THE ORDINARY MAN IN THE FIELD
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:
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!
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