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Making of caphelmets


The following manual is a response to numerous questions we have received regarding the helmets that some of our group are equipped with and that we use at events. We call these helmets caphelmets – they are helmets that, in terms of functionality, protect against hits by iron weapons, but at first glance they do not look like an iron helmet, but like a normal cap. The reason we use these caphelmets is that early medieval helmets belonged to aristocrats and professional warriors who owned richly decorated weapons, swords, armour and other luxuries, while militiamen and other non-professionals, who were the vast majority, could not afford iron helmets so they fought without them. Our attempt and effort is to visually copy spearmen, javelinmen and archers wearing caps. We would like to see more similar tries to reconstruct non-professional fighters without metal helmets, which is why we decided to create a simple guide. The guide is designed for people who, like us, use a system that automatically counts the head as a hitzone.

Unhelmeted spearmen. St. Gallen, Stiftsbibliothek, Cod. Sang. 22, f. 147, 890-900.

Unhelmeted spearmen. Paris, BNF, NAL 1390, 7v, 10501150.

Unhelmeted spearmen figthing. Bayeux tapestry, tituli 53-54. Around year 1075.

When we were deciding on what look we could give the helmet, we prioritised these criteria’s:

  • The overall period accuracy – not making visual constructs, which aren not typical or known for our time and world.
  • Practicality for usage at regular trainings and events – so it could be used as a caphelmet as well as a regular training helmet, so that it is not necessary to buy more helmets.
  • Financial effortlessness even in the case of repairs.

The bare steel dome of the caphelmet. Skull helmets or single-piece helmets with the nasals cut off have proven most suitable base. We do not have to care about the look of the bare surface, because it is hidden underneath a layer of fabric, felt, leather or rope. The advantage of a cover is that even not the most well-polished helmet is hidden. It is ideal to make holes along the edge of the helmet for attaching the fabric in the future. A recommendation for a low-cost source of similar domes is, for instance, Czcibor from Poland. The price without the lining is around 40 USD.

Detail of the straps and their attachment to the body of the caphelmet. Ideal is to hide the straps by inserting a hood or a different way. The attachment is realised only through needle sewing in a way so the straps naturally aim toward the chin. For attaching you can then use a buckle, or, in the case of a soft leather being used, only a knot. We use both. The advantage of this attachment compared to a rivet is the option of quickly removing the strap in case of it being damaged, or for cleaning the helmet as well as in the case of visiting certain event where straps they are not needed.

As a cover of the base we use a classic four-piece wedge cap, for which we have sources for our time period. The easy shape of the wedge cap is a sewing project you can finish in about two hours. We made these out of leftovers from other projects, which every reenactor has piles and piles of = no cost and in addition we recycle all of the leftover pieces so we do not unnecessarily throw fabric away.

Sewing the cap into the holes we drilled in advance. We pull the cap into the helmet while sewing, so the fabric does not wrinkle, does not create folds and copies the shape of the base. We can easily cut off accumulated fabric inside if it is bothering.

The finished caphelmet and a detail of fabric cut through by a sword. After an event we can easily detach the cover and can happily train without it to avoid damaging it further. If the cover is so damaged that the aesthetic of the caphelmet would suffer we easily change it. An easy tweak is that we can only change the individual damaged wedges if we have more of the same fabric. Typically, the wedge on the wearers’ left side is the one that’s damaged the most, because of frequent hits from right-handed opponents.

The presented guide is one of the possible solutions. As presented, the cap helmet does not protect the neck and face as well as the nasal and mail aventail, so it is good to keep the reduced form of protection in mind and adapt your behavior on the battlefield to your equipment, which is not so difficult with a one-handed spear. Other possible solutions offer covering with leather, rope (performed by the group Deus Vult) or felt (performed by the groups Goryničové and Sklaveni).

If you did not find an answer to your question in our post, do not hesitate and ask away! Either in the comments or in our DMs.

2 responses

  1. Now this is an idea I can really get behind.
    I wonder if there’s a way to get neck and face protection with fake hair and beards covering rod or something? I’ll have to do some experimenting.

  2. Hi, are there any archaeological evidence for the use of stiff protective headgear made of organic materials? Eg, basketry (made of woody material, rawhide or a mix), wood assembled by cooperage, hardened leather, cloth or felt stiffened with glue etc?
    IMHO, it seems counterintuitive that a person, however poor, would take up arms without some stiff head protection since it’s almost impossible to cover the head with a shield without blinding yourself. Basketry hard hats used by builders of recent centuries were in use in Greece, Italy, Spain and I’d wager in many other countries, so the idea of such headgear certainly existed.

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