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Horned helmet

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Horned helmet

The bronze "Ingot God" from Enkomi, 12th century BC, Cyprus Archaeological Museum, Nicosia
Plate C of the Gundestrup cauldron, 2nd–1st century BC

European Bronze Age and Iron Age horned helmets are known from a number of depictions, but few actual finds. Many peoples used them, but not, contrary to the modern myth, the Vikings. Headpieces mounted with animal horns or replicas of them also occur, as in the Mesolithic Star Carr. These were probably used for religious ceremonial or ritual purposes.


  • Prehistoric Europe 1
  • Migration Period 2
  • Middle Ages 3
  • In Asia 4
  • Popular association with Vikings 5
  • See also 6
  • References 7
  • External links 8

Prehistoric Europe

The bronze "Horned God" from Enkomi
The Waterloo Helmet, ca. 150–50 BC, found in the Thames (British Museum)

Two bronze statuettes dated to the early 12th century BC, the so-called "horned god" and "ingot god", depicting deities wearing horned helmets, found in Enkomi, Cyprus. In Sardinia dozens of warriors with horned helmets are depicted in bronze figures and in the monte prama gigantic statues, similar to those of the Shardana warriors (and possibly belonging to the same people) depicted by the Egyptians.

A pair of bronze horned helmets from the later Bronze Age (dating to ca. 1100–900 BC) were found near Veksø, Denmark in 1942.[1] Another early find is the Grevensvænge hoard from Zealand, Denmark (ca. 800–500 BC, now partially lost).

The Waterloo Helmet, a Celtic bronze ceremonial helmet with repoussé decoration in the La Tène style, dating to ca. 150–50 BC, was found in the River Thames, at London. Its abstracted 'horns', different from those of the earlier finds, are straight and conical.[2] Late Gaulish helmets (ca. 55 BC) with small horns and adorned with wheels, reminiscent of the combination of a horned helmet and a wheel on plate C of the Gundestrup cauldron (ca. 100 BC), were found in Orange, France. Other Celtic helmets, especially from Eastern Europe, had bird crests. The enigmatic Torrs Pony-cap and Horns from Scotland appears to be a horned champron to be worn by a horse.

Migration Period

Depicted on the Arch of Constantine, dedicated in 315 AD, are Germanic soldiers, sometimes identified as "Cornuti", shown wearing horned helmets. On the relief representing the Battle of Verona (312) they are in the first lines, and they are depicted fighting with the bowmen in the relief of the Battle of the Milvian Bridge.[3]

A depiction on a Migration Period (5th century) metal die from Öland, Sweden, shows a warrior with a helmet adorned with two snakes or dragons, arranged in a manner similar to horns. Decorative plates of the Sutton Hoo helmet (ca. 600 AD) depict spear-carrying dancing men wearing horned helmets.[4] A diebolt for striking plaques of this kind was found at Torslunda, Sweden.[5] An engraved belt-buckle found in a 7th-century grave at Finglesham, Kent in 1965 bears the image of a naked warrior standing between two spears wearing a belt and a horned helmet;[6] a case has been made[7] that the much-repaired chalk figure called the "Long Man of Wilmington", East Sussex, repeats this iconic motif, and originally wore a similar cap, of which only the drooping lines of the neckguard remain. This headgear, of which only depictions have survived, seems to have mostly fallen out of use with the end of the Migration period.

The German Hyghalmen Roll, ca. late 15th century, illustrates a horned helm in the arms of Dalheim, bottom row
Great helm of Albert von Pranckh, 14th century, showing the style often used by the Teutonic order.

Middle Ages

During the High Middle Ages, fantastical headgear became popular among knights, in particular for tournaments.[8] The achievements or representations of some coats of arms, for example that of Lazar Hrebeljanovic, depict them, but they rarely appear as charges depicted within the arms themselves. It is sometimes argued that helmets with large protuberances would not have been worn in battle due to the impediment to their wearer. However, impractical adornments have been worn on battlefields throughout history.

In Asia

Japanese kabuto with buffalo horns.
Indo-Persian Devil Mask, cuirass and scimitar

In pre-Meiji Restoration Japan, some Samurai armor incorporated a horned, plumed or crested helmet. These horns, used to identify military commanders on the battlefield, could be cast from metal, or made from genuine water buffalo horns.

Indo-Persian warriors often wore horned or spiked helmets in battle to intimidate their enemies. These conical "devil masks" were made from plated mail, and usually had eyes engraved on them.

Popular association with Vikings

Popular culture has come to associate horned helmets strongly with Viking warriors. However, there is no evidence that the Vikings wore them.[9][10]

Minnesota Viking Pat Williams at the 2007 Pro Bowl.

The depiction of Vikings in horned helmets was an invention of 19th-century Romanticism.[11] In 1876 Carl Emil Doepler created horned helmets for the first Bayreuth Festival production of Wagner's Der Ring des Nibelungen and has been credited with inspiring this.[9]

A twentieth-century example is the Minnesota Vikings football team, which as its logo carries a horn on each side of the helmet. The comic strip character Hägar the Horrible is always depicted wearing a horned helmet.

See also


  1. ^ Illustration from
  2. ^ "Horned helmet". Explore / highlights.  
  3. ^ Speidel, Michael (2004). Ancient Germanic warriors: warrior styles from Trajan's column to Icelandic sagas. Routledge. p. 47.  
  4. ^ R. Bruce-Mitford, The Sutton Hoo Ship-Burial: A Handbook 2nd ed., London 1972, fig. 9 p. 30.
  5. ^ H.R. Ellis Davidson, Pagan Scandinavia London 1967, pl. 41.
  6. ^ S.C. Hawkes, H.R.E. Davidson, C. Hawkes, "The Finglesham man," Antiquity 39 1965:17-32), pp 27-30.
  7. ^ Jacqueline Simpson, "'Wændel' and the Long Man of Wilmington" Folklore 90.1 (1979:25-28), noting that J.B. Sidgewick had related the Long Man to the Torslunda die in 1939, before Anglo-Saxon and Swedish connections had been fully demonstrated (Sidgewick, "The mystery of the Long Man", Sussex County Magazine 13 [1939:408-20]).
  8. ^ See the depiction of Wolfram von Eschenbach and others in the Codex Manesse.
  9. ^ a b "Did Vikings wear horned helmets?". The Economist explains.  
  10. ^ "Did Vikings really wear horns on their helmets?". The Straight Dope. 2004-12-07. Retrieved 2008-11-01. 
  11. ^ Holman, Katherine (2003). Historical Dictionary of the Vikings. Oxford: The Scarecrow Press, Inc.  

External links

  • Frank, Roberta (2000). "The Invention of the Viking Horned Helmet". International Scandinavian and Medieval Studies in Memory of Gerd Wolfgang Weber.  
  • Did Vikings really wear horns on their helmets? from The Straight Dope
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