Zakri M. Kneebone
Object: Helmet of Agris
Origin: Discovered in Agris, Charente, France.
Culture, Period: Celtic, Late Bronze or Early Iron.
Dates: ca. 375-350 BCE.
Museum: Museum of Angouleme (Angouleme, France)
The Helmet of Agris is a full sized helmet fitting to the forehead with a small neck guard. Also attached is a paragnithides, or cheek-guard: its mate is unfortunately undiscovered since the pieces were scattered about by animals. Despite the aesthetic pleasantness the lost piece would contribute, it is considered one of, if not the best Celtic object of art ever recovered in France.
There are three main parts: the timbre1 or stamp made of iron, the panels of bronze with gold leaf and the attachments. The stamp is a very plain kettle of iron, designed to be invisible except for a set of lock-rivets about the great arch to hold the panels in place. Each of the lock-rivets is shaped like a modern thumbscrew and secures one end of each of a pair of semicircular panels. The stamp is quite thin so that it is highly unlikely that the helmet was intended for military duty. At the very top is a rounded, ringed crest reminiscent of the capitol of the queen in a modern chess set. Set into the crest is a broken black wood dowel which probably held some kind of pennant.
The panels are seven in number composing four concentric bands: a top panel and three longer bands made of two panels each, riveted on the sides. The panels are bronze sheet, covered in gold leaf mined from the Central Massif of France which is refined to 99%, an exceptional purity for the time. The sheets are stamped out in low-relief and embossed with linear plant patterns.
The top panel is thematically the most disparate of the four bands, the theme here is comprised of a coral inlay depicting a writhing serpent with the head of a carnivore, perhaps a canine, with horns on the head. This is the only subject which is considered uniquely Celtic.
The remaining three panels form a rhythm of complex alternations. An external alternation is created by the second and fourth (bottom) bands and an internal alternation by the third. The eye is
Helmet of Agris by Zakri Kneebone 2
first drawn to the third panel because it is the only one that is not encrusted with coral and is consequently brighter and lighter in tint and is the finest and most intricately stamped of the bands. Also, it is the tallest of the bands and occupies approximately 30% of the height of the helmet and is centered on the great circumference. The design consists of pairs of symmetrically opposed esses, these pairs forming a sinusoid. There the negative space resembles a rain drop, alternating in vertical inversion and inside this space is a lotus leaf oriented upward or downward likewise tessellating the circumference of the band. Each lotus leaf matches the palmette motif as a pair of palmettes on their sides in a vertical symmetry. A triangular shape is made by the interstitial (a minor, “left-over” section of the plane in a tesselation) with the border and in this space is a small vine, curled about itself in a triskele (a threefold spiral). The borders contain tiny half-oval florets with three points pointing upward on top and downward on bottom.
The second and fourth bands have a reflective resemblance, forming a second rhythm surrounding that of the third band and augmenting it. Palmettes, inverted in the second (upper) band, occupy a corresponding space on those panels. A palmette is a small lotus which most likely is the influence of Greek Classical architecture and also very likely via the Etruscans. Of the bands the second is shorter and likewise the palmettes are inverted and structurally smaller having only five leaves. The palmettes were originally accentuated with a piece of corral fitted to each and every shaped outlined in the panels and each corral is likewise fastened by a rivet adorned with a gilded bronze rivet head conforming to contour. Due to wear about one quarter of the corral remains intact.
The fourth band is thematically identical to the second and is nearly so identical except for vertical orientation a proportionally higher degree of complexity relative to its larger dimensions. The palmettes are seven-leaved and the interstitials are also spiral curly vines centered by triskeles. Likewise, the palmettes are accented with corral and rivets.
Finally, below the panels is a band of colored corral which meets a neck guard at the rear. The
Helmet of Agris by Zakri Kneebone 3
neck-guard is iron, covered in corral and riveted to the kettle. Hanging from the right side of the kettle is a lonesome paranthides, or cheek-guard, made of thin iron rods which are bronzed and gilded. It is an inverted palmette, the largest of all, with elaborately scrolled esses and fine gold wire curls between the larger curls.
Museum of Angouleme online http://www.angouleme.fr/museeba/
Encyclopédie de l'Arbre Celtique online http://encyclopedie.arbre-celtique.com/
Numbered and untitled article, Gomez De Soto, José and Verger, Stephane, originally published in "L'archéologue, 106 (2010) 56-59" halshs-00455391, version 1 - 10 Feb 2010; retrieved from http://halshs.archives-ouvertes.fr/docs/00/45/53/91/PDF/Agris_l_archeologue.2.pdf
Notes: All of the sources are in French with which I am familiar but am not an expert; I use Google Translate profusely. Since it would be improper and detrimental to translate the proper French names of my resources, I feel the apostrophes therein are absolutely necessary. Precise measurements and weights are not available anywhere, but the nice folks at the Museum of Angouleme are sending me a pamphlet which has not arrived.
1 Can be translated as stamp or kettle: Google translate. Since kettle is more visual I relate the terms together.