The officers called centurions were considered the toughest men in the Roman army. However, even the toughest men protect themselves with armour and helmets. Ancient Roman army helmets evolved over the centuries from simple bronze bowls to the iconic Imperial Gallic-style helmets frequently depicted in movies and TV series.
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A centurion was the commander of an infantry unit of about 80 to 100 men called a century. Unlike higher ranking officers who were typically political appointees, the centurions were promoted from within the army for their bravery and skill. According to historian Stefan G. Chrissanthos, the Romans considered the centurions the backbone of the army. They were responsible for maintaining discipline in the lower ranks and administered harsh punishments such as beatings. Centurions fought alongside the men they commanded and the common soldiers generally liked and respected them. On the battlefield centurions wore armour and helmets identical to the gear used by their men. They were distinguished by a horsehair or feather helmet decoration called a crest which helped their men find them during the confusion of battle.
The early Roman soldiers were equipped like Greek hoplites and wore a variety of bronze helmets. In the 4th century B.C., Roman soldiers began wearing what historians call the Montefortino-style helmet. It was inspired by Celtic designs and consisted of a bronze or iron bowl with hinged cheek pieces that protected the ears and sides of the face. The Coolus-style helmet was developed in the 3rd century B.C.. Coolus helmets added large neck guards and brow guards to the Montefortino-style helmet. The cheek pieces on Coolus-style helmets featured hinged flanges that protected the wearer's throat and cutaway sections that made hearing easier.
In the late 1st century B.C, Roman soldiers began wearing the Imperial Gallic helmet. Inspired by designs worn by the Gauls, Gallic helmets were more closely shaped to the head than earlier helmets and featured more decorations such as embossed "eyebrows" and brass fittings. They incorporated ridges at the nape of the neck that helped break the force of sword blows, large neck guards and brow guards. This helmet's cheek pieces were larger, curved toward the face and featured flanges for protecting the throat. They also had better ear holes than earlier designs. The cheek pieces protected the sides of the face but they obscured peripheral vision. They also left most of the face vulnerable.
The Imperial Italic helmet was developed in the late 1st century. Historians believe these were made in Italian workshops instead of Rome proper. It was a simpler variation on the Gallic-style helmet and typically featured less decoration. They otherwise had the same features such as large neck guards, cheek pieces and brow protectors.
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