Author: Ancient & Medieval History

Samno-Attic Bronze Helmet, Late 5th-Early 4th Century BCThis…

Samno-Attic Bronze Helmet, Late 5th-Early 4th Century BC

This type of helmet is so-called because of its close association with the Samnite warriors of central and southern Italy, and its derivation from the Greek Attic and Chalcidian type helmets. The form of any helmet was first and foremost functional, and its evolution was entirely dependent on the type of warfare fought and the cultural and artistic traditions of those who utilized it. Greek and Italic helmets of the fifth and fourth centuries BC, such as this example, evolved with new features to adapt to changing tactics in warfare, with the increasing importance of lighter equipment and tactical flexibility. This prompted the development of open-faced helmets, which gave the soldier greater visibility and ventilation with the inclusion of apertures for the ears. The Samno-Attic helmet was essentially a further development of the Chalcidian/Attic type that saw the disappearance of the nasal guard and a more spherical dome.

This incredibly well preserved Samno-Attic helmet retains its high-flung wings and hinged cheek-pieces, both remarkably still joined to the headpiece by the original rivets. The contoured dome was hammered from a single thick sheet, with fine carination bifurcating to a peak at the centre visor.  The surface throughout displays an exuberant dense green patina that has developed over the last two millennia.  The face is fully open, but for a short peaked vestigial nose-guard.  This stylistic innovation gave the soldier greater visibility and ventilation, allowing for tactical flexibility and increased mobility.  The helmet flares at the back along the short protective neck-guard and curves upwards to arched apertures to accommodate the soldier’s ears.  The entire periphery, including the cheek-guards, is edged with small regular perforations which would have been threaded through to join a protective leather liner.

The helmet’s specific features indicate that it belongs to the earliest versions of the type, from the late fifth to early fourth century BC. The early examples are usually undecorated, emphasizing the helmet’s inherent beauty and simplicity of form. Some examples contain crest fixtures, removable holders in the form of bronze tubes or springs, sometimes hidden behind the wings or affixed transversely across the dome, which would originally have held brightly coloured feathers. A fresco from Nola, dating to the fourth century BC, depicts Samnite soldiers wearing Samno-Attic helmets featuring a variety of different crests (National Archaeological Museum, Naples, Inv. 9363).

Helmets of this type have been found predominantly in southern Italy, in Samno-Lucanian inhabited areas of the fifth to third centuries BC. They are closely associated with the Samnite panoply, which consisted of a triple-disc or muscled cuirass, a belt and greaves, several examples of which have been found in Campania and Puglia. The Samno-Attic helmet represents the most frequently depicted headgear in Samno-Lucanian tomb paintings and Campanian pottery wares. Controlling a large swathe of Italy, from coast to coast, the Samnites were a confederation of local native Italic tribes that migrated south from central Italy in the late fifth to early fourth century BC, moving into the coastal plains and eventually occupying the entire region from Campania to the southern tip of the Italian peninsula.  In doing so, they mingled with other regional peoples and became highly influenced by Greek colonists who had already settled in the area.  Their armour reflects this conflation of styles. The Samnites were formidable warriors and they proved to be one of early Rome’s great rivals. Reflecting their military prowess and perhaps out of respect, or fear, the Romans referred to them as belliger Samnis, the warrior Samnites. In fact, the Samnites fought three bloody wars against the Roman Republic, in 343-341 BC, 326-304 BC and 298-290 BC, until they were finally quashed by the expanding Roman state.  It has been suggested that the disappearance of the Samno-Attic helmet and other culturally distinct features from the third century onwards was a marked feature of Rome’s domination of Italy.

Samno-Attic helmets can be found depicted in contemporary regional South Italian art, especially vase painting. For instance, three warriors armed in such helmets are shown on a red-figure hydria from Campania, attributed to the Ixion Painter and now in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (Inv. 1970.238, dating to the late fourth century BC). A soldier dons this type of helmet on the celebrated ‘Warrior’s Return’ fresco in the National Archaeological Museum, Paestum (Inv. 5626, early fourth century BC). Similar helmets are displayed in the National Archaeological Museum, Naples (Inv. 5741), the Louvre (Inv. 1129 C6968), and the Mougins Museum of Classical Art (Inv. 591). All are dated to the fifth to fourth century BC.

Sumerian Cuneiform Tablet of Sin-Kashid, King of Erech, C. 1800…

Sumerian Cuneiform Tablet of Sin-Kashid, King of Erech, C. 1800 BC

The tablet mentions king, Sin-Kashid of Erech (Uruk), announces the construction of a temple. Read more about Sin-Kashid here.

Barryscourt Castle, County Cork, IrelandThe present tower house…

Barryscourt Castle, County Cork, Ireland

The present tower house at Barryscourt was probably built late in the reign of the Barrymores, either in the 15th or 16th century. Read more about the castle here.

Superb Celtic Silver Kroisbach Reiterstumpf CoinAn exceptional…

Superb Celtic Silver Kroisbach Reiterstumpf Coin

An exceptional example of abstract Celtic artwork on a coin, this heavy silver tetradrachm was minted by the Danubian Celts of Pannonia (Burgenland) in the 2nd Century BC.  The obverse has a remarkable portrait of a Celtic warrior, in the very finest Danubian style. The male head is shown staring to the heavens, with a long, sweeping brow, crooked nose and exaggerated cheeks, reminiscent of helmet cheek pieces. He wears an ornate diadem, his ear, ponytail and eyes are rendered schematically. The reverse has a Celtic warrior on horseback, galloping left. The rider is composed of a torso and head, his long hair tied into a topknot, with three locks fluttering in the wind behind. The horse is shown powerfully built, with a short mane and large hooves.

We know relatively little of their history but, through objects like this, we can admire their artistic creativity. On each side of the coin we see Celtic warriors, brilliantly transformed into fine, playful and yet striking works of abstract art.  One of the very finest and most pleasing examples of this charming coin type.

Viking Oakeshott Type X Iron Sword, Mid 9th – Mid 12th Century…

Viking Oakeshott Type X Iron Sword, Mid 9th – Mid 12th Century AD

Late Chalcidian Bronze Helmet, Early 4th Century BCAn…

Late Chalcidian Bronze Helmet, Early 4th Century BC

An unconventional, local variant of a Chalcidian helmet with a bowl composed of two halves; the halves formed over a mould and connected by rivets.

D45 Hunebed, Drenthe, NetherlandsThe D45 hunebed is located in…

D45 Hunebed, Drenthe, Netherlands

The D45 hunebed is located in the Emmerdennen, a forest area in the city of Emmen in the Dutch province of Drenthe. Hunebedden are chamber tombs, similar to dolmens and date to the middle Neolithic (Funnelbeaker culture, 4th millennium BC). A local legend says that Napoleon’s horse left its hoof prints in the hunebed when Napoleon and his horse stood upon it.  This same legend is told about other hunebedden in the area, along with many other folk tales.  

Hellenistic Greek Bronze Figure of an Athlete or Actor, 2nd…

Hellenistic Greek Bronze Figure of an Athlete or Actor, 2nd Century  BC

Striding with his right leg forward, and wearing a short enveloping mantle twice folded, his bearded head turned to his left, his eyes with recessed pupils. Height 15.5cm

Roman Marble Figure of Eros Sleeping Standing Up, 1st-2nd…

Roman Marble Figure of Eros Sleeping Standing Up, 1st-2nd Century AD

Resting on a fragmentary downturned torch cradled under his left arm, holding a wreath of flowers in his left hand, and clasping his left shoulder with his right hand, his chubby face with parted lips and closed eyes, his long hair arranged in a braid across the top of the head, his overlapping wings folded over the back; part of plinth,  right knee, and edge of left wing restored, nose and lower part of torch formerly restored. Height 74 cm

European Silver Medallion with a Rider Killing a Chimera…

European Silver Medallion with a Rider Killing a Chimera (Bellerophon?), Migration Period, 5th-7th Century AD

The medallion is surrounded by a stylized laurel wreath interspersed with flowers and shells. The center is occupied by a horseman galloping from left to right. He is armed with a spear that he points at the open mouth of a chimera. He wears a long tunic and a cloak floating behind his shoulder. The harness of the animal is rich and composed of pendants (croup and chest), as well as of a blanket, the edge of which copies the dotted pattern of the lower tunic of the rider. The chimera (a mythological creature with body and head of a lion, the head of a goat and the tail of a snake) moves to the opposite direction of the horseman. The open mouth of the creature is pierced by the pole of the spear, while the goat’s and snakes heads exhale their last breath.

This iconography strikes our visual memory, because it is close to the representation of the horseback saints, such as St. George. Nevertheless, this representation stylistically refers to the early Middle Ages, during which the cult of this saint had not appeared in the West yet.

The veneration of this saint, who would have been born in the 4th century, developed a century later in Palestine and in Egypt. The colorful legend of this man was nonetheless considered as apocryphal by a council from the 5th century onward. Hence, this horseman cannot be the representation of a saint. The absence of Christian symbols also definitely refutes this hypothesis. One should rather look to the Greco-Roman cultural heritage of the Iberian Peninsula. In the West, Spain is indeed one of the places where Roman culture survived longest, due to the tight network of the cities and to the large Roman population established in the peninsula. A revival and strong awareness of the heritage of Antiquity also spread to this Western region in the 6th-7th century in the impetus that associated the Visigoth dynasty to the Catholic bishops in order to establish and legitimize one’s power and to guarantee other’s religious peace. The libraries inventories of major bishops do therefore reveal the presence of the great texts of Greco-Roman ancient times alongside the writings of the Fathers of the Church. Finding a late work representing a mythological theme in Spain during the Visigothic period, just like what happened in the other parts of the Roman Empire, would therefore not be impossible.

In the first place, this medallion belongs to ancient iconography for reproducing a typically Roman ornament, that is, the laurel wreath sprinkled with shells and flowers. This reference to Roman decoration can also be seen in the Visigothic sculpture of reliefs that are now in the Museum of Cordoba and of Merida (6th -7th century).

Secondly, for representing a noble rider associated with the chimera, an image that can be linked to the myth of Bellerophon killing, with the aid of the winged horse Pegasus, the terrifying Chimera which was ravaging Lycia. This Greek hero, who was very popular among the Corinthians and whose legend has many parallels with that of St. George, is often represented both in Greek and Roman art. This myth will also appear, although very rarely, in the early Byzantine period, embodying then Christian virtues that ensure the lasting of the story (the Bellerophon plate, Museum of Art and History, Geneva; a large gold disc necklace, Phoenix Ancient Art gallery).

The representation of Pegasus as a single horse can be explained by the lateness of the work (iconographic misunderstanding of this detail, voluntary absence because of religious prohibition, …). This silversmith’s work, which is perfectly isolated in the secular Visigoth art, can stylistically be related to the reliefs found in the Hypogeum of the Dunes, near Poitiers (7th century). This ancient tomb houses several funerary sculptures, among which the base of a monumental cross adorned with two martyrs. These human figures are very close to that of the rider.

The rare examples of works dated to this period have retained only a very few human representations and are often provincial works coming from remote places, little affected by the Arab invasions. Horsemen representations are therefore very isolated: three shields from Santa Maria de Naranco (fighting horsemen) and the pedestal of the chancel screen of San Miguel de Lillo, now in the Museum of Oviedo (a rider pointing his spear at a monster – a lion? – fighting against a snake).