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LOT 0419

GBP (£) 30,000 - 40,000
EUR (€) 35,000 - 46,660
USD ($) 38,690 - 51,590

Bid History: 2   |   Current bid: £30,000
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Roman Pfrondorf Type Cavalry Sports Helmet

Late 2nd-early 3rd century AD

A Roman bronze sport helmet of 'Pfrondorf Type' (type F of the Robinson classification of Roman cavalry Sport Helmets, Robinson, 1975, pls.367-375, pp. 126-127), with female features, possibly representing a gorgon (Medusa), comprising a two-part helmet with a back plate, the face piece originally with a removable inner mask; the skull embossed with stylised representations of hair along the sides and collected at the lower centre of the back to a chignon, the centre decorated by a blue enamel stone; on the upper part of the skull a two-headed snake, whose wide body is decorated with scales chiselled on the surface, long neck protruding on the two sides of the skull until the brow; the edge of the skull is decorated by punched triangles and a line representing the crown of the hair around the face; a small flat neck guard; a hinge is fastened through a pin the skull to the mask allowing it to be raised; the T-opening for the face was not always present in this type of helmet. 2.1 kg total including stand, 27cm (10 1/2"). Very fine condition, some restoration. Extremely rare in this condition.

From an important East Anglian collection of arms and armour; formerly in a Dutch private collection since the 1990s; previously in a Swiss family collection since before 1980; accompanied by a metallurgic analytical report, written by metallurgist Dr. Brian Gilmour of the Research Laboratory for Archaeology and the History of Art, University of Oxford, report number 144723/HM1364; and an academic report by military specialist Dr Raffaele D'Amato.

See Robinson, R., The Armour of Imperial Rome, New York, 1975; Garbsch, J., Römische Paraderustüngen, München, 1979; Born, H.,Junkelmann M., Römische Kampf-und Turnierrüstungen, Band VI, Sammlung Axel Guttmann, Mainz,1997; D'Amato R., A.Negin, Decorated Roman Armour, London, 2017; D'Amato R., A.Negin, Roman Heavy Cavalry (1), Cataphractarii and Clibanarii, 1st century BC-5th century AD, Oxford, 2018; this mask helmet belongs to the category of Roman Mask Helmets employed in the sportive games, acting also as military training, of the so called Hyppika Gymnasia described by Arrian of Nicomedia in his Taktika, written down during the age of the Emperor Hadrian (117-138 AD), however, these kind of very simplified masks were often used in battle as well, especially by the heavy cavalry of the catafractarii (D'Amato-Negin, 2018, p.30,36,38-40), the distinguishing features of this type of masked helmet, diffused in the Roman Army since the Late Antonine Age (second half of second century AD) is the removable central area of the mask covering eyes, nose and mouth and the division of the helmet in two parts on the line of the ears; the Pfrondorf specimen (Garbsch,1979, pl.26; Born-Junkelmann,1997, p.50; D'Amato-Negin, 2017, fig.168 a-b), in Stuttgart Museum, which gives the name to the typology, is the most complete and known of such specimens; three parts helmets are known from Danubian sites, like Ostrov (Romania, Robinson, 1975, pls. 370-373; Garbsch, 1979, pl.27), from the German Limes (Oberflorshtadt, Robinson, 1975, fig.129, p.108, D'Amato-Negin, 2017, fig.172c, p.169) and a magnificent specimen, preserved only in the skull, from the collection Axel Guttmann is kept at the Musée d’Art Classique de Mougins (D'Amato-Negin, 2017, fig.172a, p.169); a further splendid specimen, the mask only preserved, is kept in a large private European collection (D'Amato-Negin, 2017, fig.180, p.177).

This type of helmet is very rare in such fine condition. Helmets with a facial cut-out have often the female characteristic of Medusa, considering the psychological impact that this creature, with the power to transform men to stone. The apotropaic character of such divinity, inspiring terror on the enemies and confidence to the wearer, was part of the interpenetration of the divine world inside the human world, considered essential for the men who risked their life daily, who needed to feel the protection of the divine beings on the battlefield, or in the travel to the underworld.

The main problem of these helmets with face attachment and three-part cutout for eyes, nose and mouth, is the question of the presence of the inner mask. Separate inner masks in bronze are known, some of them silvered (Robinson, 1975, pl.374, p.127, from Stadtpark Mainz), or with slender brows and finely pierced rings in the eye-opening (Robinson, 1975, pl.37,5 p.127, from Weisenberg). There is no way of ascertaining whether or not our specimen was equipped with an inner mask, though it would appear to be quite possible that it was not, as there are no traces of holes in the point where, in the mask helmets of this typology, the turning pin for the attachment of the mask is usually visible. This suggest that our mask was conceived and used for a more practical use on the battlefield, without excluding its possible employment for the tournaments and the Hyppika Gymnasia.

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Bid History: 2   |   Current bid: £30,000

Lot No. 0419

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Viewing from noon Monday 25th November 2019
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