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Cătălin Borangic


The present endeavour originates in the lack or the sporadic use of the helmet during the activities of re-enactment, that have as a subject the epoch of the Dacian Kingdom. Originated in a lack of archaeological findings of such pieces of military equipment, the helmets are almost totally absent from the panoply of Dacian epoch's re-enacted characters. Although some of the least known weapons of those times, it is unlikely that the helmets would miss from the Dacian warriors' equipment, especially during the final period of the Kingdom.
The main documentation source is represented by the funerary inventories of the aristocracy, the only social class, whose military arsenal was satisfyingly studied. Their tombs, through practiced rites and rituals partially shed a light over their lifestyle. In a way, in the funerary space, the community has reconstructed, as much as possible, what the deceased was during his life, whether we are talking about function, position or wealth. Among the weapons of these warriors, the helmets had a special importance, given by practical utility and by the identity function that they accumulated. Despite these considerations, the helmets, in close relationship with the funerary discretion of the elites from the Dacian period, are exceptional findings in the elite's tombs, rare themselves. Even if they were expensive, hard to reproduce, they should be visible in the funerary inventory, mirror of a panoply from during the life of a warrior. About this situation, the Romanian historiography did not arrive at a consensus yet. Several more clarifications bring the images of Trajan's Column, where numerous Dacian helmets were revealed, used by both the warrior aristocracy and by the inferior military structures, the enigmatic comati.
And yet, the historical file of these pieces of equipment is still relatively solidified, so that in almost a decade of activities of re-enactment I had the opportunity and, we might say, the obligation to produce and wear helmets, to test their utility during the simulated fights between different groups of re-enacted warriors. They might say that a helmet was an indispensable piece of weaponry, in any moment of the battle, being extremely useful for both the protection against all types of projectile, and against the offensive weapons of the opponents.
The helmets could not have missed from the endowment of professional warriors, as it is the sketched image of Decebal's Army. Therefore, there is no reason for which they might have missed from the amateur's equipment of living history, not only from the desire to respect the historical reality, but also from practical considerations, based on the frequency of accidents during these events. Therefore, the historians and archaeologists are those who are left to offer morphological and ornamental details for these pieces of equipment.


More than 100 years of historiography have consolidated in the collective imaginary the idea that the Dacians, as a general term, did not use helmets, at least not systematically, despite their warrior-like nature. The Dacian, seen as a collective character, had beard, a shirt which was preferably white, their specific fur cap and obviously their legendary curved sword, and in battle they would soar bravely with the hair in the wind.
Looking at the facts of the problem, at a first glance, there is almost no argument to contradict this image. The archaeological file of the helmet discoveries all along the period of the Dacian Kingdom is disappointingly thin, and the antique sources few and interpretable. One shouldn't wonder that on this weakly documented background, things have stagnated long enough that this image we were talking about could leave the historiographical zone and flood the daily landscape. And because we are talking about this landscape, the present exposed ideas have been inspired by the invasion of popular shows with subjects and themes that should reflect the realities of the Antiquity of the North-Danube territory. The majority of the players that reproduce characters from the Dacian gallery consider that if they have the characteristics listed above they can evolve without problems in all sorts of thematic shows. The situation is so more delicate, the rarer these manifestations, that do not close or at least don't have as a tipping point a simulation, more or less realistic of a generalised battle between two sides, generally constituted from groups of Dacians and Romans, each with their allies. There is no surprise that in these clashes, that sometimes involve tens or hundreds of participants, men, women or adolescents, the accidents are frequent with different levels of severity, many of them around the head area, despite the fact that these simulations are far from the fierceness of real battles.
The manifestations sketched above represent a distinct direction of historical experiments with more and more powerful social implications, having a recent and fast evolution. There is no convenient and consecrated term yet, in Romanian language to call the phenomenon or the persons that re-enact history, like there is in other languages1. The re-enactment/reconstitution activity is actually a passion in which the participants seek to reproduce, as closely as possible, clothes, weapons, objects, craftsmanship, behaviours or relations of a specific historical sequence. Terminologically, in the last years, raised the alternative re-enactor, accepted at all levels, including the academic ones, when sporadically the phenomenon reached the attention of the specialists. Even if it started as a recreational activity of some history amateurs, more and more often, the re-enactment uses experimental archaeology, and among them, sometimes joined historians2. These shows or experiments, depend on how and from what angle they are looked upon, are not the subject of this trip but its pretext. Having almost 10 years of experience in this type of activity, I could observe and record the evolution and impact produced by such representations that, as I said, are more and more popular. And leaving from this reality, the danger of some slippages or stagnation in the area of clichés is imminent, with adverse or at least unpleasant effects over the social.
The fundamental question that resides in this introduction is if the shows of historical reconstructions can represent a lesson of authentic history, obviously depending on the level of competence and professionalism of the re-enactor or the groups they belong to or they simply go in the wake of stereotypes created by historiography or, worse, by cinematography of the past century.
The space does not allow the analysis of the entire equipment, of all types of recreated characters, even if they should sometime be discussed as a hole and in detail. The recreation of quality equipment replicas, among them the helmets, and wearing them in these shows should be a rule. Of course there are historical moments on which, at least on a detailed level, we don't have enough data, but concerning the weaponry, especially of the superior Dacian military structures, this is relatively well-known. As in other articles and studies I presented aspects related to the curved weapons, shields or armours from the panoply of Dacian warriors, it is suitable to talk about helmets, category of weapons less known and especially less used in the mentioned events of historical reconstructions. Especially because, based on the apparition in these groups of re-enactment of characters from public space, that draw their inspiration more from the heroic-fantasy stories then from historical documentation, it is necessary to renew the image of the Dacian warrior, even at a preliminary level, for now.
The two aspects, the re-enactment and the scientific discourse, shouldn't evolve separately, as long as a better historical quality of these manifestations is wanted more and more in the public space. Or, no less frequent, the lack of accessible and coherent information about the Dacian period, doubled by mercantile interests, led to the apparition of superficial and inexcusable problems and, worse, to the proliferation of inexactities ideologically exploited by currents with profound pseudo-historical character. In all these cases, the refuse or univolvement of historians can only be regrettable.


Most of them originating in archaeological discoveries with funerary character, the helmets have been constantly associated with the aristocracy, the only beneficiary of complex funerary services, even this piece of equipment has always been a defensive component extremely useful to all categories of warriors. Despite this fact, the number of discoveries is very small (but an identical situation all over Europe, with various explanations3), compared to its important defensive function. Surely, this situation must be related with the funerary discretion of the elites, with the fact that they were appreciated trophies and probably, some of them hereditarily transmitted, which modifies the perception over their density4. For the Dacian medium the explanations of these pieces' penury have been stuck in the conceptions of religious order of the Dacians5. Valeriu Sîrbu synthesizes this dilemma, which originates in the inefficient methodology6. The modifications of the funerary practices, visible in the reduction of the tombs' number of aristocracy in 1st c.BC, must also be related to the rarity of helmets in the discussed region and period7.
The few helmets that the Geto-Dacian warriors left for us and also the data extracted from iconography show that they belonged to diverse types, with different degrees of difficulty in execution, starting with simpler models - like the ones resembling the Port type, helmets that bridge between Celtic helmets and the early Roman types8, like the one discovered at Cugir9, in Alba county, all the way to the complex models, with rich ornamentation, with specific morphology, derived probably from south-Thracian models, visible among the trophies captured by the Romans and illustrated on the Trajan's Column.
Even the number of discovered helmets is small, the identified remains, often fragmented to the limit of uncertainty of their identification as they are and morphology atypical enough, permitted some classification attempts10, so the specialists`opinion is that the majority, even they are inspired from south-European models, seem to be creations or local adaptations, specific to the north-Danube area11.
As I said, the archaeological file is thin, but the war helmets are not missing. Helmets and remains interpreted as coming from helmets were discovered at Popeşti (Giurgiu county), Chirnogi (Călăraşi county), Piscul Crăsani (Crăsanii de Jos commune, Ialomiţa county), Poiana-Rovinari (Gorj county), Zimnicea (Teleorman county), Cugir (Alba county) and Hunedoara (Hunedoara county) (Pl.I).

The most complete piece has been found in tumulus IV from Popeşti, from which have been recovered parts of the top, neck protection, fragments from cheek protections and a component of bronze that seem to have been part of the system that supported the panache12. The helmet has been made from hammered bronze sheet, and seems to be based on southern models, but at the same time, it is, by form and execution technique, a local product. The atypical morphological characteristics made very difficult the exact reconstruction of its original form, so the reconstruction options proposed in dedicated literature are only hypotheses (Pl.II/1-3). The inventory of the tomb was composed from a knife, an arrow tip, fragments of a Thracian snaffle, an iron ring, a Dacian silver coin, the full folded armour, a bent iron sword, a sica dagger, the umbo of a shield, harness pieces and numerous ceramic pieces. In the South-West of tumulus, in a round pit, were laid the helmet with the departed's remains. The entire complex was dated in 1st c.BC.

From a plane incineration tomb, from a necropolis discovered at Chirnogi, the Terasa Rudarilor point, dated between the second half of the 2nd c.BC and the second half of the 1st c.AD, comes a fragmented bronze plate. Based on the ornamentation, that has analogies with the one from Popeşti helmet, it was supposed that the remaining pieces represent a similar helmet. The fragments of the bronze plate have been attached together with small iron bars, the ensemble suffering repairs in Antiquity13 (Pl.III/1).
Also to a helmet, seems to have belonged a bronze edge, rest of a possible cheek protection, discovered in a tumulus from Piscul Crăsani14. The fragment has ornamentation with protuberances and on the edges, incised circles, similar to the ones on Popeşti helmet. Based on the funerary inventory, the complex was dated in the 1st c.BC. Unfortunately other details or images of the fragment have not been published.
As uncertain as the ones before, a fragment from a bronze plate discovered in a small incineration tumulus from Poiana-Rovinari, now 1.3m tall15. This inventory of the tomb contained, next to calcinated bones of the departed, the rests of a mail chain shirt and a piece of bronze sheet, possibly part of a cheek protection.
A resembling bronze element was discovered in a tomb (C10M.21) from Zimnicea necropolis, Câmpul Morţilor point, dated towards the end of the 1st c.BC (Pl.III/2). The sheet fragment may have been part of a cheek protection, being decorated in au repoussé, with protuberances and on the edges with incised circles and zigzag lines16.

The exact morphology of these war helmets cannot be reconstructed at an indubitable level, without an entire piece. Sometimes, even the fragments' appurtenance to the helmets is questionable, the only constant being the base material and, especially, the identified ornaments. Starting with Popeşti model, on which was based the others' group of pieces from south of Carpathians, it was born the possibility that all these fragments may be components (most of them cheek protections – pars pro toto?) of some helmets belonging to the same type, specific to the Danube zone, corrupted from early Greek models17.
Also, not in the case of the helmet discovered at Cugir (Alba county), made of iron this time, the origin of the piece is not a well determined one. As A. Rustoiu noted, the characteristics of this helmet, qualifies it as a local product, made during the 1st c.BC18, even if it seems to be influenced by north-Italic models19. The associated funerary inventory was composed, besides the helmet, from three Thracian horse bits, spurs, elements from a ceremonial cart, o bronze situla, a ”fruit bowl” type ceramic bowl, a chainmail shirt, a Celtic long sword, together with its sheath, a shield from which the edges were preserved, the rivets and the iron umbo and a spear with a strong tip and its heel, both from iron, and also various costume pieces and harness elements.
Another fragmentary iron component, discovered at Hunedoara, was interpreted based on a hinge, as a possible connecting element between the top and the cheek protection20.
It should be noted that the difference between the technology of the helmets discovered between Danube and Southern Carpathians, that are all from bronze and have a specific ornamentation and the ones from inside the Carpathians, that are made from iron. The bronze sheet is thinner and less resistant than the iron one, which suggests a modification of fabrication technology, in direct relation with the owner's requests. Another hypothesis could be that the ones made out of bronze were parade helmets, and the ones made out of iron were war helmets. It must be emphasised that we do not have documented military parade equipment from the Dacian period, unlike the previous times, where such pieces were used in ceremonies or, possibly, only in funerals.
It is visible the difference of the discoveries starting with the 2nd c.BC and the ones from previous period, which are documented more than 25 different war21 or parade helmets and the seven points with discoveries from Dacian period. Of course, the military effervescence of the area, starting with the 5th-4th c.BC explains this abundance (Pl.IV), ensuring not only the behavioural models, but also import sources. The piece's origin, whether Mediterranean (Attic type helmets, Chalcidic, Illirian-Greek), or Celtic, zones where such equipments were intensively used and better documented, shows the directions of interest of the north-danubian military leaders. Despite these, we can say, that the number of helmets gets smaller, at least in what concerns their deposition in tombs. Production sources, whether we are talking about smiths or workshops, southern or Celtic, whether we are talking about different import methods, got modified and the situation is visible in what concerns their production and possession of helmets inside the Geto-Dacian aristocracy. The scarce depositions must be articulated with their economical value of such an equipment, which, when was not just robbed, implied a series of substantial costs, but especially, was asking for technical abilities of specific fabrication, hard to achieve. The politico-military modifications and power poles change around Northern Balkans' area can be noted in this case too. The complications of acquiring a helmet from traditional zones determined the search of some complementary solutions, in this case it led to their fabrication locally. This is how it can be explained the autochthonous print over the helmets from Dacian epoch, especially the ones from Cugir and Popeşti, where these influences are documented.

Symbol of social status, expensive, the war helmets were not, though, at hand to every warrior, the fabrication of a relatively simple helmet, not including here elements of complicated ornamentation or decoration, cumulates normally the efforts of three people, along almost 20 days, that means 5-600 man-hours22. The voluntary renouncement to an expensive piece must be an exception, and including the helmet in the funerary furniture is a maximum proof of economical potency and a special prestige marker. About the faith of the ones that were sacrificed this way, one can only suppose around the idea that they were inherited in the community23. Modifications of funerary practices mirror changes at spirituality level of the communities as a whole. The death of an individual did not necessarily ensure a tomb, and the funerary ceremonial even less. His place in the political, social, economical and military hierarchy regulated the treatment of the departed after his death, and the number of individuals that belonged to the elite was small, compared with the general demography of the communities. This does not exclude the fact that the other warriors could have had serious deficiencies concerning the military equipment. At least not the ones in the next lower structures, the power base of a senior, of which, actually depended the power of the leader. The scenario in which only a prominent individual had helmet, and the mass of warriors did not use protections for head is way too simplistic, reported to the military events in which the tribes, in the beginning, and then the Dacian royal authority were involved in.
The military landscape of the north-danubian space accumulated sufficient martial experiences, the very warrior function of individuals seems to be institutionalised24, and the local military phenomenon had a visible tendency towards professionalization. These warriors' equipment, as much as the archaeological sources reveal, is numerous25, diverse and of quality. The military campaigns, frequent and most of them against the Roman military forces, whose logistics and training requested respect, must have hardened the military experience of Dacian contingents. Not without importance, in what concerns the military instruction at Roman standards, was the influence that the Roman militaries who arrived in the Dacian camps must have had, whether they were deserters, prisoners or instructors received after treaties with the Empire. All these dates, even looked suspiciously over, sketches a general scene from which the helmets cannot miss.
The Daco-Roman wars and the end or the Dacian Kingdom show another set of historical documents from which results a more intense use of these equipments then the archaeological sources suggested. The historical file is completed by the iconography of the Dacian warriors illustrated on the Column. At a closer look, again in contrast with the imaginary created by the very monument, on it, appear a considerable number of helmets, both in the endowment of some warriors, and especially, in the ostentatious exposition of the captured trophies.
The first illustrated helmet, in the order of narrated events, is thrown at Trajan's feet by the Dacian ambassador (scene LXXV; Pl.V/4), sent to ask for peace in 102 AD, moment confirmed also by Dio Cassius (LXVIII,9,2). From various reasons, that seem to belong to the type of displayed message (or of the entire economy), the weapons thrown at the Emperor's feet are only defensive: several shields and a helmet. This one, as much as the state of conservation of the scene allows, are the conical top and two cheek protections, apparently fixed (Pl.V/4-b).
Two warriors wear helmets, Dacians for sure, since one of them handles a falx dacica, in scene CLI, also of conical shape, but apparently without cheek protections, the helmets being tied under the chin with a strap (Pl.V/3). The moment is important because it illustrates an aspect that regards not the warrior aristocracy, but those so called comati, a social group26 constituted in a specialised warrior class, subordinated to the military aristocracy and especially to the royal authority27. The presence of these helmets should modify the exclusive attribution of these pieces of equipment to the Sarmatian allies, which, even they participated to the first part of the conflict they do not appear in the official documents as defeated, case in which the presentation of some Sarmatic weapons in the conditions in which the Dacians were the defeated enemy is at least atypical. Even more the helmets used by the Sarmatian cavalry, illustrated in the war scenes are different from the Dacian ones28. So, on the base of the Column, in contrast to the rest of the monument, different armours, helmets and swords are represented. Not without importance is the fact that on the four facets of the pedestal, the Dacian weapons are in abundance, for example, here are around 100 shields from approximately 400 represented on the entire monument, there are several swords represented, while on the cylinder there is only one for sure and this one pretty coarsely, there are also represented many lances and axes, while on the cylinder they are missing from war scenes. No Dacian is equipped with armours in the war scenes, but all types of armour (hamata, squamata, segmentata, but missing any type of scales and rings compund armour that can be attributed at least to the influence of the Sarmatic world) are present among trophies.
The fact that these weapons were Dacian and not Sarmatic, as often is advocated, is confirmed by the archaeological analogies discovered in the Dacian space. The display of Sarmatic trophies would be questionable if we look at the fact that the Roxolans, Dacians' allies, did not participate at the second war (Trajan himself did not take the Sarmaticus title), which makes improbable the presence of war spoils that would have belonged to them. The display of fakes, when the memory of a similar episode, disturbing to the prestige and imperial pride, from Domitian's time, was fresh in the collective memory and, in consequence, unacceptable to the imperial propaganda of the monument. The moment, the personality of the Emperor and the results of wars did not need such distortions of subterfuges to underline a victory that had as main purpose the Dacian Kingdom anyway.
The end of the first Daco-Roman War is marked on the Column in scene LXXVIII, where are displayed the weapons of the defeated. Among them there no less than seven helmets, two others on the trophies and other four among the pile of weapons, obviously Dacians, if we judge by the dracons and the specific curved swords next to them. The goddess Victoria steps on another helmet, while she records the result of the conflict on a shield (Pl.V/2).

The conquest of Dacia also meant the end of all hostilities - at least for the moment - therefore the Romans could savour the victory, displaying the captured weapons from the Dacians. The base of the Column is plentiful with important spoils, among them no less than 29 helmets - rising the number to a total of 39 pieces, talking only about the Dacian ones (Pl.V/1; Pl.VI). It is less important for the economy of this study the morphology and ornaments of each piece - aspect that deserves a separate research - but is noted the big number of displayed helmets and, as a separate title, the fact that most of them are, morphologically speaking, Dacian. Without discussing pretentious details now - but necessary at some point - the displayed helmets can be grouped in a few main types. Our attention is retained by the helmets that seem to have a local evolution of Thracian models of Phrygian29 type, that keep the suggestion of a schematic pileus, richly ornamented, with high top and tendencies of taper slightly bent forward (Pl.VII). Differently from this type, without a doubt specific to Dacian aristocracy, other types are resembling in structure and morphology with the Spangenhelme type helmets, which, thanks to their more accessible creation manner, had a significant spread over space and time30. And these are also represented having ornaments that makes them individual.

The helmets displayed on the Column remained almost unexplored by the speciality literature, which was satisfied to consider almost invariably that the pieces are Sarmatic, even with the lack of historical and technical arguments that should justify this attribution. On the other plane, of their affiliation to the Dacian logistics, they bridge between the defensive pieces of equipment from archaeological discoveries and the general scene of army supply during Decebal's reign, when it is possible we can talk about an abundance of this type of equipment, at least among the professional warriors31. The morphological and ornamental differences can be attributed to a local evolution of the helmets, situation that suggests a tradition regarding the use of these equipments.

The data analysis modifies the general image over the subject. First, the obvious archaeological facts disclose the use of helmets, especially by the elites, in the tombs they appear in. Their small number has a few explanations, from socio-economical and spiritual rules to the stage of research. Any of these possibilities, if invoked as an argument for helmets use restriction, presents some aspects extremely questionable.
First, even taking into account the high degree of originality of Geto-Dacian civilisation, it is hard to admit such a characteristic, even more that all the surrounding ethnicities used such equipments, of course depending on the possibilities of the group or of the leaders. There are not known, at any of the neighbours or enemies of the Dacians, notes regarding any reason for not wearing them. Accepting, yet, that such rules or practices could have existed32, they came in strict contradiction with realities from the battlefields. The military pragmatism would have refused such an interdiction, constrained by war losses. We have no reason to admit such a constrain of religious order, the only real obstruction may have been of economical order of an individual to acquire a helmet.
Analysing the archaeological evidence, apparently, the number of discovered helmets, over a large geographical and chronological space, does not correspond to the general picture. Starting with the 4th c.BC, the north of the Balcanic Peninsula was the scene of numerous politico-military modifications with long term effects. The most important were the dissolution of the Macedonian authority, the Celtic migration and the installation of Roman power in the area. For the northern parts of Danube, the first and main effect was the exhaustion of military capacities, and not only, of Getic royalty, left now without traditional sources of income, occupied or cut by the new populations arrived or by the politico-military structures created at the south of the Danube.
The battle from Kynoscephalea (197 BC) meant not only the arrival of a new pretender for the domination in the area, both in the detriment of the Greek state-cities, the Hellenistic kingdoms, and also of resident barbarians. The modification of war became obvious. Whether the Celtic remains, disoriented after the destruction of Tylis kingdom of king Kavaros, or the Thracian tribes, Dacian or Illyrian, they all felt the power of the new player, given by the military discipline, the weapons but more than this, its determination. On this considerations, very probable, the initial hatred among barbarians have been quickly replaced with mixed alliances, military but not only, between diverse clans, tribes and ethnicities, the most important being the ones among Celtic and Thracian communities. The mosaic of warriors, identities, beliefs, weapons, techniques, strategies ended up by being levelled, at least at the level of the elite and the transformations sedimented and finalized in specific identity manifestation33.

The common weaponry adopted by these warriors reflect the new ways in which the war must be carried. The elite warriors used a long Celtic sword replacing the former various types of mahairas, protected their bodies with armours and helmets and the oval shield permitted the detachment from the group during the fight, which now became a personal initiative, with heroic accents. They had temperamental horses, trained, who they controlled with a special horse bit and spurs, pieces of equipment that made sudden direction turns and long, fast rides possible. They used curved daggers, with engraved blade, weapon that accompanied them everywhere, in military expeditions as in graves.
The heterogeneous military elites, which had their own history, their own cultural background, their own technologies and aspirations, they could absorb each other's characteristics and fructify them in the direction of immediate consequences, as especially in perspective. The result was a type of a new warrior, whose equipment recommended him as heavy cavalry, well trained and clearly psychologically determined, a success model in a world dominated by aspirations and martial values.
Appeared in the north-western Bulgaria and eastern Serbia, this cultural model is visible, starting with the 2nd c.BC, in Oltenia, south-western Transylvania, Muntenia and later, sporadically, discoveries assimilated to this phenomenon appeared in other areas of Romania and up to Transcarpathic Ukraine. We’re dealing with incineration tombs in which the departed have been placed, with their weapons, among which, it's true, with exceptional title, there are also helmets.
It is difficult to admit that the few discovered helmets reflect the field situation regarding their real number. For example, the chainmail armours, much more expensive equipments and more difficult to produce are present in a much greater number than the helmets. The swords also, whose production depended, at least initially, by the Celtic workshops, are frequent discoveries in the area. Why are the helmets missing from the funerary deposits, or in another way, despite the identity model they were part of, despite the obvious tactical realities they are asking for, it still is a difficult question.
Talking about tactic realities, we leave the comfort zone of archaeological explanations, enlarging a little bit the possibilities variety of historical interrogation. The re-enactment concept (living history) is, beyond the public delight, a practical way of verifying almost all the theories proposed by historians, in almost all the fields they operate with. Whether we are talking about experimental archaeology or pure and simple historical reconstructions, with different degrees of authenticity. From various fields in which re-enactment can operate, the ones with military applications are by far the most popular - the modern public manifests almost the same appetite towards violence as the invoked ancestors - but the most suited too, for testing different equipments. Participating to such historical reconstruction of Dacian sequence for almost a decade, I could observe a necessary personal evolution of my own equipment. So, if in the beginning, I was participating at simulations with simple equipments, in time the numerous clashes, almost all of semi-contact, led to the necessity of modifications of personal equipment. A stronger shield was necessary, a higher quality armour and, of course, after several accidents a metallic helmet, all reproductions after archaeological pieces, doubled by illustrations from art. The effects were notable, the frequency of accidents drop in a significant manner.
How much we can project in the past such experiments is hard to appreciate exactly. What can be said with certainty is that the fierceness of the battles was way beyond any attempt of reconstruction, no matter how realistic it would be. Taking into account as a study case the period of Daco-Roman Wars, a barbarian warrior must not only face, but also survive different types of projectiles. Auxiliary troupes, specially recruited for this type of warfare, were launching towards enemies a rain of stones, sling projectiles, arrows from a distance. All this auxiliaries appear in the images on the Column, a sure sign they had an important role in the war with the Dacians. Even the barbarians were protected by shields, the lack for head protection could prove fatal.
For example a medium trained slinger could throw a 50-100 g projectile at 200m without problems. The lead munition (25-40g) reached much greater distances, with superior speeds. Such distances were reached inside the mentioned experiments, without long training periods. Launching a 100g projectile can develop a kinetic energy between 250 and 350J (the various results from launching speed, depending on the force and experience of the launcher and the length of the sling)34. At such impact values the lack of defensive equipments could decimate the enemy's effectives way ahead the actual fight (a slinger could easily launch 10-12 projectiles, and an archer 10-15 arrows per minute)35.
Of course, the shields could take over much of the effects of these shock waves, with the condition of applied discipline and instruction, but the lack of helmets became really critical in the moment of close quarter combat. The shield takes over the blows of offensive weapons, but for counter-attacks the warrior must get out of protection zone offered by them. The lack of armour and helmet made the warrior extremely vulnerable.
In guard position, the protected zone by an oval shield covers the body from maxillary to the knee, protecting all the vital organs, except for the head. An important element was the cheek protection. Because the forearm was turned in an horizontal axis of the shield, when it was close to the body, the powerful hits in its superior half were swinging the shield, which could pivot in the interior, tendency that could hardly be attenuated especially if the handle was not made of wood of metal. Testing many times the shield in simulated battles it was quickly observed that only supporting the shield with the shoulder and positioning the cheek protection on the shield's metallic edge, the injuries at face level done by the warrior's own shield can be avoided.
Enumerating the vulnerabilities emphasised by the lack of adequate protection for the head and admitting the degree of experience and military instruction of Dacians warriors, the number of helmets captured and sculpted on the Column doesn't seem improbable anymore. Contrarily, the roman sculptors reproduced only a fraction from what the legions encountered in Dacia, but still, not to modify too much the Empire's force message. The fact that on the Column appear armours, helmets, siege and artillery machines, shows the sum of concessions made by the imperial propaganda, interested in minimizing the enemy's qualities.
At least the warriors around the king were experienced militaries, well trained and disciplined. The duration of conflicts, the involved effectives, the partial results and the historical documents do not reconstruct the image of conflicts between legions and disorganized and under-equipped barbarian hordes. In the endowment at least of the professional soldiers, tarabostes and comati, the helmets were a necessary and visible presence. We could generally say, that the Decebal's warriors were wearing helmets and that they had specific shapes, especially the noble ones.

Noting these aspects, but returning to modern times, can we admit the reconstruction of some of the Dacian warriors without taking into account the listed aspects? If the historical and experimental sources of living history proves the use and the efficiency of the helmets, we can admit that Decebal's warriors and, subsequently, the modern re-enactors were fighting and fight bare-headed and with hair in the wind? Probably not and shouldn't historical reconstructions take distance from the image of the simple barbarian in antithesis with the evolved roman soldier? The historical reconstruction should be exactly what its definition says, even if this thing puts it further from the romantic and popular image that itself cultivated it. Now it no longer has the excuse that it doesn't know! Without helmets in battles, even simulated ones, the re-enacted military characters, look just like running with the hair in the wind during rain. In which case the re-enactor is nothing but a romantic soul, and pneumonia is nothing but heart-breaking poetry. The historical truth remains, as always, nothing but a trifle.

Translated by
Marcu Marius and Toma Bembea

The plates
• Plate I – The geographical distribution of the helmets II-I c.BC
• Plate II – The helmet from Popeşti. Archaeological fragments and reconstruction proposals.
• Plate III – Fragments from the helmets form Chirnogi, Zimnicea and Cugir.
• Plate IV – The chronology of the helmets from the north-danubian area.
• Plate V – Helmets from Trajan’s Column.
• Plate VI – Helmets brom the basis of Trajan’s Column.
• Plate VII – Models of Dacian helmets and their recomposition.

1 Reenactor (english), reconstituteur (french), rekonstructor (russian) etc. Gruia 2012, p.5. The living history syntagma, used mimetically by the Romanian academic environment, overlaps only partially over what re-enactment means, and the passionates that act, not using it, isolated the word in the pretentious zone of the phenomenon.
2 Unfortunately, not always specialized on the recreated period, a fact that has effects over the quality of the reconstitutions.
3 Situation seems identical at least in the Germanic, Celtic (Rustoiu 1996, p.146) and Sarmatian world (Bârcă 2006, p.205-206).
4 Borangic 2014, p.47.
5 Glodariu, Iaroslavschi 1979, p.132.
6 Sîrbu 1993, p.129–130.
7 Gumă 1991, p.102, note 118; Rustoiu 1996, p.147-148.
8 Rustoiu 1996, p.150.
9 Popa 2011, p.326-327, Pl.150/4 (with pieces bibliography). Cheek protections from Cugir helmet, from which only one is complete (Pl.III/4), there have been observed during documentation for the subject, the pieces being now at the National History Museum of Union from Alba Iulia (inv.4648).
10 Rustoiu 1996, p.147-150. Classification based on the metal used for creation, bronze or iron.
11 Vulpe 1976, p.212; Gumă 1991, p.102.
12 Vulpe, 1976, p.201, Fig.12/1-2.
13 Şerbănescu 2006, 169-170, Fig.4/1.
14 Vulpe 1976, p.207-208
15Berciu 1934, p.25; Vulpe 1976, p.208; Calotoiu et alii 1987, p.80.
16 Alexandrescu 1980, p.26, p.55, Fig.66/3, Fig.76/15.
17 Rustoiu 1996, p.150.
18 Popa 2011, p.336 (with piece bibliography and analogies and possibilities of import directions).
19 Port and Novo mesto types – of which the big decorated cheek protection bring it closer to, the fundamental difference being the rigidity of neck protection, which at the Cugir example, makes a single structure with the top.
20 Sîrbu et alii 2007, p.159.
21 Including the ones from Republic Moldova, from Olăneşti and Bubueci.
22 Borangic 2014, p.47-48.
23 A proof would be the presence of some Mediterranean helmets, not only at great distance from their centres of production, justified by the relation centre-periphery of Danube's basin towards the Hellenistic South, but also because these helmets were used also at great distance in time and space from their period.
24 Criton, Getics,5,2, - Suidas Lexicon, s.v Boutiais.
25 […] there, you could see all over swords, plates, lances, all places being filled with horses, weapons and armed men […], Dion Chrysostomos, Discourses, XII,16,20.
26 Identification of these kometai with the Dacian peasantry started from the forced interpretation offered by Dio Cassius (LXVIII,9,1. Cf. Petros Patricius,5), reused later by Iordanes (Getica,71). In fact, this image of dual structure of Dacian society was a projection in the past of the Romanian peasant's image (participant to different military conflicts, especially during the general mobilisation), used as subliminal information to create a stronger bond between Dacians and Romanians, but also to conveniently level the stratification of Dacian social classes, summarized by the historiography from before 1989 to the antonymy nobles-peasants.
27 Petre 2004, p.256-260.
28 Concerning the Sarmatic helmets, Strabon tells us that they were made from raw ox leather (Geography,VII,3,17), in reference to the warriors' mass, some chieftains having access to metal helmets, but never of own production or in a too great number.
29 Waurick 1988, p.163-168.
30 Vogt 2006, passim.
31 Besides these, the mob, warriors by opportunity of necessity, could have used the numerous Roman weapons, among which the helmets, captured throughout time, their trails being discovered in Dacian medium, or head protection made of perishable materials (felt, leather). For example at Racoşul de Jos were discovered several roman weapons inside an incinerated house. The most spectacular piece is a neck protection of a bronze helmet, that had printed on it, by incising, the name of the century and of the owner. The helmet was considered part of a war spoil obtained in one of the Dacian military campaigns from the south of the Danube, at the end of 1st c.AD. (Costea et alii 2008, p.156-157, Fig.2/a-b).
32 It is taken into account, mainly, the war nudity theory at Celts (Polybios, II/28-29). this practice, whose real existence is questionable - could actually be a stereotype perpetuated over time, having as a source the statements of Polybios - does not mean in any case the rendering of the weapons, but only of clothes. A short analysis of this subject, with an example of a Celtic statue in which is shown a nude warrior, but which has sword and helmet, at Rustoiu 2008, p.30-36, with extended bibliography.
33 These manifestations, over which I will not insist, are condensed in speciality literature under the name of group/facies/horizon Padea-Panaghiurski Kolonii, after the name of two representative archaeological sites from Romania and Bulgaria, conventional name by which is identified, in this area, several associations of artefacts and funerary practices from this area. Even this name does not explain sufficiently the ethno-cultural implications, historical and of civilisation of the phenomenon, it remained in use, being utilised to avoid some terminology confusions.
34 (03.08.2015).
35 Besides the experience and personal results, obtained with the occasion of different experimental archaeology exercises and activities of historical reconstruction, we operated with estimations resulted from practical experiences obtained from the same methods by Dumitru Rotariu (Free archers Association, Târgu Mureş) and Mateffy Tamas, slinger re-enactor (Hasta Sarmatorum Association, Miercurea Ciuc).

Complete title
With the hair in the wind during the rain. Did Decebal's warriors wear helmets?

Cătălin Borangic

Published in
ISTROS, XXI, 2015, Brăila, p.417-463