European Bronze Age and Iron Age helmets with horns are known from a few depictions, but even fewer actual finds. Such helmets mounted with animal horns or replicas of them were probably used for religious ceremonial or ritual purposes.
A pair of bronze horned helmets from the later Bronze Age (dating to ca. 1100–900 BC) were found near Veksø, Denmark in 1942. Another early find is the Grevensvænge hoard from Zealand, Denmark (ca. 800–500 BC, now partially lost).
A pre-Roman 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. 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.
Depicted on the Arch of Constantine, dedicated in 315 CE, 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.
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 CE) depict spear-carrying dancing men wearing horned helmets. A diebolt for striking plaques of this kind was found at Torslunda, Sweden. 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; a case has been made 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.
There is, nevertheless, some evidence for a continuation of the tradition of horned helmets in cultic use into the Viking Age: an illustration on a tapestry found in the Viking Age Oseberg ship burial, and a depiction on an amulet found in Uppland, Sweden.
During the High Middle Ages, fantastical headgear became popular among knights, in particular for tournaments 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 Iron Age helmets would not have been worn in battle due to the impediment to their wearer. However, impractical adornments have been worn on battlefields throughout history. Helmets with large horns were particularly popular among knights of the Teutonic Order during their campaigns in Eastern Europe for purposes of intimidation.
Popular association with Vikings
Ceremonial use of horned helmets during the Germanic Iron Age persisted until the 7th century and can thus be argued to possibly have overlapped with the early Viking Age. However, there is no evidence that horned helmets were ever worn in battle at any point during the Viking Age.
Nevertheless, popular culture came to associate horned helmets strongly with Viking warriors. The popular association probably arose in 19th century Scandinavian Romanticism, possibly by misattribution of Bronze Age images such as the Grevensvænge figurines. More concrete evidence suggests those depictions were inspired by the work of Carl Emil Doepler, who in 1876 created horned helmets for use in the first Bayreuth Festival production of Wagner's Der Ring des Nibelungen.
A 20th-century example of this association is the Minnesota Vikings football team, which as its logo carries a horn on each side of the helmet.
- Illustration from stenlose.bibnet.dk
- "Horned helmet". Explore / highlights. British Museum. Retrieved 2013-02-17.
- Speidel, Michael (2004). Ancient Germanic warriors: warrior styles from Trajan's column to Icelandic sagas. Routledge. p. 47. ISBN 0-415-31199-3.
- R. Bruce-Mitford, The Sutton Hoo Ship-Burial: A Handbook 2nd ed., London 1972, fig. 9 p. 30.
- H.R. Ellis Davidson, Pagan Scandinavia London 1967, pl. 41.
- S.C. Hawkes, H.R.E. Davidson, C. Hawkes, "The Finglesham man," Antiquity 39 1965:17-32), pp 27-30.
- 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]).
- See the depiction of Wolfram von Eschenbach and others in the Codex Manesse.
- "Did Vikings wear horned helmets?". The Economist explains. The Economist. February 15, 2013. Retrieved 2013-02-17. "Unfortunately, few Viking helmets survive intact. The small sample size cannot prove the point definitively, but they are all horn-free....Where there were gaps in the historical record, artists often used their imagination to reinvent traditions. Painters began to show Vikings with horned helmets, evidently inspired by Wagner's costume designer, Professor Carl Emil Doepler, who created horned helmets for use in the first Bayreuth production of "Der Ring des Nibelungen" in 1876"
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to: Horned helmets|
- Frank, Roberta (2000). "The Invention of the Viking Horned Helmet". International Scandinavian and Medieval Studies in Memory of Gerd Wolfgang Weber. Scribd.
- Did Vikings really wear horns on their helmets? from The Straight Dope