Saturday 23 April 2022

Another Roman Cavalry Helmet on the British Antiquities Market


After the so-called Crosby Garrett Helmet was sold in October 2010 for £2.3 million, there has been a veritable crop of apparently previously-unknown similar items surfacing on the British antiquities market... TimeLine Auctions had several that have been discussed by me in the past. Dealer Simon Wicks had one in 2011. They have also been turning up sold online by US dealers (Artemis Galleries Feb 21, 2019). Now eBay seller ancientromana_uk (283) from West Drayton, United Kingdom has one.
Condition: --not specified
Price: £4,000.00
And neither is any kind of a provenance offered, no country of origin, no mention of a collection history, no paperwork mentioned. Just that twelve-word statement. 

It is difficult to judge whether it is silver or not. One would have expected something from a legal "old collection" (for example) to have been taken to a professional conservator to bring out the original shine... except this has a dark oozy layer all over and around irregular eroded green-tinged areas. All very odd. Silver is silver because it is relatively inert, yet this is corroded really rather oddly. It is interesting that the dealer does not comment on the condition of the artefact. How much metal remains? And is it silver? It is difficult to say from the information offered. Looking at the appearance, we might wonder whether what we have here is a corrosion similar to the mineral chlorargyrite (aka cerargyrite, aka 'horn silver' AgCl), but that is water-soluble. A mystery for £4,000.

It it "parade mask armour"? That's questionable. First is that it's clearly thin metal and then how do you wear it? The picture shows a crude hinge at the top. That would have articulated with a horizontal bar on the lower rim of (let's say) a helmet. That'd be just forward of the wearer's brow, yes? So this hangs down (hangs mind you, there are no traces of an attachment at the chin or sides) from there. So, where does the nose go? The relief of this "mask" has no room for a human nose under it. Even a tiny one.

A "cavalry" officer? Who'd put this thing on a helmet swinging down, flapping about and hitting them in the face as the horse even trots, let alone canters? Bonkers. Has ancientromana_uk ever been on horseback? If not, what expertise do they bring to the examination and description of this object that they are asking £4,000 for?

Why is this "Roman"? The eyes of Roman cavalry helmet masks look quite different to the ones here. One could quite easily imagine this same object appearing on another eBay sold as "silver death mask of Genghis Khan/Atilla the Hun" or some unnamed  khagan of the Golden Horde. Or "face of composite statue of Buddha", "a Jaredite Mask" or whatever. 

If we look at this guy's other current sales, apart from the atrocious prices (for what they are), the mega-micro-skimpy "descriptions" and total lack of any dimensions quoted... one finds an interesting phenomenon. The artefacts are described as coming from the following cultural circles:
Ancient Near Eastern, tablets, plaques, figurines  - 24,
Indus Valley figurines -5
Syro-Hittite figurines - 5
Ghandhara figurines and sculptures - 5
Various neolithic 'idols' - 6
Egyptian antiquities - 4
Islamic objects - 4
Roman items (including this helmet) - 4
Yemen scultures- 2
Luristan object - 1
Jiroft object - 1
Cypriote figurine - 1
Etruscan (?) - 1
A single lot of 100 Neolithic arrowheads, probably Saharan, but including a lot of fakes - 1 
Something that figures in my notes as "WTF?" - 1

The seller obviously finds handling (female) ceramic and stone figurines rewarding, but there is a general Middle Eastern focus here, especially odd for somebody calling themselves "ancientromana_uk". The ancient Near Eastern artefacts are very cute (all of them) and I think give a clue to how we should see this poorly-described provenance-free metal mask of unusual style.  

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