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G. Freeman




Location: Prague, Czech republic
Joined: 29 Jun 2007

Posts: 25

PostPosted: Fri 28 Dec, 2012 6:25 am    Post subject: plate thickness of viking helmets         Reply with quote

Hej!

I visited the the Historiska and Armé museet in Stockholm and I wondered about the thickness of all those displayed helmets - mostly from vendel / early viking period.

I tried my best to see the helmets as close and from as many angles as I could without being treated like a thief.
All seemed to have plates with thickness c. 1-1,5 mm

Even their nasals and cheeek-guards displayed much the same thickness - or maybe weakness.

My battle helmet (vendel style) is c. 2 mm thick, only cheek plates are 1,5 mm and nasal is 3-4 mm thick..

1. So am I right in my "eye only" measurement - that vikings/vendel used those slimmer helmets with thickness c. 1-1,5 mm?
- so the helmets were lighter and warriors could be bit more agile
- that would also explain the ability of some warriors to cut through the helmets of opponents (even with swords) as is known from sagas...

2. Am I right in my second guess that today helmets use thicker helmets only for some safety reasons?
- they are not based (in this feature) upon archeological evidence
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Johan Gemvik




Location: Stockholm, Sweden
Joined: 10 Nov 2009

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PostPosted: Fri 28 Dec, 2012 7:02 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Hi G!
It's great that you take the time to study our national treasures. I hope you had a great time in Sweden!
The finds from Uppsala högar especially are royal graves of particular richness.
I remember seeing photos in books as a kid and thinking these look kind of cool. But they are simply mind blowing up close. The detail, the craftsmanship. No wonder so many of us historically inclined fall in love with them and their British counterparts like the Sutton-Ho and others. It was simply an age of wonder.

Modern day made iron age style helmets need to be thick to withstand blunted steel or rattan blows. It's a safety issue most armourers follow these days even for purely art reproduction pieces because who knows what a crazy collector/ re-reenactor will think of doing with it.

I haven't had a chance to actually measure any of the Vendel helmets in person either, just admire them though the glass in the museums.
Some of them look thin yes, unless you count eyebrows and ridges of course which are very thick.
But what we see today is probably thinner material than what it once was when they were brand new and outer layers of metal visible thorough the glass at a museum might be thinner than the rest. That doesn't even factor in eye measure through glass sometimes quite a distance off the object.

I've mainly been studying what photos there are of the norwegian Gjermundbu helmet in detail and the plates on that one seem to me to be about 1,5 mm thick today, making overlaps about 3 mm. The glasses are very thick though, probably 3 mm or even thicker and the cross over the skull is D-shaped and very thick, perhaps as thick as 6 mm at the top.
But this isn't Vendel age (approximately carolingian age), it's from late viking age. An age of heavier and more practical armour perhaps?

I've seen weights on Normand helmets that seem to indiacate they'd be about 1,2-1,5 mm in average if it was brand new, but again rusted away material is hard to gauge. Just look at some swords that are barely wafer thin today while others are thick and still seem sturdy enough to cut with. They might once have been the same when they were new.

I would be very interested if there is scientific papers on the subject. Perhaps there is research done on the Vendel and Valsgärde helmets that list or extrapolate plate thickness?

"The Dwarf sees farther than the Giant when he has the giant's shoulder to mount on" -Coleridge
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Sean Manning




Location: Austria
Joined: 23 Mar 2008

Posts: 424

PostPosted: Fri 28 Dec, 2012 9:52 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Johan Gemvik wrote:

I've mainly been studying what photos there are of the norwegian Gjermundbu helmet in detail and the plates on that one seem to me to be about 1,5 mm thick today, making overlaps about 3 mm. The glasses are very thick though, probably 3 mm or even thicker and the cross over the skull is D-shaped and very thick, perhaps as thick as 6 mm at the top.
But this isn't Vendel age (approximately carolingian age), it's from late viking age. An age of heavier and more practical armour perhaps?

I've seen weights on Normand helmets that seem to indiacate they'd be about 1,2-1,5 mm in average if it was brand new, but again rusted away material is hard to gauge. Just look at some swords that are barely wafer thin today while others are thick and still seem sturdy enough to cut with. They might once have been the same when they were new.

I think that you under-estimate the protectiveness of 1.0-1.5mm steely iron. That will stop most attacks from most muscle-powered weapons. An arrow with a stiff, narrow head fired from a strong bow might kill someone wearing it, and a strong thrust from a spear with a stiff, narrow head might penetrate, and a cut with a two-handed axe might fracture the skull through the armour, but those are the worst case. So why waste precious metal making your skull invulnerable when your face, neck, forearms, and legs are naked?

Thicknesses under 1.5 mm were often used in the later middle ages for limbs and backplates where lightness was more important than maximum protection. There were a lot more threats to armour in the 14th century than the 10th.

Edit: Upped the lower limit. We should also remember how expensive iron was in the early middle ages.


Last edited by Sean Manning on Fri 28 Dec, 2012 3:11 pm; edited 1 time in total
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Dan Howard




Location: Maitland, NSW, Australia
Joined: 08 Dec 2004

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PostPosted: Fri 28 Dec, 2012 12:57 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Agreed with Sean. You'd need a solid hit with an axe or a heavy bow at close range to penetrate helmet plate that is thicker than 1mm.
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G. Freeman




Location: Prague, Czech republic
Joined: 29 Jun 2007

Posts: 25

PostPosted: Wed 20 Mar, 2013 2:17 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Dan Howard wrote:
Agreed with Sean. You'd need a solid hit with an axe or a heavy bow at close range to penetrate helmet plate that is thicker than 1mm.


Hej Dan,

Are you sure about that? Is it your guess based upon experince (reenact, SCA, full force fights, living history...?) with fighting or direct experience = you did some tests with either sharp or at least blunt weapons...

At Czech rep. there have been some problems (=injuries) during greater battles when the danaxes (with cca 1,6-2,0 m long hafts) were used....that resulted in recommended helmet plate thickness 2,0 mm (and some guys went on to 2,5 mm)

.
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Dan Howard




Location: Maitland, NSW, Australia
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PostPosted: Wed 20 Mar, 2013 2:47 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Sure about what?
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G. Freeman




Location: Prague, Czech republic
Joined: 29 Jun 2007

Posts: 25

PostPosted: Wed 20 Mar, 2013 3:15 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Sure about solid hit :-) which can go through helmet which is more than 1 mm thick.

According to what I saw (I have done no tests in that):
1 mm can be deformed by sword and one handed axe can go through (maybe not in the first attempt)
1,5 mm can stop sword and one handed axe can deform it easily and after a time perhaps penetrate, daneaxe (two handed) can go through easily
2,0 mm can stop sword and one handed axe, it can withstand dane axe (=only really hevy blows can go through)
2,5 mm can stop almost anything :-)

in all that I am talking about BLUNT weapons..
.
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Robert Rootslane




Location: Estonia
Joined: 06 Aug 2007

Posts: 72

PostPosted: Wed 20 Mar, 2013 4:17 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

G. Freeman wrote:
Sure about solid hit :-) which can go through helmet which is more than 1 mm thick.

According to what I saw (I have done no tests in that):
1 mm can be deformed by sword and one handed axe can go through (maybe not in the first attempt)
1,5 mm can stop sword and one handed axe can deform it easily and after a time perhaps penetrate, daneaxe (two handed) can go through easily
2,0 mm can stop sword and one handed axe, it can withstand dane axe (=only really hevy blows can go through)
2,5 mm can stop almost anything :-)

in all that I am talking about BLUNT weapons..
.


Many daneaxes that i have seen amongst reenactors are total heavy clubs compeared to the originals. Im not saying that people you have seen definately use them but its just something to pay attention to.

Many years ago when i was about 14 and making my second shield boss i screwed it up, it got some bad fractures in it. So i decided to take a sharp wood axe and attack the boss while it was on the ground to see what will happen.

It took amazingly many hits to deform it. And i never managed to cut through it.
The boss was 1,6mm steel. Although i must admit that it was good sprng steel. However, back than i made bosses by dishing so the steel on the impact surface could have been much thinner.

Just something relavant to the topic i wanted to share.


Anyway, it would still be really awesome to know the thicknesses of the original helmets.
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Artis Aboltins




PostPosted: Wed 20 Mar, 2013 11:51 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Another thing worthy of note is that those helmets are all from time before "dane axe" becomes widespread - so, basically, to get through to the wearer's head you would have to manage a very precise hit at a very precise angle. I would say it is more likely to manage a stab into the eye than that. Note, that decorative plates, especially, if backed by leather backing, as it is known to have been at least on some helmets, provides additional layer of composite protection. And even if you actually pierce the helm, it is not likely they they would have been placed directly on the head, most likely there would have been a cap of some sort underneath to reduce the effect of the blows...
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Boris Bedrosov
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Location: Bourgas, Bulgaria
Joined: 06 Nov 2005

Posts: 700

PostPosted: Wed 20 Mar, 2013 1:20 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

G. Freeman wrote:
Are you sure about that? Is it your guess based upon experince (reenact, SCA, full force fights, living history...?) with fighting or direct experience = you did some tests with either sharp or at least blunt weapons...


My fellow re-enactors and I have made a lot of heavy destructive test on different helmets and armours, usually WITH well-made and historically correct functional weapons:
- 1 mm lamellar and scale armours could resist almost everything, except heavy axes, maces and war-hammers, at reasonable ranges, while in the same time the plates in the area of the impact would be strongly deformed;

- 1.2 mm helmets in REAL combat would provide satisfying protection; but for tests and re-enactment and against heavy weapons are not the best choice;

- 1.5 mm would provide good protection - I've personally experienced several blows on the helmet (a couple of them with heavy two-handers) just with some dizziness in my head Eek! and dents on the metal; in the same time well-aimed and accurate blow with axe will cut trough such steel, the mace will deform it strongly

- 2 mm and more are almost indestructible.

It's good also to be noted that good and accurate blows, are hard to achieve in the real mist of the real battle, while the shape of the helmet additionally works against such blows. Of course, this is not a great concern with heavy weapons - two-hand axes, maces, war-hammers, halberds and so.

"Everyone who has the right to wear a long sword, has to remember that his sword is his soul,
and he has to separate from it when he separates from his life"
Tokugawa Ieyasu

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Mark Griffin




Location: The Welsh Marches, in the hills above Newtown, Powys.
Joined: 28 Dec 2006

Posts: 801

PostPosted: Thu 21 Mar, 2013 3:26 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

One thing I always say to people when talking about helmets- They don't make you invincible. I liken them to slightly strong building site PPE, hard hats. A helmet that isn't going to stop a full on blow from anything, that's down to your skills and abilities, its just there to give a bit of extra protection in a very hazardous environment. In presses I very often find armour is more useful protecting you from excited comrades....

I'm just having a late 17th cent helmet made and its going to be the same thickness as an original from Littlecoat. Way thinner than most re-enactors use. Its a crumple zone really, not a brick wall.
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Dan Howard




Location: Maitland, NSW, Australia
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PostPosted: Thu 21 Mar, 2013 3:39 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

We have no idea how thick most helmets were. Most have had centuries of corrosion and have been "restored" after they were uncovered. The only helmets that we can be pretty sure are still close to their original thickness are the ones that were painted during the time in which they were being used, have minimal corrosion today, and still show some of the original paintwork.
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Colt Reeves





Joined: 09 Mar 2009

Posts: 466

PostPosted: Thu 21 Mar, 2013 12:01 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Mark Griffin wrote:
Its a crumple zone really, not a brick wall.


That is an excellent way to put it.

"Tears are for the craven, prayers are for the clown.
Halters for the silly neck that cannot keep a crown.
As my loss is grievous, so my hope is small.
For Iron, Cold Iron, must be master of men all..."
-Cold Iron, Rudyard Kipling
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