British (and continental) Helmets



British Museum
Auction of the Axel Guttmann collection 2003

Paul Browne

Helmets are the best form of protection that can be worn on a battlefield.
The vast majority of blows would be aimed at the head as not only is that where the most of your useful parts of your body, essential for your well being, kept but it is usually left exposed by your shield.

There have been very few helmet finds made in Britain when compared to the continent. Whether this is a true reflection of the number being actually used at the time or just that we haven't found them in the archaeological record is a moot point. 

The Battersea Helmet (right) is one of the few complete finds made. Unfortunately, it is un-stratified and it's date is not known.

There are contemporary images from the continent of helmets with projections on, so this may well have been an actual helmet for use.




Meyrick Helmet 
This is another helmet from Britain (we assume) and you always find it's picture in most of the glossy picture books. It's an old find and not attributed to any site or context, which makes it hard to know exactly what it is. 

It's interesting to note that it has a parallel in Germany and both helmets may have roman numerals inscribed upon them, which might make them auxiliary helmets. 

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In addition the helmet contains three holes on top for a, now removed, crest holder

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There is also some speculation that the roundels on the side would originally have been used to mount cheek pieces.

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A West-Celtic iron helmet 1st century B.C. 
Forged in one piece in the shape of a hat with a conical point (original boss missing), a flat inclined rim with rounded beading around the periphery, reinforced with riveted sheet-iron protection over the forehead with oval cut-outs arched like eyebrows, attached strongly curved cheek flaps with an ornamental boss in the centre and with a riveted ring for the chin straps. H 34.8 cm=13.7 in. Found in France in Normandy's Louviers Forest. 
A modern copy of the present helmet is exhibited in the Römisch-Germanisches Zentralmuseum in Mainz. Published: U. Schaaff, Keltische Helme, in: Antike Helme, Mainz 1988, p.307-309, fig.31-33.
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An East-Celtic bronze helmet 3rd to 2nd century B.C.
Made in several assembled soldered and riveted parts, the hemispherical bowl in two soldered halves with a thin reinforcing bead all around the rim, above the forehead two bold arched extruded reinfocing ridges, the avantail embracing the neck almost to the ears and attached by a row of very small rivets, at the top of the bowl an iron ballshaped boss (partially restored) set into a lead bed above an extruded circle set off by a ridge, at each side above the ears a triangular reinforcing plate held by three large ball-headed rivets (three of them restorations) plus smaller reinforcing rivets, at the bottom of each plate two holes for the (missing) hinges, the large curved and profiled Macedonian or Etruscan ear flaps associated in the helmet's use life and found together with it, at the upper edge of each flap two holes for the (missing) hinges (in one flap the original hinge pin, the flaps now suspended from "hinges" simulated by modern acrylic strips), the original flaps doubtless mirror images of the upper reinforcing plates.
The many evident and ancient repairs done with bronze strips and rivets testify to the wars this piece has seen in earnest. 
H 34 cm=13.4 in, W 813 g.
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A heavy hemispherical iron helmet with modern cheek flaps, the one-half-restored decorated avantail attached by rivets, a decorated riveted bowl boss, on the inside remains of the cheek flap hinges covered on the right outside by the remains of an ornamental boss with filed and struck decorations. 
Height incl. cheek flaps 31.5 cm=12.4 in. c) 

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A heavy hemispherical iron helmet without cheek flaps, the bowl much deformed, the decorated avantail attached by rivets, the two bosses that cover the outsides of the flap hinges with filed and struck decorations (the upper part of the bowl crest and a few missing areas restored). 
Height 33 cm=13 in.

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An Etrusco-Roman bronze helmet of Montefortino/Rieti type late 2nd to middle 1st century B.C. 
Hemispherical bowl wrought in one piece out of sheet bronze, on the top a finial acorn knob with punched decor, around the rim a border of incised parallel mouldings widening at the back to an avantail decorated with many small struck patterns and a rivet hole for a thong, on each side two holes for affixing the cheek flaps. 
H 19 cm=7.5 in, W 975 g. 
Published: M.Junkelmann, Römische Helme, Axel Guttmann Collection, volume 8, Berlin/Mainz 2000, pp.114-115, fig.40-41

Things to avoid.

There are very few helmets found in this country, and some of those remain unpublished (the real crime in archaeology - if only Time Time would run a few programs on that), That means you really have to look at continental helmets to get broader picture and the problem is that the Roman have influenced everything abroad and stopped pure native production for a  number of generations before our period. (although you can see many Gallic helmets in the later roman examples - modified of course).

The number of reproduction iron age helmets available "off the shelf" is quite small. 
Deepeeka make about the only viable helmets and are improving things slowly:

  • AH6318N Celtic Montefortino - is actually a fairly good copy. The downside is that many of us have it.
  • AH6099 Celtic Helmet I - is also a good representation of a helmet shown above. Of course, a few of us have this one as well.
  • AH6100 Celtic Helmet II - is not too bad either BUT the only samples we have ever seen would only fit a silverback gorilla.
  • AH6306N Imperial Gallic 'A' - is Roman but if you take off the brow ridge (and fill the mounting holes) and make or two other modifications, then voila .....

The good thing is that many people make custom iron age helmet to fit. Check the Suppliers list for more information.