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The Fragment of a Viking Age Helmet from Mindegård, Denmark



The study of Viking Age Scandinavian helmets (ca. 800 – 1066 AD) is faced with a critical absence of finds and is currently working with 4 – 5 relevant specimens. The complete material chronologically fits into the second half of the 10th and the very beginning of the 11th century and is not evenly spread across the entire era. This fact raises a number of questions concerning the development in the period of second half of the 8th to the first half of the 10th century, of which we have so far lacked any specimen. The presented article presents the author’s vision of the development of the helmets of Northern Europe in the 7th – 10th century, based on the investigation of these rare artifacts to date. At the same time, it brings information about a new potential mask fragment from Mindegård, Denmark. Using a comparison with the closest analogies of the decoration, the author dates this item to the 9th – 1st half of the 10th century. One of the main findings is the assumption that masks with separate copper alloy eyebrows survived into the Viking Age.


To date, we are aware of a total of four convincing finds of helmets with ocular masks from the Viking Age. The most complete and best-known piece is a helmet from a Norwegian mound from Gjermundbu, which was discovered in 1943 and can be dated to the last three decades of the 10th century (Grieg 1947: 3-4, 44-5; Stylegar Børsheim 2021; Vlasatý 2016a). When describing this helmet, a context-free find from Lokrume in Gotland, found in 1907 and until then understood as a specimen from the Vendel period, was reevaluated (Thunmark-Nylén 1998: Abb. 264.1; 2000: 521–2; Vlasatý 2016b). The braided ornament created by the plating method indicates that this find can be dated to the second half of the 10th or the beginning of the 11th century. In the 1950s, attention was drawn to another fragment of a mask from the vicinity of the Church of the Tithes in Kyiv, discovered at the end of the 19th century (Androščuk – Zocenko 2012: 73; Vlasatý 2020a). The construction of this temple was realized in the years 989 – 996 (Androščuk 2021: 67-8), and the question is whether the helmet comes from the burial ground that was destroyed and covered by the construction, or it comes from the burial ground created in connection with the church (Karger 1940), which was dated to 997 – 1025 based on the radiocarbon method (Androščuk et al. 1996: 46). In any case, the second half of the 10th century or the beginning of the 11th century is likely. The remains of the fourth helmet, discovered in 1850 in the hoard of Tjele, Denmark, were reevaluated in the 1980s (Boye 1858: 197-8; Munksgaard 1983; 1984; Vlasatý 2017). The fragment is usually dated to the period 950 – 975, based on the presence of sheets decorated in the Jelling and Mammen styles in the same hoard (Hjardar – Vike 2011: 188, 190; Lund 2006: 324-5, 339; Müller-Wille 1977: 184-6). Fragments of two potential helmets were found in Birka (Holmquist Olausson – Petrovski 2007; Vlasatý 2015), and they can be tentatively assigned to the years 950 – 975 (Shchedrina – Kainov 2021: 241, Fig. 15.3). The typological affiliation of these fragments is unknown. The decorative elements of the so-called St. Wenceslas helmet, which was completed as a relic at the end of the 10th century, are considered to be the remains of a potential Scandinavian or Baltic helmet (Bravermanová et al. 2019; Vlasatý 2019). We should also mention the helmet from the northern English site of Yarm, which was officially published as a 10th century find (Caple 2020), but a revision pointed out that the dating to the 7th – 8th century may be more likely (Vlasatý 2021; 2022a).

Fig. 1: Reconstruction of Scandinavian helmets masks from the 9th – 10th century.
Authors: Michal Havelka, Diego Flores Cartes, Tomáš Vlasatý.

Higher resolution here.

From the period of the 2nd half of the 6th – 8th century, we have more than 70 helmet fragments in Western and Northern Europe, thanks to which we have a fairly good overview of construction and decorative variants (Hounsvad 2024; Östergren 2015: 3; Price – Mortimer 2014; Tweddle 1992). The period between the 1st half of the 8th century and the 2nd half of the 10th century can be considered a period with a minimum of helmet finds, and therefore minimal awareness of metal head protection. The most famous example of this dark period is probably the helmet from the Coppergate site in York, the production of which is dated to the 3rd quarter of the 8th century with a possible extension of use into the 9th century (Tweddle 1992: 1082). In the Ternopil Oblast of Ukraine, at the latest in January 2021, a part of the eyebrow was found, which is identical to the helmet from Coppergate and which for now remains not published in great detail (Androščuk 2022: 57-60). If it is not a forgery, it is a second helmet from this poorly researched period. A third potential helmet is a find from the site of Inhåleskullen, Sweden, which contains parts of two separate eyebrows, a crest and other poorly identifiable objects (Seiler 2016). Official publications date the grave to the 8th century; however, the expert on artistic styles Luciano Pezzoli identified some artistic elements as stylistically close to the middle of the 8th century or a slightly younger period in private correspondence. The lack of more helmets raises a number of burning questions, such as:

  • Was the idea of ​​classic banded helmets modified to look close to the Gjermundbu dome already in the 8th century, or did it come later? In other words, how did domes evolve in the 8th – 10th century?

  • When do masks that use connected eyebrows and nasals first appear?

  • How did the helmet decoration develop in the 8th – 10th century?

In this paper, we would like to present a find that may be a fragment of a fifth ocular helmet from the extremely understudied period of the 9th – 10th century, which may help to partially answer some of these questions. It should be noted that the artefact can be interpreted in several ways and we choose the one that appears to be the most likely based on the shape, metrical data and the composition and orientation of the decoration. An alternative interpretation considers the fragment to be, for example, a edge fitting of a knife sheath (see e.g. Kouřil 2014: 379; Paulsen 1940). The following text must therefore be approached with caution and as a proposal that must be supported by further research.

Fig. 2: The object at the time of discovery. Author: Jan Hein.

Map 1: The position of Mindegård on the map of Europe.

Description of the find

Denmark is proud of the very close cooperation of museum workers and detectorists and belongs to the world’s top in this regard (e.g. Dobat 2013; 2016; Dobat – Jensen 2016). Thanks to this fruitful cooperation, Danish museums receive thousands of metal objects every year, which are archived in the publicly accessible DIME database. This system revolutionized the understanding of early medieval material culture in Denmark: the massive influx of new non-ferrous metal finds is changing the state of knowledge so rapidly that publications older than ten years are out of date and do not reflect the current state of knowledge. Under these circumstances, the discovery of a new Scandinavian helmet of the Viking Age was only a matter of time.

In 2016, on September 7 at the latest, detectorist Jan Hein made a remarkable stray find in the field of the Mindegård farm near the town of Hersnap in the northeast of the island of Funen: a helmet fragment coming from an eyebrow. Other surface finds are also known from the same location, dated from the Migration period to the Middle Ages (Beck et al. 2019: 14-15). The find was handed over to the museum in Odense (inv. no. ØFM 803×18), from where it was subsequently handed over to the National Museum in Copenhagen (inv. no. C 50983), where it has remained since 2019. To date, it has been published a total of three times. First in a publication of the museum in Odense (Beck et al. 2019: 15-16), then on the social networks of the National Museum in Copenhagen (Nationalmuseet 2019) and most recently in the thesis of Poul Hounsvad (Hounsvad 2024). This text is based on a combination of these three sources, the finder’s notes and our own observations.

Fig. 3: The find from Mindegård. Source: Beck et al. 2019: Fig. 6.

The fragment represents the eyebrow of the separated mask of the ocular helmet. The eyebrow is complete with a length of 6 cm. It has a sickle-shaped curved shape with blunt ends that have different heights – 1.8 cm at the wider end, 1.6 cm at the opposite end. It has a concavo-convex cross-section. The thickness is not determined, but it is certainly in lower units of millimeters.

The fragment is cast from a copper alloy, the front being relief, and combining raised surfaces and depressed grooves that are approximately equal in width and alternate at relatively uniform intervals. The number of grooves is equal to six. Traces of gilding have been preserved on some of the raised surfaces, indicating that the surface of the front side was originally gilded. The reverse apparently lacked gilding. All grooves were filled with a contrasting light material, which according to available sources is alternating silver and tin bands. To this day, the filling has been preserved in four grooves. In three cases, the fillings are decorated with an engraved ornament, consisting of edge lines and central decor. The central decoration is in two cases right-angled broken lines forming two-step and three-step triangles, and in one case rhombuses connected to each other. The bands that fill the grooves are not bent inward; their fixation is rather solved by soldering or a similar method. Vegard Vike believes that the bands were heat attached. At both ends, in the area of ​​raised surfaces and lowered grooves, there are two pairs of small holes for rivets, which are visible from both sides and with which the fragment was attached to the rim of the helmet.

Since separated cast eyebrows always widen towards the center of the helmet and taper towards the outside of the helmet, we can assume that it is the left eyebrow from the wearer’s point of view.

Fig. 4: Both sides of the find.
Source: Hounsvad 2024: Fig. 69. Author: Søren Greve, National Museum, Copenhagen.

Fig. 5: Documentation of the find from Mindegård.
Author: Søren Greve, National Museum, Copenhagen

The analogies of the decoration

The masks of the early medieval Scandinavian helmets are characterized by a relatively wide shape and material variability, which makes it difficult to find parallels. For example, the use of gold and copper alloy in combination with vertical lines marking the eyebrows can be traced in various variations on masks from the 6th to the 10th century. In terms of shape, we must emphasize that the fragment lacks a triangular cross-section, which is relatively common in cast eyebrows of the Vendel Period and which is manifested by a massive lower base and a narrowing towards the top. However, the concavo-convex shape is not chronologically significant, it does not contribute to a better anchoring. Double rivets lack any parallel.

If we focus on the alternation of two materials applied in wide decorated bands, the closest example is the mask from Tjele, Denmark. The basis of this mask was an iron jointed eyebrow and a vertically connected nosepiece, to which separate eye oculars were riveted. The eyebrows were decorated with fairly wide bands of copper and silver alloys that alternated and were stamped. Even in this specimen, it is not apparent that the bands were bent to the back of the mask, so a similar production method can be assumed. Due to the divided nature of the theoretical mask from Mindegård, it can be assumed that the find from Tjele is a chronologically younger development (eg Tweddle 1992). The use of tin alloy on the potential mask from Mindegård is interesting because this material is used to decorate helmets throughout the 7th – 10th century; even the mask of the Gjermundbu helmet is inlaid with tin alloy.

Fig. 6: Both sides of Tjele mask.
Source: Arnold Mikkelsen, National Museum, Copenhagen.

Fig. 7: Experimental reconstruction of a Tjele mask with two-colour eyebrow decoration.
Source: Kvetun.

A notable fact of the potential mask is the absence of a terminal on the sides away from the center of the face. Terminals the shape of animal heads or simple curls are characteristic of the period up to the 2nd half of the 8th century, as shown by finds from Inhåleskullen and Coppergate. In this respect, the potential eyebrows are closer to 10th century masks, which do not have any terminals and are at most equipped with flat circles for fixing rivets. This feature seems to indicate that the lower limit for dating may be the 2nd half of the 8th century.

Correlated with this is the most significant dating trace, namely the ornaments engraved into the fillings of the grooves. It is a decoration typically associated with oval brooches of types P 30-56 (specifically P 30, 33-34, 36-44, 47, 50-52, 56), with most of them being dated to the 9th and 1st half of the 10th century (Petersen 1928: 27-73) and the youngest ones datable to the 2nd half of the 10th century (Zocenko – Vergun 2007). These are one-piece and multi-piece brooches with a distinctive grid and applied silver panels and wires, which distinguish them from older, usually simpler brooches produced in smaller series (Rundkvist 2010; Sindbæk 2012; 2014). Variants of multi-step and rhombic engravings in silver panels are characteristic of the ornamental morphology of these brooches, especially for the very numerous types P 37 and P 51 (Jansson 1985: Fig. 100). The author actively searched for older groups of Scandinavian objects that would have used a similar form of decoration, but without success (see Ørsnes 1966). Experts Adam Parsons and Vegard Vike also agree with the oval brooches as the closest parallels. It should be noted that stepped decor itself is a leitmotif of early medieval utilitarian and prestige products; it is particularly popular throughout the 10th century (eg Vlasatý 2022b).

Fig. 8: Examples of silver panel decorations of oval brooches.
Source: Jansson 1985: Fig. 100.

Fig. 9: An example of a type P 37 oval brooch with panels decorated with rhombic ornament..
Source: catalog UNIMUS, T13711.

Silver panels on gilded copper alloys are also used in trefoil brooches from the same period (Maixner 2005: 94-8). Since the shapes of these brooches do not offer rectangular spaces, the ornamentation of these surfaces is different and does not match the decoration of the discussed fragment. An interesting comparison is also offered by sword hilts from the 9th century, specifically the Petersen types D and L. Petersen type D hilts also combine gilded copper alloy and prolonged silver panels, giving them a strong resemblance to oval brooches: the best example is probably the sword from Eltoft, Norway (Ts5642). (Munch 1960; Sjøvold 1974: 95). Anglo-Saxon Petersen type L hilts employ numerous silver bands decorated with rhombic (see Aksdal 2017: Figs. 1-2) and two-step ornament (see Davidson 1998: Tab. VII; Wilson 1964: Tab. XXIX.65). A combination of engraved rhombic and stepped ornaments is found on ringed pins, but without the use of contrasting gilt and silver material (Fanning 1994: 82).

Fig. 10: Examples of 9th century swords. Source: Aksdal 2017: Fig. 2; Munch 1960.

If our theory is correct, the find from Mindegård can be dated to the 9th or 1st half of the 10th century, to the time before the Tjele mask was created. In that case, it would be an extremely valuable fragment that would fill the gap between the second half of the 8th and the second half of the 10th century. The Danish archaeologist and expert on the Early Middle Ages militaria, Gustav Solberg, agrees with this dating.

Helmet reconstruction proposal

In case that the find truly represents part of a helmet, any extrapolation of the original appearance is extremely difficult. However, with knowledge of the older and younger helmets, a few educated guesses can be made about the original appearance, and the fragment itself reveals some partial details:

  • The eyebrows are arched, indicating that the rim of the original helmet had cutouts for the eyes. This feature is typical for ocular helmets as well as some helmets without oculars.

  • The pairs of rivet holes do not appear to be random, but rather intentional. The scenario that the manufacturer did not like the original holes and created new holes is less likely, since the holes are not disguised in any way, and the original casting worked with pairs of holes. Rather, it is a feature that is somehow related to the construction. For example, the chosen rivets were so small that they would not hold the connection of three/four components (eyebrows, bands, oculars) well, so the manufacturer preffered to double them. This tells us something about the construction of the original helmet: namely, that the oculars were inserted below the eyebrows and that the nosepiece could have been attached to the rest of the helmet by the eyebrow rivets.

  • As has been said, it follows from the nature of the find that the original mask was divided into two separate eyebrows. Such a construction is in all known cases accompanied by a decorative and reinforcing crest that snugly fits into the space between the divided eyebrows. In other words, the eyebrows were not directly touching each other. The beveled ends of the eyebrows refer precisely to the fact that they rested on a shaped crest.

  • The crests can have an iron or copper alloy character. Cast crests are missing or unrecognized in the archaeological material of the Viking Age and can be mistaken for other objects. Since garnet inlays disappear sometime around the turn of the 7th and 8th century, it can be considered probable that the crest lacked this decoration. Due to the finds from Inhåleskullen and Coppergate, we can assume that the crests may have been made of a band of copper alloy that was not cast – such a band is really easily mistakable in the archaeological material.

  • In all known cases, the crest is riveted to the vertical band that connects the dome fillings.

  • Some helmets have crests not only in the forehead-nape line, but also in the line from ear to ear. Namely, such a solution can be found in helmets from Vendel XIV, Wollaston, Coppergate and Gjermundbu, showing that the method of two-way dome reinforcing survived into the Viking Age. It is likely that in all cases the crest touched the circumferential band or rested directly on it.

  • It follows from the above that the dome corresponded to a banded construction (Bandhelm) or its developed variant. Three possibilities can be speculated, all of which are based on a circumferential band coiled into a hoop, with riveted fillings held by vertical bands. In the first case, the hoop is coiled in such a way that its ends are placed on the forehead of the helmet and then covered with a vertical band, which is extended and forms a nasal (Valsgärde 5, 7 and 8, Vendel XIV, Ultuna, Endrebacke, Benty Grange, Wollaston and Coppergate helmets). The second option is to fold the ends of the circumferential band at the back of the head, shorten the vertical band and attach a separate nasal in the forehead area (Valsgärde 6 and Yarm helmets). The third option, shown by the Gjermundbu helmet, is a development of the second variant and consists in the fact that there are slots between the riveted fillings, which are supported on the inside by bands to which crests are riveted on the outside. The fillings are not fixed to each other in any way.

The combination of construction assumptions generates ten variants, which are based on three possible ways of dome construction. Four variants work with a crest in a line from forehead to nape, the other six with crests from forehead to nape and from ear to ear. Variants have varying degrees of probability: eyebrows made of copper alloy are practically always combined with crests of the same material. The combination of both materials was followed to exhaust all alternatives. Ultimately, one of the five variants using a copper alloy crest is more likely.

Fig. 11: Design proposals of the original appearance.
The first row represents the methods of constructing the dome.
The second row represents designs with a crest in one direction.
The third row represents designs with crests in two direction
Author: Diego Flores Cartes.

Higher resolution here.

Draft of the Scandinavian helmets evolution of the 7th – 10th century

The dating of the Mindegård find to the 9th – 1st half of the 10th century fills a gap in the state of knowledge by confirming the direct continuity and complementing the construction sequence between Vendel Period and Viking Age helmets that was assumed before the discovery itself. In the chapter attached below, we indicate the ways in which domes, masks and decorations developed in Northern and Western Europe during the 7th – 10th century. However, it should be noted that we have a very limited corpus of finds and each new example has the potential to completely rewrite our knowledge. The presented conclusions should be understood as provisional and approximate, not definitive and exhaustive.

When we talk about helmets in the following discussion, we mean pieces that include metal components and that can be traced archaeologically. The study of full metal helmets undoubtedly takes these pieces out of the context of all conceivable head protection and favours elite items that less than 1% of the population could afford. Full metal helmets were extremely expensive products that we expect in the Early Middle Ages in the aristocratic circles that initiated their production and arranged their distribution. The author’s review leads to the conclusion that due to the price of full metal helmets, these tends had to be high-quality and expensively made and follow official weaponry and artistic trends. A study of the organic substitutes for early medieval metal militaria shows that horn-iron composite helmets are not necessarily deviations from the official mainstream; bone, horn and antler components are used for their atypical colouring and usually oversized pieces of material are used for their production, which made the entire product more expensive (see Vlasatý 2020b). Full metal helmets without decoration certainly do not belong among the top products, but their possession nevertheless ennobled the wearer in the eyes of the majority population, who used at most all-organic composite caps or no head protection at all (see Lehtosalo-Hilander 1992: 195; Siddorn 2000: 20, 96; Vlasatý 2024a; Wester 2000: 1224).

In the discussion of early medieval helmets, we must not forget an important factor that fundamentally affects the number of finds we can work with – a large part of metal helmets are grave finds. If we look at the placement of helmets in graves through the long-term lens of the entire Early Middle Ages, it is evident that helmets – similarly to other components of the inventory (the phenomenon is also observable with swords, horses, buckets, chamber graves) – follow a clear trend, which consists in the culmination of objects at the moment when a certain early state society reaches a specific point in the centralization process (early state see in Claessen 2004; Yoffee 2005). This phase, which may last for hundreds of years, is completed when the multipolar chiefdom is replaced by a principality with a hereditary ruler, defined borders, its own Christian culture, its own coinage; this change in complexity entails a dramatic reduction of the grave inventory. While the reasons for the accumulation of objects in graves and their subsequent pauperization are the subject of debate (e.g. Härke 2014), the decline of grave helmets in Western Europe is clearly visible during the course of the centuries in the cartographic processing of early medieval finds. On the territory of Great Britain (Carver 1998; Meadows 2019), Germany (Paulsen 1967: 139) and Italy (Paroli – Ricci 2007: Tav. 88, 163; Rupp 2006: 11, 196) the last helmets are placed in graves in the 7th century at the latest. In Scandinavia, despite significant restrictions in the 8th century (Böhner 1994: 542; Kyhlberg 2013: 111), the last grave helmet is deposited at the end of the 10th century, which is also supported by written sources (Hákonar saga góða 32; Hallfreðar saga 11). In the Central European countries whose development was strongly accelerated by interaction with a powerful Frankish neighbour (Steuer 2006), the last helmets potentially associated with burials are the finds from Pécs (Vlasatý 2022d), Silniczka (Rychter – Strzyż 2016) and Ducové (Ruttkay 1975: 142, Abb. 4.3) and this practice is partially restored in the times of the Mongol invasion (Horvát 2001). In the territory of today’s Belarus, Latvia, Lithuania, Russia and Ukraine, helmets are buried until the High Middle Ages. Absence of 9th-12th century grave helmets in Western and Northern Europe is therefore not accidental and is determined by historical development.

In other words, Western, Central, Southern, and to a large extent Northern Europe saw significant burials of helmets in the 6th-7th century and due to the gradual pauperization of the graves, this practice was abandoned. In Eastern Europe, where this process did not take place at the same time, on the contrary, we witness concentrations of grave helmets. Including the helmet in a burial significantly predetermines the finding and recognition of the object. Other methods of archaeologization, such as throwing damaged objects away in settlements, are far more likely to record the complete disintegration of the object, or the fragmentary state of the objects and poor identification. A number of non-burial helmets had to suffer in the modern age from intensive agricultural activity and the unprofessional handling associated with it. New Scandinavian helmets of the 9th-10th century must therefore not be looked for in graves, but in water sources, hoards and settlements.

Dome evolution

On a general level, it can be said that the design of Scandinavian helmet dome of the 7th-10th century seems extremely conservative and shows only minimal development. The dome originates from the tradition of so-called banded helmets (Bandhelme), which we have recorded in Western Europe since the 6th century: their basis is a circumferential band, the ends of which are placed on the back of the head or on the forehead (Böhner 1994: 533-547; Hejdová 1964: 71-6; Tweddle 1992: 1106-1121).

At least for the period up to the 2nd half of the 8th century, it is typical that vertical bands are riveted into the circumferential band. In the vast majority of cases, the main bands go from the forehead to the nape, while in case that the ends of the circumferential band are placed on the forehead, the vertical band extends into the forehead area and forms the nasal basis. This typical design includes two shorter vertical bands that are placed in an ear to ear direction, creating a frame divided into four equal quarters. An atypical construction, known only from helmets from Bremen (Grohne 1929: 73-5; Lonke 1925; 1946: 37-41; Vogt 2006: Taf. 56) and Yarm (Caple 2020), is the reverse placement of the vertical bands, i.e. the main band it is placed in a line from ear to ear and shorter bands in a line from the forehead to the nape. Another extraordinary example is the helmet from Ultuna, which lacks the shorter side bands (Tweddle 1992: 1112, 1114). The frame is further equipped with fillings, which can take a variety of forms. Each quarter may be fitted with one triangular or more smaller and differently shaped plates (Tweddle 1992: 1120-1). A notable feature of the early helmets is the use of narrow bands, used for weaving the filling that is then riveted to the frame (Tweddle 1992: 1114), with some of the weavings being very similar to the construction called Skeletthelm, which we know from the 1st half of the 1st millennium AD (e.g. Miks 2009: 403, 405). The preserved fillings are usually iron, but there were undoubtedly horn fillings as well (Bruce-Mitford – Luscombe 1974; Doppelfeld 1964: Abb. 11). Based on the Eastern European parallel from the end of the 8th century, we should not rule out leather fillings either (Pletněva 1989: 76).

In contrast to Continental Europe, where there was a dome reduction in the sense that the side vertical bands stopped being used and the number of fillings was reduced to two in the 9th century at the latest (Macků – Pilná 2021; Vlasatý et al. 2023) and since the end of the 10th century there were single-piece domes (Bravermanová et al. 2019), a similar reduction apparently never took place in Scandinavia. The geographically closest helmets of the 7th-8th centuries (Bremen, Coppergate, Groningen, Somme, Yarm) indicate that the idea of ​​perforated fillings was abandoned and the dominant way of fitting the frame became four triangular fillings, i.e. fillings of complicated riveted structures do not seem to have continued til the Viking Age. Sheet metal neck protectors in the form of prolonged dome fillings (Bruce-Mitford – Luscombe 1974), a continuous plate attached to the helmet rim (Bruce-Mitford 1978), bands (Lindqvist 1931; Nerman 1969: Taf. 66; Vlasatý 2022a) or cheeks (Fern 2019: 80-9; Meadows 2019: 25; Tweedle 1992: 989-997; Vlasatý 2022a) are recorded in the 7th-8th century and they do not seem to continue to the Viking Age. The dominant neck protection in the later centuries is undoubtedly the mail aventail attached to simple (Gjermundbu) or advanced holders (Birka, Coppergate). With the abandonment of the concept of cheekpieces and other sheet metal neck protection, the use of hinges is disappearing. In two continental, but geographically and structurally close helmets from Bremen and Groningen, we find pointy rivets, which are understood as the influence of late Sasanian armour on the European tradition and which are dated to the period from the middle of the 7th to the beginning of the 9th century (Kubik 2016: 100; 2017a: 158; 2017b: 138).

We can only describe the construction of the 9th-10th century dome on the basis of a single sufficiently complete, but rather complicated find – the Gjermundbu helmet. The construction of this helmet can be defined as a development of the older model, where four fillings are riveted into the circumferential band, leaving gaps between them. In a line from the forehead to the nape, a narrow band with a star-like flared center is inserted inside the dome, the corners of which are riveted with a single rivet to the top of each triangular filling, thus fixing the band. Further fixation of this tape occurs when mounting two outer crests, which are bent in cross-section. The final step was to repeat the same operation for the remaining two joints in the line from ear to ear, which were covered with two bands and crests. Eight fragments of bands about 1 cm wide were also found together with the mask from Tjele, but their belonging to the helmet is uncertain and the bands have never been examined professionally (Munksgaard 1984: 87). One can agree with Munksgaard when she claims that the transition to conical helmets took place in Scandinavia sometime around 1000 (Munksgaard 1984: 88). This is evidenced both by the poem of Sigvatr Þórðarson (Nesjavísur 5, 15) from 1016, describing the wearing of high-quality helmets of French provenance (Jesch 2013: 354), and the coins of Canute the Great and Anund Jakob from the 1020s – 1030s (O’ Meadhra 2018: Fig. 27A-e), the Ledberg runestone (Brate 1911–1918: 174-8; O’Meadhra 2018: Fig. 27o-r; Tweddle 1992: 1129) and the carving of the hero Sigurðr on the Ramsund stone (Brate – Wessén 1924–1936: Pl. 48).Another possible piece of evidence is the components of the so-called St. Wenceslas helmet, which were created at the end of the 10th century at the latest and which testify to being placed on the dome from one piece (Bravermanová et al. 2019); the place of origin is unknown, but Scandinavia cannot be ruled out (Vlasatý 2019). Considering that in the 13th century the dome construction of high-end helmets returns to a multi-part solution (Gjessing 1942; Mäll 2011), it can be considered almost certain that the traditional method of dome building from a circumferential band, a vertical band and fillings was not forgotten during the 11th – 12th century, it was just not considered a top technology for the production of “official” products.

Fig. 12: Graphic design of dome evolution in the 7th – 10th century. Author: Diego Flores Cartes.
Higher resolution here.

Mask evolution

Our knowledge of 6th – 8th century masks is strongly linked to the well-preserved finds from central Sweden, especially the Vendel and Valsgärde sites. Helmets from this region are used – together with the helmet from Sutton Hoo – in extrapolating the appearance of fragmentary finds from other regions (Denmark, Gotland, Latvia, Norway; see Hounsvad 2024). It must be stated that it is not possible to suggest any typological-evolutionary sequence across this corpus, as each helmet is largely original, but at the same time works in a very similar way and follows the same concept:

  • Face protection. For helmets of the Vendel Period from Northern and Western Europe, it varies from simple nasals to masks covering the nose and eyes to full-face masks. Face protections have traditionally been the strongest part of the entire helmet and offered wearers a considerable protection against hits.

  • Highlighting the wearer. All masks serve to represent the owners in a dignified way and reflect their status and wealth. The masks are made to measure, copying the proportions of the face and applying non-ferrous metals and other expensive materials. The main decorated area is the eyebrows and eyelashes. Furthermore, the decoration prevents visible corrosion, reduces maintenance costs and guarantees a long-lasting great appearance, as demonstrated in Roman helmets (Kaminski – Sim 2012: 71-6).

  • Intimidation of opponents. As much as the masks aided in the recognition of the wearers, they equally anonymized the wearer’s gestures and helped to instill fear or respect in the opponents. In the Old Norse skaldic poems we find a number of scenes where the ruler’s gaze is described as menacing, dangerous, flashing like a snake and it is equal to absolute power, dominance and is associated with divine origin – a gaze that was deliberately evoked by the helmets (see Marold 1998).

At least the helmet masks from Vendel and Välsgarde appear to have been produced in a rather narrow time frame. The usually proposed dating operates with the period 560 – 710 (Ljungvist 2008), but let us add that the sequence of the graves is currently rather vaguely defined (see Arheniuss 1983) and that we have serious gaps in our knowledge of the chronology. It is not impossible that most of the helmets from these two sites date from the 7th century, which can be safely demonstrated by radiocarbon dating in the case of the grave Valsgärde 7 (Norr 2008). After all, the helmet from Sutton Hoo also suggests the same dating (Carver 1998). An illustrative example of a certain discrepancy is the grave Vendel XIV: although this grave is traditionally dated to the period 560/70 – 620/30 (Ljungvist 2008: 18), the bird-shaped helmet nasal is essentially identical to the bird brooches, a typical jewellery of the 7th century (see Jennbert 2023).

In terms of construction, 7th century face protections are quite diverse:

  • A simple nasal that is an extension of the vertical band that forms the dome. Represented by helmets from Benty Grange (Bruce-Mitford – Luscombe 1974), Endrebacke (Nerman 1969: Taf. 65), Ultuna (Hounsvad 2024: Pl. LX-LXIII) and Wollaston (Meadows 2019: 22-3).

  • A simple nasal that riveted to the edge of the helmet and is accompanied by cheek pieces. Represented by a disputed helmet from the River Somme (Vlasatý 2022a).

  • A nasal that is riveted to the edge of the helmet and which is accompanied by separated eyebrows and cheek pieces. Represented by a helmet from the grave of Vendel XIV (Stolpe 1912: Pl. XLI).

  • A nasal that is riveted to the edge of the helmet. Two oculars are attached to the nasal. Represented by the helmet from Yarm (Caple 2020).

  • A nasal that is an extension of the vertical band that forms the dome. Two oculars are attached to the nasal and it is accompanied by a separated eyebrows. Represented by helmets from graves Valsgärde 7 and 8 (Arwidsson 1954: 22-8; 1977: 21-33; Tweddle 1992: 1120-1), we can theoretically also speculate about the helmet from grave Vendel XII (Stolpe 1912: Pl. XXXVI).

  • A nasal that is an extension of the vertical band that forms the dome. Two oculars are attached to the nasal and it is accompanied by one-piece eyebrows and probably also cheek pieces. Represented by the helmet from Högbro Broe (Nerman 1969: Taf. 66).

  • A nasal that is riveted to the edge of the helmet and which is accompanied by separated eyebrows and two oculars. Method suggested for the helmet from Valsgärde grave 6 (Arwidsson 1934; 1942: 26-35; Tweddle 1992: 1120).

  • A nasal that is an extension of the vertical band that forms the dome. Two pairs of oculars are attached to the nasal, which form a full-face mask. The mask is accompanied by separated eyebrows. Represented by the helmet from the grave Valsgärde 5 (Lindqvist 1931).

  • A one-piece full-face mask that is riveted to the edge of the helmet and accompanied by separated eyebrows. A good example is the Sutton Hoo find (Bruce-Mitford 1978). Theoretically, a similar solution could have been used for the helmet from the grave of Vendel I (Stolpe 1912: Pl. V).

  • The mask is represented by two massive copper alloy castings that are attached to a mask of unknown construction. The only known find is the find from Gevninge (Christensen 2000).

A complete list of possibilities is apparently impossible and unnecessary. Much more interesting are the findings of what these masks have in common. In all the mentioned cases, the eyebrows are separated from the nasal and are always finished with an terminal in the shape of an animal head or a decorative curl. The vast majority of masks are decorated with coloured metals and other expensive materials. In the case of split eyebrows, the space between the eyes is always filled by the end of the crest, which has the form of a zoomorphic or anthropomorphic head. If the mask is intended to protect the whole face, it is most often accompanied by a metal neck guard, while if it is short, the variants of the neck guard are more varied. At least two helmets (Valsgärde 7 and 8) are designed to have a mail aventail attached directly to the mask.

The 8th century in the development of Northwestern European masks means the appearance of the first T-shaped nasals that combine the eyebrows with the nose protection. However, split eyebrows made of copper alloy certainly continued to be used and were finished with animal heads and small curls. We do not record large curls at the ends of the eyebrows in the 8th century. The cross-section of the eyebrows is convex or semicircular, not triangular, as can be seen in a series of eyebrows from the 7th century (Androščuk 2022: 57-60; Seiler 2016; Tweddle 1992).

If we accept the Mindegård find as a fragment of a 9th century ocular helmet, we are certain that the split eyebrows of copper alloy continued to be used. However, the eyebrows have lost any decorative terminals. The convex cross-section of the eyebrows persists. Due to the scarcity from the 9th and 1st half of the 10th century, we can only wait for new finds that will help to better illuminate the changes in this period.

Ocular masks of the second half of the 10th century take on two design variants. The basis of the first, preserved on the Gjermundbu helmet, was an iron ingot split at one end to form approximately the shape of the letter Y, and the split ends then bent apart to form the eyebrows. The vertical beam was shaped into a short nasal covering the tip of the nose. A second part was subsequently welded perpendicular to this nasal, which formed the eye oculars (ↀ) and which was simultaneously welded to the ends of the eyebrows, forming smaller pads for rivets. The second variant uses riveted oculars instead of welded ones (Tjele, Lokrume, Kyiv). The iron base was split at the upper end to form approximately a Y shape, the resulting arms being bent to form eyebrows. The less prominent arms on the opposite side were used as bases for riveting two separate oculars, the other ends of which were introduced under the ends of the eyebrows. Even in this case, the eyebrows could be finished with flat pads for rivets. We do not know of a single example from the developed 10th century where eyebrows are separated from the nasal. In the case of the riveted variant, the hollow-convex cross-section of the eyebrows remains. No Viking Age mask is designed to have mail aventail attached; if the mail covered the lower part of the face, it was not fixed to the mask with a metal joint (see Vlasatý 2020c).

The development of Scandinavian local ocular masks was stopped in the 11th century, although we find in the literature the opinion that Scandinavian masks may have stimulated the creation of masks in Eastern Europe (Petrov 1997). Before the adoption of one-piece helmets with an integral nasal, a nasal in the shape of a cross with wavy eyebrows appears in the very end of the 10th century, which is represented by the so-called St. Wenceslas helmet, the components that could have been created in Scandinavian countries (Bravermanová et al. 2019). If this nasal originates from Scandinavia, some of its elements (vertical beam, pointed protrusion / potential hook) have ideological patterns and parallels on the Continent (see Shchedrina – Kainov 2021; Vlasatý 2022c; 2024b), which may indicate the reception of foreign influences in the domestic tradition.

Fig. 13: Graphic design of mask evolution in the 7th – 10th century. Author: Diego Flores Cartes.
Higher resolution here.

Decoration evolution

It is typical for European full metal helmets of the Early Middle Ages to use non-ferrous metals and expensive materials. It is an accompanying phenomenon of multi-part production, which enables the decoration of smaller separate parts and mutual riveting during assembly. On a pan-European scale, militaria (swords, helmets) using fewer parts offer less room for decoration and show less non-iron decor. There is an assumption that in one-piece helmets from the end of the 10th century, the non-iron decoration is replaced by painting. Any decoration aims to achieve the same result: to highlight the wearer, to intimidate opponents and to limit corrosion.

Decorated helmets, as elite items, shared methods of decoration with other high-end products, militaria and jewellery. This helps to some extent to estimate how the helmets were decorated over the centuries. Not only can we predict the methods (e.g. decoration using garnets and enamel in the older phases, inlay and plating in the younger periods), but also the variants of the braid and animal styles. This fact enables approximate dating, which is also the case with the fragment from Mindegård.

The most complex helmets of the 7th century are decorated on most of their surface. The exact method of decoration differs for each helmet and describing all variants is redundant. If we focus on what all the helmets have in common, then it is certainly the fact that wide bands of tinned copper alloy that were embossed with figural and geometric motifs were used to cover large areas (e.g. Arwidsson 1977: Abb. 25 -6; Axboe 1987) and were held by riveted copper alloy strips. Basically, all 7th century helmets from the territory of present-day Sweden have a decorative crest, stretched in a line from the forehead to the nape of the neck. The crest can have the character of a massive copper alloy casting, which narrows towards the ends into zoomorphic or anthropomorphic heads, or stamped thin sheet metal, or a combination of both methods, where the stamped sheet forms the basis for the cast crest. The common denominator of almost all 7th century ocular masks is the covering of tinned and embossed bands, which are fixed with copper alloy bands and which are combined with copper alloy-based eyebrows. Eyebrows and crests can be decorated with silver, gold, garnets, enamel and niello. Anglo-Saxon helmets of the 7th century are decorated with boar figures on the tops (e.g. Bruce-Mitford – Luscombe 1974: 236-242; Meadows 2019: 59-61).

Fig. 14: An example of 7th century decoration – Sutton Hoo helmet model.

Only two finds can be used to describe the decoration development in the 8th century – Coppergate (Tweddle 1992) and Inhåleskullen (Seiler 2016). They show a focus on continuing the tradition of copper alloy decoration, but with some important changes. The most fundamental change is the fact that the dome is no longer more than half covered with stamped bands. Prominent crests are replaced by lower and relatively narrow bands, located in a line from the forehead to the nape, or from ear to ear. The ends of these bands may still be terminated with animal heads. Similar bands placed along the lower edge of the helmet cannot be ruled out; a similar decorative purpose may have been achieved by means of a decorated aventail holder. One of the other changes is the end of the garnet and enamel application (see Freeden 2000; Hedenstierna-Jonson – Ljungkvist 2023).

Fig. 15: An example of 8th century decoration – helmet fragments from Inhåleskullen.
Source: Seiler 2016: Figs. 2-3.

Due to the very small number of finds, the decoration of the 9th – 10th century is difficult to detect. We can assume that the changes evident in the 8th century also apply to the following centuries. If the Mindegård find is a fragment of a helmet from the 9th century, we reasonably assume that it was combined with a decorative band that ran from the forehead to the nape. From the 9th – 10th century horizon, we are not aware of any clearly identifiable cast crests that would correspond to finds from the 7th century. No decoration is known for the only reconstructable dome of this period – the helmet from Gjermundbu. Since the 19th stanza of Hrafnsmál by the poet Þorbjǫrn hornklofi around 900 promotes the generosity of Harald Fairhair by describing him as the giver of “engraved helmets” (grafnir hjálmar), we cannot rule out that the domes may have been decorated in some way. The decoration could also be concentrated around the edge of the helmet in the form of an aventail holder, as shown by the find from Birka from the 10th century (Vlasatý 2015), or in the form of a rim, which we see on the so-called St. Wenceslas helmet (Bravermanová et al. 2019). Boar figures do not appear on tops of the Viking Age helmets and they are mentione as subtle allusions in poetry reporting on ancient times (Eyvindr Finnsson: Lausavísur 5). Instead of them, a pointed (Gjermundbu) or a mushroom-shaped structure (Yarm) appears at the top. The Mindegård find indicates the use of cast eyebrows with soldered engraved bands of silver and tin in the 9th century. Other masks are decorated by inlay and plating using tin, lead, silver, gold and copper alloy. Niello could have been used for decoration. In addition to simple lines emphasizing the face, a braid ornament (Lokrume), a cross motif (Kyiv) or a figural ornament (the so-called Saint Wenceslas helmet) could be used. Despite the smaller scale of the decoration of helmets of the 9th – 10th century, non-ferrous metals were still used in the area of ​​masks in this period, using advanced methods.

Fig. 16: An example of decoration from the 2nd half of the 10th century – the mask from Kyiv.
Source: Bezkorovajnaja 2012: 97.


A number of researchers and experts contributed to the creation of the article, to whom the author’s team is extremely indebted. First of all, we would like to thank the finder, Jan Hein, who handed over the item to the museum and agreed to share the photo he took. We are grateful to Poul Hounsvad (Aarhus University) for the opportunity to publish a high-quality photograph of both sides of the artifact. The above findings were further consulted with Adam Parsons (Oxford Archaeology; Blueaxe Reproductions), Luciano Pezzoli (Children of Ash), Gustav Solberg (University of Copenhagen) and Vegard Vike (Museum of Cultural History, Oslo). We must also mention Diego Flores Cartes, who is the author of great diagrams that add much clarity to the article.

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