I don’t live in the past—I only visit—and so can you!



Updating and correcting “Medieval Movies: Films of the Viking Era,” to include films released since the last edition. And discovered there were many other films as well…

I’ll be posting comments on some of the ones not covered before for the next month!

Pope Joan (1972)

aka The Devil’s Imposter

Set aside the fact that there was probably no actual Pope Joan, since it is of little more importance than the inaccuracies in any other historical film (see “The Adventures of Robin Hood,” “The Outlaw” or “Birth of a Nation”), the film is very well done. The cinematography is well done, and costumes are passable. Some details, such as pails, book closets and saddles, are well done and accurate. However, sexual aspects are rather unusual and somewhat uncomfortable, and her cross-dressing starts after a rape (though it is based in Joan’s previously established piety). The buildings are mainly the stone castles of about five hundred years later, but that is almost expected in a medieval film. And even the hovels of the poor are remarkably clean, spacious and hygienic, though they are shared with livestock. The film is rather jumpy and jerky. Events do not flow from one scene to another, and the music is rather cloying and sentimental. The film is not driven by the feminist ideology of the 2009 version, which some viewer might find disappointing and other relieving.

Pope Joan (2009)

aka Die Päpstin

Set aside the fact that there was probably no actual Pope Joan, since it is of little more importance than the inaccuracies in any other historical film (see “The Adventures of Robin Hood,” “The Outlaw” or “Birth of a Nation”), the film is very well done. The cinematography is well done, and costumes are passable. Some details, such as pails, book closets and saddles, are well done and accurate. However, sexual aspects are rather unusual and somewhat uncomfortable, and her cross-dressing starts after a rape (though it is based in Joan’s previously established piety). The buildings are mainly the stone castles of about five hundred years later, but that is almost expected in a medieval film. And even the hovels of the poor are remarkably clean, spacious and hygienic, though they are shared with livestock. The film is rather jumpy and jerky. Events do not flow from one scene to another, and the music is rather cloying and sentimental. The film is not driven by the feminist ideology of the 2009 version, which some viewer might find disappointing and other relieving.

Erik, the Viking (1965)

aka Erik il Vichingo aka Vengeance of the Vikings

Another Italian Spaghetti Northern film. Filled with cheerfully anachronistic costume, props and storylines with a very tenuous connection to historical facts. There is little difference between this and other Italian Viking films, and if you re able to like one–and can forgive the errors and the over-acting—this will be another film you will love. I just think that it is funny that they reach Vinland without even mentioning Greenland or Iceland, though I love the cactus and tropical plants that grows in Vinland! And it is ironic that the clothing of the Inuit make that of the Vikings look super-thenty, and the clothing of the seem to come from a variety of eras. But the film is nicely written and the action is well choreographed. Grab a mead, pull on your furry vest and concentrate on details only if you are good at forgetting them.


Updating and correcting “Medieval Movies: Films of the Viking Era,” to include films released since the last edition. And discovered there were many other films as well…

I’ll be posting comments on some of the ones not covered before for the next month!

Red Mantle, The (1967)

aka Hagbard and Signe aka Den Røde Kappe

Poor costuming and poor acting, with antiseptic scenery that is found dynamic and romantic by some people. The plot is based on an ancient legend, concerning Hagbard, the son of a slain Norse king. The music is by an acclaimed Icelandic band but seem oddly out of place. Very nice scenery.

Hammer of the Gods (2013)

aka Martelo dos Deuses aka Tanr lar n Çekici

If they set out to create the ultimate farby fantasy dream of macho larpists, they could not have done better! Lamellar armor, fur cloaks, swords across the back, short sleeves, filthy barbaric fashion and ominous black outfits. A passing knowledge of controversial theory is shown, abs there is a questionable bisexual question, who Is disliked because he is cruel and dirty not because of his sexual likes. The CGI is rather pedestrian and certain clumsiness. The film as a whole has a certain violence that would-be stylish and reminds you of an incompetent Tarantino.

Viking Quest (2015)

aka Vikings aka Le Clan des Vikings aka The Viking

Are there no new Harryhausens, at least in films of this caliber? The story hinges about a version of the Greek myth of Perseus and the kraken, but the CGI is rather awkward. Farby costumes look like they were made of artificial fibers, and even the very acting seems uninspired and clumsy. It does feature tattoos, of course, and braided beards. And did they get a discount on the furs used in costumes? The central character, Erick, just a modern nerd misplaced in this Viking fantasy universe probably to appeal to the gamers that seem the primary audience, but it seems as if the writers just tried to throw as many stereotypes against the wall and hope that a couple stuck. I did love the earrings worn by Erick, the Viking Ben Franklin!

Hammer of the Gods (2009)

aka Thor: Hammer of the Gods

Not presented as anything but a farby fantasy film suitable D&D “epic” with a tendency to try to confuse this with the Marvel Comics version. Ludicrous overacting, well as more than ludicrous costume and armor. Terrible CGI and special effects, which can be the only redeeming aspect for a film of this kind, especially when the “action” scenes are so static and clumsy. Confusing, jerky and often too dark cinematography that at least hides the farbiness of some of the armor. The number of nasal guards are incredible, and I do not think any are accurate.

Viking Blood (2019)

aka Alma de Guerreiro aka Viking—L’anima del Guerriero

So much better than many of its companion films. Costumes are adequate though not overwhelmingly accurate, and there are many furry cloaks just because that is what some viewers expect to see. There is, of course, a female warrior with a sword across her back, but many of the sets and props are exceptional. The cinematography is pretty well done, and the film deals with the Conversion in a fresh and interesting way. Since so many films today are copied…homages to other films. This film reminded me of Sergio Leone’s Man with no name films, down to the Ennio Morriconesque music.




Breay, Claire and Joanna Story (Editors). Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms
Catalog from the British Museum Exhibition, well written with magnificent illustrations of artefacts.

Crawford, Sally. Daily Life in Anglo-Saxon England
An outstanding book dealing mainly with the physical culture, drawing on the latest research. One of Greenwood’s excellent “Daily Life Through History” series.

Cunnington, Cecil Willett and Phillis. Handbook of English Medieval Costume
According to some historical costumers, Cunnington is the single most valuable source for costumery.

Ewing, Þor. Viking Costume
Overview of aspects of Norse clothing, drawing from earlier sources, archaeological investigation and the author’s own conclusions.

Graham-Campbell, James. Viking Art
An introduction to the six main styles of Viking art, updated to reflect recent archaeological discoveries.

Heaney, Seamus(Translator). Daniel Donoghue (Editor). Beowulf: A Verse Translation: A Norton Critical Edition
A collection of pertinent artefacts along with what I consider to be the finest translation of the poem. And the translated text is a great source for stories to tell around the campfire!

Jesch, Judith. The Viking Diaspora
A recommended look at all aspects of the culture.

MacWelch, Tim. The Ultimate Bushcraft Survival Manual
Boy Scout manuals on camping as well as survivalist manuals on camping ar useful, but this is considered an excellent source. It examines how native peoples around the world and throughout history have made their own shelter, weapons, tools, and more. If you want to learn more about traditional ways of survival, this is a recommended single volume.

Mould, Quita. Craft, Industry and Everyday Life: Leather and Leatherworking in Anglo-Scandinavian and Medieval York
One of the profusely illustrated, phenomenal books from the York Archaeological Trust, showing finds from excavations in York, plans and small essays on the craft. This one features leather work, including shoes and scabbards of the time.

Owen-Crocker, Gail. Dress in Anglo-Saxon England, Second Edition
Excellent source on the details of Anglo-Saxon costume. Minimally useful as practical guide as most of the information is aimed at researching the entire kit. Highly recommended!

Williams, Gareth. Johnny Shumate, Illustrator. Weapons of the Viking Warrior
This deals most with the weapons of war but can be used as well to determine about utility tools.

Wolf, Kirsten. The Daily Life of Vikings
An excellent look at the Norse culture of the Viking Age, using the most current citations. One of Greenwood’s excellent “Daily Life Through History” series.

Web Pages

Coalcracker Bushcraft. “Flint and Steel Basics.” Accessed 15 December 2021.

Connor Fitzgerald. “The 5 Best Campfire Lays and How to Build Them,” Accessed 8 December 2021.

“First Aid Manual.” Accessed 16 December 2021.

Hands on History. “Bedroll for Viking Hiking.” Accessed 15 December 2021.

__. “Clothes for Historical Trekking.” Accessed 15 December 2021.

__. “Sleeping Shelters aka Tarps.” Accessed 13 December 2021.

“How to Tie 7 Basic Knots.” Accessed 12 December 2021.

“Regia Anglorum—Basic Clothing Guide.” Accessed 6 January 2021.

“Viking Games.” Accessed 21 December 2021.


In alphabetical order. Add other items you might consider essential:

☐ Axe
☐ Bowl
☐ First-Aid Kit
☐ Flint, Steel & Tinder
☐ Food for one day more tan you expect to be out
☐ Fur (sheep or reindeer preferred
☐ Kestrel
☐ Leather Thong
☐ Optional Cup
☐ Personal Medicines
☐ Pot if you plan to cook
☐ Rope
☐ Scrip
☐ Seax
☐ Sewing Kit
☐ Spoon
☐ Towel
☐ Wool Blankets (at least two; a blanket can be used as a cloak if necessary)



Chances are that most people of the time were illiterate unless they were ecclesiastical. For ecclesiasticals, any books carried should probably be biblical or religious homilies.

Blank books could be useful, and they can be marked with pen and ink, with pieces of charcoal or pencils of lead. Those marked in lead will fade and must be copied in a more permanent manner within a few days.

Wax tablets are period and can be used to take notes and hash marks. They can be erased or marked over to be re-used, or the wax can be remelted if the surface becomes too choppy.


Do not die of boredom. Some sort of entertainment might be necessitated by circumstances.

Know period tales to relate or songs to be sung (note that tunes are unknown for the period, except for religious music, but poems probably used as songs were known.

Trekkers may be amused or entertained by games. Period games of various types can be brought or produced. Dice and sheeps’ knuckles are small and light, and tafl boards can be drawn on the ground or on rocks, with rocks or coins being used as gaming characters.


The large decision is whither you plan to record your effort, either with still or moving pictures.

If your decision is affirmative, you have to decide whether you should be accompanied by a cameraman. He might dress in modern clothing, overtly using modern devices. Many people would find this to be a direct contradiction to what you are trying to do, but the decision must be yours, for we all live in a modern world no matter what our goals and actions are.


These are all legitimate possible variations on trekking, and each one could be a chapbook by itself. If any of these intrigue you, you can do the research and do a great impression!

• Horseback Riding
• Bringing a pet
• Pilgrimage
• Sailing
• Skating
• Skiing



The bedding should be a size that fits beneath the shelter you bring. It is usually furs and blankets, though sometimes there are other constructions that these are placed on or in. For example, you can cut down boughs to hold the bed, though this is not really recommended.

If they are available, lay down a mattress of pine needles for mattress. Set out a fur or an oilskin tarp, then the woolen blankets you will sleep between. Some people cannot sleep without a pillow to support their heads, and I have found that a smaller fur makes comfortable pillows.

Hands on History notes that sun drying not tanning the fur makes it water resistant.


In most cases, you will not find it advantageous to bring along a full tent—geteld or wedge—on a trek. All the equipment and poles needed to set it up a full tent are heavy and awkward, even if you plan to cut poles each time you stop rather than bringing them with you. It is also wasteful of natural resources.

For a temporary shelter, you will want a water-resistant tarp or blanket with leather or sewn grommets. Modern brass or copper grommets are entirely farby, being invented in the mid-nineteenth century. Densely woven wool is recommended. It should be coated on at least one side with fat and ochre or with linseed oil.

It remains controversial about how far back oilskin—linen painted with linseed oil—dates, though it is advantageous. To make oil skin, the linen should be stretched out, perhaps pinned or nailed to a wall or stretched over some sort of frame. Equal amounts of mineral spirits and linseed oil is mixed and is then painted onto the fabric. It takes different lengths of time to dry, but the fabric will dry more quickly if stretched out in a warm sun. Sometimes, a second coat is preferred, but the first coat must first be completely dry. Note that linseed oil can combust if the wet, linseed-oil-soaked fabric is not taut.

The simplest and most desirable shelter is just a lean-to consisting of a tarp. The tarp should be at an angle to protect and augment the water resistance. The water resistance, however, is better when the tarp is just taut. Touching it with your hands or head, or even from some external source, can decrease the water resistance.

Hemp rope should be brought, though rope has many uses. Hemp rope is mainly smooth and will not leave splinters in your hand. It is best to learn a few simple knots:

• Square (Reef) Knot
• Bowline
• Two Half-hitches
• Taut Line
• Clove Hitch
• Figure 8 Knot
• Sheet Bend

Slides—wood or metal rectangles with two holes through which the rope slides. It is advantageous when needing to adjust the tautness of the rope.

Cordage may be wrapped in a figure 8 and then wrapped around the middle and tied. No knots are necessary, and the cord is easily deployed. Leather thong or lacing are also useful and essential.

Stakes can be metal, but they can also carved out of wood or simply from sharpened sticks as well.

The tarp can be suspended from support poles that can be manufactured or are so small that they can be carried with you. The tarp also can be suspended from a rope tied to two trees. There are several ways to do this. Practice setting up your shelter—in several ways—before the expedition even starts.



Transporting materials should be done in the easiest and most convenient manner you can find. For the most part, this means that you need to make either a backpack or a bedroll which will carry a lot of your gear.

When packing your backpack, make certain that the weight is evenly distributed. It is suggested that you practice packing your gear and lifting the result. Do not be afraid to start over an d prepack it to make it easier to carry.

Set out your fur and blankets. Place the gear you are taking in the middle. Then roll it tightly and secure it with rope or a strap. I will repeat, roll it tightly! The ends can tied with a rope or a strap for carrying over your shoulder (either by the rope or strap or with the roll over your shoulder. It can also be separated into several bundles and secured by a strap for transportation on a simple frame that can be attached to your back so that it resembles a knapsack.

The Gokstad backpack is a basket that may contain the goods and then is strapped to the back. It is unknown how common this was, since all that remains of it are a solid wooden top and bottom (with holes where the upright spines were inserted) . It is unknown, in fact, if the sides were basketwork or solid leather. Interpretations have been both.

Anything secured in this manner is not readily available and should not be considered accessible. Anything that does need to be readily available should probably be placed into a scrip and carried over the shoulder.


While it is possible to bring along raw materials on a trek, that can be cumbersome and requires at least a metal pot and some way to suspend it over the fire. It makes a lot more sense to bring along prepared foods and to eat them cold or, if you want warm foods, suspended on a road or stick over a fire.

Suggested Prepared Foods

Keep it simple. An eighteenth-century refers to the bag that contains food as his food wallet.

• Cheese
• Bread, Crackers and/or Flatbread
• Jerkeyed meat
• Fresh Fruit (such as apples, grapes and cherries, but not sweet oranges)
• Dried Fruit and Vegetables
• hard-boiled eggs


• Fresh vegetables including kale, turnips, peas and (not a vegetable) mushrooms
• porridge dried
• salt

Fresh Foods

Collect fruits and berries as you trek, but make certain they are safe and edible. Do not consume anything that you are not certain may be safely eaten!

If you have the time, you might want to hunt or to fish along the way, but keep in mind that the meat must be prepared before consumption. You must have the knowledge for doing this, as well as the time to do it. Keep in mind that if you have to take the dead animal for later preparation, it will add to the weight being transported, and the discarding of unwanted parts of the animal is not advised just on moral grounds.


Many trekking videos and articles are obsessed with telling you how to cook. If you want to cook, that is okay, but I have a tendency to love cold camps! If you are unable to exist without warm food, and want to cook food rather than just heating it, you must bring along the necessary equipment—pots, skillets, spits, trivets, griddles and cooking utensils such as ladles and cooking forks.

Recommended equipment are a wooden bowl, a spoon (wood, horn or metal) and a cup (wood or metal; ceramic cups can be too delicate). Drinking directly from the kestrel without a cup is entirely acceptable. Horns are for feasts and horn cups are probably not period


Every person on the expedition should have a personal kestrel or two, a leather or ceramic canteen. Fill it with enough or other liquid to last the trek. The liquid might be milk (if the weather is not too warm), fruit juice, cider or near beer. If a leather kestrel is wax lined, alcoholic liquid might very well destroy the lining!

Any alcoholic beverage—beer, wine and hard liquor—can be brought in a separate kestrel but should not be used as a primary source for drinking.

If you replenish water—don’t get involved with making juice—you should make certain that the source is potable. Wells or clean streams are good sources, as is rain water which is not strained through branches. Do not drink water that is not moving



Kindling & Larger Firewood

Choose a barren level place, if possible, to build your fire. You probably do not want to dig a pit, lining the edge of the pit with blocks of the dug sod (which should be replaced) since you will probably not take along a shovel. Instead, line the perimete of the fire ara with rocks if possible. Kindling is smaller wood that can catch fire easily. Larger firewood must not be too large and should often be split into four or more sections with an axe. Depending on how long you have to keep the fire going, you might very well have to add wood to the fire.

The wood should be dry, which can make accumulating the kindling and firewood more difficult, but it is advised that you not bring larger pieces of wood with you on the trek. Find it in the immediate area around your camp if possible.

The Tipi

The Tipi is the most important layout for a fire. They burn steadily for a short amount of time.

Connor FitzGerald says: “Start by placing the tinder bundle into the fire pit. Build a cone over the tinder bundle by leaning small pieces of kindling against each other, making sure to leave gaps for air, and a door to light the tinder. Build a few more layers on the teepee with larger and larger kindling. Light the tinder!”

The Lean-To

The lean-to, is most useful when you need cover to start a fire in the wind or rain.

FitzGerald notes, “Take a long piece of kindling and stick in into the ground at a 30-degree angle. Make sure the end in the ground points into the wind, and the end sticking up points in the direction that the wind is blowing. Place the tinder bundle underneath that stick, and build a very small teepee of kindling around it. Take the smallest pieces of kindling you have and start leaning them on either side of the piece stuck in the ground, building a tent shape with one side left open. Add a few layers to the lean-to with increasingly bigger pieces of kindling. Light the tinder inside the teepee to get your fire started.”

The lean-to campfire lay uses the same principles as the teepee to get started, but it also adds the protection of the outer tent. This means that you can use a lean-yo to start a fire in strong winds and even rain – the tent keeps the fire sheltered as it grows, and by the time the structure burns and collapses the fire will be big enough to survive the weather on its own.

The Square

For a campfire lay that provides all the warmth and comfort of a log cabin, look no further than the log cabin campfire lay. This is a lay that you can get started quickly and easily, and, depending on how you build it, can keep burning for hours with no extra work.

Fitzgerald writes of the “log cabin variation,” where a roof is made over the square, “Start with a small teepee built around a tinder bundle. Take your two biggest pieces of firewood and place them on either side of the teepee, parallel to each other. Take the next two biggest logs and stack them on top of and perpendicular to the first two. Anyone who has ever played with Lincoln Logs will start to see where this is going. Continue stacking logs on top of your cabin in sets of two, each set in the opposite direction of the one before it. As you start using smaller logs, [you can] start placing them closer together, until you’ve built a closed roof on top of your log cabin. Carefully reach in to the center and light the tinder, and soon you’ll have a slow-burning fire on your hands.”

Making a Fire in the Wet

Build your fire under some sort of shelter—either natural or a portable shelter or blanket of some sort Gather small pieces of wood—the more the better so that you do have to go out into the wet too often to accumulate wood. If the wood is not too wet, you can find flammable inner wood by using your axe to cut away the outside of dead wood and creating flammable shavings.

Make a platform—often just two or three steps that keep the shavings off the wet ground. Select small slicks that will dry quickly and build the firepit using the driest kindling and larger firewood that you can find, drying the wood by stacking the wood around the fire. This process may take a while but will become warmer and sustainable if you use patience.


Make certain that the fire is out before you leave the site. Using water or dirt, extinguish the fire, stir the ashes and pour on more. Only when you are certain the fire is totally out should you move on.




Everyone should have tinder in their possession during a trek. Tinder is the foundation of your fire. Your sparks sets the tinder afire with careful handling and that then ignites kindling. There are several types of tinder, and more than one type can be used; carry multiple types of tinder if possible, and use them as needed. Good tinder lasts for at least one to two minutes and still works even when damp.


Linen fabric that has been burnt until it is very brittle an flammable. It is created in a method of controlling the air and keeping the combustion level controlled. It remains controversial, since some say that fabric during the period was too valuable to waste for charcloth.

Shavings & Fuel Cubes

Modern woodworking methods produces plenty of sawdust but few shavings. Sawdust or flammable fibers can be mixed with wax to form fuel cubes. However, these are of doubtful accuracy.

Rather, use planers or drawknives to produce wood shavings. These were often used and can be found in some tinder boxes from the period. Whether you add any wax to help flammability is up to you. The wood should be one that easily combusts.

Tinder Fungus

Atlas Obscura notes that “Archeological evidence reveals that at least 7,000 years ago, humans were using several types of dried tree fungus for their fire-starting properties.” In fact, Ötzi the Iceman carried a fungus known as “touchwood” or “punk” as part of his belongings five thousand years ago.

Several types of fungus are classified as tinder fungus, including “horse’s hoof” fungus or fomes fomentarius. They grow in forested regions around the world and are tough and inedible. While there are many ways to prepare the fungus for maximum smolder, the quickest way is to slice away the outer layer of the fungus. Once lit, the slice should smolder for long enough to catch the larger kindling.

From the early medieval period until the invention of the lucifer, a treated fungus product called amadou was widely used to speed the ignition.


Tow is the fiber of flax, hemp or nettle before it is spun into thread. Cotton works well also but is definitely not period.

Wool is a flame retardant and will not work for fire-starting purposes.

Candle or Wax-Soaked Shavings or Wood

This was mentioned before. Wax is recommended because of the smell of store tallow. A separate candle set on fire at the base of the kindle is also very effective.

Do Not Use Paper

Paper also provides a useful and practical tinder, but since paper was not yet introduced into Europe, so do not employ it.

There are both articles and videos readily available that go into greater depth on the details of any process. Some might work better for you than others, so you should try several methods before decided on which is best for you.

Whatever way you decide to bring, practice first. Be adept at it before venturing into the wilds! However, causing a spark is only the start. You need some kind of tinder to catch any sparks.



Methods to Create Fire

Matches (lucifers) and lighters are obviously not period. Sulfur-soaked cord—known as matches—were from a later time and used with gunpowder.

There are several acceptable period ways for starting fires:

Flint & Steel

The best shaped steel for producing the fire is what is called a strike-a-light. Flint and steel is a primitive fire-making technique dating back into the Iron Age when steel was first available. It is an easy and effective way to start fires in a wilderness environment. But speed is important since the beginning flame may be fragile and fleeting.

A wide variety of strike-a-lights existed at the time, and many did not change much for centuries afterwards. You do not want to use a knife or another tool for the steel unless necessary, since you use the flint to shear off a piece of the steel to produce the spark.

The flint or pyrite must be large enough to hold in you hand, and it should be knapped to a point that is used against the steel. It should be reknapped whenever the necessary point gets too blunt. It is recommended that the steel striker be struck against the sharp edge of the flint. This creates sparks, and these sparks ignite the tinder. The tinder is joined with a larger tinder bundle which is blown—gently—into flame.


While flint and steel can create a fire without necessarily being dry—the tinder must be dry, of course—creating fire through friction requires that the wood being used is dry.

A fireboard is a piece of flat, dry, brittle wood has a depression that will accept the end of the drill, a straight piece of wood with a point that fits into the depression on the fireboard. The drill will then be spun back and forth either by bow or between your hands. When the point of friction is warm enough to smolder, tinder is added to catch fire.

Magnifying Glass

The use of magnifying glasses to start fires is purely hypothetical. However, the Norse and others had magnifying lenses—glass and crystal—of various types and ability.

These lenses were used as jewelry and possibly magnification since that had long been done. However, wearing such a jewel on your chest during a bright day will surely cause warmth, and the Norse would have certainly noticed this and exploited that ability.

The method of fire by use of a magnifying lens should be familiar with any child who has used a magnifying glass too burn ants or who has watched “Ball of Fire.” The light focused by the lens must be carefully focused and aimed.

Maintaining a Spark

Fires were usually kept going once started, and this is true even if the fire was not stationary. Long-burning fires—actually smoldering sparks—were sometimes placed in a repository—often a shell—that did not extinguish the spark nor burst into fire. This obviously requires a lot of experimentation and practice, and it is altogether easier to start each fire anew in whatever manner is most advantageous!