The helmet from Lokrume, Gotland
Since I am deeply interested in Viking Age helmets, I realized there is no comprehensive article about the helmet from Lokrume. That’s why I decided to translate my Czech article, “Přilba z Lokrume“. I believe this might help to reenactors looking for new kind of helmet evidence.
The first information about the fragment from Lokrume, which is deposited in Visby museum with the sign GF B 1683, was first published by Fornvännen journal in 1907:
„The helmet fragment (consisting of eyebrows and the nasal) from iron is coated with silver plate decorated with niello ornaments. The item, which belongs to Visby Fornsal and which was found in Lokrume parish on Gotland, is the only Viking Age helmet fragment ever found and it is an interesting parallel to several hundreds older helmets from Vendel.“ (Fornvännen 1907: 208, Fig. 8)
Some time later, in 1925, Sune Lindqvist discussed the helmet in his essay on Vendel Period helmets (Lindqvist 1925: 192–194, Fig. 97): „it is made of iron and it is most likely made on Continent, because it is decorated with a thin layer of silver. In Scandinavia, this method was first used in the Viking Age“ (Lindqvist 1925: 192–193). He noticed also the fact that eyebrows do not have animal head terminals, like the helmet from Broa (Lindqvist 1925: 194).
Sigurd Grieg, who studied the helmet from Gjermundbu, reacted to Lindqvist in his book:
„In this moment, is is also interesting to mention the Viking Age fragment from Lokrume, Gotland, which was discussed by Lindquist, together with some other helmets. The piece is dated to the Viking Age and the decoration also shows it belongs to the period. The fragment consists of eyebrows and a part of nasal. The fragment is very interesting for us, because its ornaments show the similarity with ornaments known from the sword from Lipphener See (…).
Lindqvist presumes the fragment is an export from the Continent, because the thin silver plate decoration was not used in Scandinavia before the Viking Age. Gutorm Gjessing critised this, when he truthfully said: ‚In our opinion, the helmet fragment from Lokrume can not be understood as a predecessor to Vendel Period helmets, as Lindqvist did (…). The technique – coating with thin silver layer and niello decoration – is very well known from the Viking Age and it is obvious that this technique was very popular on Gotland during its quite extensive production of weapons in the Later Viking Age (…).’“ (Grieg 1947: 44–45)
Grieg, who quotes Gjessing, finds the analogies of the helmet fragment in the 10th century, more precisely, Saint Wenceslas helmet and Petersen type S sword from Lipphener See (Grieg 1947: 45). The most similar analogies of the motive can be found on Petersen type S swords from Poland, Czech Republic, Hungary and Ukraine.
Elisabeth Munksgaard, who wrote a paper on the helmet fragment from Tjele in 1984, mentioned the fragment from Lokrume without any detail (Munksgaard 1984: 87). Almost the same did Dominik Tweddle (Tweedle 1992: 1126), who mentioned the facts the fragment is decorated and does not have animal head terminals.
The most important work presents Die Wikingerzeit Gotlands, written by Lena Thunmark-Nylén. It consists of a detailed photo, dimensions and a commentary (WZG II: 264:1; III: 317; IV: 521–522):
„Lokrume parish, GF B 1683
An eyebrow protection from a helmet; made of iron inlayed with silver and nielloed with decoration in shape of airborne braided bands and intertwined circles ; the lenght of 13.2 cm.“ (WZG IV: 521–522)
„An eyebrow part of a helmet, without any knowledge of the find context, represents the only example of the Viking Age helmet on Gotland. The item is made of iron, decorated with square inlay, to which a niello band motive is placed. There are transverse bands in the other areas around eyes.“ (WZG III: 317)
Thunmark-Nylén seeks analogies within the corpus of Norwegian swords, and she comes with the conclusion that the dating to the Viking Age is more than clear and without any doubt (WZG III: 317, Note 75).
Mattias Frisk, the author of a very good university essay on Scandinavian helmets from the Younger Iron Age (Frisk 2012), wrote the same information as Lindqvist:
„The fragment consists of eyebrows and a short, broken nasal. It is made of iron, coated with silver plate, which is inlayed with square ornaments (…).“ (Frisk 2012: 23)
To my knowledge, the last book to mention the fragment is Vikinger i Krig, written by Kim Hjardar and Vegard Vike (Hjardar – Vike 2011: 188, 190). The book presents a different lenght (12.8 cm), a quite detailed photo and a short comment:
„The second stray find is the mask fragment from Lokrume, Gotland, which is decorated with an ornament, that could be dated to 950–1000 AD. (…) The mask from Lokrume is made of iron, coated with silver and inlayed with square ornament and transverse bands of copper.“ (Hjardar – Vike 2011: 188)
We can see that different authors hold different opinions on the method of the decoration:
- coating/plating with silver + niello inlay (Fornvännen 1907; Lindqvist 1925; Grieg 1947; Frisk 2011; Hjardar – Vike 2011)
- silver inlay + niello inlay (WZG IV: 521–522; WZG III: 317)
When I discussed the fragment with blacksmith and jeweller Petr Floriánek (also known as Gullinbursti), the living legend and the best knower of the Viking art in the Czech republic, he explained to me that the decoration could be made in two possible ways:
- inlay method: grooves are cut to the surface of the item, and they are filled with contrastive material (precious metal) in a desirable shape. Grooves correspond to the motive. The example can be seen here.
- overlay method: a grid is cut to the surface of the item, and the material is hammered to the grid in a desirable shape. Grooves of the grid do not correspond to the motive. An example can be seen here, or below.
According to Petr Floriánek, both methods were popular in the Viking Age and they can be seen applied on many pieces of art, mostly weapons of the second part of the 10th century. The usage of niello, proposed by researchers, is not so likely, in Petr’s opinion. The reason for that is the fact that grooves (with missing material) have the uniform width, which rather suggests the usage of wire. The material could be copper, because copper is more like to fall off, since it has worse adhesion than silver. As Petr says, broad transverse bands are most likely not made by niello method.
It is important to stress that it is not known to which type of helmet the fragment belonged. Researchers tend to say it was a spectacle helmet, which seem to be a more reliable variant, judging from shapes and dimensions of analogies (Broa, Gjermundbu, Tjele, Kyiv). Petr Floriánek guess the thickness of the mask can be cca 3 mm. The usage of nasal without ocular parts is known from Saint Wenceslas helmet, which was also made on Gotland and its decoration is very similar (see here). That’s why we should not dismiss the nasal variant.
My Belarusian friend Dmitry Hramtsov (also known as Truin Stenja), a very skillful blacksmith and jeweller, made a quite interesting variation of Lokrume helmet. Me and Petr consider this version to be very well done. Dmitry used the overlay method – in photos, you can notice the cut grid with silver and copper wire hammered to the surface. The mask is hollow inside. The mask is riveted with four rivets to the dome of the helmet; two rivets are invisible and soldered with silver. The rest of the mask is based on Kyiv mask, which was made in the same period. The dome of the helmet is based on the construction of Gjermundbu helmet.
In the very end, I would like to thank to Dmitry Hramtsov for the chance to publish his photos. My deep respect belong to Petr Floriánek, who gave me many good advices and ideas. Finally, my thanks go to Pavel Vorinin for the photo of the back side of the fragment and to Jan Zbránek for the redrawn motive. I hope you liked this article. In case of 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.
Fornvännen 1907 = Ur främmande samlingar 2. In: Fornvännen 2, Stockholm 1907, 205–208. Available on: http://samla.raa.se/xmlui/bitstream/handle/raa/5533/1907_205.pdf?sequence=1.
FRISK, Mattias (2012). Hjälmen under yngre järnåldern : härkomst, förekomst och bruk, Visby: Högskolan på Gotland. Available on: http://www.diva-portal.org/smash/get/diva2:541128/FULLTEXT01.pdf.
GRIEG, Sigurd (1947). Gjermundbufunnet : en høvdingegrav fra 900-årene fra Ringerike, Oslo.
HJARDAR, Kim – VIKE, Vegard (2011). Vikinger i krig, Oslo.
LINDQVIST, Sune (1925). Vendelhjälmarnas ursprung. In: Fornvännen 20, Stockholm, 181–207. Available on: http://samla.raa.se/xmlui/bitstream/handle/raa/796/1925_181.pdf?sequence=1.
MUNKSGAARD, Elisabeth (1984). A Viking Age smith, his tools and his stock-in-trade. In: Offa 41, Neumünster, 85–89.
TWEDDLE, Dominic (1992). The Anglian Helmet from 16-22 Coppergate, The Archaeology of York. The Small Finds AY 17/8, York.
WZG II = Thunmark-Nylén, Lena (1998). Die Wikingerzeit Gotlands II : Typentafeln, Stockholm.
WZG III = Thunmark-Nylén, Lena (2006). Die Wikingerzeit Gotlands III: 1–2 : Text, Stockholm.
WZG IV = Thunmark-Nylén, Lena (2000). Die Wikingerzeit Gotlands IV:1–3 : Katalog, Stockholm.