Highlights of 2014 – The Crosby Garrett Helmet

In January we bid a fond farewell to The Crosby Garrett Helmet which had been on display alongside our Hartnell to Amies exhibition since November and was seen by over 20,000 people!

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One of our Gallery Assistants, Eloise has put together some answers to the most frequently asked questions about the helmet.

How old is it?

This is one of the most difficult questions! Because the metal analysis showed that the metal percentages varied across the Helmet, we think it was made from scrap or recycled metal, which is common. However this makes it hard to date, because it the material has many lives. However judging from the style, this Helmet is probably 3rd century AD, at the height of their development, owing to the intricate details and irises in the eyes.

Where was it found?

The Helmet is named after it’s origin at Crosby Garrett, in South East Cumbria . It was found by two amateur metal detectorists on the boundaries of some farmland. It is a bit of a mystery how it came to be there! Face down in the soil, the rest of the Helmet was crushed on top, although nearly all of the pieces were there. It was also miles from the nearest Roman roads and settlements, and the archaeology showed it to have been an Iron Age native farmstead at one time. Perhaps it was lost on the way up to the Wall, buried for safe-keeping, or even stolen and hidden! Only two small Roman coins would suggest a Roman presence in that area.

The Crosby Garrett helmet, late 1st-2nd century AD (bronze) (see also 396159 & 413093)

How do you put it on?

The Helmet has a clever hinge mechanism concealed just above the hairline. This allows the face to lift like a visor, and close snugly over the face and head. This was then fastened by leather straps under the chin, for which there are little loops behind the ears. Many of these helmets were leather lined for comfort, and re-enactors have also suggested how mint leaves might have been used to keep these helmets a bit fresher during use!

What would have looked like when it was new?

The Helmet is green, because it has such a high copper content- about 82%, with 10% zinc, and 8% tin. When it was new it would have shone a brilliant gold-brass colour.
We also think the face was tin-plated, from a small residue around the eyes. This would have shone a silvery colour to contrast the brassy gold of the rest of the helmet. It would have looked God-like in the sun!

Why didn’t Tullie House get the helmet when it was found?

Because the helmet doesn’t qualify as treasure trove, the Government couldn’t claim it, and it was therefore sold at auction. Tullie House raised a large amount, through sponsors and fundraising but unfortunately we were outbid and it went for a staggering £2.2 million to an anonymous buyer. The owner kindly consented to loan the Helmet to Tullie House and the British Museum to allow the public to share this wonderful piece.

Treasure is defined as a single item made of a precious material like gold or silver, or as a hoard of many related items. The Helmet, being a single item made of a copper alloy didn’t meet these criteria.

What is the significance of the griffin/flower motif/hat?

The helmet has a moulded hat, called a Phyrgian Cap, a type of felt hat associated with the Middle East in Roman times. These might have included embroidery, and possibly the flower or star shaped motifs around the back of the helmet signify embroidered patterns. This type of hat is often used in depictions of the God Mithras, or even Paris of Troy, and it is possible that the Helmet was designed to look like a God or hero from classical times, perhaps to stage mock battles, or demonstrate the superior prowess of the wearer.

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On top of the hat is a Griffin, a mythical beast, half lion and half eagle. This is a symbol of protection, both for the wearer and for his belongings. This is the only part to have been moulded or cast; the rest of the helmet is beaten from very thin sheets of metal.

Who would of worn this and why?

We sadly don’t know who owned the Helmet, unlike other helmets there are no names or marks engraved inside. We do know he was fairly wealthy and probably a cavalry officer, since the Crosby Garrett Helmet is a Sports Helmet, designed to be worn during the Hippika Gymnasia, or Horse Games. These were mock battles and demonstrations of skill on horseback and were popular from the 2nd to the early 4th centuries. The location of the Helmet suggests that these games reached as far as Hadrians Wall.
We do know that this was not designed for battle. The metal is very thin, and the loops and hooks, together with the beautifully detailed face and hat suggest it was for display, and might even have had streamers or feathers as added decor. There is also a small oval indentation on the Griffin ornament, suggesting that a gem or glass stone was displayed.

It is very unlikely that the faceplate shows us what the owner really looked like. It is very heavily stylised, as are many of the others. They are all however very unique designs!

Are there others?
Only two other helmets of this type have been found in the UK; the Ribchester Helmet and the Newstead Helment in Scotland. This is a rare find, and unique in design! They are more frequently found in mainland Europe.

How much does it weigh?
The curator who installed the Helmet said it was ‘surprisingly light’. The metal has been beaten very thinly. Following our display, the helmet was 3D imaged together OTH the Ribchester Helment in London. They weighed it as just 1.29kg! The Ribchester Helmet was slightly heavier at 1.31kg, but these are very ergonomic for their use!

Despite its realtively lightwieght, I imagine the Helmet would still have been very claustrophobic to wear!

If you have any other questions about this amazing helmet, feel free to ask in the comments below.

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Posted on December 12, 2014, in Exhibitions and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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