least 2 or 3 different late Roman helmets.  The main fragments as measured out above were clearly the decorative portion of a Duerne-Berkasovo Variant II type helmet.  The common term for these late Roman helmets is "Ridge Helmets".  These ridge helmets consisted of two or more segments that were riveted together to form the complete helmet.  In this case these fragments clearly come from two original halves and were riveted together around the top.  A decorative "Ridge" portion re-enforced this riveted top portion, giving the helmet its name.  (3)(4)(5)

Different variants exist, some consisting of as many 6 sections, which were all riveted together.  Only the more elaborate helmets were covered in a gold covering, and would have likely been reserved for the emperor or highest field commanders.  A covering that was made out of the less precious metal, silver, but gold plated was more common (some of the known helmets have some traces of the silver sheeting at the rivet points), however also likely could have been reserved for field commanders or individuals of higher rank or status.  Many of the Intercia helmet (see below) also just had decorated Iron designs, clearly not meant to hold a silver sheeting cover.

Some highly decorated examples:

    

The following image speaks to the gilded surface, as the original maker missing a small corner of the silver sheet.

This shows similarities to the gilded surface of the Berkasovo Helmet.  On one of the cheek pieces the silver section is clearly visible, having been missed by the original maker during the gilding process.

Regarding the fragmentary status:

The fragments clearly show "folding" lines throughout, and areas that were torn or ripped.  This is consistent with the likely way in which they were folded up and hidden prior to re-discovery.  A possible fate of this helmet was two fold.  Either the covering was aggressively stripped off of the owners helmet by a capturing army or enemy, or it was stripped off for safe keeping and hidden (as was commonly done with other valuables).  The 4th and 5th Century in the Roman world had periods of great turmoil and suffering and this helmet could have been involved in such an event.  The covering could also have been removed for recycling or repair, as was also commonly done during the Roman period.  I believe however that the recyclers would have attempted to do this in a more re-usable manner, instead of ripping the pieces apart as was done here.  These fragments are very similar to the way another such nearly complete helmet covering was found (1).

MAIN HELMET:

The main helmet consists of a nearly complete left bowl section, as well as a complete right cheek piece, and neck guard, all covered in numerous decorated lines/patterns.  As indicated above, the helmet was the covering for the iron shell (specks of iron corrosion are still visible on the reverse).  The classification for the helmet is based largely on the fact that it was made out of two halves which were riveted together.  The helmet does however have one large difference to that classification.  The presence of a "base ring" is clearly not there on this helmet.  The base ring would have been a ring that the bowl sections attached to, extending the helmet further.  The cheek pieces then would have attached to this ring.  The feature of not having a base ring does show some similarities to "Intercisa" style helmets, which also were made up of two halves, riveted together by a ridge piece. 

Intercisa Example (no base ring):         Base Ring Example:

                         

The helmet clearly has parallels with the following similar complete helmets, that do not have a base ring.  These helmets as with this example, all have stitching holes that run along the base of the helmet.  These holes would normally have accommodated the stitching that held the leather liner of the helmet in place.  This same liner (likely even padded) also ran behind the neck guard and cheek piece in a similar fashion.  This stitching would also have assisted in keeping the iron, leather and covering together as one piece.

Noragra Example (base ring likely):    Two Augsburg Examples (no base ring):

                               

                                                               

Iatrus Example (most similar parallel, without a base ring):

   

Nasal Area:

The nasal area of the main bowl clearly shows how the typical eyebrow nasal section would have attached to the front of the helmet.  Again this attachment was to the helmet base, as with the Augsburg helmets, and not to the "base ring" as with other styles.  The covering clearly had a curved cut out section to leave room for the attachment of the covered iron nasal section.  The matching rivet holes for the nasal piece also present.

Item Nasal section close up:                                                 

  

Augsburg Helmet Nasal close up:

  (4)

Inscription:

As was common with many Roman military pieces, they were inscribed by their owners.  This serves today to assist in identifying the owner, and possibly the unit in which the soldier served.  This main helmet is no different.  Luckily it also has a clearly inscribed area near the back of the helmet.  This inscription was "dot punched" by making small circular indents to form letters.  This is properly referred to as Punctim.  The punctim was put into the silver gilding by the owner in a writing known as cursive script.  Cursive script was the normal form writing in the Roman world, and looked much like hand writing today.  It is however much harder to read, and as with hand writing styles today, can include many different forms of letters.  The writing differed depending on the region of the empire, the level of literacy of the writer, and the period.  Hand writing evolved like it has during modern history. 

The inscription was put in between the second to last line pattern and third to last line pattern at the base of the helmet and is approximately 70mm in length. The following is a photo, although it is difficult to make out due to the creases and reflectivity of the metal.

This is a detailed sketch of the inscription, completed after a close visual inspection.

After speaking with various experts, the inscription is believed to stand for the following:

VAL(erius) [stylized Ivy (Hedera) leaf] GRAPA (An abbreviated personal name such as Grapheus).

The stylized Ivy leaf has similarities to the leaf that is present on the Duerne Ridge Helmet inscription below.

The Ivy leaf is commonly used through out Roman history, mainly as a decorative addition to jewelry and military items.  Many military fitting (Horse Cavalry tackle as an example) contained Ivy Leaf shaping decorations. 

In classical mythology the ivy is attributed to the gods Apollo and Bacchus as a symbol of life. In early Christian symbolism it was also a sign for eternal life. That's the reason why it is used further on as a decoration on Christian tombstones and planted on graves. (5) Clearly the owner of this helmet wanted to add a symbol for eternal life.  In this tumultuous period, that perhaps sadly did not occur for this owner.

Decoration:

The decoration consists of a circular "punched" pattern surrounded by a smaller bordering line.  This line pattern creates a border to the helmet, covering the bottom portion, as well as running around the nasal section at the front and up over the top of the helmet.  Within this pattern is a running circular "punched" pattern that continues around the helmet.  This pattern is nearly identical to the one on the cheek piece and neck guard. 

The pattern running along the base of the helmet consists of 4 parallel lines, followed by the circular "punched" pattern and then a final line.  As detailed in the dimension section above, the line pattern is slightly wider at the back of the helmet, than at the front.  This creates a slightly sweeping appearance to the decoration along the side of the helmet.  The side pattern meets the curved line trim around where the separate nasal section would have been riveted to the helmet. 

The final pattern then continues up over top of the helmet, leaving enough room for the attachment of the ridge section, which would have had its own covering and decoration (possibly gold or silver raised rivets).

Decoration close up:

Notice the similarity in pattern style when compared to the Augsburg helmet example above.

Curved Ear pattern

The discovery of a clear curved pattern in the decoration where the "ear" would normally be was only recently discovered (after the sketches were made).  This decoration matches open examples of these helmets such as the ones from Koblenz and Heteny in which the ear section is cut out. 

This helmet appears to mimic this style while keeping the helmet closed.

The following is a better view of a reconstruction that is in progress which shows the pattern.

SECONDARY HELMET FRAGMENTS:

The secondary helmet fragments can be broken down as follows:

Main Bowl Fragment (second helmet):

This fragment consists of more than 50% of a complete helmet bowl half.  This helmet however has a different "punched" pattern, consisting of numerous raised "S" letters, surrounded by a line pattern (two lines, then "S" and then the last border line).

The design pattern is also similar to one of the Augsburg helmets, in that both have the "S" pattern in them, surrounded by a border. The following is a close up of the pattern on this fragment, compared to the Augsburg pattern:

   

This helmet fragment clearly came from a different complete helmet (then the main piece), however likely from a similar style based on the details of this fragment.  The nasal area clearly shows the decoration curve around the arch. Large rivet holes to accomodate the nasal piece. This decoration is interesting in that it clearly defines the nasal area much like the fragments of the Augsburg helmet decoration appears to show. 

The decoration on this piece is also quite elaborate and has a large amount of lines and "S" patterns along the side which is more detailed than the Nuremberg example or the Heteny example for instance.

Bowl Fragment from third helmet:

This piece is approximately 28cm long, and came from a third different helmet.  The two joined fragments comprise a complete left bowl section of a Berkasovo helmet (similar in construction to the Main helmet and Helmet II). The decorative pattern is less known and until the publishing of the Jarak helmet (6) the pattern was not specifically documented. Small similar patterns are visible on the Heteny helmet

The reverse of the silver sheathing still has remnants of the iron (in the form of rust stains)

Helmet III

Jarak Helmet cheek guard plate (6)

Small Fragment strip:

The last discernable fragment consists of a small strip approximately 60mm long.  This gold gilded fragment is quite thick, when compared to the other fragments.  This could simply mean that the fragment was once part of a larger piece (likely) which obviously due to the hand made nature of its manufacture, was not uniform in thickness throughout.  One of the interesting features on this fragment is the large amount of iron residue which is present on the reverse (silver side).  This item clearly had transferred some of the iron surface of the helmet to the cover at one point during its life.

Possible source of this fragment?  It is possible that this fragment is actually part of the nasal covering of a Ridge Helmet.  The fragment has a large rivet hole (which a nasal section had many of), and has a curved shape which is consistent with the eye brow section of the nasal covering. The narrow folded over edge of the silver sheet, along the lined border would also be consistent with this hypothesis.  The follow is a picture of this fragment, when compared to the complete silver gilded Nasal cover from Heteny.

 

The fragment may also be a portion of the ridge section of another helmet with the large rivet hole being one of the mounting points. The folded over area would be along the ridge piece edge. This location for this fragment is more plausible than the ridge section as it is shaped in a more straight fashion and is not curved like a nasal eyebrow section.

Second Cheek Piece:

There also exists a second cheek piece, nearly a complete copy of the whole cheek piece which is part of the main set above.  This piece however clearly came from the same side of the helmet, thus confirming that it is from a second similar helmet.  Unfortunately the front portion is not present, but the shape can be guessed based on the other complete cheek piece.  The pattern on this piece is nearly identical to the complete example.

Ridge Section

There are also two sections remaining of the rdige section from the main helmet.  This section is fragmentary, but clearly shows dot pattern and edging pattern running along the base of the ridge.  There is also a clear area visible where the ridge portion folded over revealing a bit of the silver underlayer which had either rubbed off from contact or was never properly gilded. 

The top portion of the ridge that remains also has a large rivet hole left which showed that this example likely had decorative bulbed rivets along the top of the ridge edge for decoration.

CONCLUSION:

These fragments from at least 3 late Roman helmets constitute a substantial find, which is rarely seen.  Only one other such set of helmet coverings is known, as referenced in KOCSIS (1).  Those fragments were even less complete, yet included as noted above the nasal section, and also other pieces for at least 2 helmets.  Those fragments were also discovered folded up and hidden at a fort wall, likely the result of similar circumstances as these fragments.  Further research will be conducted in regards to the last part of the inscription, and the possible reconstruction of what the helmet may have looked like complete.  If you have anything further that you can add to this topic, or these specific fragments, please do not hesitate to contact me.  The following references will act as supplementary reading for anyone interested.(1)(2)(3)(4)(5)(6)

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(1) References to similar items: KOCSIS, Laszlo; A New Late Roman Helmet, 2003.

(2) Reference to similar items: PRINS, Jelle; The Fortune of a Late Roman Officer, page 52-53, 1998.

(3) Reference to similar items: BISHOP, M.C & COULSTON, J.C.N; Roman Military Equipment "From the Punic wars to the Fall of Rome", page 210-214 2006.

(4) Reference to similar items:  I.P STEPHENSON; Romano-Byzantine Infantry Equipment, page 18 2006

(5) Reference to similar items: MIKS, Christian; Von Prunstuck zum Altmetall, Ein Depot Spatromischer Helmteile aus Koblenz, RGZM, 2008

(6) Reference to similar items: VUJOVIC, Miroslav; Late Roman Helmet from Jarak,  2011

**Note on background. Close up view of the wall of the Colosseum of Pula, Croatia. Picture taken 2014