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

Archive for November, 2021


People seem to love to define eras very precisely. But then most people love to make definitions and then argue like crazy with anyone who has a different idea. For the most part, the common education system relies on being able to make these definitions.

I suppose that I am no exception. So…

I define the Viking Age as the time when the Viking ship—the drakkar, the knarr and the othwr types—was the greatest weapons of the time, just as the atomic bomb was the greatest weapon of the Atomic Age. The Viking ship was about the foremost of its time, though variations leading up to its invention could be found in many culture prior to their appearance on the scene. They were shallow, clinker-built ships propelled both by sail and by oars. They were quick and maneuverable, perfect for hit-and-run raids/expeditions.

The Viking ship was invented in…well, we do not know. It was probably a developed over many years, and not only is it difficult to say when it was developed, it is difficult to say at what step you could call it a Viking ship. And though many smaller boats today are built on the Viking ship ideal, when can you definitely say that the Viking ship was no longer made except as reproductions. They tried experiments—like a castle such as the cog, which succeeded it, had at its stern and sometimes both ends and never quite worked. But at either end of the timeline, they were not the preeminent weapon of the time…even if the exact times cannot be pinpointed.

Vikings were thugs. Many people try to portray them as bucolic, peaceful flower children who probably wandered around with flowers in their hair. But if you read the descriptions by contemporaries (…the raiding-army became much stirred up against the bishop, because he did not want to offer them any money, and forbade that anything might be granted in return for him. Also they were very drunk, because there was wine brought from the south. Then they seized the bishop, led him to their hustings on the Saturday in the octave of Easter, and then pelted him there with bones and the heads of cattle; and one of them struck him on the head with the butt of an axe, so that with the blow he sank down and his holy blood fell on the earth, and sent forth his holy soul to God’s kingdom.” Anglo-Saxon Chronicle translated by Michael Butler Swanton) and even by their own sagas (“Next morning they found Hálfdán Hálegg on Rinar’s Hill. The Earl made a blood eagle be cut on his back with the sword, and had his ribs severed from the back-bone, and his lungs pulled out. Thus he gave him to Odinn as an offering for victory…” Orkneyin Saga, translated by Jon A Hjaltalin and Gilbert Goudie), they were thugs. Of course, as I have said so many times before, everybody of the time were thugs! It is very hard for me to exclude everyone but the Norse in the Viking Age. For example, the Englisc and the Norse were very similar. Differences were in the details (and that is the source of accuracy, so do not lecture me 🙂 ). So never think the Viking Age just said one side of the struggle was evil!

To be succinct, my definition of the Viking Ages is not the common 783–1066 (the raid on Lindisfarn until Stamford Bridge. After all, there were earlier Viking raids on many less famous locations (Iona and Portland for example) and the Vikings still made raids later (the 1070 claim of England by Sven Estridsson at Humber to claim England and even later), but this is mainly an English definition, and the definition is different in other locations. I like round numbers. For no specific reason, I define the Viking Age as 750–1100. Your definition might—should!—be different!

What started my musings on the matter was a video by The Welsh Viking. It is a thoughtful and perhaps controversial piece. Watch it, think and do not accept what others are stating as fact. What is your definition of the Viking Age?

(Though I disagree with his assertion that you have to be a heathen to be a Viking…)


Monastic sign language has been used in Europe from at least the tenth century by monks of the Benedictine Order because “silence is a virtue.” // // It was a method using a hand lexicon to name certain commonplace things without speaking aloud. It is not a language, per sé, like ASL, though very useful. This article was inspired by Debby Banham’s The Anglo-Saxon Monastic Sign Language.

The sign of shears is to move the forefinger and middle finger of your right hand on some cloth, as if to cut it with shears.


I purchased two seax blades—from Germany, one more of a scramseax, a contemporary term sometimes used for longer seaxes. Damascus steel and pretty darned pretty! I won’t go into hilting them, because I did not use a ferrule and just attached the blade to the hilt through a hole driven in the wood. Some note that this is done by heating the tang, but I have personally never been able to heat it enough. YMMV.

However, I would like to speak a little on the sheath for the smaller seax. In fact, the necessity for making new sheathes was one of the reasons I purchased the blades in the first place.

While many people might not believe it, we have plenty of artefactual evidence for how seaxes were carried in the day! I consulted a favorite book, Leather and Leatherworking in Anglo-Scandinavian and Medieval York by Quita Mould. Ian Carlisle and Esther Camerom, published by the Council for British Archaeology. It has a variety of shapes that have been found in Coppergate. I already an idea of what shape of sheath I wanted. I considered using a brass edge, as many sheathes of the period were so edged, though I consider that not only a trifle posh but a bit beyond my metal-working skills! I found a shape that I liked and used it, while changing the stitching a little so that I used a chain stitch on the outside, without any wood that the leather covered.

I chose veggie-tanned leather, about .24 inches (2.3 mm) thick. The size of the sheath itself is determined by the length and size. By trial and error—not much by this time—I determined how to cut the leather by laying the shape found in the book against it. I then bent it double and clamped the sides together, punching sewing holes with an awl, Using the two-needle method, I sewed the sheath in a lock/saddle stitch, sewing it with waxed 5 ply linen thread (sinew could be used as well, though you should stay away from cotton or polyester thread). I tied off the ends to make the stitching more secure.

I inserted the knife into the sheath and then dunked it in water so that the leather would shape and constrict. I did learn to be careful clamping, since there is a tendency for metal clips to discolor and streak the wet leather. Make certain there is enough room for the seax to enter and to leave the sheath easily. Oil, while making it easier for the leather to hold the shape, has a tendency to discolor the leather as well.

I finished it off by punching a hole into the sheath where it was indicated on the drawing. I used leather on the first and a hemp cord on the second, then attached it to my belt so that it hung usefully at my side. Wearing it tht way in a modern flding chair dangerously entanmgled it, so using a period stool or bech is more important than just being accurate!

Although YAT has found red-dyed leather sheathes and thinks additional colors were plausible, I did not dye the leather. The leather discolors naturally, assuming a pleasant patina, and I like the effect. Period sheaths were also often decorated with leather carving, using popular designs, so you can use knives or stamps on the finished sheath.


Monastic sign language has been used in Europe from at least the tenth century by monks of the Benedictine Order because “silence is a virtue.” It was a method using a hand lexicon to name certain commonplace things without speaking aloud. It is not a language, per sé, like ASL, though very useful. This article was inspired by Debby Banham’s The Anglo-Saxon Monastic Sign Language.

If you need eggs, scrape with your finger up on your left thumb.