Domed helmet

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Domed helmets are a relatively early phenomenon, and are an evolution from the Roman legionary helmet. In technological terms, a domed helmet was designed to contain a large amount of padding which would cushion any blows to the head – therefore the helmet would be somewhat bigger than the wearer’s head.

The two principal examples of the domed helmet are the Gjermundbu helmet (8th century Swedish), sometimes called the 'spectacle' helmet and the Coppergate helmet (8th century Anglian). The seventh-century Benty Grange helmet and the Wollaston helmet (also known as the Pioneer helmet or Northamptonshire helmet) are also domed helmets with boar crests.

The Gjermundbu domed helmet appears to have been fitted with an aventail.

Photograph of the Gjermundbu helmet
Photograph of a Coppergate-like domed helmet

Domed helmets may be used for shows with a dateline up to 950 – i.e. mostly the ninth-century Viking raids. This is a very generous timetable, allowing some very old hand-me-down helmets to be used. As valuable pieces of military equipment, helmets did have a long life-span – the Coppergate helmet appears to have been buried c.860, over a century after it was made.

The seventh-century Wollaston or Pioneer helmet

Decorating domed helmets

Many domed helmets had a band of metal with decoration of some sort running round the bottom, or else decorated ‘eyebrows’ and spectacles. This decoration took the form of silver wires and plates hammered into the nasal and eyebrow guards, gold foil strips or gilding, brought out with niello. Decoration is obviously a sign of high status – but in the early period, possessing a helmet in the first place meant considerable wealth!