Intercisa Helmets

Considered the most common late Roman helmet by some, this article takes a look at the iconic Intercisa collection of helmets.

Perhaps the most recognisable helmets in the late Roman sphere if nothing else due to their popularity amongst re-enactment communities are the helmets from Intercisa. Found in 1909 in a fort in Intercisa, Hungary in 1909, these helmets form the second main typology alongside the Berkasovo-type we have seen several of so far. Characteristic of the Intercisa style are two main points; firstly, the bipartite construction of two bowl halves joined by a central ridge (as ever, there are exceptions to this rule such as the Berkasovo II helmet discussed earlier) and secondly the absence of a base ring (sometimes called an interior headband) as we see in the Berkasovo-type helmets. All four helmets also feature ear-holes formed from a cutout in both the bowl and the cheek-pieces which has led to a supposition (when combined with the lack of earholes on the Berkasovo-type helmets and the references to a cavalry regiment inscribed on the Deurne helmet) that this differentiated the “infantry” and “cavalry” helmets of the late Roman army; this is of course entirely circumstantial. One important differentiation to point out here as well is that the Intercisa IV’s central adjoining ridge is seemingly non-existent; Miks attributes this to the bowl halves being joined internally rather than externally.

As the name implies, the Intercisa helmets were found in the same context in a hoard of between 14 to 19 other helmets (currently four of which, the now-dubbed Intercissa I-IV, have been reconstructed and are on display in the Magyar Nemzeti Muzeum, Budapest); as Miks wisely points out this does mean the association of various parts in these reconstructions is at best supposition and we cannot guarantee the correct parts have been put together with each other.

The Intercisa I – IV all have suggestions of a silver sheet, as has become rather common in the helmets we’re looking at, although sadly it appears the precious metals have been removed and stolen a long time ago. The rivets pinning the ridge to the bowl halves appear to have been decorative; the III and IV were found with a silver rivet each, and the IV with silver and copper rivets in several places on the left cheek-guard – it therefore stands to reason that the entire grouping would have used such rivets, and as with the Berkasovo-type helmets seen so far they would have become an integral part of the helmet’s decoration.

All of the Intercisa helmets feature an eye motif on the front half of the bowl (clearer on some than others), roughly above where the wearer’s actual eyes would sit, pointing directly forwards. It has become something of a trend for re-enactors to paint the eyes on their helmets, perhaps inspired by the relief in the Via Maria catacomb painting (as seen in the images below) which shows the eye motifs standing out prominently from the rest of the helmet due to their being depicted entirely in black rather than simply a black outline. This is of course only one interpretation of why the relief is decorated so and does raise the question of why the original helmet would have been painted if it was covered in a sheet of precious metals; more elaborate helmets in the Berkasovo family have a similarly placed and shaped eye motif decoration, albeit decorated with intricate reposse work and/or with glass stones in the eye “sockets”. It is entirely possible that the Via Maria relief is instead trying to depict this method of decoration, or simply that the artist wanted the eye motifs to stand out and it is mere artistic convention.

The II also features ten sunken “star” shapes (four-pointed crosses) across the surface, while the IV features recessed crescent moon shapes on the sides of the bowls as well as recessed line work around the edges of the bowl. The IV also features a crest which, unlike most other examples of crest attachment methods we can find in the archaeological record (slots in the central ridge by which the user could attach their crest and remove it as they wished), appears to be welded directly to the central spine. The presence of the crest has led to the Intercisa IV being considered something of an “officer’s helmet”, although (a) the prevalence of helmets with a “fin” crest in artwork seems to imply they are something of a commonplace item and (b) more elaborate decoration survives in examples such as Richborough (amongst many others); it seems fair to say instead then that the Intercisa IV is more likely a common trooper’s helmet, especially given the plethora of reposse-decorated helmets available as an alternative, to say nothing of the bejewelled Berkasovo I and Budapest.

The Intercisa is still the most enduring helmet seen in the late Roman sphere, partially due to its presence on iconography and partially due to the relative ease with which re-enactors can get their hands on one. It makes sense to use the Intercisa as a “mainstream” helmet for the bulk of reconstructions; due to the sheer amount of them found on-site and the apparent common nature of the pattern, the original Intercisa series can be considered a real workhorse piece of equipment for the Late Roman army.

Pictures courtesy of Christian Miks and Graham Sumner, with thanks to Pavel Simak and Francis Hagan of The Barcarii for help tracking down a relevant source.

Intercisa Helmets
Ross Cronshaw
By Ross Cronshaw
Detail of the neck-guard of the Pustelak Brothers Intercisa IV reproduction, image courtesy of Vicus Ultimus re-enactment group
Side and cheek of the Pustelak Brothers Intercisa IV reproduction, image courtesy of Vicus Ultimus re-enactment group
Reverse of the Pustelak Brothers Intercisa IV reproduction, image courtesy of Vicus Ultimus re-enactment group
Detail of the ridge of the Pustelak Brothers Intercisa IV reproduction, image courtesy of Vicus Ultimus re-enactment group