The Helmet of Alexander Nevsky

This is from a 1854 Russian chromolithograph, done at the behest of Tsar Alexander II, of the side view of the helmet said to have been worn by Grand Duke (and later, Saint) Alexander Nevsky, now at the Kremlin Armory.

Editor's Note: See George's further thoughts on the attribution of this helmet below. Click on any picture for a larger view.

Contradictions and questions relating to the "Alexander Nevsky Helmet"

For some years, I have been giving some thought to the helmet which, in the 1854 chromolithographs, had been described as having been worn by Alexander Nevsky (mid 13th century), and which is thus labeled here. In a 1954 Russian book, which deals with items in the Kremlin Armory, the very same helmet is described as having been made in 1621 by the Russian armorer, Nikita Davidov, for the Tsar Mikhail Romanoff (1613-1645). It further states that this helmet had been described in ancient writings as "shapka erihonskaya", meaning "hat (helmet) of Iranian (Persian) style". There are problems with both of these attributions.

  1. Age & Style: After an inspection of the picture of this helmet, I am convinced that it is a 16th-17th century piece of pure Iranian style which did not exist in the 13th century at the time of Nevsky.
  2. Religion: The Russian Greek Orthodox religion held sway in Russia and the slightest deviation was held in great scorn at that time, as witness the fate of the "Old Believers" (Staroveri). Therefore, it is highly unlikely that the Russian, Davidov, made the helmet for a Russian Tsar in view of the fact that it is decorated with inlaid inscriptions from the Moslem Al Koran. Since illiteracy was then rampant among the rank and file Russians, the knowledge of a foreign script, especially as complex as Arabic, is highly unlikely. On the other hand, the nasal guard is decorated with a figure of a winged Archangel, in what appears to be enamel work of distinctly Russian style - and the decor of the bar seems to match that at the border of the helmet. It is unlikely that Moslem armorer would create such a figure as a matter of course, unless it were made to order. It is also conceivable that Davidov added the nasal guard to "Russianize" the piece. All of this is pure conjecture and is a moot point.
  3. The text accompanying the 1854 chromolithographs quotes, in some cases, the prices paid for various types of helmets and other items, the records going back a couple of centuries. This indicates an active and ongoing effort to search for and purchase fine items for the Kremlin collection.

Conclusion: All things considered, there is a high probability that the helmet came into Russia from another land, most probably Iran. It came either as a gift to the Tsar or, more likely, as an item purchased for the Kremlin collection. If this is the case, it follows that both the 1854 and 1954 attributions are in error.

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