The Crosby Garrett Helmet sold today at the auction of Antiquities at Christies
South Kensington for £2,281,250 / $3,629,469 / 2,593,781 (estimate: £200,000 to £300,000). An exceptional survival from Roman Britain, the helmet was discovered by a metal detectorist in Cumbria in May 2010 and dates from the late 1st-2nd Century A.D. It was bought by an anonymous telephone bidder.
Georgiana Aitken, Head of Antiquities at Christies, London: When the helmet was first brought to Christies and I saw it first hand, I could scarcely believe my eyes. This is an exceptional object an extraordinary and haunting face from the past and it has captured the imagination and the enthusiasm of everyone who has come to Christies to admire it over the past few weeks. The universal appeal of the helmet saw it draw interest from a diverse group of bidders at todays auction collectors of antiquities competed with those who have more often bought in other fields including modern art and old master paintings. In all 6 bidders fought for the helmet; 3 by telephone, 2 in the room and one via the internet from California. It was sold for £2.3 million to an anonymous client bidding by phone.
With its enigmatic features, the Crosby-Garrett Helmet is an extraordinary example of Roman metalwork at its zenith. It is one of only three Roman Cavalry Parade helmets that have been discovered in Britain complete with face-masks, the others being the Ribchester Helmet, found in 1796 and now in the British Museum, and the Newstead Helmet, in the Museum of Antiquities, Edinburgh, found circa 1905.
The Crosby Garrett Helmet sets itself apart by virtue of its beauty, workmanship and completeness, particularly the face-mask, which was found virtually intact. In addition, the remarkable Phrygian-style peak surmounted by its elaborate bronze griffin crest appears unprecedented.
These helmets were not for combative use, but worn for hippika gymnasia (cavalry sports events). The polished white-metal surface of the Crosby Garrett face-mask would have provided a striking contrast to the original golden-bronze colour of the hair and Phrygian cap. In addition, colourful streamers may have been attached to the rings along the back ridge and on the griffin crest. Arrian of Nicomedia, a Roman provincial governor under Hadrian, provides us with the only surviving contemporary source of information on cavalry sports events. He describes, in an appendix to his Ars Tactica, how the cavalrymen were divided into two teams which took turns to attack and defend. He suggests that the wearing of these helmets was a mark of rank or excellence in horsemanship. Participants would also carry a light, elaborately painted shield, and wear an embroidered tunic and possibly thigh-guards and greaves, all of which would contribute to the impressive spectacle.
These events may well have accompanied religious festivals celebrated by the Roman army and were probably also put on for the benefit of visiting officials. The displays would also have been intended to demonstrate the outstanding equestrian skill and marksmanship of the Roman soldier and the wealth of the great empire he represented.