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

Archive for July, 2014


More wit, wisdom and philosophy from literary works of the Viking Age:

Things boded will happen, so will things unboded.
From Chapter 14 of The Saga of Grettir the Strong (tr. Morris)

The Lord lavished life on me I had it all
Blessings were rife for me honor in hall,
Clad in the gladsome cloth of the looms
Dyed with the handsome hues of the blooms,
Men the looked up at me, friendship reigned
Filling the cup for me, wine never waned.
The Riming Poem (tr. Stallings)

Where is the horse gone? Where the rider?
Where the giver of treasure?
Where are the seats at the feast?
Where are the revels in the hall?
Alas for the bright cup!
Alas for the mailed warrior!
Alas for the splendour of the prince!
How that time has passed away,
dark under the cover of night,
as if it had never been!
The Wanderer

A man must be a friend
to his friend
and give gift for gift.
Men should use
mockery in return for mockery,and deception in return for a lie.
Verse 42 of The Havamal (tr. Ball)

He [the reeve] must provide many tools for the manor, and keep many implements for the buildings: axe, adze, bill, awl, plane, saw, spoke-shave, tie hook, auger, mattock, crow-bar, share, coulter and also goad-iron, scythe, sickle, hoe, spade, shovel, woad-trowel, barrow, broom, mallet, rake, fork, ladder, curry-comb and shears, fire-tongs, steelyard; and many cloth-working tools, flax-lines, spindle, reel, yarn-winder, stoddle, beams, press, comb, card, weft, woof, wool-comb, roller, sly, crank, shuttle, seam-pegs, shears, needle, beater.
(tr. Swanrton)

Ale is another man.
From chapter 19 of The Saga of Grettir the Strong (tr. Morris)

Cattle die,
kinsmen die,
the self dies likewise;
I know one thing
that never dies:
the repute of each of the dead.
Verse 77 of The Havamal (tr. Ball)

Remember that many a man lives but a brief time while his deeds live long after him; and it is of great importance what is remembered about him. Some have reached fame through good deeds, and these always live after them, for one’s honor lives forever, though the man himself be dead.
From page 205 of The King’s Mirror (tr. Larson)

A man must wait when he speaks oaths,
until the proud-hearted one sees clearly
whither the intent of his heart will turn.
A wise hero must realize how terrible it will be,
when all the wealth of this world lies waste,
as now in various places throughout this middle-earth
walls stand, blown by the wind,
covered with frost, storm-swept the buildings.
From The Wanderer

A.D. 793. This year came dreadful fore-warnings over the land of the Northumbrians, terrifying the people most woefully: these were immense sheets of light rushing through the air, and whirlwinds, and fiery, dragons flying across the firmament. These tremendous tokens were soon followed by a great famine: and not long after, on the sixth day before the ides of January in the same year, the harrowing inroads of heathen men made lamentable havoc in the church of God in Holy-island, by rapine and slaughter.
Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (tr. Ingram)

The day must be praised in the evening,a woman, when she is cremated,
a sword, when it is proven,
a maiden, when she is given away,
ice, when it is crossed,
ale, when it is drunk.
Verse 81 of The Havamal (tr. Ball)

A tale is but half told when only one person tells it.
From chapter 46 of The Saga of Grettir the Strong (tr. Morris)

(With thanks from Regia mates: Hrolf Douglasson, Gary Golding, Rich Price, Kim Siddorn, Ali Vikingr and Paula Lofting Wilcox)


hickscover1The Bayeux Tapestry: The Life Story of a Masterpiece by Carola Hicks

I got this as an ebook when looking for another book on the Embroidery recommended by Hazel Uzzell. I got what she recommended, but I want to recommend this one! It was fascinating and well written, and I will be looking at other appropriate books by Hicks!

(Why do I always say Bayeux Embroidery while everyone else says Bayeux Tapestry? Two simple reasons. First, it is more correct; second of all, in 2008 I wrote Dr. Desiree Koslin a question on the pricking and pouncing technique which she had cited in an article: “Turning Time in the Bayeux Tapestry,” Textile and Text, xiii, 1990, pp. 28-45. For her gracious answer, I asked what I could do for her. She replied that she would love it if I only referred to the Bayeux Embroidery, and I have done so ever since! Hicks by the way does not say why the title changed from Broderie de Bayeaux but does note that it happened in the eighteenth century.)

After an extensive chapter on the battle that inspired the Embroidery, Hicks comments at length on the reasons for the Embroidery, who originated the idea, who designed it and who did the actual embroidery, along with remarks on feminism connected to the process. There is even a very good chapter on the way in which embroideries—and therefore this was one—was done, going from design, transfer of the original artwork, manufacture of the raw materials and so forth. Fascinating for persons interested in medieval textiles even if they have little interest in this particular embroidery.

At this point, the book features a largely chronological account of the history of the Embroidery. The first few centuries of the Embroidery’s existence are ambiguous. To a great extent, we do not know whether it was a gift, to whom it was a gift, whether it was given from the start of the Bayeux Cathedral and so forth. We know that the Embroidery was kept in a cedar chest in the cathedral and brought out for display for only one or two occasions each year. It is first mentioned in the fifteenth century, and its amazing series of adventures begin.

Hicks compares it to a cat with nine lives, and its romantic and unbelievable exploits are more exciting than the best fiction. We are told of its travels, of its exploit with Napoleon and Hitler (both of whom wanted to use it as a symbol of the successful invasion of Britain), of its almost as dangerous encounters with people refurbishing it and its possession by one entity or another. We are told of its close escape in WWII, when Hitler sent SS men to bring it back to Berlin when Paris—to which it had brought—was in danger of falling, but a quick-thinking official was able to stymie the SS officers who never came back. And we are told of its various travels about the countryside that should have brought about its destruction. Hicks wonders if the fact that it survived was because of how it was made. Although made with a stitch used for gold threads, it is merely wool and so beneath the interest of looters looking for gold. While this is probably true, it does not deal with its other close escapes and redemptions. The Embroidery has had a dozen guardian angels or many many admirers who have worked to ensure its continued existence!

Hicks deals with the reproductions—embroidery, sketches and photography—made over the years, including the seminal reproduction by Charles Stothard. Not only was the cover not accurate in many instances—the Embroidery was considered a primitive piece of artwork compared to current Renaissance standards, and he seems to have prettied up things a little, showing shadows and the such as he deemed fit—but Stothard did other questionable things, such as clipping off one of two pieces of the ragged ends (an act which was later attributed to his wife in what might have been an effort to keep his reputation intact) and an attempt to make a plastic cast of the Embroidery by forming a mold by pressing hot wax against the fabric. His errors were in many cases continued into the actual Embroidery itself; for example, the arrow in the eye incident that allegedly slew Harold was supposed to have originally been a spear over the character’s head but which was shortened, its trajectory altered and fletching being put on the end by Stothard.

We are told of the reproductions and artistic efforts inspired by the Embroidery, and we are told at length of the best-known reproduction, the successful efforts of a group of English women from Leeks to embroider a copy of the embroidery—with breeches on the figures that assault moral virtue. They used naturally dyed wool rather than the chemical-dyed stuff used earlier to repair the actual embroidery, and as a result their effort is still vibrant today. The replica was toured—including apparently a visit to the United States—but never made the expected large profit, and was sold to the city of Reading, where it is on display yet today in a museum built especially to house it.

Graphic reproductions of the Embroidery—of various accuracy—are included in many cases, and we are told of the questionable Victorian repairs, which was done not only with inadequate yarn but with inadequate knowledge, being based to a great extent on Stothard’s inadequate pen and ink reproduction. We are also told of the many photographic reproductions made, as well as the way that some of them were displayed—including affixed on a long sheet of fabric themselves—and the pains taken by many photographers as well as the damage that some photographers might have afforded by the constant rolling and unrolling of the Embroidery and by their flash bulbs.

Besides the artistic and photographic replicas and reproductions we are told about the plays, the poems, the novels and eventually the films which were based on and inspired by the Embroidery. Hicks has added immensely to what we commonly know about the Embroidery, and she does it in a lucid, comfortable and well-written manner that adds much to the understanding of the Embroidery. I cannot recommend reading this volume if you have any interest in the Embroidery itself! Well worth the time and effort!

The book is available as an ebook.


The Vikings were a practical sorts and used items that were readily available at the time in an immediate area. So when someone asks, what is the most appropriate wood to be used in Viking-Age projects—and how large should the artefacts be—one must respond, whatever he could get his hands on. Truthfully, the Vikings—in fact, all the Norse and virtually anyone else from the time—would use any wood that was available and make the object as large or as small as the wood would permit.

It obviously depends on what you are trying to do. Make an exact, museum-quality reproduction means that you are trying to duplicate the size, the composition and, yes, even the laws of the original. However, making a copy of an artefact, duplicating the spirit and the lines of the original but not making an exact copy is another matter. Certainly, making a six-inch Þorr’s hammer or a five-inch belt is out of line, but there is a wriggle room when you consider the size of various artefacts that have been found!

As long as the wood is not obviously something that was not obtainable, any wood used should be acceptable. After all, it is known that at the beginning of the Viking Age, drakkars were being constructed of oak, but several centauries later when oak was not as easily available, ships were made from pine, which was more readily available. Extant objects have been found to be constructed out of more than a single wood. This, I think, indicates that more than anything else, that making all of an artefact only of the one wood would be inappropriate unless you were making an extract museum-quality reproduction.

We do have a list of woods that were obtainable—and woods that were seen in extant artefacts—in the December 2011 installment of The Anglo-Scandinavian Chronicle. //


Blame Thomas Langenfeld. His exhaustive files of provenance for his RevWar unit, Simcoe’s First American Ranger, inspired me when I joined Regia Anglorum. I began to assemble what I called my Book of Provenance, a collection of illustrations of and writings on artefacts. They are documented (now), and they are divided into several handy folders.

It was first created about ten years ago, and it has steadily gotten larger, hopefully more complete and—needless to say—has changed. I originally printed out copies, but I have not done that for at least nine years. Takes up too much storage space and besides, I have totally embraced the digital age! I have separated it into two general folders: Subjects and Book_of_Provenance.

Subjects is a collection of articles about artefacts, culture and life styles. They are taken from various sources, and if they are not pdfs, I have included all pertinent information: Author, date published (or revised), the url at which it was found and so forth. Subjects includes illustrations but only as part of the text, although line illustrations of the artefacts are included in a subfolder of their own, The entries in Book_of_Provenance contains photographs of the artefacts, along with what it is, where it was found and the date. Sometimes, there is too much information—for example, in the pages find on museum pages which sometimes give dimensions, anecdotes about the discovery and the museum’s call number, among other information—and complementary pages are placed in the Subjects folder.

A Subjects subfolder contains illustrations of modern reproductions, but only of the reproduced artefact and not of reenactors, their kit and their encampments—downloads and original photo files of these are kept elsewhere!

Early on, I did not keep suitable provenance for each artefact, and had only one photo of each artefact. Then I started archiving more photos, and I made certain that the captions were more complete. I probably have duplicates—and I continually revise placement, location and names of the files—but generally have minimal difficulty finding what I want when the subject/illustration/artefact comes up. The whole archive is in a continual state of change, so I do not delude myself that any alterations of things already archived will never happen! Sometimes, I even come up with a more useful title for the file!

In the early days, I only archived artefacts from the Viking Age—793 to 1066, using the conservative dating I used then—but early on I began to include items from an earlier time. After all, there was a tendency to use items from an earlier time: Roman artefacts were used and repurposed, and later pre-period artefacts were used as well. As Katharine Holman notes, they “are unlikely to have thrown useful objects away.” Micel Folcland have a standard rule that at an event, the person can—with the AO’s permission—use one item from another time or a different class, so the inclusion of earlier artefacts makes a certain amount of sense! Especially with the discovery of the Staffordshire Hoard—the largest hoard f Anglo-Saxon gold ever found, dating from the seventh or eighth centuries—photos and other information from Wulfheodenas—a not-for-profit reenacting organization devoted to “Recreating the Warrior and Meadhall culture of the 6th & 7th Century Northern World”—melting glaciers and more, there has been a great deal of information available from that time in addition to the discoveries made from the Viking Age. Excluding these sources seems a little short-sighted! In all these cases, I make certain they are labeled “pre-period” or the actual era, so that folc accessing the information are not even tempted to accumulate a majority of non-period kit!

Then, more recently, I began to include post-period artefacts. Obviously the intent is to let folc know what they cannot use (unless the AO determines that something might have been used before the appearance cited). Just as obviously, they are captioned as post-period or the actual date. They help folc see what current kit might evolve into, avoid unnecessary similarities and avoid substituting a later period artefact for a period one.

Having pre-, post- and current-period artefacts make me consider a new chart for inclusion in Subjects, similar to the shoe chart shown in Mould, Carlisle and Cameron’s The Archaeology of York 17/16: Leather and Leatherworking in Anglo-Scandinavian and Medieval York, but that is still in the future!

I might note in addition that the time period for current-period artefacts has changed somewhat. It is now routinely 750 to 1100 ce, so that it includes not only artefacts from the first supposed Norse interaction with Britain—possibly 785 in Portland, although non-violent trading expeditions might have predated even that—as well as the Bayeux Embroidery (the 1070s, possibly 1077), a vital source of everyday life of the time!