The artifact looks so complete I was surprised to read that it was initially found in 67 fragments. Some of the fragments showed traces of a white metal coating, indicating that the face mask would originally have been tinned to give the appearance of silver. But, the silver on this helmet may have been removed in preparation for ritual burial much like the Xanten helmet unearthed in the late 1980s in an old arm of the Rhine River. The Crosby Garrett mask had also been folded before burial, and placed with the visor face down, further suggesting that it may have been a votive offering.
Surprisingly, researchers studying the Xanten helmet reconstructed it with folded iron like the original and found the mask could withstand the force of an arrow fired from a Roman ballistae.
A close examination showed that the helmets were forged from sheet iron, folded and wrought from several layers of iron, and covered with silver foil for decoration purposes. Remains of braided ribbons combined with circular bands around the head were found outside the skull piece. The textile applications proved to be made of horsehair. The fineness and the length indicate that selected hairs from the tail of the horse were used. The headbands were sometimes additionally padded with a woolen fabric to generate a certain relief. An ancient glue mix was used to fix the silver foil and the textile applications. It consisted of pitch, bitumen and fatty components. - Sylvia Mitschke, University of Sheffield, Questions of identities concerning Roman cavalry helmetsHeavily armored cavalry wearing masks actually dates back as far as the 6th century BCE.
One of the earliest known examples of heavy cavalry was discovered in Khwarezm, a region in central Asia near the Aral Sea. Excavations have revealed paintings of warriors clad in armor mounted on an armored horse, carrying a lance and bow. It is estimated that these horsemen were used in that region as early as the sixth century BC. It is also around this time that cavalry gradually began replacing chariots in the near east. Cultures such as the Assyrians, Achaemenids Persians, and later the Macedonians all successfully fielded heavy cavalry in their armies. The Acahemenids, in particular, were known to field heavily armored horsemen along with horse armor.- Cataphracts and Clibanarii of the Ancient World, All Empires Online History Community
| Graffito of a Parthian Cataphract at Dura |
Europos. Courtesy of All Empires.
Although Christie's did an excellent job of restoring the Crosby Garrett mask's aesthetic appearance I was disturbed to read that experts from the British Museum were not asked to examine the find before restoration took place so archaeological information may have been lost. Apparently, even though this mask brought a staggering sum of money from anxious bidders, it was not legally considered "treasure" by the British government because it contained neither gold nor silver.
Although no significant remains of Roman occupation was known in the general area where the mask was found, preliminary investigations that have been conducted since the discovery indicate a Roman occupation layer may be revealed with further excavation.
The article mentioned that there have been only two other complete helmets with masks found in Britain. Fortunately, others have been found elsewhere to give us information about the variety of designs that were developed during the height of the Roman Empire.
RomanLegions.info has a webpage with images of several distinctly different cavalry masks that have been found across Europe dating from the Augustan period through the 5th century.
Bronze Roman cavalry mask 75-125 CE. Image by mharrsch via FlickrI have seen other examples at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the one pictured at right produced from 75 - 125 CE at the Getty Villa.
Arrian of Nicomedia described the wearing of full face masks by cavalry troops on parade in the 2nd century CE:
The horsemen enter fully armed and those of distinguished station or superior in horsemanship wear gilded helmets of iron or bronze, to draw to themselves the gaze of the spectators. Unlike the helmets made for active service, these do not cover the heads and cheeks only but are made to fit round the faces of the riders with apertures for the eyes, so as to give protection to the eyes without interfering with vision. From the helmets hang yellow plumes — a matter of decor as much as of utility. As the horses move forward, the slightest breeze adds to the beauty of these plumes.—Arrian of Nicomedia