A MYSTERIOUS Roman helmet that pre-dates the Roman invasion of Britain is to go on display.

The helmet, known as the Oyster Helmet of Chichester, is one of just four Coolus helmets in the UK which were produced during the first century - before the Romans began their conquest of Britain.

It was acquired by the Sussex Archaeological Society in 1893 and is thought to have been found in the mudflats of Chichester Harbour, just a few miles from the Roman Palace at Fishbourne. However, much of its journey has been lost to history.

Sarah Parker, property manager at Fishbourne Roman Palace, said: “It is surprising to find these items in a pre-Roman context, and we hope visitors to the exhibition enjoy playing detective.

“While we may not have enough archaeological evidence to suggest that the Roman invasion of Britain took place earlier than previously thought, there are a lot of questions to be answered.

“What we do have significant evidence of is a link between Iron Age communities in Sussex and the Romans - there could have been trading, training warriors, or even, though it’s unlikely, capturing Romans.”

So how might the helmet have got to Sussex before the Roman conquest of Britain? Ms Parker said that it is impossible to know for sure.

She said: “It could have been collected by an antiquarian in Europe centuries after the Romans, and then lost overboard. It could be that a Roman soldier had kept his Coolus helmet even after newer helmet designs had replaced it. Maybe a local person had acquired and had decided to dress in Roman gear, we just don’t know.

“We know that the helmet was mass produced, made cheaply for a lower status soldier because it has very few decorations and was ‘spun’ on a lathe. It almost certainly wasn’t made in Rome.

“It could even be that this helmet was worn by an enslaved person, perhaps someone from Gaul, a region that spanned across modern Europe, who had been conscripted by the Roman army.”

While the helmet had little decoration when it was worn, it now has an oyster shell after years underwater, hence its name as the Oyster Helmet of Chichester.

The helmet will be on display at Fishbourne Roman Palace from early next month and throughout the spring and summer seasons.

Other pre-invasion artefacts, including a sword scabbard fitting and an Iron Age crucible, will also be displayed.