Zdeněk “Sidney” Stárek, 2010
The article follows on from the author’s older text Helmets of the Stromovka/Gnězdovo type, which was published on the Livinghistory.cz website almost fifteen years ago. Although the work is outdated in some aspects – which is understandable considering the age of the work – it is still an interesting stimulus for discussion and deserves publication. Some comments regarding the padding (tight connection with the aventail, ear holes) are still valid. At the same time, it can serve as a look back into the decision-making processes of the reenactor before the discoveries of the helmets from Kozel and Pohansko.
While preparing the gear for our Frankish project, I soon ran into the question of a suitable helmet. If I did not want to follow the path of illuminations, I had no choice but to lean on the preserved archaeological finds. There are not many of them, and for Western Europe of the 9th century, the choice was essentially a helmet of the Hradsko type or a helmet of the Stromovka/Gnězdovo 1 type. I summarized the maximum available information in the previous article about these helmets in the article Helmets of the Stromovka/Gnězdovo type. As a reminder, Fig. 1 shows a drawing of helmet no. 2 from Stromovka and a photo of this helmet.
Fig. 1: Drawing of helmet no. 2 from Stromovka and its photo. Source: Hejdová 1964: 50; curiavitkov.cz.
After a short consideration, I went with the second option, because I liked helmet no. 2 from Stromovka better and this was the perfect opportunity to restore it as best as possible. After summarizing all the available information, I began to consider the appearance of the future helmet. When reconstructing the helmet, I was based on two principles – to stick to extant specimens as much as possible and to base the unpreserved details on older helmets, from which the Stromovka/Gnězdovo type helmets source. The initial model for the helmet from Stromovka was clearly late Roman crested helmets of the Berkasovo/Deurne type. Fig. 2 shows a selection of late Roman crested helmets of the Berkasovo/Deurne type.
Fig. 2: Late Roman crested helmets of the Berkasovo/Deurne type from the 4th century.
From left to right: Berkasovo, Budapest, Burgh Castle, Deurne, Concești.
The Stromovka helmets were based on these crested helmets, and although there was a significant simplification, the decoration was dropped and the face and nape protection were significantly redesigned, all the basic components were retained, so it was not a big problem to fill in the missing details of the helmets. For a comparison of the construction of the helmet from Stromovka and the helmet from Berkasovo, see Fig. 3.
Fig. 3: Comparison of the structure and individual components of the helmet from Stromovka/Gnězdovo 1 and the Late Roman crested helmet from Berkasovo of the 4th century.
The construction of the helmets is basically the same. The dome of the helmet consists of two quarter-circle halves. In early medieval helmets this part is strictly made of one piece of sheet metal, in Late Roman helmets the three-piece construction prevails, however, for example, the helmet from Budapest or the helmet from the museum in Novi Sad in Vojvodina has one-piece halves. It could be said that there was a process to simplify the construction of these helmets, which is fully expressed in Stromovka type helmets. Joining these halves of the helmet dome is done by a riveted broad band with a central crest. The lower edge of the helmet dome is made up of a wide circumferential band riveted around the entire circumference of the helmet. A nosepiece is riveted to this band at the front. The rest of the helmet’s circumference is edged with a riveted narrow band used to secure cheek and neck protection – sheet metal for Berkasovo, mail for Stromovka.
The drawing of helmet no. 2 from Stromovka is shown in Fig. 1. The overall shape of the dome, the circumferential band and the central band with a flat ridge were clearly readable from the find. The resulting helmet only has a slightly narrowed circumference, because after enlarging the helmet on my head in padding, there was a fairly significant increase (the original helmet was relatively small) and there was already a contradiction between authenticity and practical wearing of the helmet, which became disproportionately high. Likewise, the nasal, which was preserved practically intact, was not problematic.
Problems arose when trying to replicate the front of the helmet. None of the extant helmets have this part preserved, and the nosepieces were found separately. There are opinions that these helmets were cut out in the front. Crest helmets have nosepieces of a slightly different shape with cut-out archs. However, the axis of the horizontal part of the nasal copies the edge of the circumferential band, and I decided to stick to that. Due to the straight horizontal portion of the extant nosepieces, I had the front of the helmet made without the cut-out archs and with a riveted nosepiece.
From the description of the finds, it was clear that the narrow band at the edge was bent inwards in the lower part and filed into a series of eyelets, used to hang the mail aventail. It was done in a completely analogous way as ther aventail hanger of the helmet from Coppergate, where it was made of brass and therefore survived completely intact, unlike the very corroded bands of the helmets from Stromovka and Gnězdovo. In the case of the helmet from the Black Mound, where a similar method is described, this detail is completely lost in the charred rings. By analogical late Roman helmets, this band was riveted to the lower edge of the helmet dome, tightly fitted to the nosepiece and encircling the rest of the helmet dome.
Fig. 4: Attaching the aventail. Top left: general view of the band, right: detail with mail attached with stretched wire. Bottom left: detail of the attachment on the Coppergate helmet.
The last construction detail that was based on the find was a mail aventail. I attached it with wire pulled through the series of eyelets mentioned above, forming tunnels around the edges of the helmet dome. The draw wire suspension is completely identical to the Coppergate helmet.
The next steps was my invention, guided both by the aesthetic and practical needs of wearing a helmet. The surface of the helmet is blackened in a furnace. I was led to this by the shiny metallic helmets prevalent at all events. In addition, blackening and subsequent waxing form a certain protection against corrosion, and according to Mr. Skryja, this method leads to a certain degree of cementation of the sheet metal surface. The master uses it in the production of black and silver Renaissance and Baroque plate armour. As an example of masterwork, Fig. 5 shows the fine texture of the forged surface of the helmet.
Fig. 5: The fine texture of the blackened surface given by the forging technology.
The blackened surface, as well as the combination with the shiny rivets and the polished nosepiece, is my aesthetic invention as well. The surface of all the helmets found was in such a state that it did not allow any guesses about the original state.
The liner riveted into the helmet is the result of a series of practical experiences with wearing helmets and with the insufficient protective effect of the mail aventail without quilted lining. Since the helmet is quite tall, it would be quite difficult and impractical to wear it without any liner. That’s why I sewed an adjustable quilted liner that falls all the way down to the shoulders under the ring aventail. I have riveted this liner into my helmet and so far I cannot complain. Even during fast movements, falls, etc., the helmet sits firmly and does not fall into the eyes. I solved the chin strap with a simple tie fastening. Again, I was inspired by late Roman helmets and left holes in the ear area for better ventilation and mainly to improve the sound parameters of the helmet. It is a fact that during the first use the helmet ventilated pleasantly through these holes. The front edge of the liner is slightly stretched and the ring aventail fluttered loosely, therefore, slightly inspired by high medieval basinets, I attached the front edge of it with wire stretched through wire loops, see Fig. 6.
Fig. 6: Liner riveted to the helmet. The top two pictures show the holes in the ear area and the chinstrap, and the bottom picture shows a detail of attaching the edge of the liner to the ring aventail with loops and wire.
Finally, I want to thank Mr. Skryja, an excellent blacksmith from Brno, for forging the helmet and to Triss for the beautiful photos. The following images (Fig. 7-13) show views of the helmet from different angles.
Hejdová, Dagmar (1964). Přilba zvaná „svatováclavská“. In: Sborník Národního muzea v Praze, A 18, no. 1–2, 1–106.