Found as part of the Hallaton Treasure, the helmet was buried at a native British shrine around the time of the Roman invasion of Britain which began in AD 43. This is a unique helmet which would have been worn by a Roman cavalry officer of high status.
The Hallaton Helmet
The helmet has been painstakingly pieced together for display at Harborough Museum. It is 80% complete and any gaps have been filled to give it strength. 2000 years ago the helmet’s silver surface would have gleamed beautifully. Certain parts of the design, such as the swags on the brow guard, leaf pattern on the neckguard and wreath on the bowl were probably covered with gold leaf.
The helmet’s browguard
The helmet’s browguard has a large female figure in the centre, possibly flanked by lions. She is probably a Roman goddess or an empress. The browguard is the most delicate part of the helmet because the silver sheet is placed directly on top of a thick layer of a sandy substance, rather than on to the iron core. This makes the browguard stand proud and appear impressive.
The helmet was found buried with pig bones and coins, suggesting that this was not a hasty burial, but carefully and ceremonially placed in the pit. A large hoard of coins was also buried next to the helmet.
The British Museum
The British Museum’s conservation team spent many years excavating the helmet from the soil block, conserving the fragments and piecing them back together.
Removing the helmet
By 2011 the conservators had removed all the helmet remains from the soil doc. They revealed a helmet bowl (the part that sits on the head) and seven cheekpieces. Read more about the cheekpieces.
3D scanning the helmet
The helmet remains are so delicate that conservators decided to make a 3D image of the soil block part way through its conservation so that valuable information could be retained.
An artist’s impression of how the helmet may have looked
A few fragments were picked off the surface, including this ‘ear’, and taken back to the University of Leicester. Archaeologists confirmed that this was part of a Roman cavalry helmet.
The helmet has been reconstructed by conservators after suffering deterioration during burial. It is made of iron sheet covered with very thin silver-gilt sheet which features beautiful designs on its surfaces created using a hammering technique called repousse.
The decorated silver-gilt plating is of the highest quality. The helmet’s bowl features a wreath made of leaves, the symbol of a military triumph and the scallop shaped browguard features the striking bust of a woman flanked by lions and other animals.
The helmet would have originally had two cheekpieces hinged at the side to protect the side of the face. These survive separately as they are too fragile to re-attach to the helmet. One well preserved cheekpiece depicts a Roman emperor on horseback with the goddess Victory flying behind. Beneath his horse’s hooves is a cowering figure, possibly a native Briton.
What the native British people who buried this helmet made of this image of Roman dominance we do not know. Did they identify with the defeated foe or triumphant horseman? Does this suggest the local population were pro-Roman and received this helmet as a diplomatic gift of thanks to seal an alliance? It is an intriguing mystery but research is ongoing.
3D model of the Hallaton Helmet
As part of an Arts Council England-funded project, a number of objects in the collections of Leicestershire County Council were turned into 3D models, including the Hallaton Helmet. You can view the model below, which is interactive and rotates, so you can see all angles.