What Is a Roman Helmet?

Written by simon fuller
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What Is a Roman Helmet?
Feathers could be added to Roman helmets to indicate rank or regiment. (Zedcor Wholly Owned/PhotoObjects.net/Getty Images)

A Roman helmet was called a galea, used by soldiers in the Roman army to protect their heads in battle. The metal helmet deflected projectiles and blows in melees. Roman helmets also served a ceremonial purpose, as well as helping highlight the status of wearers of certain helms. As with many military armaments, Roman helmets developed over the centuries. This led to the existence of several varieties.

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The materials used to create Roman helmets evolved over centuries. To begin with, men would fashion these helms from leather, which would then be made more durable by adding bronze or gold adornments. An acidic solution, tannin, was used on hides to create the leather for this purpose. Leather was later replaced by metals such as brass or iron.


Some Roman helmets were fitted with padding. This was created from a thick wool, leather or even quilted linen, and allowed greater comfort for the wearer. The padding was attached to the helmet itself via rudimentary glue. Instead of fixing padding to the helmet itself, some men wore woollen hats under their helms, which served the same purpose.

Types of Helmet

The forms of helmet worn by Romans evolved over time. The earliest Roman helmets were used from the 4th century BC until the 1st century AD and were domed, with neck guards attached; these were called Montefortino helms. Around the same time, soldiers wore Coolus helmets, which had a hemispherical shape and a larger neck guard than the Montefortino helmets. Some featured spikes for plumes to be attached. With reinforced peaks, the Imperial-Gallic helmets were created from iron and used into the 2nd century AD. These helms were probably influenced by Gaul designs. Imperial-Italic helmets came a little later but were very similar to Imperial-Gallic helms. Imperial-Italic designs featured a holder in the shape of a T for helm crests to be attached.

Elaborate Helmets

Some helmets took on a more ceremonial role or were presented to Roman soldiers who distinguished themselves in some way -- such as on the battlefield or in horsemanship. These helmets were designed less for protection and more for show. For example, the Crosby Garrett Helmet, found in England, has a mask in the shape of a human face attached. According to the "Telegraph" newspaper website, it's believed to have been donned by distinguished soldiers during parades.

Commander Crests

Helmets worn by Roman commanders were often different from those given to the common legionnaire. These commander helmets featured a crest generally created from feathers or horse hair, held into place by a support called a plume holder. The effect was to distinguish the commander from other troops in battle and add height to the commander, giving him more presence.

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