Celtic helmets from the late La Têne period form 3 main groups – single unit helmets found mostly in France and Switzerland; 2-part helmets, composed of a calotte and/or type Port neck guard, which are found both east and west of the Alps; Eastern Celtic 3-part helmets of the Novo Mesto type composed of a calotte, a forehead guard and a neck guard (Schaaff 1986: 830-833; 1988:302).
A wonderful example of the Eastern Celtic helmet is that discovered in the river Sava near Stara Gradiška in Croatia. Exceptionally well preserved, it consists of an iron calotte to which protective bronze forehead and neck guards are attached. A moulded bronze reinforcement runs along the middle of the calotte, ending in representations of human heads and triskele symbols. Bronze cheek pieces decorated with schematic representations of a large bird hang from the sides of the forehead guard.
FROM THE ADRIATIC TO THE CASPIAN
Most examples of these Eastern Celtic helmets have been discovered on the Balkans – on the territory of today’s Croatia and Slovenia, where such have been recorded at Seveste in central Croatia, and in Slovenia at Stremec near Bela Cerkev, in the Ljubljanica river, at the Celtic cemetery at Na Hribcu (Mihovo) where 2 such helmets were discovered, Idrija near Nova Bača, Vinji Vrh (Šmarjeta), and in burial # 169 at Beletov Urt -Novo Mesto (Mihaljević, Dizdar 2007).
The Bronze Helmet from Vinji Vrh (Šmarjeta, Slovenia) /LTD, 1st c. BC
Besides Slovenia and Croatia, Novo Mesto type helmets have also been found at sites stretching from Poland to the Caspian Sea. A tripartite iron helmet was found in cremation grave # 25 in Siemiechów (central Poland), used as an urn for the cremated bones of the deceased. Originally identified as ‘Roman’, subsequent research has shown that the Siemiechów helmet is a variant of the tripartite east-Celtic helmet (Schaaff 1986:833). Another variant of the Novo Mesto type of Celtic helmet was found in tumulus # 2 at Cugir Romania, together with a late La Têne sword in its scabbard, and a shield umbo (Mihaljević, Dizdar op cit.), while in Bulgaria a rounded cheek guard discovered at the Celtic hillfort at Arkovna, Varna region (Lazarov 2010) probably also comes from such a helmet. On the banks of the river Seim in the middle Dneiper Basin in western Ukraine further examples have recently been discovered at the Mutyn burial complex. At the Mutyn site, which dates to the late 1st c. BC, Celtic burials containing 13 late La Têne swords, scabbards, spearheads, shield bosses and chainmail have been excavated. 5 late La Têne helmets were also discovered, of which at least 2 are of the Novo Mesto type (Kazakevich 2012).
The easternmost finds of these Celtic helmets come from southern Russia, and include an example from Boiko-Ponura (Krasnodar), and another from Yashkul (Kalmykia) which most resembles the Novo Mesto type helmets from Slovenia and Croatia (Kazakevich 2010, Mihaljević, Dizdar op cit.). Both eastern Celtic helmets from Southern Russia should logically be associated with the Celto-Scythian Bastarnae tribes.
THE POWER OF 3
A most fascinating aspect of these helmets is the religious symbolism to be observed in their decorative elements. The severed heads (têtes coupées) on examples such as those from the Sava river in Slovenia or Boiko-Ponura in Southern Russia is itself a core Celtic religious symbol. Worth noting is the uncanny similarity between the heads depicted on the Sava helmet and other Celtic works of art such as the silver disc from Manerbio sul Mella (Italy), or six bronze appliqués found in a rich Celtic (Scordisci) warrior burial at Koilovtsi (Pleven reg.) in northern Bulgaria, also dated to the late 2nd/ 1st c. BC (loc cit). The same representation of the head is to be observed on a series of silver coins issued by the Taurisci tribe:
Human heads from the front and rear of the Sava helmet
Obverse of Taurisci silver coin (Steiermark, Austria)
Severed heads on a Celtic silver disc from Manerbio sul Mella (N. Italy)
In the case of Manerbio sul Mella another composition depicts the Triskele, interpreted as a solar symbol, surrounded by severed heads:
On the Sava helmet from Croatia the severed head forms part of a triangular composition of which triskele symbols constitute the other 2 points:
This theme is continued in the depiction of the long-necked bird on the cheek pieces of the helmets from Vinji Vrh and the Sava river (below), the basic geometric composition of which also constitute a triskele:
One of the core symbols in Eastern Celtic art during this period – either as a symbol/icon in itself, or as the geometric basis of artistic compositions (see Triskele – Golden Ratio ), its presence on eastern Celtic helmets is no coincidence. The triskele also appears frequently on other items of Celtic military equipment from this region, such as the appliqués from Celtic chainmail found at Ciumeşti and Târgu Mureş in Romania, or Panagurischte Kolonii and Matochina in Bulgaria:
Triskele discs from Celtic chainmail found at Ciumeşti (A) and Târgu Mureş (B)
(Different scales; On Celtic chainmail see ‘Chainmail’ and ‘Prince of Transylvania’ articles)
The fact that the triskele is included in the decorative elements on Celtic weaponry, particularly protective military equipment such as helmets and chainmail, logically indicates that for the Celts the triskele symbol held special protective properties. The triskele has been interpreted as a solar symbol, which logically connects it to the pan-Celtic solar deity Lugus/Lugh, and it would appear that that by incorporating such symbols in their military equipment Celtic warriors were invoking the protection of the Sun God.
Kazakevich G. (2012) Celtic Military Equipment from the Territory of Ukraine: Towards a new Warrior Identity in the pre-Roman Eastern Europe. In: Transforming Traditions: Studies in Archaeology, Comparative Linguistics and Narrative. Studia Celto-Slavica 6. p. 177- 212. Lódź
Lazarov L. (2010) The Celtic State In the Time of Cavaros. In: In Search of Celtic Tylis in Thrace (III c BC). Sofia 2010. P. 97-113
Mihaljević M., Dizdar M. (2007) Late La Têne Bronze Helmet from the River Sava near Stara Gradiška. VAMZ, 3s., XL 117-246
Schaaff U. (1986) Studien zur keltischen Bewaffnung. JbRGZM,33/1986, 2:830–833
Schaaff U. (1988) Keltische Helme. U:AntikeHelme. MonographienRGZM, 14.Mainz,1988:293–317