The Montefortino helmet is kind of a unique case in the military equipment of the ancient world, and not only concerning the Italic context. It was used for a very long time (actually, for centuries), a complex origin, with branches of many similar helmets. With these premises, it’s obvious that the Montefortino helmets could be present in different and not always easily identifiable ways.
Several classifications were made by different scholars – from F. Coarelli to H.R. Robinson and J.M. Paddock, from M. Princ to M. Junkelmann, only to mention the main scholars -, but none of them led to a unified, consistent classification. This is mostly due to the difficulty in establish what is a Montefortino helmet and what it’s not, what still isn’t a Montefortino helmet and what isn’t a Montefortino anymore. This uncertainty led, amongst many scholars, to use many terms that could be applied to defined categories.
In the most recent studies, many causes of the difficulty in establishing a classification clearly emerged. In particular, a too much generic use of the term “Montefortino”. For a long time, it joined two very different technological traditions, that is, a Celto-Italic one (or Celto-Etruscan) and a Etrusco-Italic one (and then Etrusco-Roman). Different ways of manufacturing are the main difference between these two traditions. The Celtic tradition had helmets made almost only of iron, with attached top “button” and neckguard angled downwards, while in the Etruscan-Italic-Roman tradition helmets were made solely of bronze, top “button” realized in a unique piece with the skull and horizontal neckguard.
In this article, we won’t deal with the helmets of Celtic tradition.
Another cause for the difficulty of the classification was due to a generalized use of the term “Montefortino” to define other types of helmet, that is the button helmet (the proper Etrusco-Italic Montefortino) and the types Buggenum, Haguenau and Weisenau of more recent Roman production.
In this way, the term “Montefortino” gradually identified a very large group of helmets, a group to which became really difficult to put any border.
Even limiting ourselves only to the Etrusco-Italic productions, this matter remains quite complex: some features remains for a long period of time, while others could coexist on different helmets in the same period. The great amount of finds (at least 150 helmets) doesn’t help in making a clear classification.
In this article, we want to use some of the classifications made by the scholars mainly to help defining which are the correct use of the various types of Montefortino helmets for reenactment. The main study about this matter is probably the work of J.M.Paddock, since the author classifies every specimen he could have known at the time, making easier a confrontation with the precise archaeological finds and their datation (that is a much better approach than making a comparison with a much wider and abstract category).
So, let’s try to add a chronological timeframe, at least indicative, for the Montefortino helmets that could be used in reenactment.
Obviously, always considering that, given the datation, an older piece is generally acceptable to be used, while a more recent piece would be absolutely out of place.
Type II (Paddock), Type C (Coarelli), Type Canosa (Junkelmann).
Last quarter 4th century BC – third quarter 3rd century BC (325 BC – 225 BC from the Second Samnite War to the battle of Telamon).
Type VI (Paddock), Type Cremona (Junkelman), Type D (Coarelli);
For its shape, decoration and cheekpieces, this helmet basically is a Type VI in the Paddock classification, characterized by a higher, more conical skull (i.e. less “bulbous” and generally bigger than the previous type), and by a quite flat and pronounced neckguard.
The most similar archaeological specimen are the finds 82 and 93.
However, our reproduction differs from these finds for its fastening system and for the apex. In fact, usually the fastening system is made by a mushroom shaped stud, when preserved, and not by a hook with enlarged end. The apex is usually a truncated cone in shape, not hemispherical or bulbous.
So, we can consider this a type VI with secondary features of older types.
Type VI is dated between 3rd and 2nd century BC; datation of the archaeological finds goes from 300 BC to 100 BC.
In particular, specimen 82 is dated between 300 and 280 BC, while 93 is dated bewteen 275 and 200 BC.
So, this reproduction could be used mainly for the last decades of the 4th century BC (considering that some of its features are quite archaic) and for all the 3rd century BC; basically, from the Second Samnite War to the end of the Second Punic War. However, it could be also used for all the 2nd century BC, so until the period of Gaius Marius.
Type VI (Paddock), Type Cremona (Junkelmann), Type D (Coarelli).
Half of 3rd century BC – beginning of the 2nd century BC (250 – 190 BC from the First Punic War to the Roman-Seleucid War).
Made on an original project by Res Bellica in collaboration with Gioal Canestrelli, based on the helmet from Riola-San Vero Milis (Oristano, Sardinia), and on other specimen from the same time period.
Type VII (Paddock), Type Rieti (Junkelmann).
Last third of the 3rd century BC – half of the 2nd century BC (230 -150 BC, from the wars against the Cisalpine Wars to the Third Punic War).
This helmet shares several features with many other typologies of different periods. Cheekpieces of this kind, for instance, could be found also in type I, II, III and VII. The shape of the skull and of the apex are similar to both earlier and later helmets. However, the pronounced and flat neckguard must be dated to the more recent specimens. In particular, the features of this replica are similar to the specimen 103 for the general shape and apex (dated to the end of the 3rd century BC-200 BC, from Cremona); and to the speciment 107 (2nd century BC, from Spain), for the general shape and cheekguards.
Type VII has a simpler decoration, that from the 2nd century BC completely disappeares.
So, this replica could be used to reenact the period from the last third of the 3rd century BC to the half of the 2nd century BC, with a possible use until the third quarter of the 2nd century BC.
So, from the Battle of Telamon until the end of the Third Punic War.
After having considered the datation and classification given for our replicas, we will repeat also that while using an older object for a more recent period is generally acceptable, the contrary is absolutely wrong.
Talking about Montefortino helmets, we also have an exceptional case of reuse of an old piece of equipment. In Museo Gregoriano Etrusco Vaticano is preserved a helmet (inventory n. 12318) that sports, without any doubt, features of the type III of the Paddock classification, dated 4th-2nd century BC.
This helmet sports an inscription on the neckguard: “Aurelius Victorinus MIL COH XII URB”. This inscription dates the helmet without any doubt after 27 BC, when Augustus established the Urban Cohorts.
This helmet could have been a much older object reused in a more recent time (for sure, not an isolated case) or could be deliberately made this way by the owner, in line with the politics of Augustus based on ancient values and customs. Whatever the case really was, this helmet reminds us that often our datation and classification are merely indicative, and not totally representative of the variety of the ancient world.