That is, leathers which are appropriate for Viking-Age reenactments is a fairly straight forward subject. For the most part, leathers of the period were brain, alum or vegetable tanned (tawed is a term used to describe a hide tanned with fur kept on one side) and were not specifically dyed another color, so the leather as generally brownish or a light tan. There is an indication that some of the leather found in York was dyed or painted red, but this remains controversial. It is safer just to assume that the leather would not be colored, and it certainly would not be colored black even though finger oils, consistent wear and use of the leather will darken it into a fine patina.
It is sometimes difficult to find these leathers nowadays. Certainly chrome-finished leathers is more frequently found and is less expensive but at the same time is more anachronistic. Its use should be avoided unless you get special permission from your Authenticity Officer to substitute the chrome-finished leather for what should be used.
It is far easier to find out where leather would be used during the period. In the earlier days, leather and fur were commonly used for clothing, but this had mostly died out by the Viking Age and is today the province of bad cinema and worse reenactors. Leather was commonly used for ropes—which were not part of the outfit—and for shoes, for belts (men’s belts were invariable half an inch to an inch wide) and for other straps, although there is some indication that leather was used for trousers. Some translations of Ælfric’s Colloquy, for example, the translation used by Kevin Leahy in Anglo-Saxon Crafts, notes: “I buy hides and skins and repair them by my skill, and make of them boots of various kinds, ankle-leather shoes, leather breeches, bottles…”
The use of leather for smiths’ and other craftsmens’ aprons is logical, but no artefacts or literary evidence has been found for such usage!
As to whether leather was used beneath byrnies, it is hard to say. In fact, it is hard to say if anything was used as padding beneath byrnies at all, whether it was mere a padded gambeson, a firm layer of leather or fabric or a quilted gambeson. On the other hand, it little matters because whether the fighter in period wore a gambeson or not, the gambeson should be hidden beneath the modern reenactor’s byrnie and should not only be viewed with difficulty but virtually unseen at all. What this means, very simply, is that when the reenactor removes the byrnie back at the wic after the combat, the public should not see the gambeson if such a thing is worn!
An essential work from the York Archaeological Trust, Leather and Leatherworking in Anglo-Scandinavian and Medieval York, is available for a free download.// //
DEALING WITH MoPs
MoPs are “Members of the Public,” and Micel Folcland has long developed and used a series of 10 general rules for dealing with them in conversations:
Do not bring modern conveniences behind the ropeline unless they can be hidden or disguised—and are! This includes spex, communication devices, plastic cutlery, modern drinking or eating receptacles such as styrofoam plates or plastic bottles and modern furniture such as a folding chair or a twentieth-century style chest. Many MoPs will notice this and make a pointed remark about your farbiness or, if they say nothing will be wondering what else is being lied about.
Learn to smile even when you are not feeling like smiling. Be friendly, even if you are not feeling friendly! Do not be afraid to steer the conversation toward light-heartedness and humor, but never disregard the question!
Do not use vulgar language, especially when children are around. If you must use a period term that is seen as vulgar or obscene today—we are, after all, dealing with Anglo-Saxon terminology in many instances—explain that this was an historical term and considered appropriate and polite at the time.
Use out of period history and historical incidents only in relation to what is known about period history.
When doing an activity, explain the process and the technology and do not let the MoP think that he is breaking in on your time and activity. Miss Julie keeps her weaving activities simple so that she can answer the MoPs’ questions without screwing up what she is doing! In the same way, MoPs are often interested in period foodways, so you should never refuse to talk with them merely because you are eating or drinking, though you can comment on what you are eating or drinking. Never offer any food or drink to a MoP!
Treat every MoP respectfully, and answer any questions graciously. MoPs—and their interests and curiosity—are why we are doing this, and we must never treat them in an off-handed and demeaning manner!
Tell the truth. Do not make up facts. If you do not know the facts, admit this. If someone else at the site has the knowledge, refer the MoP to him or her. Since listen to what that person sys so that you can answer the next questioner!
If anything in your kit is not thenty—for example the quality of the metal in tools or weapons, the quality of fabric used for an accurate fashion or something from an earlier time or a higher culture (unit regs allow people to have one such item)—admit it!
Do not discuss political or religious theory except where it deals with the Viking Age. We are a Not-for-Profit entity, and we are forbidden to participate in contemporary political and religious matters. Do not contradict or debate MoPs in such matters since they often sincerely believe their beliefs are true. Besides which, they have nothing to do with our reenactment!
Be polite even when the MoP asserts something extraneous and is trying to teach you the incorrect belief. State the true answer, if you know it—especially when other MoPs are around, listening—but do not argue with MoPs who really believe in what they are saying!
SEX TOYS OF THE VIKINGS
Great variation in toys for obtaining sexual gratification has been known for nearly as long as humans have had sexual organs and opposable thumbs. Vibrators, for example, might only date back to no earlier than 1870—with a steam-powered model invented in Britain to treat female genital congestion and hysteria—the manual dildo was invented in Germany about 30,000 years ago and by the Third Century bce, was well enough known that one was featured in a Greek play.
Dildos were, therefore, period and were used almost universally. However, there are no real examples of dildos from the Viking Age, though that might be because people are looking in the wrong place. The Norse chieftain, Ivar the Boneless, is a famous war leader, though the exact character and extent of his illness remains controversial. Some think it refers to skinny legs, some to actual crippling and some to impotency. It is interesting to note that in his grave, “he had been buried with a small Thor’s hammer and a boar’s tusk,” It has been suggested that the tusk was because of his supposed impotency as a substitute for his penis. It is amusing then to think that the boar’s tusk was used as a dildo, though we can of course never validate any such supposition!
The use of other sex toys is similarity vague. “Chances are the archeologists (many of whom lived during the ultra-conservative Victorian era) were just a little too embarrassed to report back to the scientific community that they had discovered the world’s first sex toys.” Manacles and chains were known but were generally assumed to be used for slavery and managing slaves. Since we know that bondage—just like homosexuality and many other alternative lifestyles—was popular before they received names, the chances are that chains and other cords were used for sexual purposes as well.
A good example is that of the whips of the time. Although the whip // http://www.museumoflondonprints.com/image/61027/unknown-leather-whip-with-wooden-handle-11th-century // is now said by the Museum of London to be a slaver’s whip, it was originally classified as a sex toy used by prostitutes. However, despite being made of rawhide, the whip is so light that its use for herding slaves is a little doubtful, and I think that the original classification might be correct and prudery dictated the reclassification.