Late Roman ridge helmet
The Late Roman ridge helmet was a type of combat helmet of late antiquity used by soldiers of the late Roman army. It was characterised by the possession of a skull made up of multiple riveted elements, united by a longitudinal ridge.
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 on the Eurasian steppes. These helmets were encountered by the Romans in use by their enemies on the Danubian (Sarmatians) and Mesopotamian (Sassanid Persia) frontiers. 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 and possibly Sarmatian origin of this type of helmet. Two main forms of helmet construction were adopted by the Romans at much the same time: the ridge helmet, described here, and the spangenhelm.
Unlike earlier Roman helmets, the skull of the ridge helmet is constructed from more than one element, with the elements united by a characteristic riveted ridge running from the front to the back. The ridge helmet is typically made of iron and often has a guard for the nose (nasal), cheek-pieces, and a separate neck guard. When present, the nasal is 'T' shaped with the upper element arching over the eyes, and is riveted to the skull via these 'eyebrows.' In the Intercisa type helmet, the skull is made in two halves joined by the median ridge, and has small cheekpieces. In the Berkasovo type, the skull is usually made of more elements, from four to six, riveted together; however, the characteristic median ridge is also found in this type. One of the helmets discovered in Serbia at Berkasovo, unusually, has a bipartite bowl like the Intercisa type. The Berkasovo type helmet also differs from the Intercisa in having larger cheekpieces and a deep browband riveted inside the rim of the skull assembly. A few Roman helmets of the 4th century have cheekpieces attached by hinges, but the majority do not. It is believed that the cheekpieces and the neck guard were attached to the skull by flexible leather straps, or were attached to a helmet liner.
A varying number of sub-types of Late Roman ridge helmets have been described in publications, though most appear to be minor variantions of either the Intercisa or Berkasovo types.
Many helmets, indeed the majority of those excavated to date, have evidence of costly decorative silver or silver-gilt sheathing, some are even encrusted with glass gems. Such helmets would have been very visually impressive when worn. For a number of extant helmets all that remains is the decorative silver sheathing, the iron having corroded away entirely. A single helmet found at Intercisa in Hungary, where a hoard of 15-20 helmets was unearthed, has a tall, integral, iron crest. A similar helmet found at Augst has three slots in its ridge for the attachment of a separate crest.
By extrapolation from the provision for hearing in earlier Roman helmets, the Intercisa type helmets, with small cheekpieces incorporating openings over the ears, have been classed as infantry helmets. The Berkasovo and similar types, with large cheekpieces completely covering the ears, have been classed as cavalry helmets. One such helmet, the Deurne helmet, has an inscription to a cavalry unit of the equites stablesiani, which provides supporting evidence for this thesis.
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. They were used until the 6th century, and probably later. One specimen, of 5th century date, was found outside the Roman empire in Concești on Hunnic territory. 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'.
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