Over two decades ago, an extraordinary Roman helmet was unearthed in a field in Leicestershire, England, and now this unique piece of early Roman cavalry equipment has returned to public display at the Harborough Museum.

The Hallaton Helmet, discovered in 2001 by the Hallaton Field Work Group and the University of Leicester Archaeological Services during the excavation of an Iron Age site, is a remarkable artifact that offers a glimpse into Britain’s Roman past.

As part of the Hallaton Treasure, the helmet was buried in a native British sanctuary during the Roman invasion of Britain, which began in 43 AD. Likely belonging to a high-ranking Roman cavalry officer, the helmet is the first time all the key findings have been exhibited together, thanks to years of meticulous reconstruction work by conservators at the British Museum.

Five additional helmet cheek pieces and other associated objects, which were buried alongside the helmet, are also being displayed for the first time since their conservation was completed in 2020.

The Hallaton Helmet has been painstakingly reassembled, with approximately 80% of the original structure intact. The gaps have been filled to provide stability, and the once-gleaming silver surface would have shone brightly 2,000 years ago. Intricate decorative elements, such as the laurel wreath on the brow, the leaf motif on the neck guard, and the crown on the dome, were likely adorned with gold leaf, adding to the helmet’s impressive appearance.

The helmet’s preservation has been a remarkable feat, as it had suffered significant deterioration during its time buried underground. Crafted from iron plating overlaid with a thin layer of gilded silver, the helmet features stunning repoussé designs across its surfaces, showcasing the exceptional metalworking skills of its Roman artisans.

The gilded silver decoration is of exceptional quality, with the helmet’s dome crowned by a laurel wreath, a symbol of military triumph. The brow guard is festooned with a striking bust of a woman flanked by lions and other animals. Originally, the helmet had two hinged cheek pieces to protect the sides of the face, but these are now conserved separately due to their fragility.

One well-preserved cheek piece depicts a Roman emperor on horseback, with the goddess Victoria flying behind him. Beneath the horse’s hooves is a crouching figure, possibly a native Briton, hinting at the complex relationship between the Roman invaders and the local population.

The helmet’s frontal crest features a prominent female figure, likely a Roman goddess or empress, possibly flanked by lions. This delicate section, with the silver sheet directly applied over a sandy core rather than an iron base, stands proudly, showcasing the remarkable craftsmanship of its creators.

Councilor Christine Radford, Cabinet Member for Adult Social Care and Communities, expressed the community’s delight in welcoming the Hallaton Helmet back to the Harborough Museum, stating that this new exhibition would not have been possible without the incredible conservation and reconstruction efforts.

She also highlighted the behind-the-scenes work of the museum staff in developing engaging content to tell the story of the helmet and its discovery, and encouraged the public to visit and experience this historic artifact.

The Hallaton Helmet exhibition will be on display at the Harborough Museum starting on Wednesday, March 20th. This remarkable project has been made possible thanks to the generous funding and support of the Leicestershire Archaeological and Historical Society, the Market Harborough Historical Society, Leicestershire Fieldworkers, The Friends of Leicester and Leicestershire Museums, the Market Harborough & the Bowdens Charity, and the National Lottery Heritage Fund.


Sources

Harborough Museum | Leicestershire County Council


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