Old Russian Arms and Armour: Helmets

Anatolij N. Kirpichnikov

Published as- ‘Drevnerusskoe Oruzhie III: Dospech, Kompleks Boevych Sredstv IX-XIII vv.’ Chap. 2: ‘Shlemy’
Arkheologiia SSSR [ Akademiia Nauk SSSR, Institut Arkheologii ] vol. E1-36, ‘Nauka’ : Leningrad 1971

Translated and expanded by Artem Nagorskiy

Edited and annotated by
Peter Beatson

Dr. Kirpichnikov’s great corpus of Old Russian arms and armour was originally published in three volumes of Arkheologiia SSSR between 1966 and 1971. Volume 1 comprises swords and sabres; Volume 2 axes and spearheads; and Volume 3 covers armour, plus the utilisation of arms and armour. The latter volume includes a chapter on helmets, which forms the basis of this web page. This English translation was prepared by Artem Nagorskiy, who also has collected new images and data to enhance Kirpichnikov’s work. Permission has been sought to reproduce these images on this web site, the translator and editor would like to thank all those who have generously provided their own photographs for our use.

Numbering used for helmets is that assigned by Kirpichnikov in his summary table, which provides details of their discovery, dimensions, and current location. Those seeking to know about all thirty-seven of these helmets are encouraged to seek out his original work. PB.


24. Lykovo
“Iaroslav‘s helm”

Chapter 2. Helmets
In 1808 not far from Uriev-Podolsk, at a small distance from the place where the battle of Lipetsk took place, one of the villagers “while picking nuts in the bushes saw something gleaming”. This was a helmet and chainmail compacted together. The finds were deposited with the elder of the village, from him they went to the local priest and finally got as far as Tsar Alexander I. At the Tsar’s order the President of Arts Academian Olenin identified and published the finds. He stated that the armor belonged to Iaroslav Vsevolodovich, who abandoned the amour whilst fleeing from the battlefield of Lipetsk in 1216. The Iaroslav helm was one of the first objects from which the study of old Russian arms and armor began. Russian warriors were pictured in this helmet in the various works on the history of military costume1.

The main attention of research was previously focused on the helmets of the late medieval period stored in the Kremlin’s armory and other museums. Only at the end of the 19th and start of the 20th century, after extensive excavations of burial mounds, did helmets from the earlier periods of Russian history come to light. N.E. Brandenburg undertook an attempt to summarise this material. The archives show that during the last years of his life the historian collected pictures, photos and descriptions of these helmets2. With the same aim N.E. Brandenburg visited many museums and private collections, leaving a wealth of notes and descriptions3. In the Artillery Museum he collected a large exhibition on Southern Russian finds. However, this work was interrupted in the process of collection by the death of the scientist and was buried in archives for a long time.

A lot of work in regard to helmets was done by Lents. The helmets are the main subject of his last article, published after his death in the German language4. Of all the pre-Revolution researchers Lents is the most consistent supporter of the theory that Russian armament came from the East, including helmets. At the basis of his classification is the feature of the method of the face defense that a particular helmet has. He distinguished four groups: helmets with the nasal amalgamated with the front part of the helm; helmets with a separately attached nasal; helmets without a nasal; helmets with a face mask. The classification proved to be quite formal as it united finds that were several hundred years apart and found thousands of kilometers apart. Mapping of finds which showed the deficiency of his classification was refuted by Lents. Having said all this, one cannot go past the analysis of some finds made by this particular researcher.

The principles established by Lents about the Eastern origin of Russian helmets were upheld and extended by V.V. Arendt. He placed the helmets of the early Middle Ages found in Eastern Europe in strict chronological order and successfully reconstructed some of the helmets5. However, all the helmets that were published by Arendt were interpreted as being nomadic, omitting all finds that would contradict this. Thus, both Arend and Lents did not consider Russian helmets as actually being Russian, and attributed them to general Eastern antiquities. A shift from this paradigm was made by Soviet scientists: A.V. Artsihovski, B.A. Ribakov and others. The existance of native Russian armaments including helmets was proven. However, study of helmets was mostly limited to the better known finds, this category of armor did not receive any special attention.

Old Russia occupies the first place in number of helmet finds amongst the helmet finds in the whole of Europe6. The science of European arms cannot name another place where there would be such a high concentration of the different varieties of helmets in 10-13 centuries. In this chapter thirty-seven helmets and components that were found on old Russian territory will be examined (Figure 1).These helmets were found in excavated settlements (mainly southern Rus’); or by accident; and two-thirds were found in mounds(kurgany)7. It must be noted that the tradition of putting the helmet into the burial with the dead owner is quite a rare one in Russia, even more so for Poland, Scandinavia and other countries. This part of the armor was included only in the burials of some notables, such as princes, nobles and war chiefs8. Judging by the richness of the décor and thorough workmanship, the helmet was a quite expensive part of the war gear, but this does not necessary imply that they belonged exclusively to the higher nobility.

The material differs both in quantity, and chronological measure. There are examples from the 10th century as well as the 12th and 13th centuries, but none for the 11th. The first Russian helmets can be dated approximately to the same time as the first Russian and Byzantine literary sources that mention them9. Only assumptions can be made about the helmets of earlier periods, as there are no finds on the territory of Eastern Europe that can be dated to the 6th, 7th or 8th centuries. The helmets of the 10th century do not necessarily have any connections with helmets of earlier times.

Helmets found in the south-eastern part of USSR that can be dated to the 10th century do not clarify the picture either10. So how did Russian helmets develop? The discussion of this question in some of its aspects has if not Eurasian, at least pan-European significance. The question is better answered by the analysis of separate helmet types. They can be divided into five different varieties (Figure 2).

1. Gnëzdovo (1)

2. Nemia

Desjatinna nasal

Let’s address the typology of helmets, starting from the oldest examples. To these belong the helmets of conical form without a nasal (Type 1). Both examples found on Old Russian territory represent extreme interest. The helmet from Gnëzdovo [No. 1] from a 10th century burial is made of two parts, connected by a double row of closely positioned rivets. The bottom edge is circled by a metal binding with loops for aventail attachment. The helmet is quite simple and does not have any ornamental embellishments. Another helmet that belongs to this type from Nemia [No. 2] is made with extreme artistry, possibly from one piece of metal. On the surface there are gilded ornamented plates11.

Compared to Gnëzdovo 1, Nemia is much more perfected in its design and represents a new phase in the development of conical helmets. Conical helmets are well known from the Bayeux Tapestry (1066-1082) and were spread all over Europe, they also frequently called ‘Norman helms’. However, it is wrong to call these type of helmets Norman as there are no finds of helmets of this type in Scandinavia proper, however there are depictions of these in stone12.

Excavation of the Gjermundbu (Norway) cremation mound finally revealed the remains of a 10th century helmet from Scandinavia. The helmet that was found goes against the depiction of the Vikings in conical ‘Norman helms’. The helmet itself is of flattish rounded construction, with a spike on top and a nasal that extends into a guard around the eyes13. This particular example originates in the Vendel helmets of the 7-8th centuries. It is clear now that nasals from Lokrume, Gotland14 (second half of the 10th century) and Kiev’s Desjatinna (Tithe Church) belong to this type of helm15. The latter has a silver inlays and a geometric pattern. Hence, the helmets of Northern Europe were much different from the Gnëzdovo 1 helm, at least in the 10th century.

Western researchers do not doubt the nomadic origins of conical helmets, which appeared not later then 900AD and changed the half egg-like or spherical helmets of the Merovingian and Carolingian period16. In fact, conical helmets are known in the south and east of USSR according to findings and depictions from the last quarter of the first millenium AD17. In the light of this evidence, the conical helmet from Gnëzdovo, the oldest in Europe, is not necessary northern or western in origin. Possibly we are dealing with evidence of the nomad migration, a marker on the way to how conical helmets spread into Europe. In regard to the Nemia helmet, even in comparison to a number of European counterparts it looks like an ultimate expression of the armourer’s workmanship. It is most likely the product of a central European master18 and can be closely compared to Prague’s famous helm of St. Wenceslas.

3. Gul’bishe

5. Chernaia Mogila

6. Mokroe

Conical helmets were used in Western Europe until the 14th century19, however they were not retained on Russian territory and were superseded by helmets of a different form, namely sphæroconical construction - Type II (with variations). This can be explained by some tactical considerations. A direct hit on the crown of a sphæroconical helmet would slip down the surface of the helmet. Notably the advantages of this form provided it with a long life in regions where mounted saber warfare was prevalent.

Primarily, the group of sphæroconical helmets (Type II) had the following features: riveted 4 part dome; no nasal; spike on the top usually hollow to attach the plume; as well as bronze or copper sheathing on the surface, as well as distinctive embellishments. This series of helms is opened by the helmet from the Gul’bishe kurgan (in Chernigov) [No. 3], 10th century. On the front side there are traces of copper plating20 (possibly gilded). Brandenburg also noted a bronze covering on the surface21. The helmet was supplemented by an aventail. The object is severely damaged and was located in the mound under the ritual pyre22.

Two more helmets [Nos. 4 & 5] were found in the Chernaia Mogila (“Black Grave”) kurgan (also in Chernigov), along with a large amount of weaponry. One of the helmets was passed into the hands of excavators from Kiev University museum and remains unpublished. It was in bad condition and judging by the remnants23, it was almost identical to the second, better known helmet. The latter had a four piece riveted dome made like the Gul’bishe helmet i.e. the front and back plates are covering the side plates, however the edges of the plates have a wavy shape. On every “curl” there is a rivet. The helmet is crowned by the usual spike. The surface of the helmet is covered with gilded copper sheathing. On the front plate there are traces of two and remnants of one iron leaf-shaped strips, similar in shape to ones at the base of the spike. In the center of each side plate there is a quadrangular plaque with a spike in the middle. In the area where the strips and rectangular plaques meet with the surface of the helmet, there is a gilded copper edging with double rows of impressions made from the inside. Thus the edging accentuates the area of connection between various elements of the helmet. At the bottom of the helmet there is a metal binding on which there are remnants of the aventail24. Arendt interpreted the figured strips on the front plate of the helmet as the loops for attaching a face mask25. It is hard to say anything about the functional purpose of these embellishments. However, the side quadrangular plaques were most likely placed there for protecting the aventail from damage26 that could be caused by a hit on the crown of the helm, slipping down.

Now the trident on the front plate, side plaques and the bottom edge strip are of iron. However, it is hard to imagine that the completely gold plated helmet had plain iron parts. From the example of similar helmets, we can state that the iron parts were silver plated, with vegetative ornament. With the help of similar finds of rectangular plaques from 10th century druzhina burials at Chernigov, the ornament on the side plaques of the Chernaia Mogila helmet can be visualised27. The ornament was constituted of four heraldic lilies that were placed crosswise with the bases turned toward the center. It is easy to imagine the beauty of the Chernaia Mogila helm, shining with a golden surface and silver accentuated details. This helmet has a number of features that makes it quite similar to the Gul’bishe helmet (the form, spike, and gilded copper surface). Hence, the development of the same type of helms can be inferred. The Chernaia Mogila helmet is identical to helmets from the village of Mokroe near the town of Dubino [No. 6] and possibly from Vladimir-Volinskiy [No. 8]. This helmet was considered without any substantial evidence to be a Polish import28.

7. Raiki

How enduring this type of helmet was in Russia is shown by another find from Raikovetskoe gorodishe [No. 7], that was found near the skeleton of a warrior who lay near the gates of the fort29. The helmet is very much similar to the ones that were found in the burials. The front and back plates are riveted over the side ones, have a wavy edge and have a round-headed rivet in each curl (5-6 per side). At the bottom there is a metal edging that has traces of the loops for attachment of an aventail. The plates are gathered under a spike, which was not preserved. On the side parts there is a gilded copper coating30. The helmet had a long nasal31. This helmet is a simplified version of the previous finds belonging to the 10th century. There is no gilt copper sheathing on the surface of the front and back plates of the helmet, there are no rectangular plaques on the sides, or edging on the parts where the plates meet. All these aspects point out that the helmet belonged to the contemporary culture of the site (being 12th to first half of the 13th centuries).

It is noteworthy that this type of gilded helmet is found in territories neighboring to Russia (4 in Poland; 2 in Samland [in East Prussia]; 1 in Hungary; and 1 location unidentified). Some examples from these places are almost identical to the ones found in the “Black Grave”, and some slightly different. The questions of origins of these helmets are constantly debated over in Polish and Soviet archeological science32. As a result a seemingly uniform conclusion has been reached - the helmets appeared and developed on the territory of Kievan Russia, then spread into central Europe and inspired the local variations. In the opinion of A. Nadolskiy, Poland could be a second center of production of “Chernigov” type helmets33. Future studies will possibly clarify that question. Russian helmets could have spread into Prussia and Poland via military exploits. In particular the appearance of the Russian gilded helmets in central Europe can be connected with the expeditions of Boleslaw the Brave, where according to Tidmar, he captured rich booty which he then split between his followers. Irrespectively, the appearance of these gilded helmets on the territories that border Russia tell us about, on one hand the attractiveness of Russian weapon smithing and on the other close ties between Russians, Prussians, Hungarians and Poles in the 10th and 11th centuries.

The helmets of “Chernigov” type are not met among the western neighbors of Russia before the end of the 10th century and no later than the 12th. Thus the spread and chronology of this type of helmet point to Old Russia as a place of its origin. However, the question is: was Old Russia the true place of origin of these types of helmets? The ancestry of Russian sphæroconical helmets point to the Asiatic East as the place of origin. D.A. Skramosaksov compared the form of the “Chernigov” helmets with Assyrian examples that were known on the territory of the USSR since Urartian times.

The classic example of an early medieval sphæroconical helmet was found in 1869 in a kurgan near Oskol, with a saber, remnants of chain mail and Byzantine coins dated to the 8th century. The helmet’s dome is constructed from four parts, riveted. The spike is missing, the front plate has a nasal that continues into the “eyebrows”. The aventail is attached by a metal wire passed through rectangular loops34. Such a system of aventail attachment was was a standard feature of the Russian relics but was not used in Western Europe until the 13th century35. The Oskol find’s origins are not clear, most likely it belonged to a nomadic warrior. In the opinion of Ribakov the helmet was imported36. It can be inferred that Russian weapon smiths were familiar with helmets similar to that found in Oskol and were able to adopt its form. Indeed, we meet the whole range of designs of helmets similar to Type II, among the examples of Manihenski culture of the 8-9th centuries and amongst the Sogdian culture of Pendginkent of the 7-8th centuries. The helmets here curve smoothly into the spikes37. Some have appliques on the brow - shaped plates of sheet metal38. The helmet on the warrior figurine from Shorchuk also has wave-shaped plates that constitute the helmet’s dome39. Many Eastern helms also have complex spikes that crown the dome. All these are reminiscent of the Russian helmets; however these depictions do no give us a right to infer a direct connection between the central Asian and Russian finds. One can only talk about the general type of sphæroconical helmet that appeared on the territories of the Near and Far East during the whole of the Middle Ages40. It must be noted that the that the details of ornaments, side quadrangular plates and gilt-copper technique of Russian helmets are not found among the Eastern examples. It is most likely the more embellished examples from Gul’bishe and the Black Grave were made by local craftsman who were familiar with Asian models.

9. Gnëzdovo (2)

12. Babichi

With the examples of Type II we compared helmets that were possibly produced by produced by one workshop, or several highly qualified weapon smiths. Type IIa is not a homogenous group of helmets41. They have similar characteristics to Type II however their details are quite different. Type IIa demonstrates the prolonged usage of different types of sphæroconical helmets in Old Russia. Here the second helmet from Gnëzdovo [No. 9] deserves mentioning. It was heavily impacted by fire, but its form and details were able to be reconstructed. The dome of the helmet consists of four parts, riveted by four strips positioned across them: also each of these strips has a triangular prolonged impression through most of its length. On the top there is a spike where a plume or a sultan can be attached42. The bottom part of the helmet is circled by a metal band that continues into the nasal (?). The edges of the strips that connect the dome and of the bottom band that circles it, are shaped in even scallops and have a cloverleaf cutout in every second scallop. The strips have remnants of gilding. An aventail with a fringe of copper rings is fused to the helmet43. The publisher of the helmet noticed that the patterns that the helmet is decorated with are very much reminiscent of Russian folk woodwork which only shows its idiosyncratic local character44. The ornamentation of this helmet does not allow it to be compared with Eastern or Western analogies.

The helmet found near the village of Babichi [No. 12] can be included in the same group of helmets. It is entirely covered with gilded copper leafing, but is different to the earlier gilded examples. The interior construction is hidden behind the copper-gilt decoration. The existing seam on the surface of the helmet is a result of modern damage. The gilded edging at the bottom of the helmet still has a vegetative ornament that looks like a twisting branch with leaves. The background is embellished with tiny impressions. The dome is crowned by a low standing spike that is decorated in a similar way to the bottom edge band. Its ornament is divided into four sections (according to the sections of the helmet). The vegetative ornament here is supplemented by rhombuses that appear to grow out of the vegetative ornament. The spike and the metal rim are decorated with zig-zag pattern on the edges. At the top of the crown there is a hole for a small rod that was not preserved. At the bottom part of the helmet there are many evenly spaced fine holes that were damaged most likely as the aventail was ripped out. The face part is most likely marked by a small rectangular cut out (?). There are no traces of a nasal. The ornamentation of the helmet is identical to a pattern from an Old Russian bible dated 1164 from the former Rumiantsevski Museum in Moscow45. The match of the pattern is complete; including the “drops” at the base of the leaves. On this basis the helmet can be dated to the 12th or first half of the 13th century. The helmet from Babichi is similar to three other helmets that were found in the regions of the south-eastern steppe. Old Russian motifs are used in ornamental decoration of all of these helmets: they are the twisted double lines; twisting branch; symmetric row of birds or a line of cloverleafs46. All these helmets from nomad burials were manufactured in Russia or, what is more likely by nomadic smiths of Eastern Europe familiar with Russian armor products. In the period of the early Middle Ages the Russian masters borrowed heavily from their nomad neighbors, however by the 12th and 13th centuries Russia was able to influence the production of these types of helmets on nomad territory.

16. Tagancha

20. Unknown (Ukraine?)

The finds of sphæroconical helmets south of Kiev (Type IIb) can serve as evidence of the close ties between Russians and Kipchaks. Their features are: tall, bell shaped dome; nasal; half-round eye cutouts and a tall spike instead of a lower finial with a tube for a crest. The best preserved example of such helmets is one from Korolevino near a place called Tagancha [No. 16]. The tall, two piece dome is crowned by a spike with a prolonged point that has a round “apple” at its base. The form of the helmet is very close to the one that in the times of Muscovy will be called a shishak. The front has a riveted nasal with the cutouts for the eyes; the front part of the dome has a traces of silver plating. On the bottom part of the helmet there are loops for the aventail attachment. The publisher dated the helmet to the 8-9th century47. V. Sarnovskaia who studied the weapons from Tagancha in Warsaw, dated it to the second half of the 10th century48. Ribakov was the first expert to date the Tagancha helmet to the 12th century. The helmet found in a kurgan near Burti belongs to the same type [No. 14]. This example is damaged and is missing the spike as well as the nasal. In the middle of the profile there is a noticeable bend that obstructs its smooth curve. The helmet was placed at the head of the dead warrior who wore chainmail, had a saber, a spear, arrows and bow49. Also a helmet from the village of Zelenki (shattered to pieces) was demonstrated at the XIth Archeological Meeting in Kiev. According to N.E. Brandenburg’s notes this example is similar to the one found in Burti50. In the Kiev Historical Museum there are pieces of a helmet from a robbed kurgan near Mirovka [No. 17]. Its form and especially the spike (broken at the base) allows us to include the find in the same typological group.

The other ‘shishak’ is quite similar to the helmets mentioned above, its place of origin is unknown [No. 20], it was passed to the Hermitage by the Archeological Commission. The dome consists of two parts. The profile has the distinct bend half way up the height of the dome as well. The finial ends with an “apple” that most likely was continuing into the “rod”. On the sides of the wide nasal that is forged from the same piece as the dome, there are small eye cut outs. On the bottom of the helmet there are loops for aventail attachment, each about 7-8 cm apart. There are also holes in the rim of the helmet probably for attaching an interior lining51.

All of these examples have a “rod” to attach a little flag (ialovets). This detail, well known in the 15th-16th centuries52, was most likely also used in the 12th. The colour of the ialovets is most likely red. In the description of the “Mamaevo massacre” they are described to ‘shine like flames’53. The helmets of this group are met later, in the 13-14th centuries but without the nasal54. The relative abundance of archeological finds point out the spread of these helmets from the 12th to the 14th centuries. Archeological finds and depictions demonstrate that helmets with the ialovets-flags were in use in Russian armies at the time. I mean the shattered pieces of two helmets with “rods” near the township of Kniazia Gora (Princes Mountain) [Nos. 18 & 19] and a picture of one in the miniatures from the Radziwill Chronicle. A helmet with an “apple” but without ialovets is pictured on the warrior to the left in a capital letter of this Novgorod illuminated manuscript (14th cent.)55.

22. Kovali

21. Lipovets

If the helmets mentioned above can be related to the areas of Russia that were in contact with nomads, then by assumption the helmets with battle masks covering the whole face (Type III) would belong to the later medieval period. Helmets of this type were worn by the Chernye Klobuki (Black Hats). However these finds are spread beyond the near-Dneipr region where they were found originally56.

The helmets of this type are very unusual visually, the dome looks like four-sided pyramid on a round base. On the front of the dome of the helmet from Kovali [No. 22] there is a rectangular cutout for the face mask attachment. The mask has a eye cutouts and nostril holes, the mask realistically pictures the face of a European man with long moustache. The mask has two bronze ears, there are two rings - in the left ear and in the chin (probably for some sort of aventail attachment). Below the spike to approximately half of the dome length, there are four symmetric depressions.

A second similar example was found in the Lipovets kurgan [No. 21] and was placed near the buried warrior’s head. The mask was turned 180 degrees and was resting on the helmet’s dome. The dome is shaped in a similar fashion, the pyramid with four depressions rests on a round base. The spike is broken off, the front part of the dome has a rectangular cut out. On the side of the helmet there are remnants of the aventail. The mask has portrait-like realism and resembles the mask from Kovali57. Form and details of the tall helmets with masks can be compared with the balbal statues of the north Black Sea region (however the masks themselves are unknown)58.

The combat purpose of the masks is clear. They served as a visor in an age when armoursmiths were looking to devise helmets with full face protection. The masks must have been positioned close to the face. The portrait-like shape of the masks can be explained by the need to recognize commanders or simply the owner of the helmet on the battlefield. Masks were also intended to frighten opponents. Considering the circumstances of the finds of these helmets, they can be dated from the 12th to the first half of the 13th centuries. Later, helmets with facemasks will be adopted by several Asian and European countries (several of these masks from the 15th or 16th centuries with Arabic inscriptions are preserved in the Kremlin’s armory)59.

24. Lykovo
“Iaroslav‘s helm”

25. Nikolskoie

27. Kiev (2)

Reinforcement of the helmet’s defensive properties was quite evident in Russia and led to the appearance of helmets with half-masks (Type IV). This invention probably appeared as a result of feudal conflict and is a bit different in shape from the traditional sphæroconical helmet.

The primary example of this helmet is the one [No. 24] found near the village of Lykovo, not far from Uriev-Podolsk, 20 miles from the place of the battle of Lipetsk. The last owner of the helmet was supposedly Iaroslav Vsevolodovich. He abandoned the helmet whilst running away from the battlefield in 1216. However the helmet was made for someone else, in the first half of the 12th century60. The helmet is a distinguished testament to the armorer’s craft and has been published and described many times61. The dome is covered with silver leaf and embellished with gilded silver embossed plates: At the top there is a star-like plate with pictures of Christ, and Saints George, Vasiliy, and Feodor, at the front there is a plate with the picture of Archangel Michael with the inscription “Great Archangel Michael, help your servant Feodor”. On the bottom part of the dome there is an ornamented border with depictions of gryphons, birds and wild cats, that are separated by lilies and leaves. The metalwork is very close to the white stone carving of Vladimiro-Suzdal63, which may point to the original place of manufacture. At the top there is a partially preserved spike, at the bottom there is a line of holes that were struck through the ornament and the dome. Possibly they served for attaching the interior lining. Also, there are five partially preserved loops around the exterior of the helmet for the aventail attachment63. There is also a beak-like silvered nasal with gilded eyebrows bordering the eye cutouts attached to the dome. The nasal plate has two holes for breathing at the very bottom. The first publisher of the helmet A.N. Olenin noted traces of an iron half mask64. The half-rounds below the eyes that belonged to it are now lost, one can notice their remnants at the sides of the top part of the nasal.

This particular helmet was remade at least three times. Originally the helmet could not have had any embellishments; they were probably attached later, when the helmet passed to more wealthy owner. The master who fixed the silver plates to the helmet was not the craftsman who made them as they were inaccurately attached, damaging some letters and ornament. Later the helmet was even further “modernized”. A spike was attached to the top, right over the pictures of the saints, and the front part got the half mask that partially covered the legs of the archangel. All these changes are evidence of the repeated use of the helmet by more then one owner.

Another helmet found at Nikolskoie [No. 25] can clarify the original form of Iaroslav’s helm. Nikolskoie was not considered to be a Russian helmet and was frequently named among Tatar artefacts65. In fact several characteristics of this find make it similar to Iaroslav’s helm. The dome, made from three parts, has forged vertical ribs the full height of the dome, to increase the durability of the helmet. The front has a half mask riveted on , with eye cutouts and hook-like nasal. At the bottom of the dome and the half mask there are holes for attachment of an aventail that covered the entire neck and the bottom part of the face. The entire helmet is covered by thin gilded silver leaf, which is damaged and falling off in many places66.

One more helmet that belongs to the same type is found in Kiev [No. 27]67.This helmet is most likely dated to the Mongol sacking of the city. This helmet bore all the changes of opinion in Russian weapon research. It was called Norman; German; Scandinavian; Polianian. The “hook” nasal with eye cutouts that have traces of silvering is riveted to the three part dome. There are no preserved traces of the lower part of the eye guards but their existence is evident.

There are two severely damaged examples from Gorodishe [Nos. 28 & 29] (one was found on a fallen warrior who also wore chainmail, and had a sword in his hand when he died). The half mask decorated with gold and silver found in a rich house at Vshig dated to middle of the 12th century also belongs to this type of helmet. Most likely a helmet from the excavation of a kurgan at Nogaisk also belongs to Type IV. The deceased also had chainmail, stirrups and a horse buried with him. The front part had a bronze plate about 13 cm long with an image of St Prokopius, and inscription “St. Prokop” at the bottom68.

The characteristics of this group of helmets are: a fully covered head and face; as well as a religious themes in the embellishments of the helmet. This two features can be recognized from literary evidence. For instance in 1151, Iziaslav Mstislavich who fell from a horse was nearly killed by his own troops who did not recognize him in a helmet. One of the soldiers had already struck the prince’s helmet, where the holy martyr Panteleimon was pictured in gold, when Iziaslav took off his helmet and was recognized69. During a campaign against the Kipchaqs Igor Sviatoslavich was trying to stop his fleeing regiment, so to be recognized he took off his helmet70. Judging by these sources, helmets of Type IV already existed in the middle and the second half of the 12th century.

The helmets of Type IV are specific to Russia and had the same function as bascinets and pot helmets in Europe, its main aim was to provide full protection for the face of the combatant.

30. Peshki

There is one more rare category of helmets [Nos. 30-32], which have hemispherical domes with brims (Type V). One of these helmets was found in the Peshki kurgan [No. 30], dated not earlier then 1200AD. It was placed near the head of the buried warrior. The four-segmented dome is connected by bands that are positioned across the joins, there is also a band at the rim of the helmet. Instead of a spike there is a little plate with a ring through it. There are four raised reinforcing ribs coming vertically down from the top. Thus the dome is divided in to eight parts by reinforcements (a method used in one of the Gnezdovo helmets). On the circumference of the helmet there are traces of the aventail still attached, also there is a visible piece of plate defense, either the remnants of the brim or just protection for the back of the head. It is hard to judge the origin of this helmet. In Western Europe similar helmets, forerunners of the morion, existed from the 12th to 14th centuries71, which roughly correlates with the existence of two more helmets of Type V(?). However, those two are only known from short descriptions [Nos. 31 & 32]72. Helmets of Type V are also pictured in the Radziwill chronicle.

(European Russia)

Kremlin Armoury
“Aleksandr Nevskii’s helm”

It is not possible to encompass every type among the helmets of pre-Mongol date. The helmets of bell-like construction with brims are such a case. In the album of V. Prohorov there is one example among the kurgan finds that was dated to the 9th century73. This date was not verified. In the collection of Moscow Armory there is a preserved Greek “iron hat” with rich gold and silver engravings of the infant Jesus; two angels; two cherubims; two Evangelists and St Nicholas74. The artistic style is not earlier then the first half of the 13th century75. Tradition connects this helmet with Alexander Nevskii, but it is possible that the helmet is of a later period. A.N. Olenin compared the form of this helmet with the hat on the seal of the Novgorodian Ivan Ieriomich on the treaty of 131776. Judging by the visual sources, Russia also knew Latin-style helmets that did not have an aventail, but had a mail coif77.

Nothing can be said about a soft interior lining of the ‘shishak’ helmets. One Arabic teaching from the 14th century says that the helmet requires a felt lining so “the force of the strike can be spread”78. Possibly the prilibitsa or a soft hat that amortized the hit was worn under the helmet, the chronicles mention wolf or other fur prilibitsa. The first mentioning of this type of hat is from 1169, it is most likely just a fur arming cap79. In Muscovite times the prilibitsa came to mean just a type of shishak helmet80. With the helmet from Peshki a small buckle from the chin strap was found.

It is necessary to draw some sort of summary of helmet development in the 10th to 13th centuries (Table 1). Pre-Mongol helmets are descendants of more ancient central Asian helmets. The sphæroconical type of helmet appears in Russia not later then the tenth century (Type II), this type of helmet remains dominant among the feudal elite in old Russia. Old Rus’ was one of the countries through which Western Europe adopted Eastern conical helmets (Type I). Even in the earliest period, the quality and beauty of helmets made in Old Russian cities were attracting contemporaries and were spread beyond the Rus’ domain (Type II). If in the early medieval period the influence of the east was dominating, then in 12th and 13th centuries Old Russia and nomad lands have common types of helmets (Type IIb), or helmets that are much less in line with the by now traditional sphæroconical form (Types III and especially IV). The ethnic identity of these items is such that some of the helmets can be identified as non-Russian (Type III and partially Type IIb) or as nomadic with Russian influence (partly Type IIa).


helmet chronology

Table 1. Chronology of Old Russian helmets, 10th to 13th centuries.

The helmets of the early medieval period with aventails and open face change in the 11th to 13th centuries towards ones with nasals (Type IIb and partly Type II) or with face masks and half masks (Types III and IV). This process occurs due to improvement of the defensive qualities of armor. The strengthening of the dome was done by adding such details as embossing on the surface, various plates etc. This feature is peculiar to Russian helmets and distinguishes them from some rather cumbersome Western counterparts (for instance pot helms).

In the 12th and 13th centuries we notice an increasing variety of helmets (Types IIa, IIb, III, IV, V, and partly Type II) which is connected to increasing attention to defensive armor in general. Feudalism in the 12th century brings helmets with emblems (Type IV) and tall spikes (Type IIb). The latter is a forerunner of the Muscovite shishak helmets. In general the gently curving smooth form of Russian helmets remain popular during the whole period. This is dictated by the tactical aspects of mounted warfare, with rapid movement and fast engagements. These helmets were devised to repel even direct hits.

Most of the helmets of pre-Mongol Russia are expensive objects that signified the high social status of the owner. The luxury of these helmets makes their use in battle seem doubtful, however it is not so. The helmet shining in the sun with the red signifier ialovets makes the commander noticeable to his subordinates, thus easing communication. The golden helmet of the leader was a beacon for the rest of the warriors on the battlefield, as it was visible from afar. The ‘Tale of Igor’ has a hint of this use of decorated helmets: “...where he rides like a wild bull gleaming with golden helmet, there the dirty Cuman heads are rolling”81. But the shining helmet was not only characteristic of the commander. The warriors of Danila Galitskiy had helmets like the “rising sun”82 whilst marching against the Iatvingians. The German Rhymed Chronicle describes Novgorodians that were eye catching and were gleaming like mirrors. Due to the development of warfare head defense becomes more of necessity for the warrior. Dozens of pictures from the Radziwill Chronicle show men wearing helmets, however commoners when engaged in warfare often did not wear this still expensive item83.

The Mongol invasion took a heavy toll on Russian armor craft. The copper-gilt helmets with religious emblems did not develop further.


1 - A.V. Viskovatov "Historical description of clothes and armament of Russian troops" part 1 SPB 1841.

2 - N E Brandenburg Pictures and photographs to complement the archeological study 1902 AIM archive f 30 N119.

3 - N E Brandenburg "Materials on the Russian arms and armor in pre Mongol period" 1890 Brandenburg’s fund.

4 - E Lenz 1) In Russland gefundene fruhmittterliche Helme. ZWK NF Bd I (10) Beiheft, Berlin, 1-17. 2) Hjalmar fran tidig medeltid, funna Rusland. Avhandlingar, Stockholm, 1919.

5 - W Arendt. Der Nomadenhelm des frühen Mittelalters in Osteuropa. ZWK, NF, vol. 5, Berlin 1935, pages 26-34.

6 - The Bayeux tapestry. New York, 1957, pp. 58-59. C. Blair. European Armor. London, 1958, p.25 ff.

7 - Thirteen helmets are found in the Porosie region, 12-13th centuries, that were left by nomads allied to Russia. This collection was assembled mainly by Brandenburg, and helps to resolve the problem of the dependency between Russian and nomad war gear.

8 - A helmet probably was not an essential part of the burial and usually was not put on the head of the deceased; it was frequently left near by. In Russian boyar burials helmets are often found in the top layer of earth.

9 - Luitprand talks about Russian helms in 941AD (M. Stuslilevich, The History of the Middle Ages, 1864, p. 477), later Leo the Deacon writes about them.

10 - A, Gotz. Ostgötishe Helme, Mannus Bd., Berlin, 1909, p. 23, fig. 1. W. Arendt. Der Nomadenhelm, pp. 31-32, figs. 10, 10a, 11, 12.

helmet typology
Figure 1. Find locations of Old Russian helmets, 10th to 13th centuries.
KEY: A = exact location; B = approximate location.

helmet typology
Figure 2. Typological classification of Old Russian helmets, 10th to 13th centuries.



Webbed by Peter Beatson, 2006.
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