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 Early Medieval Forum, Slovakia

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The Early Medieval Forum / Fórum včasného stredoveku (FVS) will take place on February 3, 2017 in Archaeological Museum of the Slovak National Museum in Bratislava, Slovak republic. The project is organised by Marobud reenactment group from the Czech Republic and Svjatogor from the Slovak Republic.

For a longer period of time I and some of our group – Svjatogor – were convinced that we should contribute to the Slovak reenactment community by organizing an event. However, I was not sure of it’s nature for there are always the same types of events. An event for the public with stage combat exhibitions, theatrical parts and some tournament? Early medieval reenactment battle? A private gathering of the reenactment groups – maybe some tournament and party in costumes? All of those have at least one of the following problems: there’s a lot of it, local community is not big enough, no adequate space for it, without sufficient additional value etc.

A bright idea came to my mind while chatting with my father – an archaeologist. He attends a lot of conferences and symposiums dedicated to different matters of his profession. Why not to make something similar but in a smaller scale and dedicated for reenactors? There is a crucial need for an open discussion channel for the reenactors. Yes, we discuss things on the social media, we can talk during the events. On the social media like Facebook, we can indeed see fruitful debates but we have to face the loss of intimacy in these discussions which results into egocentrism, agression, so called “hate”, personal attacks and last but not least the presence of people not interested or open-minded enough for some sort of serious discussion. Most of these problems are present also during the reenactment events but with the addition of the alcohol, therefore the efficiency of the discussion decays.

A base for reenactors of the early medieval period – this idea caught me and kept me thinking of it for some time. After some time I was confident of the possible contribution of this event mainly in these points:
– meeting in person without the distance of the medias
– relatively small group meeting with a clear aim without unnecessary distractions
– participation of people that are truly interested in the matter
– a potential to create a long-term collective that could be recognized in the reenactment scene
– a possible inspiration for the others to discuss on a new level

With a steady aim, the next step was clear. For a few years, there is a person I recognize as a certain authority on the early medieval reenactment scene in the Czech and the Slovak Republic. I assumed his participation on this Early Medieval Forum (FVS) was crucial to the goal of the event. Tomáš Vlasatý is Czech reenactor of the early medieval Northener from Scandinavia, member of Marobud reenactment group, founder of Projekt Forlǫg, and an enthusiast that is engaged in a large number of projects that aim to improve the quality of the reenactment community and to motivate current and new reenactors to improve themselves.

My shy approach to him was not in place, because of his friendly attitude and his fast approval and adaptation of this idea and also an enthusiasm he showed. According to his knowledge, a similar concept works perfectly in Russia that is known to possess a powerful community of a great quality. We agreed on the name of the event and Tomáš suggested to find a place inspirational enough for this kind of forum. We also agreed on a date of the forum that will take place on February 3, 2017. An important part of the contribution of Tomáš was to invite the deeply interested reenactors that could contribute to this forum as his scope and contacts amongst the reenactors are really significant. In the meantime, thanks to my and my group’s warm relations with the Archaeological Museum of the Slovak National Museum, we managed to arrange the forum to take place in the premises of the Archaeological Museum.

The idea of the Early Medieval Forum is that the participants contribute themselves with their own ideas, papers or presentations to the forum. I managed to convince PhDr. Vladimír Turčan of the Archaeological Museum, an expert in the archaeology of the early medieval Slavic culture, to contribute to the forum with his speech about Bojná hillfort, probably the most famous early medieval archaeological site in Slovakia. Recently, the top-level sword manufacturer from Slovakia – Róbert Môc – kindly agreed to participate in the Early medieval forum and to contribute by presenting the sword from Krásna nad Hornádom (Slovakia) and his work on it’s reconstruction.

It is not so long I was merely scratching the surface of the whole reenactment problematics but I and my group wish to join the effort of the great reenactors and help to improve the community. Naturally, we have to start from ourselves, but in the meantime, we would be happy to cooperate with the others and help to motivate the other groups and individuals. I believe, and I assume Tomáš would not disagree, that the Early Medieval Forum will be a step in the right direction and that we would be happy to welcome more enthusiasts in the early medieval reenactment to participate and collaborate on the meetings in the future.

In case of interest, please contact us via e-mail on: svjatogor.druzina@gmail.com

December 1, 2016

Michal Bazovský
Svjatogor