Emesa hel­met

A cav­alry head­piece from Ro­man Syria

History of War - - CONTENTS -

“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

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