Global Fund for Women Maternal Health Ambassador

September 10, 2015

The Agris Helmet : a treasure from the tribal centers of Iron Age Gaul

On May 9th in 1981 a French cave-exploration team found the first two fragments of the Agris helmet on the surface soil of the Cave of Perrats in the area of Agris in western France.The two small fragments came from the domed section of the helmet. Once excavated the main room of the cave yielded material from the Neolithic to the Middle Ages.

at Musee d'Angouleme, France
The result of these excavations was the recovery of the helmet's entire skull cap. Several fragments of gold-leaf and two fragments of a triangular section were discovered in the 1981 excavation. Excavations continued in 1983 and produced the helmet's two cheek pieces and three additional fragments. In 1986 the base of the helmet's crest and shavings of gold-leaf belonging to a portion of the helmet that has not been preserved were found. Despite the fact that many fragments have been found it is unlikely that it will ever be complete. The helmet was restored between 1984 and 1985 by Lazlo Lehoczky of the Romisch-Germanisches Zentralmuseum in Mainz, Germany.

The Agris Helmet was not discovered in conjunction with human remains. The helmet seems to have been deposited separately and is not part of any burial. The fragments have been found in context with a Dux-type fibula. The helmet has been placed in the same period as the fibula, the La Téne B Period ( Celtic Art Period). The primary form of the palmette ornament confirms a date around the last quarter of the 4th century B.C.
The Agris Helmet belongs to the Montefortino category of Celtic helmets. The earliest examples came from 5th century burials in Central Europe.

Celtic Cultic Practices

The helmet has a large man-made dent on the front of the domed portion. It was purposefully defaced. One could say ritually "killed". The removal of the cheek-pieces was also done on purpose. Most likely another step in the process for dedicating the helmet to the gods. 

Another interesting feature is the ram- horned serpent depicted on the cheek-piece of the Agris Helmet.

detail cheek-piece
Horns had a special meaning in Celtic religion. The ram-horned serpent was an indication of divine power. The horns increased the symbolism of whatever role the god himself already possessed. The ram-horned serpent combines the sacred symbols of fertility, healing and the underworld. The Cave of Perrats might have been a Celtic sacred site which could connect to Celtic mythology as an entrance to the world of the dead.