The ancient Greeks saw the Celts as warlike peoples whose strange customs set them apart from the civilised Mediterranean world. Writing around 60–30 BC, Greek historian Diodorus Siculus described Celtic peoples wearing horned helmets into battle.

This helmet was cast into the River Thames over 2,000 years ago, perhaps as an offering to the gods. It was dredged from the River Thames at Waterloo Bridge in the early 1860s. It is the only Iron Age helmet to have ever been found in southern England, and it is the only Iron Age helmet with horns ever to have been found anywhere in Europe. Horns were often a symbol of the gods in different parts of the ancient world. This might suggest the person who wore this was a special person, or that the helmet was made for a god to wear. The helmet is made from sheet bronze pieces held together with many carefully placed bronze rivets. Its swirling decoration may have carried hidden meanings.

Ancient Greek warriors wore less elaborate headgear, like this helmet. Greek writing can still be understood, unlike the enigmatic Celtic designs on the horned helmet.

Horned helmet. River
Thames near Waterloo, London, England, 200–100 BC.

Greek helmet.
Olympia, south-western Greece, around 460 BC.

See these amazing objects in our exhibition Celts: art and identity, until 31 January 2016.