It’s all in the shape

On All Hallows' Day we commemorate the dead. That anyone commemorates the Roman soldier, buried during the Iron Age in Giubiasco (Ticino), is unlikely. Although, his story would be interesting.

Andrej Abplanalp

Historian and communications chief of the Swiss National Museum.

It began when a farmer in the canton of Ticino found an old gravestone in 1900. Soon it became clear that what lay buried there was not just a collection of old bones. In fact, there were over 500 such graves, all dating from the Iron Age. About one-fifth of the burials were warriors who had been interred with their lances, shields, swords, and helmets. The Roman Empire had taken to hiring mercenaries to aid its expansion to the north towards the end of the Iron Age. Mercenaries used their own weapons and armour, and the helmet found in the grave has been identified as belonging to a mercenary who came from the Central Alps.

The mercenaries would return to their homes after completing their period of service. When they died, they were given a warrior’s funeral as befitted their status, like this man from Giubiasco, whose origins are revealed by the shape of his helmet. It’s all in the shape. Even in archaeology.

Mercenary’s helmet, 1st century BC, found in 1900 in Giubiasco. Photo: Swiss National Museum

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Swiss National Museum

Three museums – the National Museum Zurich, the Castle of Prangins and the Forum of Swiss History Schwyz – as well as the collections centre in Affoltern am Albis – are united under the umbrella of the Swiss National Museum (SNM).