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The helmet from Pécs, Hungary


In the second half of January 2022, I had the opportunity to personally examine the helmet from Pécs, Hungary, which is one of the most published Early Medieval items of Hungary and is the only 9th-12th century helmet found in Hungary. The examination took place in the morning on 21st January in the archives of the Janus Pannonius Museum (Janus Pannonius Múzeum) in Pécs, in the presence of my colleague János Mesteller (Kazár Bazár), who took the picture, and museum worker Márk Haramza, the documentation lasting more than three hours. We focused on details that were never published, including the inside of the helmet.

Helmet from Pécs. The photo was taken by János Mesteller.

After completion, we transferred the helmet to the Pazirik studio, where we scanned the artifact. The article below is the result of our documentation and also includes the 3D scan. At present, this article can be evaluated as the most complete publication of the helmet. It is probable that the article will be published in a changed version in Hungarian and English press. All works are created with the consent of the above-mentioned museum.

Position of Pécs on the map of Europe.

Previous publications

As mentioned in the introduction, the Pécs helmet is an unique find in the Hungarian environment, and is therefore one of the most published Early Medieval objects in this country. Since in the vast majority of titles the helmet is listed as an illustration with nothing but a short caption, it is pointless to focus on the complete list. Instead, we will mention the most important titles that cannot be overlooked during the study.

In terms of Hungarian literature, the works written by Kalmár (1942; 1965: 90-91; 1971: 263), Kiss (1983: 252-5) and Nagy (2000) stand out. The best published illustrations can be found in Kiss (1983: 252-5), Kovács (2000), Nagy (2000), Petkes (2016: 49) and Vágó (2015: 506). Most other Hungarian literature can be said to re-use pictures of the helmet from the mentioned titles or to use black and white photographs in low resolution. In none of the works published so far has the helmet been shown from all four sides. Kiss (1983: 252-5) was the only author who depicted the helmet from above. A look at the inside of the helmet was never published.

Among the foreign authors who paid attention to the helmet, we can name Gorelik (2002: Fig. XI-14.16; 2017: Рис. 4.2), Górewicz (2020: 476-7, Ryc. 10.24), Hejdová (1964: 80- 1), Kirpičnikov (1958: 56, Рис. 4.6; 2009: 18, Рис. 18.6, 27.1), Nadolski (1954: 72-5, Ryc. 9; 1960), Nicolle (1999: Fig. 806; 2002: 313), Papakin (2017; 2019; et al. 2017), Sikora (Poklewska-Koziełł – Sikora 2018: 117, Ryc. 7.5) and Williams (2011: 236-7).

Generally speaking, the existing literature focuses primarily on non-detailed information including helmet length and height, approximate dating, and Old Hungarian origin. There are disagreements on the issue of dating and the named titles can only agree on the range of 9th-11th century. The view that the helmet dates to the end of the 10th or the turn of the 10th and 11th centuries seems to be the most numerous in the literature, which is based on the idea that it is the helmet from the same period as the finds found in the Black Mound in Ukraine (eg Kovalenko et al. 2020). We also see ambiguities in the area of metric data: we can state that the data published by Erzsébet Nagy in 2000 best correspond to the data we obtained. None of the titles has yet published the weight and circumference of the helmet. There is only one metalurgic analysis published, which was done by Alan Williams (2011: 236-7).

Example of literature: Kiss 1983 (left) and Kalmár 1942 (right).

Circumstances of the finding and place of storage

The helmet was found in the garden of the town councilor during the construction of a water tank on Domb Street in the center of Pécs on 27 November 1927. Human remains were found with the helmet, suggesting that the helmet was originally buried in a grave that was discovered in a severely disturbed condition, even though the site search revealed no evidence for this claim. The local press immediately informed about the finding, but the helmet waited for the first regular publication for almost 15 years. Today, the building of the water supply network is located at the site of the find and the complex is not open to the public.

The helmet is stored in the archives of the Janus Pannonius Museum in Pécs under inventory number 2613 and is occasionally lent to temporary exhibitions. In the past, there was also a successful copy, which was stolen from the exhibition around 2000.

Place of discovery: the helmet was found in Domb Street at the site of the water tank (vízmü). Today, there is a building of the water supply network, which can be seen in the right photo in the background. Taken from Kiss 1983: 253.

Construction and metric data

The helmet from Pécs is a very well-preserved, partially perforated helmet of spheroconical shape with a total height of 22.7-22.9 cm. Its dome, which has an oval cross-section with an inner dimension of 20.9 × 18.2 cm (outer dimension 21.1 × 18.4 cm), forms four triangular segments, with the front and rear segments overlapping the sides. The outer width of the segments is approximately identical, taking into account the overlap (S1 = 17.8 cm; S2 = 16.2 cm; S3 = 18.2 cm; S4 = 17 cm). The parts are not covered with gold-plated copper alloy sheet metal and the side segments are not provided with rosettes. The front and back segments are significantly thicker than the side segments (0.13 – 0.3 cm to 0.14 – 0.2 cm). The inner circumference is 61 cm, the outer 63.7 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 equals 1.203 kg.

Schematic view of all four sides of the helmet from Pécs.
Author: Michal Havelka, baba_jaga_atelierBigger resolution here.

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

The side edges of the front and rear segments are provided with five decorative lobes, while the edges of the side segments are left unadorned. The height of the lower lobes from the edge is 2.2 – 2.85 cm (L5 = 2.246 cm; L10 = 2.629 cm; L15 = 2.381 cm; L20 = 2.836 cm). The lobes have a relatively uniform spacing of 3.7 – 4.3 cm. Beneath the lowermost and uppermost lobes, there are small arches with a base that is 0.65-0.95 cm high. The edges of the segments are sharply bevelled (bevel width 0.15 – 0.2 cm). In the protrusions of the lobes, there are mushroom head rivets with a diameter of 0.45 – 0.65 cm (see Appendix 2) and a height of 0.2 – 0.3 cm (N9, N14 = 0.23 – 0.24 cm; N24 = 0.3 cm). Inside the dome, the rivets are hammered flat and have a diameter of up to 0.8 cm (N5). The overlap of the segments is 1.5 – 2 cm long (S1-S4: 1.5 cm; S1-S2: 1.9 cm; S2-S3: 1.8 cm; S3-S4: 2 cm). Prior to the final assembly, the overlapping segments were caulked with contrasting bands of non-gilded copper alloy, which copy the shape of the side edges of the segments and are also lobed. The width of these bands is relatively uniform, reaching 1.5 – 1.77 cm in wider places, 0.8 – 1.07 cm in narrower ones (both by L8, L14). The bands are not visible from the inside, the segments extend approx. 0.4 – 0.6 cm on the outer side. The bands are decorated with lines of embossed single-row pits, which are arranged in two rows in the lobes and especially above the L6 lobe. The number of pits, which have the spacing of 0.2-0.3 cm and which are sometimes rounder, sometimes sharper, varies between 85-92 for a band. The pits are located close to the edges of the front and rear segments.

Detail of lobes and inserts. Photos by János Mesteller and the Pazirik studio.

The top of the helmet is decorated with a subtle socket 5.57 cm high, which is forged from a solid piece and is not perforated in the upper part. Seen from above, the base of the socket has an octofoil, slightly oval shape and is attached to the dome of the helmet by four rivets 0.4 – 0.46 cm in diameter, one to each segment (see Appendix 2). The diameter of the base is 4.67 × 4.78 cm for the main lobes (with rivets) and 4.95 cm for the side lobes. The socket is decorated with two horizontal lines that define the barrel-shaped profile. The bottom line is located 2,867 cm below the tip, while the top line is 1,714 cm below the tip; line width 0.17 cm, barrel profile 0.828 cm high. Socket thickness above the top line is 1.22 cm, barrel-shaped profile is 1.261 × 1.42 cm thick. The socket is hollow at least to the level of the top line.

Detail of the socket. Photos by János Mesteller.

At the lower edge of the dome, there are massive loops designed to hold the wire and hang the mail aventail. The total number of loops was probably equal to 11, of which four are now fallen (O2, O5, O10, O11). There are two loops located on the front segment and three loops on the other segments (the position of the assumed O2 is debatable and without an X-ray it cannot be determined). They were made of thick, rather square wire with a thickness of 0.25 – 0.45 cm (O6, O10) and their spacing varies between 3.7 – 6.5 cm (see Appendix 2), in the face area, the distance between the loops is approximately 10.2 cm. The inner diameter of the loops is between 0.175 – 0.621 cm, the outer 0.762 – 1.21 cm. On the inner side of the segments, we rarely find poorly visible remnants of the open wire (O6, O8), which shows that the loops had an omegoid shape (Ω). Given the spacing in the front segment, it seems likely that the aventail almost touched the eyes.

Loop details. Photos by János Mesteller.

Analysis of the sample taken from the edge of the hole in S1 showed the presence of ferrite (white grains), bands of perlite (dark areas) and slag (gray inclusions). The phosphorus content is not high. The helmet is made of low carbon steel, which probably contains about 0.2% carbon in some places. The segment was made of a piece of non-homogeneous composition, which was folded, as evidenced by the stripes visible in the sample. The microhardness range corresponds to 139 – 168 HV (Williams 2011: 236).

Microstructure of the sample taken from the helmet. Taken from Williams 2011: Sl. 2.

The artifact gives a firm impression to the touch. The surface metal is somehow roughened by rust, however, manipulation of the object is possible without fear that the parts will break off. The fact that the object looks the same as in the era of the first publication in the 1940s also testifies to its good condition. The biggest risk for the artifact is the corroded sheet metal edges, which tend to stick easily in textiles (such as gloves). One of the socket rivets is loose and could fall in the future. The loops we were worried about before the documentation are strong enough to withstand the weight of the laid helmet.

3D scan taken by photogrammetric imaging. Prepared by Pazirik studio.

Appendix 1: All photos taken during the documentation.

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

Typological classification and dating

At first glance, the helmet can be classified as the Black Mound type, as Papakin (2017; 2019; et al. 2017), or the Kirpičnikov type II (Kirpičnikov 1958; 1971; 2008; 2009). This type, of which we know dozens of finds from Central and Eastern Europe, is constructed of four segments, usually coated with copper alloy plates, which are covered with socket at the top. The side segments are often decorated with quadrangular rosettes, and the front segment is fitted with a trident-shaped decoration, while the rim is reinforced by the aventail holder. As a relatively old find, the Pécs helmet is commonly seen in the literature as one of the typical specimens of this group.

Despite this, it must be said that the helmet lacks the features typical of standardized helmets of the last quarter of the 10th century and the beginning of the 11th century – ie gilding of the surface, rosettes, silvering of components and the classic four-lobed socket. For this reason, it was perceived in the past as a younger derivative of this uniform group (Nadolski 1960: 104, 117), which seems highly unlikely in light of recent works. It is possible to agree with the opinion that the helmet represents an older developmental stage of the Black Mound type, which can be roughly classified as 9th-10th century, as suggested by many contemporary authors (Fodor 2018: 248; Papakin et al. 2017; Vágó 2015: 506).

The chronology of 8th to 10th century helmets in Eastern Europe is not entirely clear. Helmets of the 2nd and 3rd thirds of the 8th century are evidently represented by domes from eight and later four segments, the edges of which are terminated by large arches. These helmets include finds from Stolbišče, ​​Krasnodar and Bežta (Kainov 2017). In 9th century helmets, the number of segments is finally reduced to 4 and their edges are modified so that they end in small arcs – typical examples are the finds from Moldovanskoje and Djurso (Kainov et al. 2020). The small arches are subsequently transformed into lobes, which can be found in standardized gilded helmets of the the Black Mound type, while the oldest specimens with lobed edges are from the localities of Karla Marksa, Manvelivka and Karanajevo (Čurilova 1986; Kainov et al. 2020; Mažitov 1981: 114-6, Fig. 61.17). The helmet from Pécs can be put somewhere close to subgroups of helmets with small arches and the oldest finds with a lobed edge, with which it shares a number of elements, for example segments are connected by five rivets and the edges of the segments are bevelled. Dating is not without problems. The helmet from Djurso, which can be dated with the help of belt components to the middle of the 9th century at the earliest (Dmitrijev 2003: 204-5; personal discussion with Oleksii Komar). The helmet from Manvelivka is dated to the 860s-890s by the belt components and a similar dating can be suggested for the Karanajevo helmet (Golubjev 2018: 393; Komar 2011: 67-9). The first helmets to include the copper alloy bands inserted between the segments come from Manvelivka and Karanajevo; another similarly old piece is a two-piece socket from Sarskoje hillfort (Leontijev 1996: 121-2, Рис. 47.2), which can be chronologically close to Moldavanskoje helmet. The lobed socket base is a phenomenon that could lead to the conclusion that the helmet from Pécs is younger than the subgroup with small arches, whose bases are more or less circular. The rim, which is a common feature of helmets with a lobed edge and a trident on the front segment, is missing and judging from the helmet from Gulbišče (3rd quarter of the 10th century; Puškina 1996: 70, Cat. 684), the absence of rim does not help with dating options. The reduction of face protection cannot be understood as a chronologically specifying aspect due to the helmet from Moldovanskoje, which also lacks it.

Development of segment edges in 8th-10th century in the Black Sea region:

1 – 2nd-4rd quarter of the 8th century (Stolbišče, Krasnodar, Bežta).
2 – 1st-2nd third of the 9th century (Moldavanskoje, Djurso).
3 – 9th century (Karla Marksa).
4 – 3rd third of the 9th century (Manvelivka).
5 – 4th quarter of 10th and 1st quarter of 11th century (gilded variant of the Black Mound type).

The helmet from Pécs is an intermediate of variants 2, 3 and 4. Taken from z Kainov et al. 2020: Рис. 7.

Based on structural and decorative elements, it is most likely that the Hungarian helmet can be fitted to the second half of the 9th century and the beginning of the 10th century, as suggested by Papakin (2017; 2019; et al. 2017) and Gorelik (2002: Fig. XI-14.16). Production in the first half of the 9th century is unlikely due to the clearly defined lobes with inserted copper alloy bands. Based on small arches, the same can be said about production in the advanced 10th century. The main problem we face is, in addition to the relatively small corpus for the 9th century, the lack of Black Mound type helmets from the first half of the 10th century, with which we could compare. The helmet can be considered a product that was made in the belt between the Black Sea region (North Caucasus) and the Southern Urals and that was imported into the territory of today’s southern Hungary (see Kirpičnikov 2009; Papakin 2017; 2019; et al. 2017). The simplest possible justification for moving the helmet in the proposed period is the migration of the Old Hungarians and their conquest of the Carpathian Basin, which – despite earlier isolated events – can be dated to the period from 850s to the first years of the 10th century, culminating in the last two decades of the timeframe (Szőke 2019: 273-5; Torma – Veszprémy 2008). It is not without interest to emphasize that one of the close analogies, the helmet from Manvelivka in today’s Ukraine, is also related to the activities of the Hungarians (Čurilova 1986; Gorelik 2017). Sergei Kainov, with whom the helmet was consulted, leans in dating to the last quarter of the 9th and early 10th centuries, with which we can broadly agree. The helmet from Pécs thus represents an Old Hungarian counterweight to Stromovka helmets, which in Central Europe is associated with the late Great Moravian horizon (eg Macháček et al. 2021: 160, 436-7, 440-1; Pieta 2015: 27-30).

Helmet from Pécs and its closest analogy of the 9th century. From top, right: Moldavanskoje, Djurso, Pécs, Karla Marksa, Karanajevo, Manvelivka. Author: Michal Havelka, baba_jaga_atelierBigger resolution here.


Documentation of the helmet would not be possible without the commitment of a number of people, among whom we can name János Mesteller (Kazár Bazár) in the first place, who served as a project manager and communicated with all parties involved. Our thanks go to the Janus Pannonius Museum in Pécs and its staff, Márk Haramza and his colleagues. The 3D scan was selflessly done by the Pazirik studio, for which we thank Balázs Szakonyi in particular. We are also grateful to Sergei Kainov for consulting the material obtained. We must also mention Michal Havelka (baba_jaga_atelier), who is the author of the drawn schemes.

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