In this article, we will have a short look at evidences of helmets used in Scandinavia during the 10th century. Pictures of modern replicas are added as well.
Russian helmets in Scandinavia:
|Object, context||A head on the sacrificial (or weaving?) knife from Gnëzdovo, Russia, mound number 74. 2nd half of the 10th century.|
|Description||The head is rather schematic. Fechner writes, that the head is covered with a helmet that has typical hemisphere shape with spectacle mask. No visible spike on the top, no visible decoration. Sizov´s picture shows rather a head with beard.|
|Literature||Fechner 1965; Sizov 1902: 91, Fig. 59, 60.|
|Object, context||The only complete Viking Age helmet found in Gjermundbu mound 1, Norway. 2nd half of the 10th century.|
|Description||The dome is made from 4 pieces connected with 4 quadrant ribs of semicircular section. There is a spike on the top and a plate connected to the rim of the dome. The mask is from one piece, is decorated with silvar inlay and is riveted to the plate. There are some traces of the rings on the plate, indicating that a kind of neck guard was used.|
|Literature||Grieg 1947; Tweddle 1992: 1125-1128; Vlasatý 2016-|
|Object, context||A mask fragment found among the forging equipment in Tjele, Denmark 2nd half of the 10th century.|
|Description||Iron mask decorated with alternating bronze and silver plates. The nose-guard is broken. It is possible there were some rivets on the nose-guard, indicating the mask was made from several pieces.|
|Literature||Kirpichnikov 1973; Tweddle 1992. 1126, 1128; Vlasatý 2015b.|
|Object, context||A mask from a helmet found in Desjatinna Church in Kyiv, Ukraine. 2nd half of the 10th century.|
|Description||Iron mask decorated with silver and gold coating and silver inlay. The nose-guard is broken. It is sure there were some rivets on the nose-guard, indicating the mask was made from several pieces. Some people suggest reversed position of the mask.|
|Literature||Kirpichnikov 1973; Tweddle 1992. 1126, 1129; Vlasaty 2018a.
|Object, context||A Scandinavian (Anglo-Scandinavian?) warrior depicted on the Middleton Cross B, England. 10th century.|
|Description||The head is rather schematic. The helmet has conical shape with integral nose-guard. No visible decoration.|
|Literature||Graham-Campbell 1980: cat. no. 537.|
|Object, context||The so-called helmet of Saint Wenceslaus. The nose-guard and the rim are probably of Gotlandic origin, 2nd half of the 10th century, the dome is later addition (but the original dome might be similar).|
|Description||Both nose-guard and rim are decorated with silver inlay and coating. The decoration of the rim resembles the piece from Lokrume. The figure on the nose-guard is important example of mixing pagan religion with Christianity.|
|Literature||Hejdová 1964; Vlasaty 2018b.|
|Object, context||A mask fragment from a helmet found in Lokrume, Gotland. 2nd half of the 10th century.|
|Description||Iron fragment richly decorated with silver and copper inlay/overlay. The nose-guard is broken. It is impossible to claim whether the fragment belonged to spectacle or nasal helmets.|
|Literature||Lindqvist 1925; Vlasatý 2015c.|
|Object, context||A fragment of what could be an aventail holder. Found in the hall in Birka, 950 – 970 AD.|
|Description||Gilded iron plate with teeth on one side. A hole for the rivet is visible. This fragment could be used as an aventail holder that can be seen on some early medieval helmets.|
Russian helmets in Scandinavia
|Object, context||Fragments of what could be a Russian helmet. Found in the hall of Birka. 950-970 AD.|
|Description||Two gilded fragments decorated with birds and a flower and one tinned bronze conus. Rests of silvers and iron rivets are still present. It is impossible to claim whether these fragments belonged to one or two helmets.|
|Literature||Holmquist Olausson – Petrovski 2007; Vlasatý 2014.|
The number of the evidence is sufficient to claim there were 3 types of helmets in Scandinavia during the 10th century. Spectacle helmet was the most dominant and traditional type, nasal helmets probably represent a new Continental fashion and Russian helmets (like spectacle helmets in Gnëzdovo and Kyiv) form the evidence of close relations between Eastern Europe and Eastern Scandinavia. Spectacle helmets were used until 1000 AD, conical helmets with nasals became widespread in the 11th century (Munksgaard 1984: 88).
It has to be stressed that all examples are richly decorated – we can not find any proof of undecorated examples. Undecorated helmets used in 10th century reenactment are rather a reeenactism. Even the nose-guard of the Saint Wenceslaus helmet is decorated, even though there is no other proof of decorated conical helmet with a nasal. The tradition of helmet decoration has to be seen as important; it is obvious that decorated masks had been used to terrify oponents and to show exceptional status.
We can not see any cheek guards or chainmail aventails on masks – these devices were used on finds from different centuries and were not used in the 10th century.
Old Norse literature, mainly skaldic poetry, can bring some interesting facts as well. For example, Norwegian king Hákon the Good († 961 AD) was buried with his “gilded” helmet and another pieces of gear and his skald Eyvindr praises his arrival to Valhǫll, where he refuses to hand off his equipment.
Many authors claimed there is almost no evidence because of the weight of helmets. However, the true reason of this is that helmets were very expensive and were worn only by nobles and their retinues. The important note is that helmets were purposely destroyed, so we find mostly their masks.
In case of deeper interest, I recommend my further work, Grafnir hjálmar : A Comment on the Viking Age Helmets, Their Developement and Usage (in Czech).
I hope you liked reading this article. If you have 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 or Paypal.
FECHNER, Maria V. (1965). О ≪скрамасаксе≫ из Гнёздова // Новое в советской археологии, Москва, 260–262.
GRAHAM-CAMPBELL, James (1980). Viking Artefacts: A Select Catalogue, London.
GRIEG, Sigurd (1947). Gjermundbufunnet : en høvdingegrav fra 900-årene fra Ringerike, Oslo.
HEJDOVÁ, Dagmar (1964). Přilba zvaná „svatováclavská“. Sborník Národního muzea v Praze, A 18, č. 1–2, Praha.
HOLMQUIST OLAUSSON, Lena – PETROVSKI, Slavica (2007). Curious birds – two helmet (?) mounts with a christian motif from Birka’s Garrison. In: FRANSSON, Ulf (ed). Cultural interaction between east and west, Stockholm, 231–238.
KALMRING, Sven (2014). A conical bronze boss and Hedeby´s Eastern connection. In: Fornvännen 109, 1–11, Stockholm. Available at: https://www.academia.edu/6845231/A_conical_bronze_boss_and_Hedebys_Eastern_connection
KIRPIČNIKOV, Anatolij N. (1971). Древнерусское оружие: Вып. 3. Доспех, комплекс боевых средств, IX–XIII вв.// АН СССР, Москва.
LINDQVIST, Sune (1925). Vendelhjälmarnas ursprung. In: Fornvännen 20, Stockholm, 181–207. Available at: 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.
SIZOV, Vladimír I. (1902). Курганы Смоленской губернии I. Гнездовский могильник близ Смоленска. Материалы по археологии России 28, Санкт-Петербург.
TWEDDLE, Dominic (1992). The Anglian Helmet from 16-22 Coppergate, The Archaeology of York. The Small Finds AY 17/8, York.
VLASATÝ, Tomáš (2014). Fragmenty přilby z Birky. In: Projekt Forlǫg: Reenactment a věda [online]. [cit. 2016-01-03]. Available at: https://sagy.vikingove.cz/fragmenty-prilby-z-birky/
VLASATÝ, Tomáš (2015a). Další fragment přilby z Birky. In: Projekt Forlǫg: Reenactment a věda [online]. [cit. 2016-01-03]. Available at: https://sagy.vikingove.cz/dalsi-fragment-prilby-z-birky/
VLASATÝ, Tomáš (2015b). The helmet from Tjele. In: Projekt Forlǫg: Reenactment a věda [online]. [cit. 2016-01-03]. Available at: https://sagy.vikingove.cz/the-helmet-from-tjele/
VLASATÝ, Tomáš (2015c). The helmet from Lokrume. In: Projekt Forlǫg: Reenactment a věda [online]. [quoted 2016-11-21]. Available at: https://sagy.vikingove.cz/the-helmet-from-lokrume-gotland/
VLASATÝ, Tomáš (2016). The helmet from Gjermundbu. In: Projekt Forlǫg: Reenactment a věda [online]. [quoted 2016-11-21]. Available at: https://sagy.vikingove.cz/the-helmet-from-gjermundbu/
VLASATÝ, Tomáš (2018a). Přilba z Kyjeva. In: Projekt Forlǫg: Reenactment a věda [online]. [quoted 2018-11-24]. Available at: https://sagy.vikingove.cz/prilba-z-kyjeva/
VLASATÝ, Tomáš (2018b). K původu „svatováclavské přilby“. In: Projekt Forlǫg: Reenactment a věda [online]. [quoted 2018-11-24]. Available at: https://sagy.vikingove.cz/k-puvodu-svatovaclavske-prilby/
the article says decoration was used to terrorize, what evidence is there for that? Decoration of helmet was to show rank/wealth among the men. the same with the golden axes and other gear that was plated and decorated.
In my article “Grafnir hjálmar” (https://sagy.vikingove.cz/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/Vlasat%C3%BD-2015-Grafnir-hj%C3%A1lmar.pdf), I have suggested a connection between some decoration (eyelashes: Gjermundbu, Lokrume, Tjele; furious Christ: St Wenceslas helmet) and skaldic stanzas containing “Ægishjálmr” formula. Stanzas and some other literary sources show it was desirable to rulers to behave like sovereigns with no equals. This was achieved by a grim look (indicating the mind of the person). We do not see this symbolism behind masks; helmets are not parts of our living reality, what we see is just a helmet, but we cannot imagine what it meant if a king looked at his enemy with his royal helmet. I highly reccomend to read Egils saga – the part when Egill meets king Eiríkr one more time in England – and Egill´s Arinbjarnarkviða (mainly stanzad 4-5).
I hope I made it clear, a little bit.
Whats about the helmet from Weymouth?
There is no such a helmet.
I mean this one.
This helmet was found in Ostrow Lednicki, Poland, and is dated to 11th / 12th century.
That is incorrect – Weymouth and Ostrow Lednicki helmets are two separate finds, they are just similar in construction.
As far as I know, there is no helmet from Weymouth, the information comes from the exhibition “Vikings: Life and Legend”. If this is not true, please, send me your evidence.
I hate to be this guy, but I believe that Stefan is right.
If you search both helmets online, you can notices differences between the two of them
Here’s the Weymouth helmet: https://www.google.com/search?q=weymouth+helmet&rlz=1C1GGRV_enCA894CA894&sxsrf=ALeKk03PNhUJpLFx8l6mmH0Dar1icjRjxg:1589231256798&source=lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwjfxJvk26zpAhXEG80KHRCwAekQ_AUoAXoECAsQAw&biw=1366&bih=625#imgrc=Trhq9ietlqqUSM
And here’s the Ostrow one: https://www.google.com/search?q=ostrow+lednicki+helmet&rlz=1C1GGRV_enCA894CA894&sxsrf=ALeKk02pLZUjD8lkgyODYkEbC9tMqfaX5g:1589231313116&source=lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwiU84j_26zpAhUGXc0KHQHGCsMQ_AUoAXoECAsQAw&biw=1366&bih=625#imgrc=S2Zc_EpquX_ljM
While both are very similar, with the same hook on the nasal, you can notice both have differences, which leads me to believe that they are not the same
Thanks for the info. Is there anyone who can cast me a copy of the tjele spectacle? I love the reconstruction you did and would like to make my own interpretation.
Hello and thank you as well. I sent you copy of the artile to email.
Sorry to dig this up, but is there an article about “Olmutz Helmet” that I can find on your website ?
This helmet is I presume from continental origins not “scandinavian”, but is it an “Ottonian-era / zone Helmet” ?
Thanks for your articles, always a good and amazing job.
thank you for your message. I described the type here a bit: https://sagy.vikingove.cz/on-the-origins-of-the-st-wenceslas-helmet/
Based on the actual finds, I can say the area of Moravia, Bohemia and Poland seems to be birthplace of the type, but this is because we lack further evidence. Based on the textual mentions, we know the same type, originating from France, was used in the first decade of 11th century in Norway. My personal presumption is the craddle of the type is Central Europe and then it spread westwards, from there northwards and southwards. But we need more evidence for this claim.
Have a lovely day!
A fine decorated viking helmet was found near Siret river in Romania. More details in:
Hello Octavian, thank you for the comment.
I am well aware of this object. Unfortunately, it is a fake of Nemiya helmet (that will be published at this website soon), a rather crude one that combines really weird “Golden Hoard style” elements. Even if the helmets would be genuine, it would have nothing to do with Scandinavia. “Viking” is just a marketing trick in this case.
Have a nice day!
Yeah I saw it a while back and had my suspicions it was an outright fake, but was willing to accept it was a potential composite of real and fake elements without further information.