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Roman Helmets

The Galea were Roman helmets worn by the ancient Roman soldiers. A few of the Gladiators, especially the Murmillones, wore the Galea made of bronze, and with face masks sporting decorations. Often, these featured fish on the crest.

The exact design or form of the Roman helmet significantly varied overtime. These differed between unit types, and individual examples.

Pre-industrial creation was by hand, so there’s no certainty if there were any standardizations even under the empire.

Originally, these Roman helmets were greatly influenced by the Etruscans. They were individuals who used the Nasua helmets. The Greek warriors from the south were also those who influenced the Roman helmet’s design during its early history.

The main evidence of this can be seen from archaeological finds. However, these are often incomplete or damaged. Though it’s good to note that there are similarities in function and form between them.

Features of a Roman Helmet

When speaking of the Roman helmet’s most distinct feature, it would be the crest that adorns the top. These crests were sometimes made from horse hair or plumes, and often painted red. However, there were instances when these appear in other shades like yellow, white, black, or combinations of them.

These were essential since the crests represented the wearer’s rank. For the centurions or officers, they utilized these as a symbol of their status, and to make them appear taller.

The idea back then was that someone who towered over others was more intimidating. Hence, soldiers utilized these crests. Gladiators like the Samnis and Hoplomachus also likely wore huge feathered crests for the same reason.

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From Writings and Sculptures

Experts compiled numerous evidences from writings and sculptures stating that legionaries used crests that were positioned lengthwise.

As for centurions, these soldiers mounted the crests crosswise.

In the time of the early empire, these crests on the helmets were worn by the centurions as they battled.

However, these soldiers, along with the legionaries, only wore these crests on occasion during the other periods.

Aside from showing off one’s status and level, the centurions utilized these crests as visual references for their men.

It was also a rallying point for them. The lower ranked soldiers only utilized these during special occasions like triumphs or parades.

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History of the Roman Helmet

The earlier Roman helmets like the Montefortino, sported a simple, dome-like design. By the 1st BCE, these pieces evolved and turned into the well-known Roman helmet that most of us know of.

These were referred to as the Galea or Imperial helmets. The previous means helmet in Latin. The design and style of these were based on the Celtic helmets. These protective wear were utilized by the Gallic tribes whom they battled with.

Roman helmets coming from the later periods were created using one iron or brass sheet that provided enhanced protection. These items were usually crowned using spikes or knobs for connecting the crests.

These often featured tubes connected to the helmet’s side. Plus, they were mainly used for feathers.

Numerous helmets originating from the fourth and early fifth century have been discovered in Europe since the 19th century. All of these pieces shared the common features, specifically a bowl or skull of composite construction.

These possessed a continuous fore-and-aft strip or ridge piece where two half-skulls are attached. For the latter, each half-skull may consist of a single piece of metal or three plate groups.

Our helmets

The Plumes

Most of the helmets that were claimed to be utilized by the legionaries had similar qualities. They had a type of plume/crest holder on the helmet’s crown. However, the way of attaching these varied depending on the location, period, and type of helmet.

Earliest forms of plumes were most likely similar to the ones depicted on early Greco-Etruscan potteries. They appeared to use either horse air or feathers. If this style continued until the Roman period, plumes/crests would likely sport a combination of red-brown, white, or black.

That’s because dyeing horse hair was challenging, especially when they only used natural vegetable dye back then.

Earlier types of helms seemed to only have centrally fixed plumes. However in the late 1st BC until the 2nd AD, fittings appeared to indicate the use of detachable crest boxes.

These crest boxes primarily had U-shaped crest holders that one could fit on fixing points on the crown’s center. They could also be fixed at the back of these protective gear.

There’s not enough non-metal remains here, indicating that the boxes were most likely created using wood. With that, they might have rotted and gotten damaged over time.

Normally, plumes or feather holders were present and positioned on each side of the helmet. If feathers were used, there’s a high chance that these were goose feathers since they were sacred to Juno.

Types of Roman Helmets

There are different kinds of helmets, and that also goes for the Roman helmets. The styles have changed over time, and have improved in quality and design as well. From basic leather Roman helmets, they evolved to metal based ones.

With that, these Roman helmets have been categorized into the following:

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Montefortino Helmet

The Montefortino helmet was a Celtic, then later, Roman helmet utilized by the military. It was put to use from 300 BC throughout the 1st century AD. During these times, various modifications and enhancements were made.

This helmet type was named after Montefortino in Italy. It was where the very first Montefortino helmet appeared in a Celtic burial. The helmet had similar versions that were found in places like Gaul and Spain.

Montefortino helmets featured a cone-like shape with an elevated central knob. It also sported a neck guard that juts out, and cheek plates to shield the sides of the wearer’s head.

The only surviving samples usually have missing parts like cheek pieces. It’s likely these were made from leather.

The Romans, at times, carved their names on these helmets. Aside from these, the earlier helms were decorated and styled using a rope-like pattern along its edge. There was even a pinecone-type pattern on its crest knob.

From the time of the Marian reforms, 100 BC, cheap, simple, undercoated, yet effective helmets were mass-produced for poorer legionaries.

Coolus Helmet

The Coolus helmet was named after Coolus, France. It was a kind of classic Celtic and Roman helmet used by soldiers of the past.

These helmets were typically crafted using brass or bronze. Like the Montefortino, the Coolus helmet was a descendant of the Celtic helmet.

Generally, the Coolus helmet was a Roman helmet that appeared fairly plain. An exception would be for a couple of elevated panels or ridges along the cheek pieces.

These were hemispherical or globular-shaped with a turned, riveted or soldered-on crest knob. These Coolus helmets became a popular aspect of historical warfare. One of the samples of it would be the popular Thames Coolus helmet.

It was a helmet acquired from the River Thames, England, and has been kept in the British Museum.

At some point in time., the Coolus helmet was eventually replaced by the Imperial helmet. This kind of helmet was a more developed piece and was also based on the original Celtic helmet.

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Imperial Helmets

These helmets were used by the Roman legionaries. Preceding the Empire, the Roman Republican soldiers usually provided their own weapons and tools. With that, these were traditionally passed down from father to son.

And due to this tradition, different types of equipment from lots of eras were present in their ranks.

Imperial Gallic Helmet

These Imperial Gallic helmets were first created by Gaul’s Celtic craftsmen. These pieces feature a pair of uniquely embossed eyebrow shields on the helmet’s forehead, and are intricately crafted and decorated.

The helmet displays a sloped neck guard together with some ribs along the nape. It also comes with protruding ear guards, brass trims, as well as ornamental bosses.

Additionally, the helmets were primarily made out of iron. It had recesses for the user’s ears, while certain brass shapes decorated some portions. This included little circular bosses, as well as the cheek pieces.

For the crest holder, it primarily featured a right-angled foot that slipped in a tube on the helmet’s crown. However, other versions that were discovered had extra decorative plume holders found at the peak’s ends.

Imperial Gallic G

The imperial Gallic G was considered as the standard mid 1st century legionary helmet. It was continuously utilized in battle until the early 2nd century AD.

One of the best samples of it was acquired from the Rhine River, Mainz Weisenau. Today, it’s kept in Worms.

A few fragments of this type of helmet was seen in Colchester’s rubbish pits. Yet these have been reassembled for display at the Colchester Castle Museum.

Imperial Gallic H

This helmet sports a similar design to that of the Gallic G. Yet their difference is that the Gallic H features a differently-styled eyebrow protector, while its neck guard slopes further.

The most complete sample of the Imperial Gallic H comes from Lech, which is close to Augsburg, Germany.

Other dated helmets show a specific trend towards neck guards that are sloped. It was during the last half of the 1st century, then, it went throughout the second and third centuries.

But since both neck guard styles were utilized side-by-side, it was most likely a matter of preference. Or, it could’ve also been due to armory problems like what kind should be worn by a certain Roman soldier.

Imperial Gallic I

The Imperial Gallic I helmet goes all the way back to the time of the Imperial Gallic H. It sports the same style and design, yet is crafted using brass instead of iron.

Like other Roman helmets, its original piece was seen in the River Rhine, Mainz. One even had a soldier’s name carved in it – L. Lucretius Cleris of the Legio I Adiutrix.

Its crest attachment was lost, yet a circular imprint displayed a soldered-on disc. This exhibited an Italian-style twist-on crest holder than the Gallic-style slide on crest.

All three display the use of feather holders, which are only mostly present on iron ones. Plus, it’s likely that in the late 1st century, brass helmets with feather tubes displayed a higher rank of soldier.

Imperial Italic Helmet

These types of Roman helmets lack the eyebrow shield and were made in a rough manner. However, it was improved as time passed.

The Trajan war in AD 98 to 117, experienced having the Dacian Falx, a sickle-like and double-handed sword, attack soldiers. Here, the weapon reached and blew over the Roman shield walls to destroy the soldiers’ helmets.

Due to the incident, Roman soldiers added field enhancements to their helmet. They included cross-bracing augmenting bars for improved skull protection.

Since then, these crossbars became a regular aspect on Roman helmets. This was from 125 AD throughout the entire 3rd century.

Imperial Italic D and E

The type D and E helmets featured gilded motifs, though were likely mass-produced. They had a very similar second cheek piece, plus a complete helmet which somewhat sports the same style decoration. However, most of these had been stripped off when they were thrown away.

These types of Imperial Italic Roman helmets were usually depicted in contemporary art. These were shown as a centurion’s protective gear.

However, the surviving samples’ crest attachment suggests that these were only utilized by regular soldiers.

Due to their distinct features, it’s sometimes considered as a special piece for a specific unit like the Praetorian Guard.

The Imperial Italic D helmet was the result of one workshop that made a more ornamental headgear. It was designed for soldiers who might wish to spend more for attractive helmets.

Additionally, the Italic D helmet features vital brass cross braces positioned flat against the headgear’s skull. This part provided doubled thickness of metal which was a crucial element for added protection. The superior performance of this helmet against the Dacian falx led to the modification of all helmets’ cross braces.

Imperial Italic G

The original sample of the Imperial Italic G was seen in a cave close to Hebron, West Bank. It was around the Palestinian territories.

Research assumes it was a war loot of Jewish Zealots, specifically the Bar Kochba Revolt of Hadrian.

The Imperial Italic G is among the earliest Roman helmets found. With that, it was likely the post-Dacian wars’ crossbars were included as part of the helmet’s original form.

Evidence of this can be noted on the brass lunate decor that was applied between the helmet’s crossbars.

Imperial Italic H

The Imperial Italic Helmet H or Niedermörmter, is one of the well-preserved surviving Roman headgear. These are made from bronze, and are heavily adorned.

The helmet comes with a neck guard that is much deeper than the usual style.

Its cross bracing that goes across the skull is embossed instead of applied. Plus, it sports an unnatural dome-shaped knob where the helmet’s braces join at the helmet’s crown.

The Imperial Italic H dates back to the late Severans or Antonine periods. However, the discovered helmet was practically unknown, and its date is based solely on the typology.

Ridge Helmet

Once the 3rd century AD ended, the ridge helmets, a new type of headgear had appeared. It was utilized by the Romans until the 5th century. The ridge helmet got its name from its middle raised band that connects the two halves of its skull.

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Ridge Helmet

Once the 3rd century AD ended, the ridge helmets, a new type of headgear had appeared. It was utilized by the Romans until the 5th century. The ridge helmet got its name from its middle raised band that connects the two halves of its skull.

The Early Ridge Helmets

When it comes to the earlier forms of the Ridge helmets, the Fernpass helmet is one of its samples. It was discovered in Austria and dates all the way back to the 4th century. The Fernpass helmet featured the gold and silver sheathings that were found in Roman ridge helmets.

Some people believed that the helmet was owned by a Germanic Warrior. It’s also said that he had the helmet remodeled to appear like a ridge helmet.

Many helmets coming from the Germanic states are derivatives of the Roman ridge helmet. Also, these date back in the Early Middle Ages. The Coppergate helmet is one of these.

Unlike the Roman helmets from the earlier periods, the ridge helmet’s skull was made using more than a single element.

Roman ridge helmets can be categorized into two kinds of skull construction: these are quadripartite and bipartite. These are also known as Berkasovo and Intercisa types, respectively.

Late Roman Ridge Helmets

These Roman helmets were the battle helmets of Late Antiquity. They were utilized by warriors from the Late Roman army. It was described by having a bowl with two or four parts. These were connected with a ridge that was positioned lengthwise.

These late Roman ridge helmets were featured for the first time on Constantine the Great’s coins. These were believed to have been in use between 270 and 300 AD.

Most of the examples excavated to date, feature evidence of decorative silvering of iron. Or, it’s concealed mostly by silver/silver-gilt sheathing. This method of adorning the helmet was done by the barbaricarii.

The amount of gold and silver utilized for sheathing was graded by rank, and was usually inscribed on the helmet.

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