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Home > Auctions > 25th February 2020 > Roman Imperial Silver Browband Appliques from Pseudo-Attic Helmet

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LOT 0447

GBP (£) 3,000 - 4,000
EUR (€) 3,500 - 4,670
USD ($) 3,870 - 5,150

Sold for: £5,500
(Inc. bp*)

Roman Imperial Silver Browband Appliques from Pseudo-Attic Helmet

2nd-3rd century AD

Two sheet silver embossed plaques for a pseudo-Attic helmet, each with shaped edges, embossed around the edges with a double-pearled ornament, with fixing holes; the decoration of both plaques seems to represent a cult scene, most probably to Jupiter and Epona, in one plaque, to Jupiter alone; the bust of Jupiter is represented on both plaques at the centre of the diadem, frontally, with long, symmetrical hairstyle; he is dressed in a simple folded tunic; an eagle at his right side, his favoured bird and symbol of his power over the skies, as well as of the eternal power of Rome; the feet of both eagles rest on thunderbolts, composed from a turtled elongated body; to the first plaque, another divinity is represented to the left of Jupiter, most probably Epona, left hand holding a staff surmounted by flowers, fruit and ears of corn (cornucopia?); on the left side of the plaque, under the divinities, are two advancing cavalrymen, one dressed with a padded tunic of Celto-Danubian typology, holding a short sword, the other unarmed and lightly dressed; opposite, the god Silvanus seated and covered only by his mantle, is offering the victory laurel to an eagle resting over a basket, caressing a dog; and three female figures (one half naked and with the breast exposed, the other two dressed with chiton and chlamys) are performing an offering in front of a templar construction, one figure holding a staff and the other a standard ending with a seven-pointed star; at the feet of the woman with the staff another dog is lying, probably again associated with the offering god; to the second plaque: the embossed decoration consists mainly of an armed cavalryman, identical to that one on the previous plaques, advancing towards Zeus/Jupiter; two different cult scenes are represented on the sides, on the left a divinity (maybe Silvanus), leaned upon a staff, is offering gifts to a divinity (Epona?), represented as a bust; on the right side a similar figure offering gifts to a cavalryman, preserved only in his lower part; under the central figures are again represented, in smaller dimensions, two divinities, Zeus/Jupiter and Athena/Minerva, the one holding a staff, the second one helmetted and carrying a spear with her right hand, the other hand on a shield; the two figures are flanked by a naked horseman, while the heads of the twins Castor and Pollux are positioned on both their flanks; both plaques with holes for the fastening through small rivets on their sides (still present in the smaller plaques, only one preserved in the bigger plaque), intended to affix the plaques to the crown of the helmet; mounted on perspex. 1.02 kg total, 30-35cm long (11 3/4 - 13 3/4"). Fragmentary. [2]

Ex an important Dutch collection; acquired in the European market in the 1970s; accompanied by an expertise by military archaeologist Dr Raffaele D'Amato.
See Fray Bober P., Reviewing Réne Magnen, Epona, Déesse Gauloise des Chevaux, Protectrice des Cavaliers, in American Journal of Archaeology, 62.3, July 1958, pp.349-350; Robinson, R., The Armour of Imperial Rome, New York, 1975; D'Amato, R., Arms and Armour of the Imperial Roman Soldier, London, 2009; Negin A. Roman helmets with a browband shaped as a vertical fronton, in Historia i Świat, 2015, 4, 31-46; D'Amato R., A. Negin, Decorated Roman Armour, London, 2017; the helmet browband embossing has parallels with other splendid vertical fronton-shaped specimens, like the helmet from PamukMogila, the fragment of helmet from Leidscherijn, the browband from Leiden, and the very famous helmet recently found in Hallaton (D'Amato-Negin, 2017, fig.62 c, p.64-66); the piece preserved in the National Museum of Antiquities (Rijksmuseum van Oudheden) in Leiden (D'Amato-Negin, 2017, fig.65) shows similar embossing and side holes for fastening. These embossed plaques would have been affixed to the browbands, of the ‘pseudo-Attic’ helmets of the Roman army. The existence of these helmets, the most represented in Roman art (Robinson, 1975, p.182, pl.494; pp.184-185, pls.497-499, 501) although less documented in archaeology, have been a matter of controversy amongst scholars.
Despite a number of experts doubting their existence, Russell Robinson published the brow-band of a surviving example over forty years ago (1975, pp.138-139, pls.417-220). Some scholars are absolutely confident of their existence (D'Amato, 2009, pp.112-114; 206ff.), while others considered the many images of Attic helmets on Roman monuments simply an artistic convention. Recently, Andrei Neginhas collected a good series of samples showing that the presence of these helmets was a reality of the Roman Army (Negin, 2015), a thesis further reinforced in D'Amato and Negin’s 2017 work on Roman decorated armour.
Both the authors have shown full evidence with finds suggesting that Attic helmets with browbands, which are often depicted in Roman public art, are no mere convention, but were actually common in the Roman imperial army, imitating models from the earlier period. In the case of similar helmets worn by the Praetorians, it can be assumed that they had more archaic shapes, imitating Greek models. They are exceptionally rare pieces, coming with all probability from a military camp on the Danube. The scene represented here shows a cult to divinities popular among the legions of the Danube; the presence of cavalrymen recalls the cult of the Danubian rider gods, here dressed like a Thracian auxiliary cavalryman of the Roman army, and joined by the rider gods par excellence, the twins Castor and Pollux.

The presence of Epona, protector of horses, goddess of fertility, confirms the helmet’s Danubian origin, Epona being 'the sole Celtic divinity ultimately worshipped in Rome itself' (Fray Bober, 1958, p.349). Her worship as the patroness of cavalry was widespread in the Empire between the first and third centuries AD; this is unusual for a Celtic deity, most of whom were associated with specific localities. Here, she is associated with Silvanus, a god also venerated in the Danubian provinces, a divinity especially popular in Pannonia, and in the cities of Carnuntum and Aquincumwhere he was worshipped as Silvanus Orientalis, the divine guard of the borders.