Crosby Garrett Roman helmet on show in the UK

Slightly old, but exciting news nevertheless (it was released three days ago), the ancient Roman helmet that was unearthed at Crosby Garrett is going to form part of a new exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts in London.

Crosby Garrett Roman mask

This rare example of a Roman cavalry mask, complete with visor, was found in Crosby Garrett, near Waitby School, in 2010. Photograph courtesy of Daniel Pett

In the extremely unlikely event that you haven’t heard of this piece, have a look at the picture below. The helmet is an almost complete example of a two-piece Roman cavalry helmet, complete with visor; signs of wear caused by the helmet’s owner opening and closing the visor are still visible. It is thought that this helmet would have been worn for cavalry sports rather than for battle. Only two other Roman helmets with visors have been found in Britain.

The helmet was discovered in May 2010 in Crosby Garrett, which is less than two miles away from Waitby School. There are Roman roads in the area and it is humbling to see such a tangible and sophisticated reminder of the people who were in the area thousands of years ago. It is hard not to wonder what the wearer thought of the fells and the countryside… And what non-Romans would have thought of him on horseback with his mask on – certainly awe-inspiring, if not a little frightening.

Roman cavalry re-enactment

This picture shows how the mask would have looked like in action; it is thought it was used for cavalry rather than battle. Photo courtesy Matthias Kabel

Controversially, as the helmet is not made of precious metals, it wasn’t covered by the 1996 Treasures Act, so the metal detector enthusiast who discovered it was free to put it up for auction at Christies. It was valued between £200,000 to £300,000 and Tullie House Museum in Carlisle launched a national public and corporate appeal to raise funds to keep the helmet in Cumbria. It was supported in its efforts by the British Museum and many other public and private institutions, as well as by donations from the public.

But in the sale on October 7, 2010, the helmet was sold for £2.3 million to an undisclosed private buyer amid fears that it would never be seen in public again.

So, although far from the home where it lay for at least 2,000 years, at least the helmet will be on display between September 15 and December 9, alongside bronzes by Rodin, Boccioni, Picasso and Moore and other pieces from across the world.

The Bronze exhibition will feature works spanning 5,000 years and the Royal Academy of Arts says that no such cross-cultural exhibition on this scale has ever been attempted. The exhibition will feature over 150 bronzes from Asia, Africa and Europe, many of which have never been seen in the UK.

We are going to do our best to get to this exhibition – who knows if the helmet will ever go on show again?


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