A unique bronze helmet discovered in the deep by marine archaeologists off the Sicilian coast, which they have dated to a sea battle of 241 B.C.E. may have been a precursor of the lion-themed helmets used by Rome's Praetorian Guards, the personal bodyguards of the Roman emperors.
The corps of the Praetorian Guards were established more than two centuries after that battle, by Emperor Augustus. Praetorian helmets also sported a lion-shaped relief, and were sometimes adorned with real lion skin.
The helmet's dating is based, among other things, on pottery jars and other debris discovered on the sea floor at the site. Recovered from the site of the Battle of the Egadi Islands (Aegadian islands), northwest of Sicily, the helmet is a Montefortino, a Celtic style-helmet that had been worn across Europe, also popularly known as a "Roman helmet".
These are easily identified: they look like half a watermelon with a knob on top and cheek flaps down the sides that tie at the chin. But this one had a difference: the lion decoration.
"Montefortinos spread from central Europe, down through Italy then across into Western Europe. Variations were worn by the Roman and mercenaries on both sides of the conflict,” explains Dr. Jeffrey Royal. And indeed, say the archaeologists, all the helmets discovered thus far on the Egadi seabed were of Montefortino type.
However, the newly discovered helmet has a unique feature: what appears to be a relief of a lion's skin embracing the central cone adorning its peak. Only one Montefortino helmet is known to have a relief on top, that appears to show a stylized bird.