“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, which is ceremonial in nature and differs greatly from Celtic horned helmets depicted elsewhere.
Bronze ceremonial horned helmet with repoussé decoration in the La Tène style, discovered in the River Thames at Waterloo Bridge, London
(ca. 100 BC)
Bronze statue of a naked Celtic warrior with horned helmet and torc. Originally from northern Italy, and presently in the Antikensammlung (SMPK), Berlin
(3rd c. BC)
However, despite the belief that the Waterloo Helmet was the only example of such from Iron Age Europe, a further example is to be found in the bronze horned helmet discovered near the modern village of Bryastovets (Burgas region) in eastern Bulgaria.
The Bryastovetz Horned Helmet from Eastern Bulgaria (3rd c. BC)
(After Fol A., Fol V. (2008) The Thracians. Sofia; Fol, a former Communist minister, member of the Secret Police, and founder of the Institute of Thracology, incorrectly places the village of Bryastovets in the Targovischte region of northern Bulgaria (!) ) *
Location of Bryastovetz
In the Balkan context Celtic warriors wearing such horned helmets also appear on two panels of the Gundestrup cauldron, which is believed to have been produced in northwestern Thrace in the late 2nd c. BC by the Scordisci tribes:
Scenes from the Gundestrup cauldron (plates C and E) 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. 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.
Sadly, as with many Celtic artifacts from Bulgaria, although illustrations of this helmet have been published in a number of popular books on ‘Thracian Treasures’, 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…
*On Alexander Fol and ‘Thracology’ see:
On the Celtic Tyle State see: