Symbol of a Warrior: Horned Helmets from Around Europe

July 21, 2023

In another article published this week we reference Viking horned helmets. Specifically, that they didn’t exist in history: as any Viking will tell you, throwing yourself into battle with unnecessary ornamentation on your head is going to get you killed.

This is not to say that horned helmets did not exist elsewhere. Quite the contrary, it would seem that Bronze Age Europe very much had a thing for that sort of bling. From the arid lands of the Near East to the other arid lands of Spain, horns appear everywhere.

Here are seven examples.

1. Vekso Helmets

Discovered in a peat bog in Denmark in 1942, the Vekso Helmets are a set of ceremonial bronze headpieces that are at least 3,000 years old. The location they were found, Brøns Mose, is believed to have been a lake in the Bronze Age, which means that the finely crafted and decorated helmets were probably thrown into the water as a votive offering (Simon Burchell / CC BY-SA 3.0)

2. Iberian Warrior Stelae

Dated to the late Bronze Age, the Magacela stele was found in southwestern Iberia. The figure carved on this and other Iberian stelae clearly depict human figures with horns, and the weaponry suggests this was either a warrior of a chief. The sword at his waist and the spear by his side are pointing downwards, which suggests this is a funerary carving (Miguel Hermoso Cuesta / CC BY-SA 4.0)

3. The Nuragic Bronzes

The Nuragic civilization of Sardinia is one of the oldest and longest lasting cultures in all of European history. We know they date back to at least 2,200 BC, and that they were extant right up until the time of the Romans two millennia later. Amongst their stone ruins they left many small statues of Nuragic warriors, often featuring horned helmets (Ángel M. Felicísimo / CC BY 2.0)

4. The Sea Peoples at Medinet Habu

The Egyptian relief at Medinet Habu has much to teach us about the mysterious culture we know today as the “Sea Peoples”, who arrived seemingly out of nowhere in the late Bronze Age and both precipitated and exacerbated the Bronze Age Collapse. The Sea Peoples as depicted in the relief are clearly using horned helmets for practical combat, along with circular shields and spears (Olaf Tausch / CC BY 3.0)

5. The Victory Stele of Naram-Sin

Dated to the 23rd century BC and carved by the Akkadian Empire, this stele is thought to have come from Sippar in Mesopotamia, the cradle of Eurasian civilization. It depicts King Naram-Sin of Akkad defeating the Lullubi of the Zagros Mountains. Naram-Sin wears a horned helmet, and some have interpreted him as having the mask of a lion on his face also. The helmet points to his divine status n victory, as such headpieces were typically only worn by the Akkadian gods (Shonagon / Public Domain)

6. The Horned God of Enkomi

Enkomi, the ruins of a city in eastern Cyprus, dates back to at least the Middle Bronze Age. An important trading port for copper, it is believed to be the city known as “Alasia” from the cache of preserved records known as the Amarna correspondence. Many stunningly crafted and well-preserved finds have been recovered from the site, including small statues of gods with horns, such as the one above which may depict the local god Alasiotas, linked to the Greek Apollo (Gerhard Haubold / CC BY-SA 3.0)

7. Minoan Bull Iconography

You can’t mention horns without including Minoan Crete. Yes, these horns are technically still on the bull, and yes the youth who ventured to the center of the labyrinth did so not to slay the Minotaur but to vault over its head in a show of dexterity, bravery and skill. But the Minotaur is the quintessential horned man, and the Minoans, mysterious though they may be, were definitely responsible for disseminating the power of this imagery into the Mediterranean cultures that surrounded them (Mike Peel / CC BY-SA 4.0)