The helmet from Tjele

The fragment of the helmet from Tjele. Author: Arnold Mikkelsen, Nationalmuseet. Taken from the catalogue of National Museum of Denmark.

In 1850, an extraordinary find was discovered by a young farmer in the forest called Lindum Storskov, near Tjele, Denmark. The find consisted of a set of blacksmith equipment – two anvils, five hammers, three tongs, sheet metal shears, two files, a wedge, two nail headers, casting bowls (with traces of tin and lead), a small touchstone, a set of scales, nine weights, five sickles, a key, three iron nails, an axe, two jingles, a spearhead/arrowhead, bronze wires, a lid of a box for scales, bone and bronze fragments of a casket, a mount of a drinking horn, iron fragments and pieces of a helmet (Leth-Larsen 1984; Lund 2006: 325). Thanks to local authorities, the set was sent to Copenhagen, where it was analyzed. The find was published three times – in 1858 (Boye 1858), then in 1939 (Ohlhaver 1939) and finally in 1984 (Munksgaard 1984; Leth-Larsen 1984).

tjele

Some other objects from the find from Tjele. Taken from Boye 1858: Pl. II–IV.

The helmet fragment is a very interesting object, that was originally interpreted as a saddle mount. It was Elisabeth Munksgaard, who expressed the theory about the helmet. Still, it is rather an overlooked artefact that was never studied in detail nor scientifically reconstructed. That’s the reason why this article was written.

Munksgaard sums up several important details:

This winged-shaped object is not a saddle mounting, but the eyebrows and nose-gueard of a helmet, made of iron and bronze. […] We are, unfortunately, not able to judge what the Tjele helmet looked like. There is not a trace of chain mail rest of the helmet, nor any iron plates fit for making up the rest of the helmet. But there are eight fragments of thin iron strips, about 1 cm broad and of varying length which might have been used for joining the plates together.” (Munksgaard 1984: 87)

More than detailed description, her article includes the comparison with the helmet from Gjermundbu. Since she considers the helmet from Gjermundbu to be the closest analogy, it is obvious she interprets the fragment as a part of a spectacle low-domed helmet. This type of helmets was used until 1000 AD (Munksgaard 1984: 88). The dating of the find from Tjele was corrected by Lund (2006: 325, 339), who claims the set belongs to the period between 950–970 AD. Tweedle (1992: 1126) assumed that the mask was multi-pieced; two ocular pieces were riveted to the nasal. The hole in the broader piece of the nasal could support this theory. Moreover, the mask from Kyiv shows the same feature.

The size of the mask is not convincingly given, but both Munksgaard and Tweedle suggest it is 12 × 7 cm (Munksgaard 1984: 87, fig. 4; Tweedle 1992: 1128, fig. 561). Just in the middle of eyebrows, at the base of the nasal, a hole for a rivet is placed. At least one decorated bronze strip was mounted on the eyebrows. It seems that entire eyebrows were symmetrically covered by bronze strips like this one. As a result, the mask was a distictive feature of the helmet, as can be observed in cases of other helmets too (Gjermundbu, Lokrume, Kyiv or St. Wenceslas helmet).

Regarding the construction, we can not say much. Munksgaard gives the information about eight fragments of narrow bands, which makes it possible to imagine that the helmet could have the similar construction as the helmet from Gjermundbu. The dome of the helmet of Gjermundbu is formed by four triangular-shaped plates. Under the gap between each two plates, there is a narrow flat band, which is riveted to a somewhat curved band located above the gap between each two plates. In the nape-forehead direction, the flat band is formed by a single piece, that is extended in the middle (on the top of the helmet) and forms the base for the spike. There are two flat bands in the lateral direction. Triangular-shaped plates are riveted to each corner of the extended part of the nape-forehead band. A broad band, with visible profiled line, is riveted to the rim of the dome. Two rings were connected to the very rim of the broad band, probably remnants of the aventail. In the front, the decorated mask is riveted onto the broad band.

The scheme of the helmet. Made by Tomáš Vlasatý and Tomáš Cajthaml.

The scheme of the helmet of Gjermundbu. Made by Tomáš Vlasatý and Tomáš Cajthaml.

Even though the mask from Tjele is just a fragment, we can not underestimate the meaning of this find. It broadens our vision about Viking Age protective gear, its decoration and the makers. Recently, two of my friends have tried to replicate the helmet fragment from Tjele. The reconstruction of the complete helmet is impossible, but I personally think that these both versions are decent and plausible tries that should be accepted by reenactment community.

First, let’s have a look on the work of Dmitry Hramtsov. The dome of this version is based on Vendel Period helmets. Since multi-pieced masks are typical for pre-Viking helmets, such a dome seems to be understandable. Metal bands are, however, much wider than those found in Tjele. The eyebrows are decorated with 14 bronze strips.

 

The second try is the helmet made by Konstantin Shiryaev and Maxim Teryoshin. In this case, the dome is based on the helmet from Gjermundbu. Konstantin used 16 bronze strips.


Bibliography:

Boye, V. (1858). To fund af smedeværktøi fra den sidste hedenske tid i Danmark (Thiele-Fundet og Snoldelev-Fundet). In: Annaler for Nordisk Oldkyndighed og Historie, København: 191–200.

Leth-Larsen, B. (1984). Selected objects from the stock of the Tjele smith. In: Offa 41, Neumünster: 91–96.

Lund, J. (2006). Vikingetidens værktøjskister i landskab og mytologi (Viking Period tool chests in the landscape and in mythology). In: Fornvännen 101, Stockholm: 323–341.

Munksgaard, E. (1984). A Viking Age smith, his tools and his stock-in-trade. In: Offa 41, Neumünster: 85–89.

Ohlhaver, H. (1939). Der germanische Schmied und sein Werkzeug. Hamburger Schriften zur Vorgeschichte und Germanischen Frühgeschichte, Band 2, Leipzig.

Tweddle, D. (1992). The Anglian Helmet from 16-22 Coppergate, The Archaeology of York. The Small Finds AY 17/8, York.

The helmet from Gjermundbu

On March 30 1943, Universitetets Oldsaksamling in Oslo gained the information that a farmer named Lars Gjermundbo found and dug into a huge mound on his land near the farm of Gjermundbu, Buskerud county, southern Norway. The place was examined by archaeologists (Marstrander and Blindheim) the next month and the result was really fascinating.

gjerm1

The plan of the mound. Taken from Grieg 1947: Pl. I.

The mound was 25 meters long, 8 meters broad in the widest place and 1.8 meters high in the middle part. The most of the mound was formed by stony soil; however, the interior of the middle part was paved with large stones. Some stones were found even on the surface of the mound. In the middle part, about one meter below the surface and under the stone layer, the first grave was discovered, so called Grav I. 8 meters from Grav I, in the western part of the mound, the second grave was found, Grav II. Both graves represent cremation burials from the 2nd half of the 10th century and are catalogized under the mark C27317. Both graves were documented by Sigurd Grieg in Gjermundbufunnet : en høvdingegrav fra 900-årene fra Ringerike in 1947.

Grav I consists of dozens of objects connected to personal ownership and various activities, including fighting, archery, horse riding, playing games and cooking. Among others, the most interesting are unique objects, like the chain-mail and the helmet, which became very famous and are mentioned or depicted in every relevant publication.

Předpokládaná rekonstrukce bojovníka uloženého v Gjermundbu, 10. století. Podle

Possible reconstruction of the gear that was found in Grav I, Gjermundbu. Taken from Hjardar – Vike 2011: 155. The shape of the aventail is the weak point of the reconstruction.

© 2016 Kulturhistorisk museum, UiO

The helmet is often described as the only complete helmet known from the Viking Age. Unfortunately, it is not true, for at least two reasons. Firstly, the helmet is not by any means complete – it shows heavy damage and consists of only 17 fragments in the current state, which means one-fourth or one-third of the helmet. To be honest, fragments of the helmet are glued onto a plaster matrix (some of them in the wrong position) that has the rough form of the original helmet. Careless members of academia present this version as a reconstruction in the museum and in books, and this trend is then copied by reenactors and the general public. I have to agree with Elisabeth Munksgaard (Munksgaard 1984: 87), who wrote: “The Gjermundbu helmet is neither well preserved nor restored.

The current state of the helmet. Picture taken by Vegard Vike.

Secondly, there are at least 5 other published fragments of helmets spread across Scandinavia and areas with strong Scandinavian influence (see the article Scandinavian helmets of the 10th century). I am aware of several unpublished depictions and finds, whose reliability can not be proven. Especially, helmet fragments found in Tjele, Denmark, are very close to Gjermundbu helmet, since they consist of a mask and eight narrow metal bands 1 cm wide (see the article The helmet from Tjele). Based on the Gjermundbu helmet, Tjele helmet fragments and Kyiv mask (the shape of the original form of Lokrume fragment is unknown), we can clearly say that spectacle helmet type with decorated mask evolved from Vendel Period helmets and was the most dominant type of Scandinavian helmet until 1000 AD, when conical helmets with nasals became popular.

gjermbu8

An old reconstruction of the helmet, made by Erling Færgestad. Taken from Grieg 1947: Pl. VI.

To be fair, the helmet from Gjermundbu is the only spectacle type helmet of the Viking Age, whose construction is completely known. Let’s have a look at it!

gjermundbu

The scheme of the helmet. Made by Tomáš Vlasatý and Tomáš Cajthaml.

My mate Tomáš Cajthaml made a very nice scheme of the helmet, according to my instructions. The scheme is based on Grieg´s illustration, photos saved in the Unimus catalogue and observations made by researcher Vegard Vike.

The dome of the helmet is formed by four triangular-shaped plates (dark blue). Under the gap between each two plates, there is a narrow flat band, which is riveted to a somewhat curved band located above the gap between each two plates (yellow). In the nape-forehead direction, the flat band is formed by a single piece, that is extended in the middle (on the top of the helmet) and forms the base for the spike (light bluethe method of attaching the spike is not known to me). There are two flat bands in the lateral direction (green). Triangular-shaped plates are riveted to each corner of the extended part of the nape-forehead band. A broad band, with visible profiled line, is riveted to the rim of the dome (red; it is not known how the ends of this piece of metal connected to each other). Two rings were connected to the very rim of the broad band, probably remnants of the aventail. In the front, the decorated mask is riveted onto the broad band.

© 2016 Kulturhistorisk museum, UiO

Since all known dimensions are shown in the scheme, let me add some supplementary facts. Firstly, four somewhat curved bands are shown a bit differently in the scheme – they are more curved in the middle part and tapering near ends. Secondly, the spike is a very important feature and rather a matter of aesthetic than practical usage. Regarding the aventail, rings have the spacing of at least 2 cm. On contrary to chain-mail, rings from the helmet are very thick and probably butted, since no trace of rivets were found. It can not be said whether they represent the aventail, and if so, what it looked like and whether the aventail was hanging on rings or on a wire that was drawn through the rings (see my article about hanging devices of early medieval aventails). Talking about the mask, X-ray showed at least 40 lines, which form eyelashes, similarly to Lokrume helmet mask (see the article The helmet from Lokrume). In spite of modern tendencies, neither traces of metal inlay nor droplets of melted metal were found. The mask shows a two-part construction, overlaped and forge-welded at each temple and in the nose area (according to the X-ray picture taken by Vegard Vike). There is a significant difference between the thickness of plates and bands and the mask; even the mask shows uneven thickness. Initially, the surface of the helmet could be polished, according to Vegard Vike.

I believe these notes will help to the new generation of more accurate reenactors. Not counting rings, the helmet could be formed from 14 pieces and at least 33 rivets. Such a construction is a bit surprising and seems not so solid. In my opinion, this fact will lead to the discussion of reenactors whether the helmet represents a war helmet or rather a ceremonial / symbolical helmet. I personally think there is no need to see those two functions as separated.

I am very indebted to my friends Vegard Vike, who answered all my annoying question, young artist and reenactor Tomáš Cajthaml and Samuel Collin-Latour. I hope you liked reading this article. If you have any question or remark, please contact me or leave a comment below. If you want to learn more and support my work, please, fund my project on Patreon.


Bibliography

GRIEG, Sigurd (1947). Gjermundbufunnet : en høvdingegrav fra 900-årene fra Ringerike, Oslo.

HJARDAR, Kim – VIKE, Vegard (2011). Vikinger i krig, Oslo.

MUNKSGAARD, Elisabeth (1984). A Viking Age smith, his tools and his stock-in-trade. In: Offa 41, Neumünster, 85–89.