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Horned helmet

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Persian pre-Islamic horned kulah khud with a demon face.

Horned helmets were worn by many people around the world. Headpieces mounted with animal horns or replicas were also worn since ancient history, as in the Mesolithic Star Carr Frontlets. These were probably used for religious ceremonial or ritual purposes, as horns tend to be impractical on a combat helmet. Much of the evidence for these helmets and headpieces comes from depictions rather than the items themselves.

Prehistoric Middle East & Cyprus[edit]

Horned hats have been used to signify deities in Mesopotamia and Cyprus, and later, as seen on the Victory Stele of Naram-Sin, kings as well. More horns signified higher importance.[citation needed]


Prehistoric Europe[edit]

Two bronze statuettes dated to the early 12th century BC, the so-called "horned god" and "ingot god", wearing horned helmets, found in Enkomi, Cyprus. In Sardinia warriors with horned helmets are depicted in dozens of bronze figures and in the Mont'e Prama giant statues, similar to those of the Shardana warriors (and possibly belonging to the same people) depicted by the Egyptians.

A pair of bronze horned helmets, the Veksø helmets, from the later Bronze Age (dating to c. 1100-900 BC) were found near Veksø, Denmark, in 1942.[1] Another early find is the Grevensvænge hoard from Zealand, Denmark, (c. 800–500 BC, now partially lost).

The Waterloo Helmet, a Celtic bronze ceremonial helmet with repoussé decoration in the La Tène style, dating to c. 150–50 BC, was found in the River Thames, at London. Its abstracted 'horns', different from those of the earlier finds, are straight and conical.[2] Late Gaulish helmets (c. 55 BC) with small horns and adorned with wheels, reminiscent of the combination of a horned helmet and a wheel on plate C of the Gundestrup cauldron (c. 100 BC), were found in Orange, France. Other Celtic helmets, especially from Eastern Europe, had bird crests. The enigmatic Torrs Pony-cap and Horns from Scotland appears to be a horned champron to be worn by a horse.

European Migration Period[edit]

Depicted on the Arch of Constantine, dedicated in 315 CE, are Germanic soldiers, sometimes identified as "Cornuti", shown wearing horned helmets. On the relief representing the Battle of Verona (312) they are in the first lines, and they are depicted fighting with the bowmen in the relief of the Battle of the Milvian Bridge.[3]

A depiction on a Migration Period (5th century) metal die from Öland, Sweden, shows a warrior with a helmet adorned with two snakes, or dragons, arranged in a manner similar to horns. Decorative plates of the Sutton Hoo helmet (c. 600 CE) depict spear-carrying dancing men wearing horned helmets,[4] similar to a figure seen on one of the Torslunda plates from Sweden.[5] Also, a pendant from Ekhammar in Uppland, features the same figure in the same pose and an 8th century find in Staraya Ladoga (a Norse trading outpost at the time) shows an object with similar headgear. An engraved belt-buckle found during excavations by Sonia Chadwick Hawkes in a 7th century grave at Finglesham, Kent in 1964 bears the image of a naked warrior standing between two spears wearing a belt and a horned helmet;[6] a case has been made[7][a] that the much-repaired chalk figure called the "Long Man of Wilmington", East Sussex, repeats this iconic motif, and originally wore a similar cap, of which only the drooping lines of the neckguard remain. This headgear, of which only depictions have survived, seems to have mostly fallen out of use with the end of the Migration period. Some have suggested that the figure in question[which?] does not portray actual headgear, but a mythological object of a god like Odin.[citation needed] A one-eyed figure with similar headgear was found at the site of Uppåkra temple, an alleged center of an Odinic-cult activity. A similar figurine from Levide, Gotland, lacked an eye, apparently removed after its completion. This would link the headgear as a mythological representations rather than depictions of actual helmets.[9] Note that the similar crests to the animal figures on the helmets of the warrior's depicted on the Sutton Hoo helmet has been demonstrated on helmets from Valsgärde, but the depicted crests where grossly exaggerated.

European Middle Ages[edit]

During the High Middle Ages, fantastical headgear became popular among knights, in particular for tournaments.[10] The achievements or representations of some coats of arms, for example that of Lazar Hrebeljanovic, depict them, but they rarely appear as charges depicted within the arms themselves. It is sometimes argued that helmets with large protuberances would not have been worn in battle due to the impediment to their wearer. However, impractical adornments have been worn on battlefields throughout history.

In Asia[edit]

In pre-Meiji Restoration Japan, some Samurai armor incorporated a horned, plumed or crested helmet. These horns, used to identify military commanders on the battlefield, could be cast from metal, or made from genuine water buffalo horns.

Indo-Persian warriors often wore horned or spiked helmets in battle to intimidate their enemies. These conical "devil masks" were made from plated mail, and usually had eyes engraved on them.

Popular association with Vikings[edit]

Stereotypical fantasy Viking with horned helmet.

Viking warriors are often associated with horned helmets in popular culture, but this is merely a modern association starting in the 1800s, initially popularized by the Norse operas of Richard Wagner, which depicted horns and wings on the helmets of the vikings.[11][12]

Contemporary Viking Age texts and stories regularly mention helmets, but never mentions horned such, even though recorded by Christians, who were keen to portray the Vikings as barbaric and uncivilized. It is surprising, therefore, that the Christian writers should have omitted to mention the horns, if they really existed.[13] The few period helmet finds thus far does not feature horns, instead coinciding with the construction of earlier Vendel Period spectacle helmets. The helmet descriptions found in the period epic poem Beowulf also coincides with the Vendel era helmets, as well as earlier Germanic boar helmets, which also lacks horns. The only find of Scandinavian horned helmets are the Bronze Age Veksø Helmets and depictions of ceremonial "bird horned" headgear on Migration Period trinkets – see § European Migration Period. Historians generally believe that if horned headgear existed during the Viking Age, it was not worn regularly.[13]

A 20th-century example is the Minnesota Vikings American football team, whose logo carries a horn on each side of the helmet. The comic strip character Hägar the Horrible and all male Vikings in the animated TV series Vicky the Viking are always depicted wearing horned helmets, as are numerous characters in the DreamWorks How to Train Your Dragon franchise and in The Lost Vikings video game series. Another popular culture depiction is the riff on Wagner's Der Ring des Nibelungen by Merrie Melodies in the Chuck Jones-directed cartoon What's Opera, Doc?, which depicts Elmer Fudd wearing a magical horned Viking helmet as he chases Bugs Bunny.


See also[edit]


  1. ^ Simpson (1979)[7] notes that Sidgewick (1939)[8] had related the Long Man to the Torslunda plate before Anglo-Saxon and Swedish connections had been fully demonstrated.


  1. ^ "Veksøhjelmene" (PDF). historiefaget.dk. Archived from the original (PDF) on 21 November 2016.
  2. ^ "Horned helmet". Explore / highlights. British Museum. Archived from the original on 27 May 2013. Retrieved 17 February 2013.
  3. ^ Speidel, Michael (2004). Ancient Germanic Warriors: Warrior styles from Trajan's column to Icelandic sagas. Routledge. p. 47. ISBN 0-415-31199-3.
  4. ^ Bruce-Mitford, R. (1972). The Sutton Hoo Ship-Burial: A handbook (2nd ed.). London, UK. fig. 9 p. 30.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link)
  5. ^ Davidson, H.R. Ellis (1967). Pagan Scandinavia. London, UK. plate 41.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link)
  6. ^ Hawkes, S.C.; Davidson, H.R.E.; Hawkes, C. (1965). "The Finglesham man". Antiquity. 39 (153): 17–32, esp. pp 27-30. doi:10.1017/S0003598X00031379. S2CID 163986460.
  7. ^ a b Simpson, Jacqueline (1979). "'Wændel' and the Long Man of Wilmington". Folklore. 90 (1): 25–28. doi:10.1080/0015587X.1979.9716120.
  8. ^ Sidgewick, J.B. (1939). "The mystery of the Long Man". Sussex County Magazine. Vol. 13. pp. 408–420.
  9. ^ "Odin from Levide - Medieval Histories". medievalhistories.com. 12 June 2014. Archived from the original on 26 October 2016. Retrieved 19 April 2018.
  10. ^ See the depiction of Wolfram von Eschenbach, and others, in the Codex Manesse.
  11. ^ Ibrahim, Nur (11 October 2022). "Did Vikings Actually Have Horns on Their Helmets?". Snopes. Retrieved 30 May 2024.
  12. ^ "These 6 Viking myths are compelling, but are they true?". History. 30 May 2024. Retrieved 30 May 2024.
  13. ^ a b ""Vikingarna hade horn på hjälmen"". varldenshistoria.se. Världens Historia. Retrieved 25 June 2024.

External links[edit]