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The helmet from the Prussian site of Ekritten



In 2023, as part of the preparation of the Catalog of European helmets of 9th-12th century, we approached the Museum for Prehistory and Early History (Museum für Vor- und Frühgeschichte) from the Berlin State Museums (Staatliche Museen zu Berlin), who examined the fragmentarily preserved helmet from the site of Ekritten for us. Due to the storage being moved, a personal inspection was not possible. In the following text, we will present the helmet based on the available literature, which we will enrich with photos and dimensions that we obtained from the mentioned museum. All works are created with the consent of the above-mentioned museum and its staff.

Two slightly different archive photos of the helmet from Ekritten.
Source: La Baume 1939: 299; 1940: 86.

Previous publications

Since the helmet was found in the politically very turbulent area of the former East Prussia and today’s Kaliningrad region of the Russian Federation, it is natural that the find attracted the attention of German and Russian authors. The main works on the helmet date from not long after the discovery. These are mainly publications by La Baume (1939: 299, Taf. 79.3; 1940: 85-6, Abb. 4a-b), which show the condition of the find. Other German authors include Goßler (2013a; 2013b: 186, Abb. 55; 2014: 200, Abb. 18; Goßler – Jahn 2015: 49), who managed to find fragments of the helmet in the archives. Among Russian authors, we cannot fail to mention Kainov (2018: 50), Kirpičnikov (1958: 56, Рис. 4.5; 2009: 17-8, Рис. 18.5, 28), Kulakov (1989: 42; 1990: 33, 81, Табл. XXVII.9; 1999: 221; 2020: 198, Рис. 2.1-2) and Širouchov (Shiroukhov 2012: 231, Fig. 6.2; Širouchov 2012: 80, pav. 118.3-4; 2014: 399-400, Рис. 4.2-4). The helmet from Ekritten appeared quite often in Polish publications, as evidenced by works by Antoniewicz (1955: 256, Fig. 11), Górewicz (2020: 477-8), Nadolski (1954: 72-4; 1960), Poklewska-Koziełł (Poklewska-Koziełł – Sikora 2018: 117, Fig. 6.6), Rychter (Rychter – Strzyż 2016: 110; 2019: 31) and Żygulski (1982: 78-9). The helmet is exceptionally found in Czech (Hejdová 1964: 80), Lithuanian (Volkaitė-Kulikauskienė 1965: 65, pav. 5.; 1968: 480) and Ukrainian articles (Papakin 2017; 2019; Papakin et al. 2017: № 4).

Generally speaking, it can be argued that the vast majority of the literature focuses only on the mention of the helmet, approximate dating and a non-detailed photo or drawing of the preserved parts. We consider the most valuable work to be La Baume’s articles, which are the only ones to show torso helmets in a riveted state, and Goßler’s articles that show the current state. None of the named titles give the weight and view of the inside of the helmet. The literature seems to agree on dating to the 10th-12th century, but the place of origin is the subject of protracted disputes.

Archival drawings of the helmet from Ekritten.
Source: Kulakov 1990: Табл. XXVII.9; La Baume 1940: 86.

Circumstances of the find and place of storage

The helmet was discovered during regular archaeological excavations that took place near the East Prussian village of Ekritten (Экриттен), now Vetrovo (Ветрово) in the Kaliningrad Region in April and May 1939. In the Ekritten-2 cemetery, research leader Carl Engel found a richly equipped skeleton grave, which in the literature bears the designation 12/1939. The skeleton, oriented NW-SE, was placed in a wooden coffin at a depth of about 1 m and was weighed down by six large stones. Nothing but outlines of the human skeleton has been preserved. In addition to the human grave, this grave contained a folding sickle, a bucket, a stirrup, a knife, a fire striker and three spearheads, two of which are plated with silver. One decorated spearhead was 77.5 cm long, one of the longest Early medieval specimens of its kind. The northern part of the grave was covered by a shallow pit, in which the remains of a horse, one stirrup and one spur were placed. Since the two found stirrups match, it is believed that the pit was created as part of an equestrian burial.

Location of Ekritten on the map of Europe.

The dating of the grave is the subject of a long debate. La Baume’s opinion that the grave can be dated to the end of the 12th century does not stand up to today’s nuanced typologies (La Baume 1940). A frame dating to the late 10th and early 11th century based on the closest analogies of gilded helmets is a somewhat better step (Kirpičnikov 2009; Nadolski 1960; Papakin et al. 2017). Kulakov leans towards the first half of the 11th century (Kulakov 1990: 81). The most convincing is Goßler’s dating to the end of the 11th century, which is based on riding equipment (Goßler 2014: 191). A supporting argument for dating to the 11th century is also the presence of the Petersen type M spear, whose deposition in the 12th century is unlikely (Creutz 2003: 253). Let us mention that the only critical voice of today is Širouchov, who advocates dating to the 12th and the beginning of the 13th century (Širouchov 2014: 400).

After the Second World War and the disestablishment of East Prussia, the impression arose that the complete inventory of grave 12/1939 was lost. Fortunately, it turned out that part of it was discovered during the sorting of the material forming the “Prussian Collection” (Prussia-Sammlung), which belongs to the Museum for Prehistory and Early History (Museum für Vor- und Frühgeschichte) in Berlin. The objects were probably taken to this museum in 1945 at the latest. At least two fragments of the side segment are preserved with certainty (PM Pr 6219 a-b). Three other fragments of the front or back segment, located in the same museum (PM Pr 4218, Pr 4219, Pr 4220), very likely belonged to the helmet. The fragments are stored in the archive and are not part of any exhibition.

Diagram of the grave 12/1939 and a selection of its inventory. Source: La Baume 1940.

Critical evaluation of the helmet

At the time of its discovery, the helmet was among relatively well-preserved pieces. The entire helmet was flattened, but the dome was complete. As has been pointed out, only a few small fragments have survived to this day. The following description is based on the only photograph available, a description supplied by the Museum of Prehistory and Early History, and comparison with other better-preserved pieces. Since a personal inspection was not possible, the metric data should be considered approximate.

Fragments Pr 6219 a-b.
Source: Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Museum für Vor- und Frühgeschichte.
Photo author: C. Klein, E. Krüger.

The dome took on a spheroconical shape and was made up of four triangular segments, with the front and back segments overlapping the side ones. The segments were roughly 22 cm high when flat, which is the height given by the sum of the heights of the Pr 6219 a-b fragments (Goßler 2013a). Kirpičnikov’s estimate of the height of the dome was 20 cm (Kirpičnikov 2009: 18). Since the socket has not been preserved, it is not possible to determine the total height. Better preserved parallels usually reach a height of 26-32 cm. Due to deformation and loss of parts, it is not possible to derive the shape of the cross-section of the dome at the base level and its dimensions. In the flattened state, the width of the side segment at the base is 17.2 cm, which is a result comparable to the helmet from Gorzuchy, which we had the opportunity to personally examine (Vlasatý 2022c). This value would indicate an inner circumference of around 64-65 cm, given the regular width of the segments. If the cross-section of the base was originally oval, the internal dimensions may have been around 20 × 18 cm. The exact length of the overlap of the segments cannot be determined, but based on the preserved traces of the copper alloy strips between the segments, we can estimate that it is no longer than 1.5 cm, which is consistent with the analogies. The weight of the helmet cannot be determined for obvious reasons.

Fragment Pr 4218, Pr 4219 and Pr 4220.
Source: Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Museum für Vor- und Frühgeschichte.
Photo author: C. Klein.

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 were covered with plates of gilded copper alloy, the folds of which are visible on the inside, where they extend to a distance of approximately 0.3-0.4 cm. Fragment Pr 6219 a shows that the upper edge of the segment (the part covered by the socket) was not covered by the bent cover. The gilding is now almost imperceptible, which led Nadolski to conclude that the helmet was not gilded (Nadolski 1960: 104). The iron cores of the segments are heavily corroded, they are preserved torso-wise, and the museum estimates their thickness to be 0.15 cm. The usual thickness of the iron parts of the uncoated segments is close to 0.1 cm. According to the museum staff, the thickness of the copper alloy coating reaches 0.08-0.12 cm, which is an unusually high number. For comparison, let us state that the cover of the helmet from Gorzuchy is 0.07 cm thick (Vlasatý 2022c). It is possible that this is a measurement error or that the edge of the segments where the coating is doubled was measured in some places. The holes in the edges of the segments were made after the copper alloy cover was applied, so that the holes do not perforate the folds of the cover on the back of the segments. Some holes are certainly punched towards the inside of the dome, others could theoretically have been punched in the opposite direction as well. Despite the description obtained from the museum that the holes in the segments are 0.1-0.12 cm in diameter, the scaled photographs indicate a diameter of 0.2-0.3 cm, a figure comparable to some analogies we have had the opportunity to study (e.g. Vlasatý 2022a).

Detail of the copper alloy cover that is bent inside the dome.
Source: Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Museum für Vor- und Frühgeschichte.
Photo author: C. Klein.

In the protrusions of the lobes, there were mushroom heads of rivets, which have not been preserved to this day. It is possible that they were the same dimensions as the rivet holding the socket. Prior to the final assembly, the overlap of the segments was interspersed with embossed strips of non-gilded copper alloy, which copy the shape of the side edges of the segments and are also lobed. The rivets connecting the segments also perforated these strips. It can be assumed that the straight edge of the strips was aligned with the edges of the segments and were not visible when looking inside the helmet. Only small traces of these strips on the edges of fragments Pr 6219 a-b have survived to this day. It can be seen from them that the narrowest part of the strips was less than 1 cm wide, while the widest part was about 1.3 cm. The strips extended by approx. 0.2-0.3 cm out of the segments and were decorated by two-row holes, which were made with a double-point stamp.

Details of embossed strips.
Source: Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Museum für Vor- und Frühgeschichte.
Photo author: C. Klein.

The opening at the top of the helmet was covered by a tall and hollow socket, from which a small torso is still preserved, still riveted to the fragment Pr 6219 a. This poorly preserved part allows only limited conclusions. It is evident that, when viewed from above, the socket had the shape of a four-pointed star with relatively sharp points. The helmet socket from the locality of Babruysk, Belarus also has sharp points and may be a close analogy (Ovsejčik 2021). The socket was attached to the dome with four mushroom head rivets about 0.6 cm in diameter and about 0.4 cm high, one to each segment. Neither the height nor the diameter of the socket can be determined. According to the museum, the thickness of the base of the socket is 0.2 cm. The edges of the socket are not chamfered. Due to inappropriate preservation, the perimeter lines and the application of silver foil with dots, which are characteristic for this type of helmet, are not visible. The stamped copper alloy strip under the socket is not clearly legible, but is apparently present.

Detail of the socket fragment.
Source: Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Museum für Vor- und Frühgeschichte.
Photo author: C. Klein.

The edge of the helmet was surrounded by an iron rim that is partially and poorly preserved until this day, visible on fragment Pr 6219 b (side segment). It can be seen from the available photo that the rim also extended to the front or rear segment. The rim had a constant height close to 1.5-1.8 cm. The thickness is not legible from the museum data, but it may have been similar to the thickness of the socket base (0.2 cm). To this day, traces of two elements that fixed the rim to the dome are visible. One of them is a poorly preserved yet complete eyelet that is made of thick material and is about 0.6 cm high. According to the museum staff, the eyelet is 0.3 cm thick. There are no visible traces of the wire legs inside the dome, which does not mean that the eyelet was not originally omega-shaped. The purpose of the eyelet system is to hold the iron wire on which the mail aventail was hanging. The total number of eyelets used on the helmet cannot be determined, analogical helmets indicate the use of 9-11 fixation points and the ends of the rims are either inserted under the side teeth of the tridents (Vlasatý 2022a; 2022b; 2022c) or are fixed with rivets (see Ovsejčik 2021). The rims are usually covered with silver foil above the eyelet level and the foil is attached using pitted decoration. These elements are not visible on the rim of the Ekritten helmet due to poor preservation. The rim was probably originally lined with a stamped strip of copper alloy.

Detail of the rim.
Source: Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Museum für Vor- und Frühgeschichte.
Photo author: C. Klein.

It can be expected that a trident-shaped reinforcement was placed on the frontal segment. However, none of the available photos allow a view of this part of the helmet. We can only add that no two reinforcements are perfectly identical, so the original shape cannot be reliably guessed. A similar difficulty accompanies the rosettes that always decorate the center of the side segments of gilded helmets. Nadolski believed that the rosettes were not present on the helmet (Nadolski 1960: 104), but Kainov pointed out the possible presence of a hole in the place of the supposed rosette in the helmet photograph (Kainov 2018: 50). This theoretical rosette was placed approximately halfway up the height of the dome. Fragments Pr 6219 a-b, which represent a side segment not visible in the photograph, are cracked exactly in this line and indicate that the rosette center was no lower than 9 cm above the lower edge of the helmet, roughly between the second and third levels of the lobes. One can agree with the presence of rosettes. Apparently they were iron, were hollow, fixed with one central rivet. Iron rosettes are usually in the shape of a four-pointed star, measuring around 4 × 4 cm and decorated with silver foil attached by dotting. A lining made of stamped copper alloy sheet can be expected.

Approximate reconstruction of the helmet from Ekritten.
Author: Michal Havelka, baba_jaga_atelier.

The helmet from Ekritten can easily be assigned to the so-called Black Mound type helmets, as Papakin (2017; 2019; et al. 2017) did, or Kirpičnikov’s type II (Kirpičnikov 1958; 2009). The construction of the dome can be evaluated in all respects as standard and not deviating from the series of helmets with a gilded coating. 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 specimen in the currect state belongs to the worst preserved specimens of this type due to the severe damage. However, some parts of it are extremely beneficial for study of this type. When reading the obtained photos in detail, we noticed an interesting phenomenon that has not yet been described for the gilded helmets. This is due to the fact that the copper alloy coating appears to have been deliberately chopped in several places near the edge. Chopping follows a strictly practical logic. The coating, which is larger in every direction than the iron segment, creates unsightly creases when applied to a curved surface. Chopping the cover in very curved places and folding the two halves over each other prevents this creasing. It is no coincidence that we see chopped and folded covers especially in the area of lobes and corners. The chopping is not visible from the outside, so we have to admit that it is created really carefully only when bending the coating around the iron core.

This aspect is normally not visible in helmets as it is hidden by overlapping segments and preservatives. In the past, Gawrysiak-Leszczyńska noticed a similar cut in the corners of the helmet segments from Mokre and recorded it in a drawing, but did not describe it in text (Gawrysiak-Leszczyńska 2003: Fig. 226). Gilded helmets are usually not shown from the inside, so it is difficult to look for other parallels. The only other published segments likely to display chopping of the bent edge are from Ukraine (Papakin et al. 2017). These are two side segments of different helmets that have been restored and photographed from the back as well, revealing the cracked and overlapped curved edges. We have described similar chopping and folding in the case of the gilded rim of the Nemiya helmet (Vlasatý 2023).

Study of the gilded cover details. Author: Diego Flores Cartes.


Appendix 1: All photographs provided by Heino Neumayer of the Museum of Prehistory and Early History, Berlin. The authors of the photographs are C. Klein and E. Krüger.


We are extremely grateful to Heino Neumayer (Museum for Prehistory and Early History, Berlin) for the provision of photographic and textual material, who willingly sent the requested materials. We thank Roman Král (King’s Craft) and Sergey Kainov (State Historical Museum, Moscow) for help with the evaluation. We must mention Diego Flores Cartes and Michal Havelka (baba_jaga_atelier), who are the authors of the schematic diagrams.

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