The Ravens Warband


The most common form of helmet in use on the continent in the sixth and seventh century was the spangenhelm. Over two dozen have been found, mainly in France, Germany, Italy and the Balkans. While there is no conclusive evidence for the use of spangenhelms in Britain, fragments of gold foil found in Dumfriesshire may be part of the browband of a spangenhelm.
The spangenhelms found in western Europe are remarkably uniform and their production is believed to have centred around Ostrogothic Italy. They were made of between four and six iron plates shaped into a bowl and held together by bronze bands (Spangen) which were riveted to the plates. The Spangen were inverted 'T' shaped and were often decorated with punched designs. An iron browband covered with Pressblech foil decoration was attached to the rim of the bowl. The lower rim of the browband was pierced at regular intervals to allow the attachment of a leather lining and the suspension of bronze cheek-plates. At the apex of the helmet was a bronze disc with a ridged knob protruding from the centre, from which a plume could be attached. The whole helmet was either gilded or silver-gilt.

Spangenhelm from Batajnica, Yugoslavia

Reconstruction of the Batajnica spangenhelm

Method of construction

Making a helmet of this type is not for a beginner but you don't need to be a professional either. It can be made using simple hand tools, in the way the original was made.

The Batajnica spangenhelm was made from:

  • 4 T-shaped spangen (copper/bronze) with punch work decoration
  • An apex disk (copper/bronze) with punch work decoration
  • An apex knob (copper/bronze)
  • 4 iron plates
  • 4 rectangular rivet plates (iron)
  • A browband of iron covered with copper/bronze foil with Pressblech/Repousse decoration
  • 2 cheekplates with punch work decoration
  • Copper/bronze round-headed solid rivets

The helmet would have been be padded (in the reconstruction sheepskin was used) and lined with leather.

Cut out and drill all the pieces (see plates below) and anneal all the copper/bronze parts.

Decorate the copper/bronze plates with punched decoration (see plates). You will need a simple nail punch and a circular punch. A circular punch can be made by drilling into the end of an iron rod using a drill bit of similar diameter to the rod.

Rivet the apex knob to the apex disk. Bend the spangen to the desired shape and rivet the spangen to the apex disk (Depending on the shape of your head you may need to shorten the two side spangen, resulting in a helmet which is more rounded, rather than conical, and oval when viewed from above, rather than circular).

Beat the iron plates to fit between the spangen using a heavy ball hammer and sandbag. The plates may need to be annealed several times as they will work harden. If you have facilities to work the iron hot this should be less of a problem. Once the plates are nearly in shape use regular blows in lines across the plate to make an even pattern.

Rivet the iron plates to the spangen.

Prepare punches for making the Pressblech foil. You will need:

  • 2 circular punches (large and small) made from iron rods
  • A small rectangular punch made from iron sheet
  • A bird punch - This can be made in two pieces, a bird shaped plate cut from a thick sheet of bronze and a metal rod either soldered onto the back or attached with 'blu-tack'. Since the foil is punched from the back to produce a raised decoration the bird punch faces the same way as the bird decoration (head on the right)

Lay the browband on the copper foil and draw round the browband using a soft pencil. Trim the foil leaving about 1 cm margin (less around the eyebrows and nasal). Punch the decoration into the annealed foil from behind. Wrap the foil round the browband. Drill the holes around the lower rim for the attachment of the lining.

Rivet the the rectangular rivet plates to the spangen. Bend the browband to shape and rivet to the helmet bowl.

Construction of a spangenhelm (from Die Schweiz zur Merowingerzeit)

Bend the cheekpieces to fit the curve of the face.

All the copper/bronze parts should be gilded. The iron plates of the batajnica helmet show no traces of silver or gilding, however, the iron plates of many other spangenhelms are silvered or gilded. Gilding can be done either professionally by electrolysis or using gold leaf.

The reconstruction was padded with a sheepskin cap made in 4 panels. This was held in place by a leather lining, again made in 4 panels sewn together to form a cap. The lining was laced to the lower rim of the browband and is smaller than the inside of the helmet. In this way when the helmet is worn there is a gap between the top of the head and the bowl of the helmet. This helps to spread the force of a blow to the top of the head, which is absorbed in the elasticity of the lining.


Decoration of the spangenhelm from Batajnica

from Arheoloski spomenici velike seobe naroda u Srijemu - Zdenko Vinski

Plans of the pieces used in the reconstruction (actual size)

Plate 1 T piece (copper or bronze)
Plate 2 Cheekpiece (copper or bronze)
Cheekpiece Disk (copper or bronze)
Iron plate

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