RomanArmyTalk

Full Version: Ridge Helmets
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Some points raised in another thread:


Quote:If ridge helmets were easier and cheaper to mass-produce, why did the Romans spoil this effect by sheathing most of them in costly silver or gilt-silver? Or were they produced because they were superior in some functional way to preceding helmet types?


Quote:Or simply is it that we have a biased picture of ridge helmets because gold and silver are statistically more likely to survive than iron, and the reality is that gold and silver sheathes weren't as common as we may think?


Quote:Even if this were the case, why would the people who could afford silver sheathing buy cheap and nasty ridge helmets, when they could have purchased helmets with solid skulls?... This suggests that the ridge helmet had a functional edge over the earlier single-piece skull types


Quote:I'd say that if you rivet part together you'd better make sure that these are protected against rust, as you cast claer your rivets once they're fitted. Tinning is an option but apparentlyly a very (very!) thin sheet of gilded silver works too. Or perhaps better, since they had a special class of workers (barbaricarii) at their fabricae who were under the strictest of orders to add a very limited amout of precious metal to each helmet.


I've wondered before whether the much-maligned ridge helmet, rather than just being a cheap and crude-looking expedient for a decaying empire, in fact offered better protection than the older types of Roman helmet.

The force of a blow to the head, rather than being concentrated in a single spot, as with the older one-piece helmets, would be spread by the segmented construction - the rivets would absorb the initial shock, and if one or two broke the helmet would still hold together and the rivets could be replaced. If a piece of the helmet was buckled, damaged or pierced, it too could be replaced without having to forge a whole new helmet bowl.

I really don't know about the physics of this idea, but could it be that ridge helmets, with the slight flexibility of their multi-part construction, were actually stronger and therefore more effective than single-bowl versions?
There are constraints on the thickness of metal that could be raised into a one-piece skull. I wonder if the individual elements making up the skull of a ridge helmet were thicker on average. This cries out to be investigated by people with access to museum collections.

Also it seems to me that individual elements of a ridge helmet could be forge-heated and quenched more uniformly than a single-piece helmet (especially one with a large integral neck-piece), perhaps leading to a lower tendency to shatter when struck.
Are small sheets of precious metal easier to produce or work with than large ones? Is a small piece of sheet iron better suited for applying a sheet of precious metal on it? If the answer to (one of) the questions is "yes", this might be the explanation for opting for a multi-piece calotte. Just my two cents.
I really concur with all the points raised so far on the design and thickness comments of the metal. A one piece helmet has very thin sections simply by the nature of how it is made. The cross bracing of the late 2nd Century helmets to me is a further sign of their weakness, especially on the top. I suspect that the ridge based on its shape would be a very formidable form of protection. It was essentially "3" layers of Iron.

I question as well that gold gilded silver sheathing covered all the helmets. There are examples of ones covered in bronze (at least two) so that to me seems more plausible. In a time of fiscal difficulties I find it hard to believe that a few hundred thousand silver covered helmets were wandering the Roman empire. That is a lot of silver!! The Jewelled berkasovo helmet for instance had 587 grams of silver!! A reproduction that I'm working on which is based on a smaller type of helmet, the Augsburg one has about 350 grams of silver. The Silver fragments from the Jarak helmet sheathing is 184 grams (which is probably only 80% complete).

One today would find it hard to imagine the cost involved in mining ore, and turning that into a decorated gilded sheathing!! Even if labor was cheap it would still pale in comparison to today.
I believe Martin really has a point here. It would be far easier to make a ridge helmet from thick iron sheet then hammering one bowl from a plate. So to suppose these helmets were stronger just because of the nature/thickness of the iron used in making them seem to me to be a very valid observation!
Quote:I question as well that gold gilded silver sheathing covered all the helmets. There are examples of ones covered in bronze (at least two) so that to me seems more plausible.

The passage from the Theodosian code often cited as evidence in connection with this is as follows:

10.22.1: ARMOURERS (de fabricensibus). Emperors Valentinian, Valens and Gratian Augustuses to Tatianus, Count of the Sacred Imperial Largess.

Since six helmets for each period of thirty days are covered with bronze by each metalworker, both at Antioch and at Constantinople, and the cheekguards are also covered with wrought metalwork, but eight helmets and the same number of cheekguards are covered with silver or are gilded each thirty days at Antioch, and only three at Constantinople, We decree that at Constantinople also each metalworker shall decorate with gold and silver, not eight helmets for every thirty days but six each, with an equal number of cheekguards.
(Given March 11, AD374)

In effect, this ruling is intended to speed up production of decorated helmets at Constantinople! (why might that have been?) But it does tell us that, prior to the ruling, the metalworkers at the Antioch and Constantinople fabricae between them were producing 6 bronze-plated and 5.5 gilded/silvered helmets per month per man. Not a very accurate statistic, perhaps, but it suggests that slightly over half of all helmets were relatively plain in the mid 4th century.
Just a thought about the sheathing. Rather than being a purely luxury item the sheathing could have acted as a portable investment. If the soldier fell on hard times, the silver could be removed from his helmet and sold, it would not have lost value while it was on his head. Also a helmet was much less easy to steal than coined money.
Interesting points/info gents.
Interesting idea this supposed "composite nature" of late roman helmets, especially considering the strength of the bowl. Aitor Iriarte made a reconstruction of the iron core of the Deurne helmet and if I remember correctly, it was quite thick, about 2-3mm.
I was about to mention that from what I recall, most ridge helmets are on average thicker than earlier one-piece bowl helmets, around 2mm.
I agree with the consensus, here. Bowl or "pot" helmets, by their method of manufacture, were thinnest at the center of the crown-- exactly where you needed the most protection from a weapon slamming down upon you. Ridge helmets eliminated this drawback, having a consistent thickness throughout. Also, I wonder about other "late" styles; such as spangenhelms and even Eastern helmets made from overlapping lamellar plates. Again, we would have consistent thickness... plus a slight "give" within their multi-segmented construction to better protect the wearer's skull. Wink
After reading a large part of the Koblenz finds in the new Miks book it appears that all their Iron fragments there appeared to be between 1-1.5mm thick. So not quite as thick as 2-3mm as discussed. That being said, I believe many of the one piece helmets were thinner than that (1-1.5mm) due to the hammering/shaping process whereby the top of the helmet (arguably the most important part) was the thinnest!

As mentioned the uniformity of the thickness of these multi-piece helmets would have been much more consistent and therefore stronger IMO.