Helm of Cannae

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The Roman antiquities chamber of Erbach Palace. The Helm is located in the vitrine under the mirror.

The Helm of Cannae is an artefact in the antiquities collection of Franz, Count of Erbach-Erbach, at Erbach Palace in Erbach im Odenwald. It is, reputedly, one of the few surviving helmets from the field of the Battle between the Roman Republic and the Carthaginians under Hannibal in 216 BC. It is most famous for a legend about its acquisition by the count.

Legend has it that the helm was stolen from the Vatican Museum by a member of Count Franz I's staff at his direction during his second tour of Italy in 1791. The story of the preparation and commission of this theft was dealt with repeatedly and partially dramatised in nineteenth century literature. The earliest surviving written source is an account by Otto Müller, which was produced before 1868.[1]

The servant who is said to have committed the theft was Friedrich Louis (1759–1846)[2] who later became a forester and great-grandfather of the author Ludwig Ganghofer.[3] He had other descendants too, including Elly Heuss-Knapp, wife of Theodor Heuss, the first President of Germany.[4]

In serious literature about Count Franz, on the other hand, nothing is said about this event and how he acquired the famous helm is not mentioned at all.[5] It is assumed therefore that the story is a Jägerlatein (a cock and bull story), which was recorded by Otto Müller and handed down as local tradition, perhaps based on an actual story told by Forester Friedrich Louis. The story of the Adlerstein of Würzberg is probably also derived from Louis.


  • Ernst Franz. Forstrat Louis. 2nd Edition. 1959.
  • Otto Müller. Der Helm von Cannä.[6]


  1. ^ Ernst Eckstein (ed.): "Humoristischer Hausschatz für’s deutsche Volk". NF Vol. 6. Leipzig [undated], p. 186.
  2. ^ On whom, see Ernst Franz Forstrat Louis.
  3. ^ Ludwig Ganghofer wrote about him in his memoirs, Lebenslauf eines Optimisten, Chapter 1, "As a young gamekeeper, my great-grandfather helped his lord, then a count with imperial immediacy and a fanatical collector of antiquities, to steal the fabled helm of Hannibal from the Vatican. Otto Müller wrote an exciting novel, Der Helm von Cannä about this bold adventure, balanced between death and grotesque humour, which the aged forester Louis recounted to him in Odenwald. But in that book, a good deal may have been embellished"
  4. ^ Friedrich Höreth, "Der Verwandten- und Freundeskreis um Friedrich Louis". In: Ernst Franz, Forstrat Louis. p, 6.
  5. ^ See L. Ferdinand Dieffenbach: Graf Franz zu Erbach-Erbach. Ein Lebens- und Culturbild aus dem Ende des XVIII. und dem Anfange des XIX. Jahrhunderts. Darmstadt 1879; Eduard Anthes Die Antiken der Gräflich Erbach-Erbachischen Sammlung zu Erbach i[m] O[denwald]. Darmstadt 1885.
  6. ^ Title mentioned in Ernst Eckstein (ed.). "Humoristischer Hausschatz für’s deutsche Volk". NF Vol 6. Leipzig [undated], p. 186.