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

Archive for February, 2023


When I was younger, I was inoculated with the popular myths about the Middle Ages. You know, they drank beer and no water. They never took baths. They wore a lot of fur. And more, all of which have been proven to be wrong but is still being taught.

But today, I want to talk about one of the most irritating myths that everyone knows. Succinctly put, that is that every drunk, dirty and furry person never went more than seven miles from home. Sometimes, we are told ten miles, but I have found the basic information in books that I find myself trusting on other matters.

Of course they traveled. For a variety of reasons. While they might have stayed close to home most of the time, but that is mostly true today for most people. They were not averse to traveling. They were not averse to trading for items that were not from their culture or, even, from their time. For example, look at the Helgö Buddha, which came to Sweden from India. Or jewelry that was made with objected recycled from ancient Rome. Or silver coins from the Middle East, which were found all over Britain and Scandinavia. These are not the things you obtain from Farmer Sven the next farm over.

People of the time:

• Travel to do business (see the Mästermyr tool chest)
• Travel for trade (and raiding; see the Vikings)
• Traveling to explore and to colonize (see Jorvik, Dublin and other sites)
• Travel to fairs and markets (generally but not always close)
• Traveling on Pilgrimage (more popular in later times but still done earlier)

In fact, so many Englisc went on pilgrimage to Rome, a “ community existed in Rome where these pilgrims would stay called the Schola Anglorum or Schola Saxonum. It was a small district located on Vatican hill that held militias and was visited by kings and merchants, those on ecclesiastical business and pilgrims to the shrines of the saints.” And “As unlikely scenarios go, the one that saw a band of English exiles fleeing William the Conqueror and setting up a colony on the shore of the Black Sea takes some beating.” It was known as Nova Anglia or as Nīwe Englaland. In other words, New England.

After we agree that the people of the time—both the Englisc and the Norse—traveled further than was commonly thought by people a millennium later, things open up greatly to more possibilities. For example, the list of what was carried—in chests or in pouches becomes much expanded. You can find articles listing what was found in the pouches in graves that will give a good idea of what the wearer would carry with him. This list gives a good idea of what the traveler might want to carry with him on his travels.

So, when you are writing your impression biography—which I recommend—don’t be afraid that you are just writing another pulp fantasy story if you have traveled more than eleven miles from home. Chances are that you did…and then you spent a lot of time gathered about the fire in winter!


There is a tendency for fantasy history afficionados to focus on the richer, more glamorous, noble, royal, more unique aspects of history. You learn about the wealthiest people of an era. You want to see the beautiful gold objects that archaeologists have found (silver is only a poor runner-up). You learn about the people who ruled the era. You want to hear the stories of the Offa penny, of Æthelmær’s glider and of the Helgö Buddha.

This is kind of understandable. It is romantic and self-aggrandizing to trace your ancestry back to Edmund the Confessor. The Funen gold cross is so shineh. And can’t you imagine finding a pair of medieval glider wings in your backyard?

However, if you are attempting to do an honest living-history portrayal, that information is secondary. Perhaps even tertiary. To give an accurate portrayal of the culture and not be a fantasy LARP is important to some people. And if you publicly say that accurate living history is your goal, you have an obligation to present the truth and not just pump up your ego by proudly claiming it and ignoring that obligation.

The basic of ordinary living history can be summed up in the answer to this question: What did the Danish or Norman conquest of England mean to the ordinary Englishman in the field? The answer is this: Absolutely nothing. The rear end of the ox he is following during ploughing looks exactly the way it did before the conquest! A true reenactor should be able to create an impression that could be seen in a period setting by period folks and not be seen as a science-fiction portrayal (or whatever they would call the portrayal since sf since the term was not even created until a century after the genre even was created!).

This will never happen, of course, because there are some Viking Age reenactors who cannot agree with any interpretation they did not create. The average everyday reenactor is not the member of a fantasy LARP where everyone is a noble or exceptional in any manner. The reenactor is an average and ordinary person, not exceptional and who would have been lost in the culture of the time. Good general rules are that a correct impression should contain:

No Spectacles, Wrist Watches, Marvel Universe Jewelry or Other Obviously Farby Items
If you are uncertain of the farbiness of these items, take them back to the fantasy LARP.
No Visible Tattoos
Despite ibn Fadlan’s assertions, there have been no tattoos found on people of the era.
No Demonstrations of Ostentatious Wealth
An ordinary person would display wealth, of course, but the wealth displayed is not often exorbitant in cost or in quantity.
No Clothing of a Status You Cannot Justify
Remember that interpretations of details can vary.
No Rich Colors
Color Matters since all colors were work- and cost intensive.
No Cotton or Synthetic or Farby Fabric
If you have to ask why, head back to the fantasy LARP! Leather was very infrequently used.
No Machine Seams
At least if they show.
No Modern or Out-of-Period Footwear
This perhaps the most easily researched item that is so obvious but ignored by reenactors.
No Non-Period Instrument or Tool
Unless there is an extant physical item from an earlier era.
Avoid items from earlier eras and avoid items from later eras. If from an earlier era, only one should be used. Statuses should not be mixed in any great number.

What does not matter:

Skin Color
Despite what some people swear, there were many many ethnicities in medieval England.
If necessary, they can be concealed behind hoods, wimples, caps and other headgear.
Though Old English, Old Norse, Latin and any other language of the time would be great, knowledge and legibility really handicaps this!


Actually, not really a project for the Pandemic until I ordered a new moneying stamp.

Most stamps I had were just straight rods. Then Alpha Officium started offering demonstration stamps, which are more according to what was employed at the time. Before I ordered, I made certain it was acceptable for the accuracy standards of Regia Anglorum. Having cleared that hurdle, I then spoke with James Coffman of Alpha Officium for how large it should be, the design and anything else that was important or that escaped my notice.

The stamp was a custom job. Waiting for it to be produced, I found myself thinking over the manner in which I made the penny.

In their generally laudable book, The Year 1000: What Life Was Like at the Turn of the First Millennium, authors Robert Lacey and Danny Danziger give a probably incorrect method for producing coinage which involves striking each side of the coin separately. From research and practical experience, here is the way I have learned to do it.

You will need two stamps, carved with the design of the coin, a moneying anvil that will hold the bottom stamp and a hammer of about eight pounds (though the weight of the hammer needs only to be heavy enough to make an impression and should be comfortable for the user).

The moneying anvil is the stand that holds the lower stamp. It is generally, perhaps exclusively a durable, hard wood, with a metal bolster that helps provide resistence to the minting process. The two most common types of anvil are the stump and the stand. I prefer the stand, since the moneying is often done in different places, and the stand and be more easily carried from place to place. The exact method of construction often differs.

A hole and bolster are placed into the anvil to hold the bottom stamp known as the anvil die. This is known as the reverse and will have a design carved into it, often a cross motif which is a good guide for cutting the coin into change (the later Spanish pieces of eight is a good example). This is also known as the tail of the coin.

A disk of pewter or aluminum (or actual silver) is placed on the stamp. It is generally smaller in diameter than the stamp itself, so there is so variation in coins.

The top die. Known as the hammer die, is placed upon the coin. The obverse stamp is also engraved, often with the head of the authorizing king or other authority. This is also known, of course, as the tail.

To be most accurate, either you or a volunteer must hold the two dies together. Since this can be dangerous, I use a sleeve that holds them together.

The hammer must be smartly swung onto the hammer anvil. Make certain the face of the hammer strikes the die flat on. It should not be slanted or uneven when it lands. The hammer may be swung with a single or both hands but must be swung with enough power to make a firm and solid incision. Improperly struck coins occasionally happen, and period coins often show that this is not merely a modern occurrence

We shall not deal here with making either coins or the dies, but there are many who can do this for you or teach you how to do it. That is a topic for another day!


Leornere: As a novice to reenactment, I beg you, Master, to teach what I need to do and how to act to make a good start in the reconstruction of the culture of the Viking Age..
Mægester: What do you wish to talk about?
Leornere: I am newly come to reenacting and have need of instruction in many things.
Mægester: What do you need to be told?
Leornere: First of all, do I call what I wear a garb, a costume or clothing.
Mægester: The word “costume” is preferred by many, but just as many find it degrading and smacking of All Hallows, so it is recommended that you refer to it as clothing or, if needed, historical clothing.
Leornere: What is needed?
Mægester: Until you are more experienced, do not become bogged down in details. You should buy clothes that are generic and then refine them as you choose a more specific impression and culture and class. You will want to appear as an everyday person of the time, so take pains that the clothes are of the most ordinary. The most ordinary were made of wool, for that was the most common and least expensive. If you are allergic to wool—and often, you are allergic not to the wool but to the method preparation, so always check—then underclothing of linen is allowed. The linen, made of flax, hemp or nettle, is more expensive and higher class than wool. Any seam that is seen should be done by hand. Mechanical sewing of unseen seams are allowed but not required.
Leornere: What sorts of clothes should I buy or make?
Mægester: Going to head to feet, you need a hood, an undergarment, a tunic or gown, trousers for men, socks or stocking and shoes. A simple leather or cloth belt is useful, especially if you are active.
Leornere: What about caps and cloaks and winnings and the such?
Mægester: They should not be bought until you know they are useful and appropriate for your impression. Even in the clothes you obtain, you should research them and make certain they are appropriate.
Leornere: What sorts of shoes or boots are recommended?
Mægester: They should be turn shoes, not rising above the ankles.
Leornere: Should any modern clothing be worn?
Mægester: Modern underwear is allowed if they are not seen and do not affect your outer appearance.
Leornere: What about weapons and armor?
Mægester: Until you know more, feel free to borrow weapon. Armor is not needed for most societies. You should probably have a small, simple seax that you will find that useful. Even slaves had such small seaxes.
Leornere: What about jewelry?
Mægester: Until you have chosen and refined your impression, stay away from all jewelry and beads.
Leornere: What kind of eyeglasses, watches and the like is recommended?
Mægester: As long as you are doing an accurate impression and not a LARP persona, nothing is recommended. Some societies find it offensive to be entirely accurate, and even proudly announce the creativity of their society, but these are not historical societies.
Leornere: What kind of possessions other than clothing is recommended?
Mægester: We have already spoke of the small seax. Having a bow, a spoon (wooden or horn) and a cup might be advantageous if you are planning to do any eating. Do not have any horn cups—no provenance—or full horn vegetables—fancy and for feasts—that you use as vessels.
Leornere: Should I speak as a person of the time?
Mægester: Only if you speak fluent Latin, Old English o Old Norse. Otherwise, it becomes acting and not reenacting. Remember there are three forms of impression. First person is when you speak as if you were a person of the time, and it is mainly acting as well. Third person is when you speak and modern person. The second, or ghost impression is when you are mostly speaking as a person of the time but if necessary can break character. Remember that if you choose a first-person impression, you know nothing of history after the time of your impression.
Leornere: Should I accept advice and recommendations from more experienced reenactors.
Mægester: Only if they can provide provenance o proof. Any deviation should be for matters of safety, such as blunted—rebated—weapons. If you have any questions about the appropriateness or acceptance of anything, contact an Authenticity Office of your society.
Leornere: How should I act in general?
Mægester: Politely. Always politely! Your Mægester exhorts you to be obedient to the rules of your society, and to behave yourselves decorously wherever you may be. Speak plainly, taking care not to demean the thoughts and word of the spectator but try not to let him leave with incorrect thoughts. Be as polite with the spectator as you are a cousin reenactor. Answer his questions as best you can, but admit your ignorance and find a fellow traveler who can. Engage and entertain the spectator, but take care that you are not unseemly to please the spectator or to play the fool for the same reason. Humor often engages the spectator but should be unseemly and foolhardy just to entertain the spectator.