Hallaton Helmet is a decorated iron Roman cavalry parade helmet originally covered in silver leaf and decorated in places with gilt. It was discovered in 2000 near Hallaton, Leicestershire, after Ken Wallace, a member of the Hallaton Field Group, found coins in the area. Further investigation by professional archaeologists from the University of Leicester's Archaeological Service revealed that the site appeared to have been used as a large-scale Iron Age shrine. Nine years of conservation and restoration were undertaken by experts at the British Museum with the support of a £650,000 grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund. The helmet is now permanently on display at the Harborough Museum in Market Harborough along with other artifacts from the Hallaton Treasury.
Although it was found broken into thousands of pieces and is now badly corroded, the helmet still has evidence of its original finely decorated design. It was gilded with silver and decorated with images of goddesses and equestrian scenes. It would have been used by a Roman auxiliary cavalryman for display and possibly in battle. The identity of the owner is unknown, but the helmet was found at a ceremonial site in Britain, buried next to thousands of British and Roman Iron Age coins. The helmet may have belonged to a Briton who fought alongside the Romans during the Roman conquest of Britain.
The helmet is an example of a three-piece Roman ceremonial cavalry helmet, made of sheet iron covered with silver leaf and partially decorated with gold leaf. Such helmets were worn by Roman auxiliary cavalrymen at exhibitions known as the hippic gymnasium, and may also have been used in battles, despite their relative fineness and luxurious decoration. Horses and riders wore ornate clothing, armor, and feathers, performing feats of riding and reproducing historical and legendary battles such as the wars of the Greeks and Trojans.
This is the only Roman helmet ever found in Britain that retains much of its gilded silver. The helmet originally had two cheeks attached through holes in front of the earpieces. It has a prominent browplate, similar in shape to the 3rd century Guisborough helmet discovered in 1864 near Guisborough in Redcar and Cleveland. The back of the helmet's bowl was lowered to form a neck shield.
As with other Roman cavalry helmets, Hallaton's helmet was very ornate. The closest parallel to Hallaton's helmet in terms of appearance is the helmet found at Xanten-Wardt in Germany, which, like Hallaton's example, is made of gilded silver with a wreath on the crown, a central figure on the brow and a garland of flowers at the neck. Hallaton's helmet retains several similar elements. Its bowl is decorated with laurel wreaths, and the toothed browplate is bordered with elaborate cables. In the center of the superciliary arch is a (now badly damaged) bust of a woman surrounded by a repousse of lions. Her identity is unclear, but perhaps she was an empress or goddess. The iconography resembles images of Cybele, the Great Mother or "Great Mother," whose image was used to promote the values of the Augustus period several decades after the helmet was deposited. However, there are a number of features in the image that are more common to funerary art.
The earpieces are shaped like silver ears, and the neckerchief is decorated with leaf ornaments. Six torn off rock pieces were found inside the helmet bowl along with the disintegrated remains of a seventh piece, although only two were needed. Hinges and a bent pin on the cheek were also found. It may have been forcibly removed or may have been damaged later, perhaps by a plow. It is unclear why the helmet was accompanied by so many cheekplates; it is possible that they were all used in the same helmet to adjust its appearance on different occasions, or they may have been used as spare parts in case of damage. The preserved psalms are very elaborate. Five panels depict equestrian scenes; one depicts the triumph of a Roman emperor on horseback, holding his arm in the air as he is crowned with a laurel wreath from the goddess Victoria (Victory). Below is a huddled barbarian being trampled by the hooves of the imperial horse. The other, less well-preserved cheek depicts a figure, possibly from the Near East, holding a large horn of plenty, and below is a Roman helmet and shield.