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The helmet from Olszówka, Poland



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 Olszówka, Poland. The three-hour examination, which took place on Monday, March 28, 2022 in the building of the Museum of the Polish Army (Muzeum Wojska Polskiego) in Warsaw with the participation of museum staff and photographer János Mestellér (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 Olszówka. Photo by János Mestellér.

Previous publications

The first author we know to report on the helmet was Gembarzewski (1926: № 8). Subsequently, it was published several times before World War II – let’s name the works of Bocheński (1930: Tabl. III.1; 1935a: 321; 1935b: 253) and Dziewanowski (1935: 146). Sommerfeld-Sarnowska’s article (1948: Tabl. LX) was also written before the war, but was not published until after the war. Among the literature published before the helmet restoration in 1962, we can mention Kostrzewski (1947: 336) and Nadolski (1954: 71; 1960). Other prominent titles of the Polish academia have been published by Rajewski (1973: 350), Żygulski (1982: 78, Il. 4), Nowakowski (1991: 85, 135), Wyrwa (2014: 69), Rychter – Strzyż (Rychter – Strzyż 2016: 110 -1; Rychter – Strzyż 2019: 27, 30-1), Poklewska-Koziełł – Sikora (2018: 114, Ryc. 6.2), Engel – Sobczak (2019: 76, Ryc. 6.3), Górewicz (2020: 480, Ryc. 10.30) and Mackiewicz (2020). Abroad, for example, Hejdová (1964: 80), Gorelik (2002: Fig. XI-14.13), Kalmár (1965: 90, Picture 23), Kainov (Kainov – Kamenskij 2013: 184, Рис. 7.1), Kirpičnikov (1958: 54-5, Рис. 4.3; 2009: 16-7, Рис. 18.3, 25.1) and Papakin (2017; et al. 2017: № 12; 2019: 56, Il. 1.2) described the helmet.

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 segment. We consider Bocheński and Sommerfeld-Sarnowska to be the most valuable works, as they published the first photographs from the time when the helmet was more complete. Until the publication of the presented work, the only source that published a direct view of the preserved rosette was an article by Engel and Sobczak. 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 Olszówka.
Source: Bocheński 1930: Tabl. III.1; Sommerfeld-Sarnowska 1948: Tabl. LX; Engel – Sobczak 2019: Ryc. 6.3.

Various drawn reconstructions of the helmet.
Source: Górewicz 2020: 480, Ryc. 10.30; Nadolski 1994: 63; Gorelik 2002: Fig. XI-14.13.

Circumstances of the finding and place of storage

The helmet is an accidental, context-free find, plowed in 1919 in the village of Dymitrowo (today’s Olszówka, Turek district, Greater Poland Voivodeship). In 1921, the object was transferred to the collection of the Museum of the Polish Army in Warsaw. According to the oldest photos, the helmet had an almost complete trident and a socket. In 1962 it underwent a general restoration and at the moment the helmet is on display in the exposition of the same museum under inventory number MWP 216 (former inventory number 12063).

Position of Olszówka on the map of Europe.

Construction and metric data

At the time of the discovery, the Olszówka helmet was a very well-preserved find, and although it partially suffered over time, it can still be considered a well-preserved specimen with a high informative value. Among the most significant defects of the helmet we can mention the missing part of the trident, absent left rosette (S2), rim and socket, reconstructed edge of the right segment (S4) and the inside of the helmet, which is filled with preservatives, which prevent closer identification of elements (eg eyelets).

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 Mestellér.

The dome takes on a spheroconic shape with a total height of 21 cm today. If the plastic socket that is currently attached to the helmet faithfully mimics the original height, the height with the socket probably exceeded 31 cm. When Bocheński, Kirpičnikov and Mackiewicz state a height of 24-25 cm in their texts, it must be either a mistake or a capture of a state in which the socket was more preserved. The dome has an oval cross-section with an internal dimension of 20.8×18 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 all the segments is approximately identical. Due to incomplete preservation, we managed to set the circumference only in general at approximately 61.5-62 cm, from which it can be concluded that the helmet is suitable for wearers with a head circumference of approximately 55-56 cm. The weight of the helmet is set by Mackiewicz at 1.24 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 holes in the segments show a diameter of 0.23-0.3 cm (N9, N25, O2-O10). In the past, it was argued that the helmet is gilded directly on the iron surface (Nadolski 1960: 104), an idea which is taken over by some authors to this day (Rychter – Strzyż 2016: 110-1). However, we agree with Bocheński and Mackiewicz that the segments are covered with gold-plated copper alloy plates, the folds of which are visible on the inside, where they overlap to a distance of about 0.5 cm. The gilding is still well preserved in some places, but the copper alloy plates are mechanically damaged and locally separated from the iron segments (eg S1, S3). The segments are 0.2-0.3 cm thick at the edges, which also includes the cover on both sides. The front segment appears to be slightly thicker than the other segments (S1: 0.29-0.3 cm; S2: 0.21-0.26 cm; S3: 0.26 cm; S4: 0.2-0.21 cm). The thickness of the iron parts of the uncoated segments is probably not far from 0.1 cm, which is stated by Nadolski (1960: 105).

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

In the protrusions of the lobes there are mushroom head rivets with a diameter of 0.56-0.77 cm (see Appendix 2) and a height of up to 0.2-0.3 cm. Hammerring the rivets inside the dome is not visible for the use of preservatives. The upper row of rivets (N1, N5, N9, N13) is 4.1-4.4 cm far from the second row (N2, N6, N10, N14), the second row is 2.9-3.8 cm far from the third row (N3, N7, N11, N15), the third row is 4-4.4 cm far from the fourth, the lowest row (N4, N8, N12, N16) and the lowest row of rivets is 5.1-5.6 cm above the edge of the helmet. There are engraved grooves between the rivets along the edges of the segments. The very edges of the segments are chamfered outside these grooves, the width of the chamfer is approximately 0.35 cm. Under the rivet N9 there is a defect 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. 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.

The hole at the top of the helmet, which measures 3 × 2.4 cm, was originally covered by a massive, tall and hollow socket that disappeared during World War II and of which only a torso remains on segments S2 and S3. Seen from above, the base of the socket had the shape of a four-pointed, slightly oval star with a maximum width of 7.3 cm (calculated on the basis of its imprint). It was attached to the helmet dome with four rivets with a mushroom head with a diameter of 0.38-0.66 cm, one for each segment (see Appendix 2). The distance of the holes for fixing the socket from the upper edge of the segments is approx. 2.6 cm. The thickness of the preserved parts of the socket is 0.37 cm. The edges of the socket are not chamfered. The surface of the socket was covered with a silver foil, which was fixed by means of a randomly arranged grid of dots. The underlay 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 narrowest point of the preserved underlay is 1.02 cm wide. The lining was made of one piece, which was wrapped clockwise around the entire helmet and its ends were folded over each other. The overlap is located on the rear segment (S3), ie it is intentionally placed in the least visible place. In the upper part, the socket was decorated with two horizontal and profiled rings. If the current plastic socket copies the original socket, the estimated height to the upper ring is 13.1 cm, the height to the lower ring is 9.5 cm and the distance between the rings is 2.9 cm.

Detail of the socket. Photos by János Mestellér.

The front segment (S1) is dominated by a reinforcement that closely copied the face – a trident with a rectangular base and one central and two lateral teeth. The length of the base as the crow flies is 11.8 cm, in an arc 12.5 cm. All teeth have a pentagonal shape, the central tooth is also extended by an arrow-shaped protrusion. The height of the central tooth without underlay is 9 cm above the edge, the side teeth with underlay reach a height of 4.5 cm. The iron, up to 0.3 cm thick tooth core was underlaid with an embossed copper alloy sheet. The now missing right side tooth has revealed an interesting detail: the trident underlay is divided into three parts, ie each tooth has its own lining and the central tooth lining overlaps the side teeth lining. The edges of the iron trident are chamfered and the space delimited by the chamfer lines is covered with a silver foil, which is fixed by a grid of randomly cut dots made with a sharp tool. Each tooth was provided with two openwork, poorly visible holes, which are located almost in one line. The side teeth of the trident were fixed at two points, while the middle tooth at three – rivets with a mushroom head (0.52-0.76 cm) are used, but the lower rivets on the sides of the trident are eyelets (O1, O10) with a spacing of 10.4 cm. The position of the rivets on the trident is slightly asymmetric (see Appendix 2). 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 badly visible.

Detail of the trident. Photos by János Mestellér.

The edge of the helmet was originally surrounded by an now-lost iron rim, which – judging by the photo in Bocheński’s work, by analogy and by very discreet and still noticeable indications on the edges of the segments – had a wavy shape. It was probably underlaid with an embossed strip and was decorated with a silver foil attached by dotting. The rim was fastened with a total of ten eyelets placed in the holes (S1, S3: 2 holes; S2, S4: 3 holes), while the eyelets on the front segment (S1) also held the sides of the trident under which the loop was inserted. The spacing of the eyelets O1-O10 is surprisingly uniform, 5.8-6.2 cm. The only preserved eyelet on the trident (O1) with a height of 0.65 cm is visually different from the rivets used on the helmet. It is made of 0.46 cm thick wire, which had an omega shape and was opened inside the helmet. Traces of this solution are invisible inside the helmet. The eyelet is rusty and does not allow a view through. The rest of the wire is not visible in it. In the center of the left segment (S2), 2.1 cm above the edge and 5.3 cm below the center of the rosette, there is a hole 0.4 cm in diameter. Due to the damage to the edge of the right segment (S4), it is not possible to determine whether it was a symmetrical phenomenon. The analogies of these holes will be commented below.

Helmet edge details. Photos by János Mestellér.

The side segments were decorated with iron rosettes, while to this day only one on the right segment (S4) has been preserved. On the left segment (S2) only an imprint of approximately 3 × 3 cm is noticeable. The center of the rosette is located 7.5 cm above the edge of the helmet. The shape of the rosette resembled a four-pointed star. The height of the preserved rosette is 4.4 cm (diagonals between the narrowest parts are about 3.16 and 3.5 cm long). The thickness of the iron material of the rosette is approximately the same thickness of the socket, approx. 0.4 cm. The edges of the rosette are slightly chamfered and the inner surface is covered with silver foil, which is attached, similarly to other iron elements of the helmet, by randomly distributed dotting. An approximately 1.1 cm long oval spot is omitted at each tip of the rosette, thank to which the rosette resembles a flower. The rosette underlay is difficult to see and is only visible on one side, however, it can be confirmed that it was present and that it was probably made by an embossed copper alloy plate. The rosette is held by a single central, pointed rivet with a round or slightly oval base with a diameter of 1.35 cm. Rivet height 0.7 cm. The rivet is two-part – the lower part is probably made of iron, covered with a dotted yellow foil, while the upper part of the rivet is made of copper alloy.

Details of the preserved rosette. Photos by János Mestellér.

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 Olszówka.
Author: Michal Havelka, baba_jaga_atelier.
Higher resolution of segments S1 and S2
. Higher resolution of segments S3 and S4.


Appendix 1: All photos taken during the documentation.

Appendix 2: rivet diameters, rivet center distances, loop distances.

Comparison with analogies

The helmet from Olszówka can be easily assigned to helmets of the so-called Black Mound type, as suggested by Papakin (2017; 2019; et 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 best preserved specimens of this type and some of its iron parts are extremely beneficial for the study of this type.

The construction of the dome can be assessed in all respects as standard and non-deviating from a series of helmets with a gilded cover. The only minor feature that distinguishes the Olszówka helmet is the engraved lines between the rivets connecting the segments. Similar lines are not typical for the material in the known corpus, but we must add that many helmets have never been professionally researched (they are in a very damaged condition, were destroyed during the wars or ended up in private collections). We can say for sure the same lines are visible at Gorzuchy helmet (Bocheński 1930: Tabl. I, Ryc. 1-2) and it seems from the photos that the helmet from Groß Friedrichsberg (Gaerte 1923; Gaerte1924a: 135-141; Gaerte 1924) could potentially have the same feature. The preserved socket is a rare find in the corpus of Black Mound helmets and in general it can be said that the height and shape of the socket put the discussed helmet among typical specimens, but due to the small number of preserved sockets the search for parallels is limited – similar are known from the Black Mound (Kovalenko et al. 2020), Groß Friedrichsberg, Babrujsk (Ovsejčik 2021), Gorzuchy and unknown Russian site (Kirpičnikov 2009: 6-8, Рис. 1-4). The analogies from Groß Friedrichsberg and Gorzuchy tell us that there may originally been a gilded plate between the rings, which had a contrasting effect to the silver base of the socket. An organic plume was inserted into the hole of the socket, but it is not possible to prove that the hole was covered with a cap, similarly to the helmets from the Black Mound and Andreyevskaya Shchel (Novichichin 2008).

Helmet from Groß Friedrichsberg. Source: Bocheński 1930: Tabl. III.

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 Mokre (Bocheński 1930: 8-9, Tabl. IV; Gawrysiak-Leszczyńska 2003: Ryc. 225-7), Babrujsk and Novgorod (Kainov – Kamenskij 2013) are relatively similar in shape. The openwork decoration, which so far was noticed by only Gorelik (who apparently considered them rivets), and its layout is most similar to the trident of an unpublished helmet from Leninskij Puť (Novorossiysk Historical Museum, inv. No. НМ 7216/35; see Goskatalog 2020), however, we also record openwork tridents in other helmets – Gelendzhik (Gelendzhik Museum of National History, inv. no. A-2776), Gorzuchy and probably also in helmets from Mokre, Brodivsky district (Vlasatý 2020) and Mykolaiv region (Kainov 2018: 48-9, Рис 3).

Drawn reconstruction of the helmet from the Leninskij Puť site.
Author: Michal Havelka (baba_jaga_atelier).

The rim, which is inserted under the trident and which is held only by wire eyelets, has numerous parallels in the set. The closest ones include helmets from Babrujsk, Mokre 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. As for the hole preserved above the rim, for the Black Mound type we know at least four other helmets with similar holes – Brodivsky district, Babrujsk, Makarivsky district, Walric. At least two other helmets in the corpus are equipped with rivets located in the same place – Rajkoveckoe fortress (Gončarov 1950: 97, Tabl. XV.2-4) and a find from the bank of the Krasnodar dam (Kirpičnikov 2009: 26, Рис. 37-9). All holes are circular and have a maximum diameter of approximately 0.5 cm. It cannot be ruled out that these holes originally participated in the attachment of the padding, but their location in the area of ​​the ears is a good precondition for the theory that this is a way of attaching the chin straps.

Helmet from Babrujsk. Source: Ovsejčik 2021: 19.

Iron, silver-foil rosettes are not unknown – in addition to the find from Olszówka, we record eleven finds – Black Mound, 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). However, the two-part rosette rivet is an unique solution that we do not know from elsewhere.

Iron rosette from an unknown Ukrainian location. Source: Kainov 2018: Рис. 5.1.

The dating of the helmet from Olszówka 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 2022; Lušin 2019Šišlina et al. 2017Vasjuta 2016). Some examples appear in mound inventories of the 11th century (Goßler 2013a; Goßler 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, in which we know at least 7 helmets of this type or their fragments (Gorzuchy, Giecz, Gniezno, Olszówka, Szurpiły, Walric?), most of the finds are concentrated in the area of ​​Greater Poland. In the 1030s, the use of one-piece conical helmets is already assumed in Poland, which are represented by two water finds from the Lednica and Orchowo lakes (Sankiewicz 2018). For this reason, the reign of Bolesław the Brave (992-1025) appears to be the most logical period for gilded helmets in Greater Poland.

The contribution of the helmet from Olszówka

In the past, the helmet played an important role in shaping views on the historical role of Greater Poland and its rulers and was one of the main arguments in support of so-called Greater Poland theory of origin of Black Mound helmets (eg Nadolski 1960), which is now expired. The possibilities of the helmet for historical science are currently more or less depleted, but they are far from depleted for archeology. As mentioned above, Black Mound helmets are usually found in problematic situations and often in very poor condition. The main value of the Olszówka helmet lies in the good condition of preservation, which contributes to the knowledge of its details. Damage makes it possible to understand how the underlay overlaps under ferrous applications, which will help to reveal the same solutions in the future for helmets that are better preserved. The unique rosette rivet is also a very valuable finding. An important new chapter, which is still not open, will be the analysis of the metals used for decoration and the comparison of the results with other helmets in the same group.


I was able to document the helmet thanks to the local reenactor Luiza Działowska and the museum employee, Mr. Tomasz Szumański. They both deserve our infinite gratitude. We would like to thank our friend and colleague János Mestellér (Kazár Bazár), who took care of the photos. We are also grateful to Sergei Kainov (State Historical Museum, Moscow) 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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