Late Roman ridge helmet

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Roman ridge helmet, early 4th century CE. Made of iron and gilded, with stained glass inserts. From the "Berkasovo treasure", Muzej Vojvodine, Novi Sad (Serbia). On display at temporary exhibition in the Colosseum (Aug. 2013), Rome, Italy.

The Late Roman ridge helmet was a type of combat helmet of late antiquity used by soldiers of the late Roman army. It was characterized by the possession of a bowl made up of two or four parts, united by a longitudinal ridge.

Origins[edit]

In the late 3rd century a complete break in Roman helmet design occurred. Previous Roman helmet types, based ultimately on Celtic designs, were replaced by new forms derived from helmets developed in the Sassanid Empire. A closely related form to the Roman ridge helmets is represented by a single helmet from Dura Europos which is of similar construction, but has a much higher calotte. It probably belonged to a Sassanid warrior of the 3rd century. This reinforces the evidence for a Sassanid origin of this type of helmet.[1][2] Two main forms of helmet construction were adopted by the Romans at much the same time: the ridge helmet, described here, and the spangenhelm, which was likely adopted from the Sarmatians.[3] The first confirmed example of a late Roman ridge helmet is the Richborough example, which dates to about 280 AD.[4]

Construction[edit]

Augsburg-Pfersee Ridge Helmet, mid-4th century. This example shows the silver and/or gold sheathing found on all Roman ridge helmets.

Roman ridge helmets can be classified into two types of skull construction: bipartite and quadripartite, also referred to as Intercisa-type and Berkasova-type. The bipartite construction method is usually characterized by a two-part bowl with a central ridge running from front to back, small cheekpieces, and lack a base ring running around the rim of the bowl. Some examples of the bipartite construction also utilize metal crests, such as in the Intercisa-IV and River Maas examples. The second type of helmet is the quadripartite construction, charactarized by a four-piece bowl connected by a central ridge, with two plates (connected by a reinforcing band) on each side of the ridge, and a base ring serving to unite the elements of the skull at the base of the helmet; this type is characterised by large cheekpieces. Many examples of this helmet also have a nasal, and the Budapest example also may have had attachments for a horsehair plume.[5][6]

There are notable exceptions to this classification method, which include the Iatrus and Worms helmets, which have large cheekpieces and a base ring respectively. Other helmets also contain minor variations.[7]

Decoration[edit]

Late Roman ridge helmet, found at Deurne, Netherlands. It is covered in silver-gilt sheathing and is inscribed to a cavalryman of the equites stablesiani.

The majority of those excavated to date, have evidence of costly decorative silver or silver-gilt sheathing, a job entrusted to men called barbaricarii[8] The Berkasova-I example is decorated with many glass gems on the bowl, cheekpieces, and neckguard.[9] For a number of extant helmets all that remains is the decorative silver or gold sheathing, the iron having corroded away entirely.[10] A single helmet found at Intercisa in Hungary, where a hoard of 15-20 helmets was unearthed, has a tall, integral, iron crest attached to the ridge. A similar helmet found at Augst has three slots in its ridge for the attachment of a separate crest. There have also been finds of unattached crest pieces, or ones attached to only the ridge of the helmet.[11]

Usage[edit]

Earlier Roman cavalry helmet types usually have cheek guards that have a section covering the ears, whereas infantry helmets do not. Many authors have incorrectly extrapolated from this that the Intercisa-type helmets were infantry helmets, while the Berkasova-type helmets were cavalry examples, based mostly on the existence of ear-holes in the Intercisa-type. One such helmet, the Deurne helmet, has an inscription to a cavalry unit of the equites stablesiani.[12][13] However, both classifications of helmet are depicted on both infantry and cavalry in Roman art, and finds of these helmets, such as the Burgh Castle example, show they were used interchangeably.

Late Roman ridge helmets are depicted for the first time on coins of Constantine the Great and are believed to have come into use between 270 and 300 AD.[12][14] The last archaeological examples date to the early 5th century, and include the River Maas Helmet, dated to 409-411 by coins of Constantine III, and the Concești example, found in a Hunnic burial. The ridge helmet remained in artistic usage well into the 7th century and possibly later. Helmets with a rounded shape are also illustrated in Byzantine manuscripts of the 10-12th centuries, and may have been derived from the earlier Roman 'ridge helmet'.[15]

Early copies of ridge helmets include the Fernpass example, dated to the 4th century and found in Austria, and believed to belong to a Germanic Warrior who had his own helmet modified to look like a ridge helmet. Many helmets of the Germanic states of Western and Northern Europe in the Early Middle Ages are derivations of the Roman ridge helmet, these include the Anglo-Saxon Coppergate helmet.[16]

References[edit]

  1. ^ James, entire article
  2. ^ Southern and Dixon, pp. 94-95
  3. ^ Bishop and Coulston, p. 67
  4. ^ Lyne, Malcolm (1994): Late Roman helmet fragments from Richborough, in: Journal of Roman Military Equipment Studies 5, pp. 97-105.
  5. ^ Southern and Dixon, pp. 92-94
  6. ^ James, p. 112
  7. ^ Southern and Dixon, pp. 92-95
  8. ^ Codex Theodosianus 10.22.I (11 March, 374)
  9. ^ Klumbach, Hans (1973) Spatromische Gardehelme p. 19
  10. ^ Bishop and Coulston, pp. 66-67
  11. ^ Southern and Dixon, p. 93
  12. ^ a b Bishop and Coulston, p. 66
  13. ^ Southern and Dixon, p. 95
  14. ^ James, pp. 114-115
  15. ^ Dawson, pp. 20–21.
  16. ^ James, p. 134

Bibliography[edit]

  • Bishop, M. C. and Coulston, J. C. (1989) Roman Military Equipment, Shire Publications, Aylesbury.
  • Dawson, T. (2007). Byzantine Infantryman. Eastern Roman Empire c.900–1204. Osprey. ISBN 978-1-84603-105-2. 
  • James, S. (1986) Evidence from Dura Europos for the Origins of Late Roman Helmets. In: Syria, T. 63, Fasc. 1/2 (1986), pp. 107–134. Published by: Institut Francais du Proche-Orient.
  • Southern, P. and Dixon, K. (1996) The Late Roman Army, Batsford. ISBN 0-300-06843-3

Further reading[edit]

  • Mahand Vogt: Spangenhelme. Baldenheim und verwandte Typen. Monographien des Römisch-Germanischen Zentralmuseums 39. Römisch-Germanisches Zentralmuseum, Schnell & Steiner, Regensburg 2007. ISBN 978-3-7954-2006-2.
  • Simon MacDowall and Christa Hook: Late Roman Cavalryman AD 236-565. ISBN 1-85532-567-5
  • Peter Wilcox und Angus McBride: Rome's Enemies 3: Parthians and Sassanid Persians. ISBN 0-85045-688-6
  • John Warry: Warfare in the Classical World: An Illustrated Encyclopedia of Weapons, Warriors, and Warfare in the Ancient Civilisations of Greece and Rome. ISBN 0-8061-2794-5

External links[edit]