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



Use Black

Bright colors for the most part as well, at least if you’re not doing a posh impression. However, the term for “black” was identical to that for “blue,” indicating that many translations of black must be regarded with a bit of skepticism. There are some people who insist that with massive over-dyeing, black is possible with period natural dyes, but it is unlikely that anyone would want so much to have black garments that they would commit to the time and the expense necessary. See Þor Ewing’s essay on colored clothing.

Display Tattoos and Piercings

There is no doubt that the Norse had tattoos since ibn Fadlan tells us in the narrative of his travels among the Viking Rus that “Each one of them has from the tip of nails to the neck figures, trees, and other things, tattooed in dark green.” There is a probability that the Anglo-Saxons did as well, though much of this comes from pro-tattoo sources who make a loose interpretation of a line in William of Poitiers’ account of the Battle of Hastings. In both cases, the exact design of the tattoos were not given, and modern tattoos are only supposition. Tattoos—especially of things like the Tasmanian Devil in a horned helmet—should not be seen by MoPs!

The same does not go for piercings. We have enough artifacts that are probably women’s earrings to know that some had a single set in their ears. However, men did not have any, and since other piercings have not been verified at all, piercings should not be seen by the MoPs.

In both cases, hiding the tattoos and piercings beneath clothing is recommended (my wife demanded her tattooist put her tattoo where it could not be seen in low-cut Italian Renaissance gowns). If that is impossible, a bandage or a similar cover is recommended.

Regarding scarification, if the design looks like something beyond a weapon wound, please keep it disguised!

Go Shirtless (if a man)

We are told that a man exposing his chest was effeminate and a reason for divorce, since only women should expose their chests (probably a reference to breast feeding, though modern minds usually leap to a more prurient interpretation). Despite appearances in films, comics and pulp fiction of bare-chested Vikings. This is most probably fantasy (the exception are Saturday night bathing, which was completely nude and allegedly a popular time for attack by Anglo-Saxons since they knew the men would be separated from their weapons). Looking at the Julius and Tiberius work calendars, the common man in the field does not take off his shirt. What they would do, if the illustrations are true, they would remove their pants to keep cool!

Wear a Leather Belt (if a woman)

If we go by the size of buckles, most belt of the Norse during the Viking Age are half an inch in size, and most societies restrict them to an inch at the largest.  The modern concept of World Wrestling Federation sized belts is a reenactorism at best and farby trash at worst!

In addition, women might not have worn belts, or worn them only while performing specific tasks. Fittings were found in Britain with tortoise brooches, indicating that accouterments were hung at the breast. In Scandinavia, in the words of Shelagh Lewins, they “have not found graves with female accoutrements and metal belt fittings.” It is suggested that women reenactors do not regularly wear belts. When they do, they should eschew leather belts and restrict themselves to fabric belts, such as card-woven wool. Regia recommends that belts for women, if the have to be worn, be the same color as the gown it holds so that they are immediately so noticeable.

Carry a Plastic or Paper Bag from a Vendor

Often times at events, there are modern vendors who will stuff purchases in plastic bags (or the purchases themselves are obviously modern), and a person in kit carrying around a plastic bag is tantamount to wearing a sign around you neck that says “FARB.” Rather, while shopping, carry with you a bag or basket that shields the contents from view (not a net bag unless you are carrying things that you don’t mind might be seen by the MoPs).

In addition, such a bag or basket should be period. A cloth Spider-Man bag is no better than a plastic bag! For an indication of what is period and accurate, look at period illustrations, which must be carefully inspected and interpreted since it contains objects that are, not strictly speaking, from our period.

Wear Mugs or Horns on Your Belt

There is no example of this done in period. After all, they were not wandering from party to party in search of alcohol. They were at home (where drinking vessels were readily accessible), in military camps (where drinking vessels, if used, would certainly not be carried on the belt into combat) and at parties (where they were probably provided by the hosts). The use of vessels hanging from the belt seems to be a Scadian and Renn Faire interpretation!

Canteens were in common use to transport potations. They were undoubtedly out of leather, though we do have the sample of a ceramic canteen that is made to look like a leather one!

8 responses

  1. Great post, just one question.

    Do you know how far back there are black sheep giving black wool? For most of the time periods I do, I know that I can have really dark brown wool, especially in a coat or cloak and call it black, since it is the natural color of a black sheep. This is not the same as a dyed black, but it is pretty darn dark.

    November 1, 2012 at 15:14

  2. While there is no real documentary evidence for black wool, and the use of “black sheep” as an idiom seems to date from the eighteenth cetury, there is no reason to think that thi is a recenmt appearance. Black sheep is a genetic condition that comes from a recessive gene, and it has long been considered undesireable, since black wool cannot be dyed. It seems altoget5her possible to me that the black sheep were some of the first that a farmer would use for food and that black wool was, because of this, somewhat unusual. In fact, a century or so after the Viking Age, Gerald of Wales writing about the Irish in _The History and Topography of Wales,_ notes that ”They use very little wool in their dress and that itself is nearly always black–because the sheep of that country are black–and made up in a barbarous fashion. To me this indicates that by that time a) black sheep were known and b) that black wool was not generally in use.

    That said, , it is generally accepted that some black wool was available. In fact, my wife even got some wool cloth at a ReenactorFest that she shows on line that is a Tartan pattern woven with undyed wool. However, as you noted, black wool is only sort of black an more generally charcoal in color. Its popularity today might well be a reenactorsm and a case of modern taste intruding into the impression.

    Did that answer your question or just raise addition questions? 🙂

    November 1, 2012 at 15:47

    • chimene

      From my 4-H sheep years, so a LONG time ago… I always had the impression that unless you were trying to breed for it specifically, you got a black coat about 1 in 20 or more individuals. Maybe LOTS more? So dye-ability or not, you probably didn’t get a lot of naturally-occuring fleeces very often. You’d have to store them up to get enough to make spinning a garment’s-worth of yarn worth while, even if you were a moderately well-to-do farmwife. Stretching the supply, like in a tartan as mentioned above, seems reasonable, and I wonder how much got used in decoration, as embroidery thread or in tablet-weaving…

      June 30, 2013 at 15:59

  3. Swedishdr

    Tattoo were not common and not in use in Scandinavia Viking tradition . There is some historical reference to eastern Viking having tattoos

    January 5, 2014 at 16:29

    • I cannot agree with you. Unfortunately, the evidence will remain ambiguous until a Norse Otzi emerges from the glaciers.

      January 5, 2014 at 18:41

    • Swedishdr

      The lack of evidence for tattoos is not in a vacuum
      please consider reading some of the extensive literary works from that time , EDAN would be a good start ,tattoos are not noted.
      Evidence on preserved bodies from that time( bog men from Denmark ) tattoos not noted.
      Stone carving and artifact at Tanum , Sweden tattoos not noted
      And the list goes on

      January 5, 2014 at 20:27

  4. Peter Seymour

    Two types of black in fabrics were known in Vikings times Blare and Svart, (The svart probably varying from Dark brown to black-grey) (see the Hurstwic site) Normal belt buckles have been found in Norse womens graves (such as Reay in Scotland) Please update this site before attempting to misguide beginners with your assumptions.

    June 30, 2015 at 18:25

  5. Please direct me to the AR of your society. Thanks!

    June 30, 2015 at 20:08

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