A cavalry headpiece from Roman Syria
“THE HELMET IS SPECIFICALLY DESIGNED FOR CAVALRY USE WITH NARROW EYE SLITS AND DOWNWARD-FACING HOLES”
Roman influence in Syria began in 64 BCE, and the province was eventually garrisoned with three legions and auxiliary units. In common with other parts of the empire, many local rulers became Romanised, including the Emesani dynasty of priest-kings at Emesa, which is now modern-day Homs. Emesa had a long history of imperial cooperation and its soldiers had assisted Julius Caesar at the Siege of Alexandria in 41 BCE and also fought alongside Roman forces at the Siege of Jerusalem in 70 CE.
Some sense of Emesani wealth can be seen in this distinctive cavalry helmet, which was discovered in 1936. Known as the ‘Emesa Helmet’, the headpiece is predominantly made of iron but with a silver face mask and other ornaments. Dated to the early 1st century CE, it was primarily designed for combat rather than parades or ceremonies. The helmet’s owner was likely a distinguished person, and some historians have speculated that he was an associate or member of the Emesani dynasty.
The helmet is specifically designed for cavalry use, with narrow eye slits and downward-facing holes. These holes may have been hastily made out of necessity for either battle or tournaments. It is probable that the helmet was made for a Syrian general in a Roman style, and its high quality indicates another detail. The face mask’s prominent nose, low cheekbones and thick lower lip indicate that it was perhaps intended to reproduce certain individual features of the owner’s face. This would make the Emesa Helmet one of the most unique military portraits in antiquity and a striking symbol of the owner’s supposed fighting prowess.
ABOVE: Soldiers from Emesa were regularly sent to assist Roman armies, including during the Siege of Jerusalem in 70CE, which led to the city being captured and sacked
RIGHT: The exceptional quality of the work on the helmet indicates that it was probably made in Antioch, which was then famous for its metalwork