Saturday, 1 August 2015

Bits and pieces.

In keeping with the Roman tombstone blog of a couple of weeks ago I'd like to share some work I did a while back concerning a reconstruction of a Roman auxiliary cavalry helmet.  It wasn't done for anything in particular, except that I find such things interesting and like to study them.

In the UK we have a rich historical past and that means plenty of archaeology that needs intricate study in the labs of museums up and down the country, and plenty more still in the ground just waiting to be discovered.  Recently a couple of Roman cavalry helmets have come to light in Britain and I have concentrated on a helmet found in a place called Hallaton in Leicestershire.

A cavalry sports helmet found at Ribchester in Lancashire in 1796.  It would originally have been silvered.  Wikipedia commons.
It was found in 2000 through the efforts of Ken Wallace, a member of the Hallaton field walking group, and the pieces were dug out of the ground still in blocks of earth and spent the next nine years at the British Museum where they were conserved.  The helmet is now on permanent display at the Harborough museum in Market Harborough.

The Hallaton helmet in Harborough museum.  Wikipedia commons

It's of a type called a 'cavalry sports helmet' quite a number of which have been discovered around the Roman world, and would have been used in ceremonial events and in certain kinds of military sports displays.  Probably manufactured in the early 1st century AD it is made of sheets of iron, and would have originally been given a silvered surface, and  been covered with extensive embossed decoration.  Some of this detail has survived, but a lot was badly damaged so part of the game here is to closely scrutinise photographs taken when the helmet was still covered in dirt and see if something can be made of them.

Hallaton helmet cheek guard showing detail of mounted officer with a winged victory.  Wikipedia commons/the author
One of the cheek guards, the left one, was in a reasonable state of preservation and a figure of a general or possibly an emperor can be seen in the typical formulaic Roman manner, riding a horse over the prone body of a barbarian.  This was fairly easy to visualise as most of it was still there, but the front of the crown of the helmet was a sad ruin.  Something of a female head and shoulders portrait can be made out just above the face of the wearer, but most of the top of the head and face of this portrait is missing.

The female portrait at the front of the helmet.  Probably a Roman goddess or local deity.  Wikipedia commons.

As this is very badly eroded only the general sense of the original can be gleaned from study of photographs. So a certain amount of speculation has to be indulged in, and a certain amount of  - yes invention.  The portrait is probably of a Roman goddess possibly Victory, or a local deity.  We all know more or less what a Roman/Greek goddess looks like where statues are concerned.  I'm sure the ancient Romans/Greeks could tell the difference pretty easily, and professors of Roman/Greek history can properly lecture on the ways and means of telling them apart, but to most of us they are fairly similar in look.

And of course all we have to work with here is a head and shoulders. On very close examination you can just make out that she has some plaits of hair hanging at each side of the head, and is wearing some kind of tunic, the creases of which are still just visible.  On either side of the portrait are two lions with prey, in the above image you can just make out the head of a ram on the left of the picture.  These things are heavily eroded and again much imagination was needed to realise these figures, but my own scrutiny of the photographs lead me to believe that the lion is lying down and not on it's haunches as I've seen in other reconstructions.  However they are the experts and have actual access to the real helmet so I'm happy to concede that I am probably wrong. 

So here is my two penn'uth, and it's about as close as I can get without actually seeing the real helmet.  Why did I bother?  As an exercise in drawing and understanding, all part of an artist/illustrators work. 

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