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The helmet from Mokre, Ukraine

Introduction

As part of the preparation of the Catalog of European helmets of 9th-12th century, we had the opportunity to personally inspect one of the best preserved helmets of the Black Mound type, originating from the locality Mokre, Ukraine. The examination, which took place on Monday, March 28, 2022 in the building of the National Archaeological Museum (Państwowe Muzeum Archeologiczne) in Warsaw with the participation of museum staff and photographer János Mesteller (Kazár Bazár), helped to modify and supplement some previously published information. In the following article, we present the most detailed publication of this find so far. All works are created with the consent of the above-mentioned museum.

The helmet from Mokre. Photo by János Mesteller.


Previous publications

The first author we know to report on the helmet was Bocheński (1930: 8-9, Tabl. IV; 1935a: 319; 1935b: 253). Subsequently, it was published several times before World War II – let’s name the works of Dziewanowski (1935: 147) and Sommerfeld-Sarnowska’s article (1948) that was also written before the war, but was not published until after the war. From the later titles of the Polish Academy, we can mention Bochnak (Bochnak – Pagaczewski 1959: 42, Fig. 28), Gawrysiak-Leszczyńska (2003: Ryc. 225-7), Górewicz (2020: 470, Ryc. 10.19), Nadolski (1954: 71; 1960), Rychter and Strzyż (Rychter– Strzyż 2016: 108, 110-1; Rychter – Strzyż 2019: 31), Poklewska-Koziełł – Sikora (2018: 114, 117, Ryc. 6.4) and Żygulski (1982: 78, Il. 5).

Abroad, for example, Gorelik (2002: Fig. XI-14.10), Hejdová (1964: 80), Kainov (Kainov – Kamenskij 2013: 184, Рис. 7.2), Kirpičnikov (1958: 52, Рис. 2.4; 1971: № 6, Табл. XVII.2; 1986: Tab. XIV.4; 2009: 10-11, Рис. 11.4, 14; Kirpičnikov – Medvěděv 1985: Табл. 141.4), Niederle (1931: 152) and Papakin (et al. 2017: № 22; 2019: 59, Il. 2.4) described the helmet. It should be added that the helmet has been considered lost in Russian historiography since the 1950s and this information was often used in foreign literature.

Generally speaking, it can be argued that the vast majority of the literature focuses only on the mention of the helmet, or size, approximate dating and a photo of the front and one of the side segments. We consider Bocheński, who published the first photographs from the time when the helmet was more complete, Gawrysiak-Leszczyńska, who published relatively detailed technical drawings, and Nadolski, who examined the helmet in more detail to find signs of silvering and organic remains, to be the most valuable works. The literature seems to agree on dating to 10th-11th century, but the place of origin has been the subject of protracted disputes in the past.

Archive photos of the helmet from Mokre.
Source: Bocheński 1930: Tabl. IV; Żygulski 1982: Il.5.

Various drawn reconstructions of the helmet.
Source: Gawrysiak-Leszczyńska 2003: Ryc. 225-7; Gorelik 2002: Fig. XI-14.10; Kirpičnikov 1971: Табл. XVII.2.


Circumstances of the finding and place of storage

In the first half of 1925, a grave was accidentally discovered in the village of Mokre (then territory of Poland, today’s Dubensky district, Ukraine), which was reopened under the leadership of Professor St. Wilczyński in June of the same year. It contained a human skeleton, a helmet, 3 arrowheads, a spear, a knife and scissors. The two arrows were crossed into an X shape; the spear was located under feet of the deceased. When the helmet was unprofessionally removed from the grave, the segments fell apart and the socket was lost. After its discovery, the helmet was stored in the local Dubno museum at the State grammar school of St. Konarski and in 1932, it became a part of the collection of the State Archaeological Museum in Warsaw. Inv. no. PMA/V/5680:1. The helmet dome is permanently exhibited in the museum, but some of its elements are fallen away and are stored separately.

Position of Mokre on the map of Europe.


Construction and metric data

At the time of the discovery, the helmet from Mokre was much better preserved and suffered an unprofessional removal. Today, the helmet is heavily degraded and fragile. Due to the absence of rivets, handling the helmet is relatively difficult and time consuming. We evaluate the possibility of early breakdown of some elements as possible. Among the most significant defects of the helmet, we can name the missing iron elements (trident, rim, rosettes, socket), broken edges of segments S3 and S4 and the inside of the helmet, which is partly filled with preservatives.

Schematic view of all four sides of the helmet. Author: Michal Havelka, baba_jaga_atelier.
Higher resolution of segments S1 and S2. Higher resolution of segments S3 and S4.

A view of all four segments of the helmet. Photos by János Mesteller.

The dome takes on a spheroconic shape with a total height of 20.2 cm today. The dome had an oval cross-section, now reaching an internal dimension of 20 × 19 cm, and consists of four triangular segments, with the front and rear segments overlapping the sides. The length of the overlap of the segments was not the subject of our documentation, but it can be estimated that it is not longer than 2 cm. The width of the segments is approximately identical (S1: 13.2 cm, S2: 14.9 cm, S4: 15 cm). Due to the damaged condition, the circumference is difficult to measure, however, it is close to 63 cm, from which it can be concluded that the helmet was suitable for a wearer with a head circumference of approximately 56-57 cm. The weight of the helmet was not measured, in the current state it is possible to estimate it very roughly at 0.6-0.8 kg.

The side edges of the front and rear segments are provided with four decorative lobes, while the edges of the side segments are left unadorned. The segments, which are still preserved on the inside and covered with preservatives, are coated with sheets of gold-plated copper alloy, the folds of which are visible on the inside, where they extend to a distance of approximately 0.37-0.46 cm. Gilding is preserved only partially, usually at the sites of the original iron applications. In several places, the coating bears signs of abrasion coming from material analyzes, the conclusions of which are not available to us. Copper alloy plates are mechanically damaged and cracked (especially S1, S3). The segments are up to 0.2 cm thick at the edges, which also include the coating on both sides (S1: 0.17 cm; S2: 0.19 cm; S3: 0.17 cm; S4: 0.13-0.18 cm). The thickness of the iron parts of the uncoated segments is probably not far from 0.1 cm. The thickness of 0.25 cm, which is stated in the inventory card, does not correspond to reality.

Detail of lobes and interlaid strip. Photos by János Mesteller.

In the protrusions of the lobes, there were mushroom head rivets, of which only one with a diameter of 0.69 cm (N2) has been preserved. The missing rivets are replaced by modern, massive pieces of silver colour. The upper row of rivets (N1, N5, N9, N13) is 3.8-4.7 cm far from the second row (N2, N6, N10, N14), the second row is 3.6-4.1 cm far from the third row (N3, N7, N11, N15), the third row is approximately 3.7 cm far from the fourth, the lowest row (N4, N8, N12, N16). The height of the lower row of rivets from the edge of the helmet has not been measured, no doubt exceeding 4 cm. The edges of the segments are chamfered, the width of the chamfer is 0.3 cm. On the rear segment (S3), there is a defect between the rivets N10 and N11 that could be attributed to the impact of a blade. Prior to the final assembly, the overlap of the segments was interspersed with embossed strips of non-gilded copper alloy 0.05 cm thick, which copy the shape of the side edges of the segments and are also lobed. The width of these strips is relatively uniform, in the narrowest places they are 1 cm wide. The strips are not visible from the inside, they extend by approx. 0.2-0.3 cm out of the segments and are decorated by two-row holes, which were made with a double-point stamp that had a width of approx. 0.165 cm.

The opening at the top of the helmet was originally covered by a massive, high and hollow socket, of which only the lining on segments S1, S3, S4 and a well-readable imprint have been preserved to this day. The original socket was undoubtedly iron, probably covered with silver foil and could have a gilded top. Seen from above, the base of the socket had the shape of a four-pointed, slightly oval star with a maximum size of 6.6 × 5.4 cm (calculated on the basis of its imprint). It was attached to the helmet done with four rivets, one for each segment, none of which has survived. The distance of the holes for fixing the socket from the upper edge of the segments is 1.8-2.1 cm. The rivet holes of adjacent segments are located at a distance of 3.3 cm from each other. The hole on segment S2 is doubled. The lining of the socket was made of an embossed copper alloy strip and the same punch was used for embossing as on the other embossed strips. The widest point of the preserved strip is 1.6 cm and rivets passed through it. The lining was probably made of one piece, which was wrapped around the entire helmet and its ends were folded over each other. The location of this overlap had to be on segment S2 or S3, ie in the least visible place.

Detail of the socket. Photos by János Mesteller.

The front segment (S1) was dominated by an iron reinforcement that closely copied the face – a trident with a rectangular base and one central and two lateral teeth. Bocheński’s illustration shows a preserved lining, and although the photograph is black and white and of low quality, it can still be used as a valuable source of information. Our examination develops Bocheński’s photography. The trident is now recognizable from a well-readable imprint and one small piece of lining that has never been published and is kept separate from the helmet. The central tooth has a pentagonal shape and is extended by an arrow-shaped protrusion, in the middle of which there is a hole for a rivet (N17), located 6.8 cm above the edge of the helmet. The height of the central tooth with lining was 9.5 cm above the edge. The side teeth are rounded and have an arrow-shaped superstructure, in the middle of which there are rivets (N18, N19), which reach a height of 3.5-3.7 cm above the edge. The side teeth with lining reached a height of 5 cm above the edge. The previously mentioned piece of preserved copper alloy lining is 1.88 cm high and 2.82 cm wide and represents the lining of the right lateral tooth (from the wearer’s point of view). The lining is embossed along the edges with the same punch as the other embossed components of the helmet. The lining well indicates the original shape of the trident and testifies to the theory that each tooth was provided with its own lining. In addition, it seems that each tooth could have been decorated oval openwork, as shown by Bocheński’s photograph and the shape of the imprint. The perforation of the central tooth, unlike the lateral teeth, is rather lenticular. The base of the trident was provided with three holes, the height of the outer holes (N18, N19) being 0.7 cm above the edge and the central hole (N20) reaching 1.2 cm above the edge. The center hole is not perfectly centered. The outer holes, whose spacing is 11.08 cm, undoubtedly served to secure the eyelets that held the rim, which was inserted under the trident. The lower edge of the trident is potentially provided with a small arch that fits into the space between the wearer’s eyes; this arc is barely visible, but Bocheński’s photo shows this better than the current state. The original iron trident was most likely covered with silver foil, which was fastened with a fixed by a grid of randomly cut dots made with a sharp tool.

Detail of the trident. Photos by János Mesteller.

The edge of the helmet was originally surrounded by an iron rim that is almost unpreserved today – its torso is located on the edge of the S2 segment and at the same time we can use a partially preserved imprint. The top edge of the rim was most likely wavy. The minimum height of the current iron fragment is 1.7 cm, but the peaks of the imprint reach 0.29-0.35 cm above the edge. The preserved fragment is so damaged that it does not show signs of underlay or cover with a silver foil attached by pits. The rim was fastened at approximately nine locations (S1, S2, S4: 2 holes; S3: probably 3 holes), while the eyelets on the front segment (S1) also held the sides of the trident under which the rim was inserted. The spacing of holes O1-O9 is surprisingly uniform, 5.9-6 cm. The holes are located 0.3-0.4 cm above the edge and have a diameter of 0.4-0.5 cm. None of the eyelets is preserved, however, one hole on segment S4 (designated O8) is filled with a rivet with a mushroom head 0.5 cm in diameter, the center of which is 0.48 cm above the edge. Due to the regular shape, it is unlikely that it is a remnant of the eyelet, so the rim was obviously not only fastened with omega-shaped eyelets, but also with rivets. Nadolski informs that the lower edge of the helmet bears marks of organic material, most likely fabric or leather, which formed the inner lining or neck protection (Nadolski 1954: 71). Today, such remains are not visible or identifiable.

Helmet edge details. Photos by János Mesteller.

The side segments were decorated with iron rosettes, originally apparently covered with silver foil, while to this day only the imprint on the right segment (S4) and the underlay with rivet, which is stored separately, have been preserved. The rosette rivet hole of the segment S4 was punched from the inside. The shape of the rosette resembled a four-pointed star. The lining dimensions are 5.25 cm × 5.5 cm, with side lengths of 3.5 and 3.7 cm. The lining is made of copper alloy and is stamped along the edges with the same punch as described for the previous helmet components. The hole in the lining is punched from the inside and despite a significant damage, the original diameter can be set at 0.45 cm. The original size of the iron rosette had to be around 4.32 × 4.4 cm. The rosette was held by a one-piece, central, pointed rivet made of copper alloy. The total length of the rivet is 1.46 cm, of which the length of the head is 0.9 cm. The diameter of the round or slightly oval head is 1.1 cm.

Details of the preserved rosette. Photos by János Mesteller.

During the documentation, we were pleasantly surprised by a set of detached fragments, which are stored separately under the same inventory number. In addition to the above-mentioned trident lining, rosette lining and rivet, there are six indefinable iron parts with a thickness of 0.23-0.5 cm. Remains of silver foil are not visible on any of them. Along with these pieces, two gilded fragments from indeterminate dome positions are stored.

The above-mentioned grave inventory, which was considered lost in the past, is also kept in the same museum (inv. no. PMA-370-IV). These are 3 socketed arrowheads, two of which are corroded together, a spearhead with a length of 20 cm, a knife blade and part of the scissors. According to our conclusion, this part of the inventory does not allow a closer chronological determination by searching for analogies.

Fragments of the helmet and other items from the grave, which are kept separately.
Photos by János Mesteller.

It follows from the text that all the iron details riveted to the dome were of similar thickness and were covered with silver foil and underlaid with embossed strips. The materials were intentionally layered to create maximum contrast.

Graphic reconstruction of the helmet from Mokre.
Author: Michal Havelka, baba_jaga_atelier.
Higher resolution of segments S1 and S2
. Higher resolution of segments S3 and S4.

3D scan, made by Fylkeskonservatoren i Vest-Agder and Marcin Engel.


Appendices

Appendix 1: All photos taken during the documentation.


Comparison with analogies

The helmet from Mokre can be easily assigned to helmets of the so-called Black Mound type, as suggested by Papakin (20172019et al. 2017), or Kirpičnikov type II (Kirpičnikov 1958197120082009). In the total number of approximately 70 pieces and fragments from the area from Poland to the Urals, from Novgorod to Bulgaria and the North Caucasus, the helmet is one of the classic and most widely published specimens of this type.

As for the trident, a prominent central tooth surrounded by smaller teeth is a typical feature of this type. Each trident is quite unique, so finding a direct parallel is an impossible task. However, if we try this task, the tridents of helmets from Olszówka, Babrujsk (Ovsejčik 2021) and Novgorod (Kainov – Kamenskij 2013) are relatively similar in shape. The openwork decoration, which no one has noticed yet, is most similar in shape to the examples from Brodivsky district (Vlasatý 2020) and Gelendzhik (Gelendzhik Museum of National History, inv. no. A-2776), however, we also record openwork tridents in other helmets – from Olszówka, Gorzuchy, Mykolaiv region (Kainov 2018: 48-9, Рис 3), site Leninskij Puť (Novorossiysk Historical Museum, inv. No. НМ 7216/35; see Goskatalog 2020) and quite possibly from Groß Friedrichsberg (Gaerte 1923; Gaerte 1924a: 135-141; Gaerte 1924).

Detector find from Brodivsky district in Lviv region, Ukraine.
The photo was provided by Sergei Kainov.

The rim, which is inserted under the trident and which is held only by wire eyelets, has numerous parallels in the corpus. The closest ones include helmets from Olszówka, Babrujsk and potentially also Giecz (Poklewska-Koziełł – Sikora 2018), which could all be identically wavy. The rim of the helmet from Manvelivka, which is also held only by the eyelets, is finished with archs (Čurilova 1986). Straight rims held by eyelets are known from Gorzuchy, Groß Friedrichsberg, the Kiev region (Papakin et al. 2017: № 19) and probably also from Ekritten (Goßler 2013a) and Makariv district (Papakin et al. 2017: № 18). Within the ensemble we also find helmets with an openwork rim, finished on both sides with an arch, which is fastened with eyelets – these come from the localities Walric (Beard 1922), Brodivsky district and potentially Opava-Jaktař (Kouřil 1994: 46, Fig. 24.10). Undoubtedly, one piece from Novgorod had a system of eyelets (Kainov – Kamenskij 2013: Рис. 3-4), but it is not possible to determine to which shape of the rim it belonged.

Iron, silver-foil rosettes are not unknown – we record twelve finds – Black Mound, Olszówka, Groß Friedrichsberg, Babrujsk, Gorzuchy, Giecz, Szurpiły (Engel – Sobczak 2019: 71-2, Ryc. 4.1) and three detector finds from Ukraine (Kirpičnikov 2009: 26, Рис. 17; Kainov 2018: 50, Рис. 5.1).

Helmet from Babrujsk. Source: Babrujsk museum of local history 2020.

The dating of the helmet from Mokre and its nearest gilded parallels is difficult, as the finds come largely from disturbed and archaeologically undocumented situations or from settlement strata. Based on the helmet from the Black Mound, it is generally believed that helmets of this variant can be dated to the last quarter of the 10th and first quarter of the 11th century (Kainov 2022Lušin 2019Šišlina et al. 2017Vasjuta 2016). Some examples appear in mound inventories of the 11th century (Goßler 2013aGoßler 2013b: 186, Abb. 55). Settlement finds occur as a destroyed torso or as a remodeled helmet until the 13th century (Kainov – Kamenskij 2013). In the context of today’s Poland and Ukraine, it can be agreed that the high time of gilded helmets falls into the last quarter of the 10th and first quarter of the 11th century, as researchers suggest.


The contribution of the helmet from Mokre

In the past, the helmet played an important role in shaping views of the group of gilded helmets as a whole. Due to the findings in the western part of Ukraine, both Polish (Bocheński 1930; Jakimowicz 1933; Nadolski 1960) and Soviet researchers (Kirpičnikov 1958; 1971; 2009) claimed the origin of the helmet for their countries. The tug-of-war over the named helmet practically ended thanks to Kirpičnikov’s work, which revealed the size of material from today’s Russia and Ukraine, while Greater Poland theory of the origin of Black Mound helmets was abandoned. The possibilities of the helmet for historical science are currently more or less depleted, but it can still offer interesting information for archaeologists. Due to the state of damage, the helmet offers a view of non-ferrous underlays and segment covers, the study of which helps to understand the construction of the entire observed group. The helmet can play a crucial role in the analysis of non-ferrous metals and its comparison with other helmets. Finally, the helmet benefits from the fact that it comes from a grave context, and with a detailed scientific elaboration of the complete inventory, it could be possible to reach new conclusions, for example in the field of chronology.


Acknowledgment

We were able to document the helmet thanks to the local reenactor Luiza Działowska and the museum employee, Mr. Marcin Engel. They both deserve our infinite gratitude. We would like to thank our friend and colleague János Mesteller (Kazár Bazár), who took care of the photos. We are also grateful to Sergei Kainov and Taras Zagaruk for consulting the material obtained. We must mention Michal Havelka (baba_jaga_atelier), who is the author of the drawn schemes.

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