The helmet from Tjele
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).
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.
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.
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.