Full Version: Did Roman cavalry wear face-masks in battle?
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I've been asked this several times since the Crosby Garrett Helmet came to prominence. Now you can read what I think here. What's your opinion?

Mike Bishop
I think that the "field of vision thing" ^^ needs to be investigated way further and in much more detail before normative assumptions are drawn from it. I think that without sound data in regard of the points below, no normative conclusions should be drawn at all.

1. Were the masks made individually for each wearer? If so, how close would they fit? Can Jurjen´s mask, which was made after an original and not specifically made to fit his individual face result in an individual experience that is different from the original situation?

2. Are there different types of masks that were used in different situations? e.g. Kops Plateau masks or Kalkriese mask vs 3rd century masks from the Raetian limes?

3. How exactly were the masks worn? Directly on the face? With a felt or leather liner? The further the mask is away from the face the smaller the field of vision is. The closer they are, the bigger it is.I will write on Arrian

4. Should the field of vision not be measured by an optician or Eye doctor, before conclusions are drawn? Junkelmann has come to quite different results, but these also are not actually backed up by scientific data => He says that the view is way better than in most medieval cavalry helmets that cover the eye region. He used a mask that was made to fit his face quite exactly.

5. Why do we find face masks in context of fighting situations? e.g. Kalkriese

I will write on Arrian later, when I find more time.
In my opinion that tombstone from Ribchester shows a cavalryman with a batavian style helmet. [Image: 6226229937_85c46b5174_b.jpg]
The head is big, and with hair with locks. It's strange to me a cavalryman without head protection, so probably it's represented with his integral mask helmet.

By the way, i have seen many times Timetrotter (Germany) cavalry group. One of his cavalryman, Michael Theren, rides always in a Xanten alike helmet, with a mask. I never thought he was limited by the fact of wearing such mask, even he can strikes with his spatha or spear better than his comrades. In his mock battles, he is not handicaped too by wear a mask. So, probably very trained cavalrymen have not trouble to wears masks in battle. Experimental archaeology in this particular aspect have to be done with a lot of training before. Roman writers tells that a soldier can mount in a horse fully armed, even at gallop. I can't do it, this don't tell us romans cant do it, only tells i havent trained enough.

Specially, minits 2 and 2:27.
At the risk of bringing up a vexing topic, there's also the question of clibanarii equipment. There are several descriptions of them wearing masked helmets, apparently as their usual kit, therefore presumably in battle. These masks probably didn't look much the CG version, and clibanarii may have been trained to ride in very tight formation (one panegyric seems to suggest something like a 'steamroller' effect was intended!), but this at least suggests that riding a horse into battle while wearing a mask wasn't completely foolish...
I think that I might be inclined to agree with Mike Bishop that there can be some limited vision when wearing these face masks, my view does come with a degree of experience in having made a few of these type of things over the years.
However there is one that I have made in fact the first I ever did that has a teardrop arrangement on the lower eyelids, and this I found an interesting feature not shown on any other masks which allows the wearer to glance down to look at the ground without having to bend their neck.
Here is another version of it I made in what I call my own creation where I put about four different helmets together into one, it is also shown worn by a rider when used in the small film depicting the Varus Battle.



Here is a view of the Emesa helmet and mask with the extra arrangement on the lower lids, and believe me having made and worn it this it does help to simply glance down with the eyes and no need to bend the neck.
Then with the eye slots as they are there is indeed some limited vision all round.
Where Cristian K. has mentioned the Kalkriese mask this is also one that I have made several times and indeed I have made a great study of this mask.
It is one that has had a very interesting life and may well have began as a mask belonging to a cavalry sports helmet, I do believe that it had ears that were removed and it later found another use.
It then of course went through yet another transformation where it was enhanced with a covering of silver sheet, however the edging that held this does reveal that the mask was yet again used on a helmet where a possible hook arrangement was made to fix and remove it from such a helmet.
It shows the very same treatment that was given to the Vechten mask at Lieden that also looks to have been a cavalry sports that took on various alterations as pointed out by H.Russell Robinson.
Indeed in my own opinion when I look at them both I tend to have the idea that these two mask might not only have the same time period but appear to show some similar style to them i.e craftsmanship.
My personal view is that they may very well be battle helmets, and in my shows I do indeed describe them as such. This because I personally don't see much problems with vision.

What I do see however is that, as Christian already mentioned, most people do indeed include the vision into their argument, where most of these are based barely on assumptions. I think lots can be gained with proper research into this arillea, which does include loads of different area's of expertise. Before I'm even going to question if the vision is sufficient, I would need to tackle the question what 'sufficient vision' means. In a battle sitiuation, being on horseback, attacking a germanic tribesman whom is using different techniques, does all need different 'sufficient vision', IMHO.

Secondly one needs to get used to it. Let's compare it to driving a car. Do you need the mirror in the center of your car. If you learn to drive (in the Netherlands at least) you learn to use it a lot, so yes, you do need that one. I know people who don't like to drive with a load blocking their central mirrors view. But then again, when you start driving with a trailer (or caravan) behing your car, you need to obtain a different way of viewing what is happening behind your car, by using the two mirrors on the sides of the car more intensively. IMHO the same goes for vision with helmets, masks, etc.

This being said, there is a big argument, and this is just the start of it, looking from the viewpoint if a logical approach by vision-reduction can be used at all, not even going into detail on other aspects like context, material, construction etc.
Brian, have you pictures of your reproduction of Emesa helmet?
I do indeed but must say that this was in fact the earliest attempt I ever did at a cavalry sports, I was not over impressed with it at that time and gave it to a young friend in Rome.
It is as I have mentioned the only one that appears to have this system of teardrops on the lower eyelids which do indeed function well for downwards vision.
This is what I introduced into the more decorative one that I call my own model that is made up from a Straubing type bowl, Emesa eyelids as also part of the neck guard decor', from Emesa, then the hair piece from another Syrian one from Aintum, and then I put on a laurel decoration over the front of the bowl and enjoyed making this and it has been in short TV films a few times.
The other one that I did also enjoy doing is in fact my AVATAR and this was ( apart from having made eyebrows on bowls ) the first time I ever got into creating repousse' work.
This one was made for the Trimontium Trust and is on display in their museum at Melrose Scotland.There is an interesting aspect to this particular helmet in the fact that it had a leather strap as the hinge for the mask.




Just to add to Mike's and Christian's comments for consideration is that the sports events took place within a controlled environment. Most Roman riders could probably do the event blindfolded, indeed in Medieval tournaments at point of impact the rider was blind. It is interesting that classic Medieval tournament helmets and indeed later armour too was different to what was worn in battle. To paraphrase a well know TV sketch "Cavalry, the biggest show off's since Lady Godiva claimed she had literally nothing to wear".

As to why the items are found on the battlefield, one logical explanation would be that it was safer to take such items with you than leave them behind at base. For other superfluous items taken on campaign, the Parthians were disgusted at the amount of pornographic objects they found within the Roman baggage train after Carrhae. Reminds you of 'A Funny Thing on the Way to the Forum' and Erroneus's collection of erotic pottery!


P.S Great helmets Brian!!
Unfortunately, when I was taking this picture, I was taking photo of a sword, not the mask, but still, I thought you guys might want to see it. Pretty big eye holes. It's from archeological museum in Zagreb, Croatia.
I recognize the belt, which is 3rd century. Any dating on the mask?
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