Mac Congail





“On their heads they put bronze helmets which have large embossed figures standing out from them and give an appearance of great size to those who wear them; for in some cases horns are attached to the helmet so as to form a single piece, in other cases images of the fore-parts of birds or four footed animals”.

Diodorus Siculus (on Celtic helmets) (History V.30.2)




While horned helmets among the Celtic tribes are well documented in artwork and coins from the period, actual archaeological confirmation of the existence of this particular type of helmet has been rare. Indeed, until now it was thought that the only known example from Iron Age Europe was the Waterloo Helmet found in the river Thames in London. However, despite the belief that the Waterloo Helmet was unique, another example is to be found in the bronze Celtic horned helmet discovered near the modern village of Bryastovetz (Burgas region) in eastern Bulgaria:



The Bryastovetz Horned Helmet from Eastern Bulgaria (3rd/2nd c. BC)

 (Sofia Archaeological Museum Inv. # 3454)



Findspot of the Bryastovetz Helmet in Eastern Thrace





In the Balkan context Celtic warriors wearing such horned helmets appear on two panels of the Gundestrup cauldron, which was produced in northwestern Thrace in the 2nd c. BC by the Scordisci tribes (see ‘The Scordisci Wars’ article with relevant lit.).









Scenes from the Gundestrup cauldron depicting Celtic warriors wearing horned helmets






 The area of today’s eastern Bulgaria where the Bryastovetz helmet originates was located within the territory of the Celtic ‘Tyle’ state in the 3rd c. BC, and is rich in Celtic numismatic and archaeological material from this period (See Mac Congail 2008, 2010; Lazarov 2010; Manov 2010; also Numismatics Section 1, ‘New Material 2’ and ‘Savage Business’ articles, with relevant lit.). Celtic tribes are also recorded in this area of s-e Thrace in the 2nd century BC (Appianus, Syriaca 6.22), and it appears likely that the helmet originated from a Celtic warrior burial in the area, most probably an aristocratic burial associated with the Celtic ‘Tyle’ state of the 3rd c. BC in eastern Thrace.




Sadly, although illustrations of this helmet have been published in a number of popular books on ‘Thracian Treasures’ over the last decade, it is not on display to the public, nor has it been made available for wider academic study. Officially, this unique Celtic treasure is now in the National Museum in Sofia under inv. # 3454. One can only hope that this is indeed the case.