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18 January 2022
Horned helmets of the Bronze Age

Horned helmets are found in three places in Europe: Scandinavia, southern Iberia, and Sardinia. Horned helmet imagery has a complex history, with Levantine roots in the Late Bronze Age Mediterranean. The only existing horned metal helmets are a pair from Denmark, though similar imagery is found both within and outside Denmark.
     The horned warrior occurs in southern Sardinia and adjoining parts of Corsica, a middle zone in southwestern Iberia, and a northern zone in southern Scandinavia, but little or not at all in the rest of Europe, except in the Near East and the eastern Mediterranean, which have a deep history of horned-helmet figures connected with divine rulership and with warfare, at the time when the longstanding Bronze Age civilisation there was in rapid transition, around 1200 BCE.
     Scandinavian horned-helmet representations stand out among Nordic Bronze Age expressions, yet are understudied as a group. Recent fieldwork acknowledges a relationship between the Sardinian and the Scandinavian imagery. Close similarities between the rock carvings of Tanum, Sweden, and the Iberian stelae have been noted, while Alpine and Galician rock art may reveal similarities between these regions.  
     Apart from the two normal-sized helmets from Denmark, and a horn from a similar helmet, the Scandinavian repertoire consists of three sets of two figurines. Additionally, there are a pair of figures on a razor, and about 40 images on rock in western Sweden. The motif favours horned twin warriors. Similar horns also occur on snakes and horses, and horse-headed gold bowls. Blowing horns or lurs, always in doubles, can be seen as a parallel way of portraying the horned twins, who are sometimes depicted playing the lur.
     It is clear that horns in anthropomorphic and zoomorphic imagery have a deep ancestry. Overlapping dates are seen for horned-helmet representations in Scandinavia (1000 to 750 BCE), Iberia (1200 or 1100 to 750 BCE), and Sardinia (1200 to 750 BCE). Sardinia and the Iberian southwest are naturally rich in metals. Scandinavia was completely dependent on imported copper.
     Sardinia and Iberia mostly share features that tie all three zones together. Archery is a favourite in both zones. Similarity between Scandinavia and Sardinia is strong, however the Scandinavian rock carvings share features especially with the Iberian stelae. The 40 Scandinavian horned-helmet warriors reside within a wider community of anthropomorphic figures, both in bronze and on rock, including other males without horned insignia, females, and smaller, more ordinary-looking figures.
     Similarly, in Iberia, 41 horned-helmet figures are identifiable on 140 stelae so far recorded. In addition to horned-helmet warriors, the anthropomorphic group of stelae includes warriors wearing a crested or pointed conical helmet, in addition to smaller, anonymous-looking figures including children, and women wearing a diadem or crown headdress. Like the Scandinavian figurines and rock carvings, some of the Iberian scenes appear as a narrative. Both regions depict the horns in the same manner.
     In the medium of bronze, helmet appearance is strikingly similar in Sardinia and Scandinavia, with a similar length, turn, and the position of the horns. Frequently occurring are short, stubby horns with a forward tilt close to the head, long horns standing erect, and the ends of horns sometimes with distinct knobs.
     Sardinia has the largest variation of the three regions, including unique versions with longhorns pointing in different directions. The horns of Iberian stelae and the Tanum rock art always stand erect and may turn in various directions; their appearance seems to have been dictated by the stone. The combination of crest and horns on the Danish helmets matches those on the Sardinian bronzetti. Turned horns occur in all three zones. Doubles or mirror-images of warriors with and without horned helmets appear in all three zones.
     The warrior stelae of Iberia belong to the Atlantic and Western Mediterranean Bronze Age. The local antecedents are Neolithic anthropomorphic portable idols and menhirs, as well as earlier Bronze Age stelae depicting weaponry in much the same way as the earliest warrior stelae, however the horned-helmet figure is an outsider to the region; its first appearance is likely due to Late Bronze Age connections with Sardinia. The subsequent Phoenician expansion in the west could have further reinforced the motif. Of the three zones, the Sardinian has the clearest local foundation, and may be the main source of the other two.

Edited from Praehistorische Zeitschrift, via De Gruyter (21 December 2021)

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