Obviously, speaking with more experienced members can give you much information, though you must be certain that their advice is backed by provenance (the member should not be offended by a request for documentation and should, in fact, have provided it before you asked). Obviously a preference should be made for advice from the AO, though hopefully any other information given you will not be contradicted!
Bibliographies and lists of recommended books can be helpful, but a list of books that should be avoided or not believed is often just as vital! Do not trust everything that anyone tells you or that reinforces your beliefs. Do not trust anyone who make a a statement and provides no provenance, and do not trust anyone who uses a discredited person as provenance.
Personal research is essential. Just remember that what you find may be with odds with old and cherished myths. Never be reluctant or hesitant to discard old beliefs when you uncovered documentation that contracts them! Please note that sagas were historical fiction that was written down several centuries later. They probably contain true parts, but using them as unassailable fact is similar to using “Prince Valiant” as unassailable fact. Stay away from Pinterest, Reddit, Wikipedia and similar sites unless you intend to do further research elsewhere!
Attending events is helpful. This will tell you whether reenacting is for you. You can talk with fellow members, observe interactions with MoPs and perhaps even have your own. Have fun and be friendly to both fellow participants and to MoPs, laugh a lot and offer to help where needed. Thank people who help you, and talk to MoPs. If you do not know the answer to a question, admit it and don’t feel bad about it. Refer the questioner to someone who does know the answer, and learn the answer yourself! And above all, remember that as a reenactor, you represent all reenactors!
The experience at an event may be very enlightening and, hopefully, enjoyable. And perhaps, after this experience, we may embrace you as another experienced fellow reenactor!
A recent project was to make a medieval calendar (based in general on the Julius Work Calendar). Certainly not an exact replica, but close enough to the original to confuse anyone on the street today. While I had a passing familiarity with medieval calendars, I had to do a lot more research to obtain what I needed!
People of the Middle Ages experienced calendars very differently than we do today. They were religious guides, and they were not used by lay people. Especially important dates or feasts were written in red, thus the term “Red Letter Day.”
Four columns were commonly found on most calendars, but more columns were used from calendar to calendar. One containing roman numerals was used to determine the phases of the moon, Easter and associated holidays. Another repeated the letters A thru G which were used to determine the day of the week A stood for Sunday, B for Monday and so on. Instead of dividing the month into weeks as we do, the month was divided into three unequal segments called Kalens, Nones and Ides.
In period calendars, the first column contained the Golden Numbers. These were the phases of the Moon from what remained as a lunar calendar, to help determine Easter, using other charts to help determine this.
Actually, there were sometimes many more columns, denoting referenced to various tables that helped to calculate Easter and other ecclesiastical matters.
This column was the day of the week. Sundays were important and so were red.
These indicated what “week” was portrayed. Instead of dividing the month into four weeks, the month was divided into three segments, and Kalends, Nones and Ides were used to show the reader where he was in time.
These are the days of the month. Months had the same number of days as in our current system, but they were not numbered sequentially from 1 to 28, 29, 30 or 31. Instead, they counted backwards to indicate the names before the next nones, ides or kalends. Kalends was the first day of the month; nones fell either on the sixth day, and ides came eight days after nones.
Saints and festivals commemorated on this day. So-called Floating Feasts, based on the lunar rather than the solar calendar have not been included in thecalendar but may be, like the days of the week, insered by you if so desired.
Some of these terms you might be familiar with. Others unfamiliar. As Lynn Bloom says, “Everyone new to a group…has to learn its code, in language and in behavior, as part of the initiation process. This is how we enter and become part of a discourse community.” Here are a few terms that that you will encounter in reenactments:
The real or imaginary line between which everything should be historically accurate.
The times when the historical accuracy behind the Ropeline must be adhered.
Authenticity (or Accuracy) Officer, who is given the power to decide on the historical accuracy of an item.
Anything inaccurate, first seen in American Civil War reenacting in the 1960s. Origins are uncertain, but it may come from the phrase, “Far Be It for Me to Criticize, But…”
First Person An impassions where you pretend to be from another time and behave in that manner, so that you do not know anything that happened after the date of your impression.
Anything not period accurate. The word originated as the name of a British orange drink in the 1950s, and it was later popularized as street slang. One theory is that its use in reenacting described someone who dresses as though they came from a jumble (yard) sale.
The possessions of a reenactor that might have been owned by his impression. A kit may be dictated by military regulations or merely be objects that a person of a particular time might have owned. Battle kit is a term often used to describe a fighter’s uniform, armor and arms.
Member of the Public; a spectator.
i) An abstract term referring to historically authentic dress, mannerisms, etc.; ii) being in the style of an historical period.
Creating an artifact without doing research and then trying to find documentation that will justify it.
An impression where you present yourself as a person from another time, but you can break impression to comment on things that happened after the date of your impression. Also knownas a ghost impression.
Accurate, coming from the term “authentic.”
An impression where you present yourself as a person of the present and, therefore, know things after the date of your impression.
For the past few days, I have concentrated on making clothlets. Gary Golding, a fellow Regia member, former society AO and an earnest scrivener, has been working on his scrivening outfit during Quarantine. And he has greatly inspired me. I had most of the tools he mentions, but I have gotten some new ones and am intending on getting or making some more.
One of the things are clothlets, which are linen patches that have been dipped in various dyes and dried, repeating the process a dozen times. To use them, they are then cut into small pieces and soaked in water (and alum or vinegar) and gum arabic for about 24 hours. The result ca be used as a wash. It was suggested in a later source that they be stored in a book and out of the damp. There is no indication how long they were good.
Gary started with three colors; he’s made several more, using methods he learned from Theophilus and from the Mappae Clavicula. He notes he will probably make more, and I know how he feels. For the most part, they will be on display and not used.
I had bought some dyestuffs for my wife, when she was making some dyes. She quickly lost interest, so I just had it. I was able to use the colors for making my clothlets: welt (yellow), woad (blue) and madder (red). I’ll probably make at least one more.
It was the first time I did dyeing, so I probably didn’t do it as well as I should. The smells were informative; welt was sweetish, woad was sourish and madder was basically neutral. And linen does take natural dyes very well, so e results are not the even dye that you get from dyeing wool. And, of course, with more practice, I would no doubt do better. But it was fun, will make a great display and might even be useful if I decide to ry to use them!
I was inspired to make a new book, incorporating various essays, both borrowed and newly written. The books are not for sale and are useful for keeping the DIY information at hand. I made certain that there were several blank pages, which will be used to store the clothlets.
My scrivening setup, of course, had more than the clothlets. I already had ink wells, pens (quill and reed), scraping knife, a leather penner and much more. Inspired by Gary, I made up a way of storing them for work, and I made a small desk with holes for holding tools. I also have a DIY setup that has the ingredients for making iron gall ink, and supply of parchment. Actually small scraps of parchment or vellum that I bought from a parchment maker; they are the results of various projects he did. I have had the ink and pens available for MoPs to use to make little keepsakes for themselves at events, and the other tools as well. The scrivening set will no doubt get larger; in many ways, Gary and I are very similar!
At the beginning of the book, I include a poem by Colmcille the Scribe that was translate by Seamus Heaney. I describes ascribe’s life perfectly and says
My hand is cramped from penwork.
My quill has a tapered point.
Its bird-mouth issues a blue-dark
Beetle-spark of ink.
Wisdom keeps welling in streams
From my fine-drawn, sallow hand:
Riverrun on the vellum
of ink from green-skinned holly.
My small runny pen keeps going
Through books, through thick and thin
To enrich the scholars’ holdings:
penwork that cramps my hand.
Wax Tablets were used for thousands of years, from at least the time of the Greeks until the middle of the nineteenth century. To a good extent, they were medieval PDAs, where you could mark down notes, sums and other information that might be transferred to a more permanent medium or just “erased” and written over.
The original tablets came in a variety or sizes and ratios, and the size was dependent on personal need or taste. Sometimes, there were more than one pane on each side of the tablet. Most of these were apparently used in business.
Styluses were apparently anything that would mark wax: dedicated metal or wood styluses, broken arrows and much else. Many had a flattened end, which was used to erase, that is, to smooth over the wax. When the wax became too choppy and unsmoothable, the wax could be melted, so you could stop from scratch—pun intended—with the writing surface.
It is unknown whether wax tablets were used in “illiterate” cultures, though none have found.
Making a Wax Tablet
Choose two pieces of wood, preferably a hard wood with no holes, of the size you want. The boards should be about a quarter or half an inch deep. Sand them and stain or varnish them.
Using a router or a chisel, a depression should be made in the center of each panel. The depth is up to you, but it should neither be so shallow that marks can be made nor so deep that it goes through to the other side of the board. There is really no need to sand or smooth the depression, since the irregularities help keep the wax in place.
Melt 100% bee’s wax. When it has been melted stir in some carbon black to it to help visibility. The amount is up to you. Either make the carbon black manually by scraping soot off a ceramic or other such item (I would make the soot by burning a lighter against a plate and scraping the soot off; tedious!), or buy a can of carbon black from a paint store (much less time consuming). When the wax and the carbon black have been integrated and melts, the mixture should be pour into the depression. It should smooth and to the corners (the drying usually means there will be a gap). If necessary, use a pencil or dowel to smooth it out; the hardened wax may be easily rubbed off where it does not belong.
Set it out on an even surface to dry.
You might want to drill holes for leather thongs to hold them together, either before after the wax is poured.
A stylus of the desired type can be included with the tablet. On my first few, I drilled a hole in the stylus and attached it by a cord to the tablet so that I did not lose it!
A few days ago, while getting ready to make a right turn, I was interrupted by someone in the left turn lane who peeled out and made a right-hand turn in front of me. The car had a big sticker on it, proclaiming the driver’s political views, and it occurred to me that I was tempted to be unfair and ascribe such selfish, illegal motives to all his fellow believers.
Then, as I made the turn safely, I mused that anyone with a sticker on his car was setting himself up as a representative of his cause and was almost honor bound to behave in a responsible manner. They are the representatives, whether they like it or not, of all people who share these beliefs. Then I expanded it to t-shirt slogans and logos, and before I reached home, I had expanded it as I do so many things to living history.
Let me step back for a moment. When someone is wearing a uniform of any sort, I consider him a representative of everyone wearing such a uniform, and I often hold him to a higher standard than others. For example, if I see someone in a police uniform, I hold that person to a higher expectation than I do someone in civvies. I expect him to help, of course, but I always expect him to be friendly and not to use that uniform as an effort to receive perks. If he behaves in a privileged, jack-boot manner, it leads to my wanting to avoid all persons wearing police uniforms because they are loose cannon.
But uniforms, in my mind are not just police or military or the such. For me, the costume that a reenactor wears is a uniform. I see someone in historical clothing–no matter what era–and I expect them to behave in a certain manner, to have certain standards and to represent, for better or worse, all reenactors. Not merely in their actions but in the quality of their interpretation. If he is wearing sneakers or sunglasses or the like—unless, of course, that such is appropriate for his impression—it is tarring how folk see all reenactors. If he is either unwittingly or knowingly farby, he is telling every onlooker, I’m doing this for cosplay or a lark, and I really don’t care whether it’s right as long as I’m having fun!
There are those who say, of course, that a society or subculture should be judged by the best representative. I can’t agree. If the reenactor is gracious and kind, helping a non-reenactor, making certain that kit is exemplary and accurate…all that is forgotten by one rude, inaccurate reenactor. If a person thinking about getting into reenacting sees a lousy impression, he might think, “So that’s all I have to do!” I love the saying that an AWI reenacting veteran said: “What is permitted is promoted.”
How stringent are you about your actions and demeanor when you’re in your reenacting kit? How stringent are you in creating appropriate kit? I know that when I wear or make a bit of reenacting kit, how it will be received and perceived by others is always in my mind!
In a recent Facebook post, featuring some extremely farby gear that I found hilarious, there were some snarky remarks. One person—who owns the group and who loves claiming that a fantasy LARP is a reenactment society—wrote: “Stop complaining. Who cares?”
Earlier responses laughed at the gear if it was being passed off as accurate. After this gentleman made his statement, many people told him in no uncertain terms who cared. They beat me to the punch!
You see, as a matter of fact, anyone who is interested in doing serious living history cares. We have dealt with that before that I care, and many of my friends care. It is my feeling that any good living history is going to be educational and not merely entertaining. Saying that you are doing living history implies a responsibility and a contract. The responsibility is that you are telling the truth, and the contract is a personal commitment to see that this responsibility is fulfilled! If you do not feel these, then there is nothing the matter with being involved in a fancy-dress party, in a drama of some sort or in a fantasy LARP; the only thing wrong to my mind is to characterize it as living history, reenactment or any kind of accuracy! But if you are doing what you consider living history
As to how extreme you want to be in requiring provenance, is more or less up to the individual and to the society whose Authenticity Regs he has promised to uphold. In some extreme cases, if there are not three physical artifact that exists, it will not be allowed. But in other instances, there is a degree of compromise, If something is not out-and-out incorrect and is based on interpretation, or if financial or hygienic limitations are restrictive or if the period practice is just dangerous and unsafe, then generally a one-step link, where a single logical leap of intuition is allowed (although most reputable societies require that this variance be approved or modified by an Authenticity Officer). For example, hemp might be used for trousers, though dark black hemp would not be. If any derivations or compromises are are made or used, then admission of this fact must be made to all MoPs and certainly to any participants. Rebated weapons are compromises, though even the most extreme probably do not want people to head onto the field to use sharpies against each other. The compromise should be elucidated and explained if necessary (perhaps as a warning to MoPs who want to imitate it). It is honorable at the very least to acknowledge the compromise, to state what was actually used and why the new variation is being used. As far as I am concerned, such an explanation is essential!
Creating an inaccurate physical presentation to the MoPs is roughly analogous to entries in books which are presented as hard fact but which are not backed by any proof whatsoever, no resources or provenance. It is likely to be anti-educational even if the interpretation is correct. But in many cases, it is an attempt to perpetuate certain comfortable mythologies or cozy commonly held inaccuracies.
A reader looking into the histories of tattoos must realize that they were not known as tattoos since that is a Polynesian term that originated in the eighteenth century in a journal by Captain James Cook (it is one of two words in the standard English lexicon that comes from Polynesian sources; the other is taboo). Tattoos were indelible pigmentation inserted under the skin and were before 1760 known as markings, incisions, pricking or even painting. We see samples on the “Iceman” Ötzi, in China, in Egypt, Japan and, of course, Polynesia.
Tattoos were used by the Celts, by the Anglo-Saxons and by the Norse. Ahmed ibn Fadlan’s description of the marks on Rus Vikings is well known, and tattoo enthusiasts have come up with an exaggerated history of their use that takes the slightest indication and expand it immeasurably. For the most part, these tattoos were symbols of heathen faith, and there was a steady attempt by the Church to get rid of them, though that never seems to have been complete.
What were the tattoos for? Apparently as magical symbols, as medicinal marks, for identification and for the same reason that many tattoos are applied nowadays, because they’re cool art. Were they part of the sex life or considered sexually attractive? Probably so, though you can never tell since they are not generally talked about.
What did the tattoos look like? Well, we have those on the body of Ötzi, which predates the Viking Age quite a bit; and we have the ambiguous description by ibn Fadlan, that the Viking males were covered from “fingernails to neck” with dark blue or dark green “tree patterns” and other “figures.” Whether this was actual flora knotwork or runes remains uncertain, so we do not know what tattoos were worn by the Norse!
It is interesting to note that some folk—particularly prudes and modern tattoo-removal doctors—insist that the Norse had no tattoos. The ultimate truth, perhaps, will not be revealed until we find a flash frozen Norse Ötzi!
The most prevalent form of transportation during our era was by foot. This was not only inexpensive, but most people never traveled more than ten miles away from home! Skis and skates (both used with ski poles) were known for balance and propulsion across the snow and ice in the North.
Asses, Horses and Mules
Other animals were used for locomotion, no doubt. Dogs and goats were used to draw such things as buggies, carts and sleds, both then and in later times, but for the most part oxen, asses and horses were used to pull waggons and perhaps carts. When it came to riding, asses and horses were predominantly used. We can see them being used in illustrations such as the Bayeux Embroidery, the Oseberg Tapestry and the picture stone from Gotland.
Saddles had an ancient pedigree, and the invention and dissemination of stirrups in the eight century made riding on the beasts more convenient and led to mounted warfare (soldiers used their mounts to travel to a battle site before then, but then dismounted for combat, sort of like dismounted cavalry later. These were sometimes very ornamented and like the horses themselves were an indicator of wealth and social status.
Prior to the introduction of the larger Arabian horses and the development of palfreys in the eleventh century, the horses were primarily small. Hybridization and breeding changed the size of the animals, and today the closest horse to what was used in the early middle ages is probably the small, intelligent and agile Icelandic horse. No other type of horse has been allowed on the island, and any Icelandic horse that leaves the island or that is born elsewhere is not allowed to return.
Camels and elephants, while known in other cultures for providing transportation, were almost certainly not used in Northern Europe, though these animals might have been used as modes of transportation when the northern Europeans were in the Mid-East. The offspring of an ass and a horse, the mule, has an ancient pedigree and was no doubt used this time. The Old English word for a mule was mul while the Old Norse was múli, indicating that the hybrid was used in those cultures.
This was a common design that dated both to earlier times and to later. The waggons were plain in some cases, but they could also be carved and decorated. See, for example, the waggons in the Oseberg tapestry, as well as the one found in that burial.
The waggons were large and cumbersome, able to carry large loads but were drawn by oxen and by horses, not by human power.
Sleighs or Sledges
Especially in Scandinavia, sleighs appear to have been popular. In many aspects, they were similar to waggons, being used for both transportation of people and goods, pulled by draft animals. The popularity of sleighs might be indicated by the presence of four separate sleighs in the Oseberg burial. Three of these were carved and decorated.
The “Viking ship”—the drakkar, the knarr and other sorts designed for special purposes—was important enough that it gave the name to an entire era. It was the most advanced technology of the time; the Viking Ship was exemplified by its low draft (generally no more than three feet when loaded), was swift (as swift under the right conditions as modern racing yachts), moved in both directions (which allowed quick raids) and was propelled both by oars and—the thing that made the ships really unique—wind. The clinker construction—where boards were laid atop each other, made water tight with caulking or rags, and this method of construction seems to have created an airfoil kind of effect.
The design was developed by the Norse and copied by many other cultures, some related to the Norse and some not. The ships seen in the Bayeux Embroidery are examples. Earlier designs did not use the sail as well as the Viking ship did. There are many examples of these ships, for example the ship used in the burial at Sutton Hoo. Some earlier and later ships were propelled by slave power at the oars, but the oarsmen on Viking ships all appear to have been freemen.
The predominance of Viking ships was overtaken when cogs started to be built in the early new millennium. In earlier combat, the ships were brought together, and warfare ranged over the ships in pretty much the same way that land warfare was waged. The higher towers of the cogs meant that ships drawing close to each other could engage, throwing rocks and shooting arrows down from the towers. The Viking ships tried to get the best of both and started to build towers on their decks, but they succeeded only in creating ships that were easily toppled. The cogs were predominant by the twelfth century. Viking-style ships were still being built, and they are still built today, but they are no longer the size of the stereotypical drakkar or knarr.
The cogs were phased out by the development of gunpowder and the use of cannon on shipboard. The new ships were more in the style of later galleons.
Two-wheeled vehicles were most frequently seen at this time, mainly for poorer people, since they were less expensive. Some define carts as conveyances that are propelled by only human labor, and carried timber, vegetables and other goods. See, for example, the June illustration of the Julius Work Calendar; this cart might well not be human-propelled, since we see oxen waiting nearby as the coach is loaded.
Chariots were popular in many civilizations early than the Viking Age, including the Roman, but had largely fallen out of use and popularity by this time, although once again semantics and definitions are important.
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.// //
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!
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.
What name do you use in reenacting? The modernization or Anglicization or the other transformation of Norse names or the original Norse name? The use of the former is rather endemic in many of the books that are otherwise full of vital information. There is an attempt, it seems, to make the modern spellings and pronunciations of the names, probably to make things more comfortable for the mainstream reader. However, looking at any good book, there is often an attempt to compromise between these two. Whereas the name of a person is given in the modern, more instantly recognizable form, the traditional form is given as well, generally in parentheses, a footnote or even an endnote.
A volume that does not go to this trouble should probably not be overly trusted!
Even in the Viking Age, it would seem that many of the Norse were known by different names in different lands. There are a variety of Gaelic names that were used to describe the person—such as Cammán for Sigytuggr—and at the end of the era, after conversion to Christianity, a use of Latinized names as in much of Christendom—for example, an attempt to Latinize Knútr as Cunetti on some coinage. And there is also a tendency to refer to a person by his baptismal name, such as Guthrum of East Anbglia being known as Æthelstan, As a side note, there was often a cycle of names which were used a family (sort of like “Junior” today but in this case usually not succeeding one so named but used every few generations. In this way, ironically, it is similar to the Anglo-Saxon standard of using names with the same beginning sound to indicate relationships within the same family, such as Æthelwulf, Ælfred (generally modernized as Alfred, so modernization not merely a Norse practice), Æthelweard and Ælfthryth
Using a modernized or an original name is up to you. Neither is wrong or right. If you use a modernized name, do you also use original names for friends? While some people might look a bit askance at this—it is after all like referring to gods in a classical pantheon as Zeus and as Mercury—but I am not inordinately disturbed by this. However, it is my feeling that no matter what you use and in what combination, you should know about what you are talking.
Many of the more common names—particularly those that are still used in some form today—have an Anglicized version as well as the original. Many of the more common names—particularly those that are still used in some form today—have an Anglicized version as well as the original. We list a few below, with the variant spelling on the left and the original on the right.
Many of the changes are in duplicate letters
the addition of letters (especially the use of the ending r)
accents and letters that are no longer used in English
Thorbjorn Þorbiorn (there are also modern letters which were not used in period)
Combinations of the above
And in some cases, totally new and totally different spellings were used
There are variations for female names as well, though there were not only fewer female names that were recorded but fewer names which have been Anglicized.
When you choose a name for your impression, make certain that you have researched the name and know where the name originally came from and how it was original spelled.
(Note: The Old Norse spellings may vary since they are the transliterations by a Latin-letter-literate culture of names from a rune-literate society where several spellings could be inferred from a single word)
You will find no real erotica during the Viking Age, at least in the way we perceive it in today’s sexual culture. It was not written during the time such as it was in later times. However, the poetry and riddles that were common during the time are not exactly polite, reserved and timid. “The Anglo Saxons seemed to love a riddle and, like the rest of us, couldn’t get enough of sex.” The results are winking double entendres bits of humor:
Exeter Riddle 44
A strange thing hangs by a man’s thigh,
hidden by a garment. It has a hole
in its head. It is still and strong
and its firm bearing reaps a reward.
When the man hitches his clothing high
above his knee, he wants the head
of that hanging thing to poke the old hole
(of fitting length) it has often filled before.
Exeter Riddle 54
A young man made for the corner where he knew
she was standing; this stripping youth
had whipped up her dress, and under her girdle
(as she stood there) thrust something stiff,
worked his will; they both shook.
This fellow quickened: one moment he was
forceful, a first-rate servant, so strenuous
that the next he was knocked up, quite
blown by his exertion. Beneath the girdle
a thing began to grow that upstanding men
often think of, tenderly, and acquire.
Exeter Riddle 61
A lovely woman, a lady, often locked me
in a chest; at times she took me out
with her fingers, and gave me to her lord
and loyal master, just as he asked.
Then he poked his head inside me,
pushed it up until it fitted tightly.
I, adorned, was bound to be filled
with something rough if the loyal lord
could keep it up. Guess what I mean.
Speaking of Anglo-Saxon poetry, not just erotic poetry, a fan notes:
The best Anglo Saxon poetry speaks with a directness and simplicity you won’t often find in the sophisticated and cosmopolitan utterances of the Roman poets. And though stark, the Anglo Saxon temper also comes with a rugged humor and gamefulness typical of poetry in simpler and less self-conscious cultures.”
You will not find any erotic prose, though. One major reason appears to be that prose was almost never used for a creative purpose; for example, even though most translations of Beowulf are done in standard prose, the original is poetry. However, the major reason appears to be that this was not done; direct and step-by-step erotica just was an alien concept to the Anglo-Saxons!
You will not generally find erotic or even romantic poetry from Norse sources. This is not because the Nose did not have sexual or romantic desires, but because there was a “fear in pagan times of magical ensnarement of the woman so immortalized by the power of the verses.” In addition, some have observed that romantic poetry—courting a beloved—was unnecessary since”The majority of Viking marriages were prearranged.” There was no need for romantic poetry, and erotic poetry is as far as we know rather infrequent.
So-called erotic Icelandic poetry, often known as mansöngr, was a form of skaldic poetry that was written quite infrequently. The romantic or erotic poems of the Ljóðatal section of the Hávamál are less than erotic or even romantic but are the practical warning verses that might be expected from the Norse:
The love of women
who are deceitful in spirit
is like riding a smooth-shod horse
on slippery ice,
a spirited two-year-old
and one badly trained,
or on a rudderless boat
in a raging wind,
or like a lame man trying to catch
a reindeer on a thawing mountainside.
Not exactly what I would call erotic or even romantic!
In the same way that erotic poetry was well known in earlier cultures and only slyly seen during the Viking age, there is precious little erotic art during this time. Art was often zoological knotwork, and the earlier erotic depictions of Greek, Roman and neolithic art is not easily found. In fact, the earlier favorable view of the heathen and pagan toward nudity, sensuality and sexuality in art was usurped by the Christian clerical dislike of these things, and there is very little depiction in surviving art of this time of sheer nudity except in such cases as biblical appearances of Eve, of the damned in hell and of Christ (who is depicted as semi-nude but who Is certainly not at all erotic?).
This is not say that there was no erotic depictions at all, but much would not today be called or recognized as erotic. For example, the Bayeux Embroidery shows a few naked figures, but they feature rape and are more documentative than erotic; certainly, today rape is considered very non-erotic!
In Viking art, there is a statue of Freyr in which the god is stroking his beard. He was associated with virility, and he was wed to Freyja, the Norse goddess of beauty and sexuality. That beard has been associated by many critics with the penis and virility, so that stroking the beard becomes something else!
The fact that the beard is so considered indicates to me that perhaps what was considered suggestive or erotic during this time would not be so considered nowadays. One has to wonder what things considered erotic at the time might be overlooked today!
[Riddles translated by Benjamin Thorpe]
There are a great number of terminology that is unique to living history, but there s also terminology that is not unique to living history, that is commonly used elsewhere and which might be wrong elsewhere but it is extremely wrong in living history. Here are three examples.
Authentic is often used to describe something that is historically accurate, but it is also often used to describe something that dates from the time. Many years ago, I used the term as carelessly as anyone, but at a display, a young girl asked if the helmet before me was authentic. I said that it was, and her eyes grew wide. “You mean that this was actually worn by someone back then?”
Ever since then, I use the term “accurate” or “historically accurate,” which is what people often want to know. But of course, I still use “authentic” when describing a technology from the time or an artefact that dated from the time.
The term is used to refer to the English people after the migration but before the Norman invasion. It was used three times in period but in times since, especially in modern times, it is used as a racial epithet meaning white and especially white superiority.. I referred to the Regia scope as Anglo-Saxon years ago; then at a fair, two MoPs saw the sign as they walked through gave me the white power sign and said, “Yeah, keep them niggers in their place.”
Ever since, I have used the term “Englisc,” which is also period but which is not confusing and tells the MoP exactly what we are referring to. I still use Anglo-Scandinavian and Anglo-Norman.
In period, Viking was a verb that meant sailing out to do trading and/or raiding. It was first used as a noun in English around the start of the eighteenth century. It refers to avocation and not to a nationality and certainly not a race. It is often incorrectly used to refer to Scandinavian culture; I use “Norse” most often.
I still say the Viking Age and refer to pirates of the time as Vikings though.
It should go without saying that there is a scale of accuracy in living-history practices, and it is this scale that I would like to examine today.
If they’da haddit, they woulda used it. The existence of objects—or references in accounts written before the present or modern interpretations or period facts or a desire to believe that fantasy is actually true—is seen by many dabblers in living history as provenance for its existence and use. For example:
• The trousers of Ragnar Lodbrok (Shaggybreeches) were made of fur coated with pitch
• Leather reindeer armor is mentioned in a saga
• Bersarks were a common feature of the Scandinavian culture
• Shields were elaborately detailed
• The so-called “blood eagle” was a common Norse torture
• Viking warriors all wore horned helmets
• The copper Buddha indicated that there was a Buddhist subculture in Sweden
Unfortunately, there is little reason to justify the existence of many such objects. Most if not all of these are reenactorisms. Even the single physical existence of an object—or an interpretation that such an object or action might have existed—does not provide justification for its wide use. Let us look closer at these cases of “provenance” for wide and justified usage.
Fur trousers has no provenance except in the stores of Ragnar, and there it might be a fantasy or might simply be so unusual that it is not only stressed but giv3es him his soubriquet.
While leather trousers might have been worn as work clothing (in one translation, Ælfric indicates that leather breeches were manufactured), they do not appear to have been armor.
Because many of these are so obviously plot devices in sagas, or misinterpretation of earlier writings. The concept of bersarks, for example, certainly seems not to have dated much earlier than the twelfth century (the object in the Lewis chessmen of a warrior biting his shield) and perhaps no earlier than the thirteenth century). The appearance of the bersarks in sagas—tales written down by Christians for a Christian audience—are both late and obviously plot devices. Reindeer leather—not only notoriously thin but enchanted—is obviously not a practical thing. We cannot assume that every warrior went around in leather armor (enchanted or not) because of its appearance in a saga, but it becomes a reason for many reenactors to wear leather armor. Accepting even the appearance of the enchanted reindeer armor in the sagas as true fact is somewhat similar to embracing ghosts, divination and other supernatural events as the gospel truth since they appear in sagas!
Most shields seem to have had simple geometric designs (see the Gokstad shields) and not elaborate motifs. After all, most shields were apparently expected to serve for a single battle so elaborate designs would only have been temporary and had to be repeated for any later shields.
The blood eagle—the lungs of a living person are drawn out through incisions in the back so that they look like wings—was a discreditrf interpretation of a poetic kenning in a poem of Ivar the Boneless in which the poet marked an eagle on the back of Ælla, his enemy. It was probably a poetic kenning, referring to the fact that he was killed and made likely food for carrion birds, but later interpretations changed into a factual appearance and has continued to evolve so that now salt is rubbed into the wounds to increase Ælla’s torment.
Undoubtedly, the idea of Viking helmets with cow horns first appeared in the nineteenth century, although there is some indication that heathen priests of a thousand years before performed rituals while wearing metal protuberances which could be interpreted as horns, and many people wishing to justify their use of horned helmets will spin this as provenance.
There is little doubt that the Buddha actually exists, but that does not mean that it was commonly found. The Buddha was manufactured in India and was apparently passed from merchant to merchant until it ended up in Holgö Sweden. It seems to have been a unique object in the Scandinavia world, perhaps picked up for sentimental reason and not an indication of the proof the Buddhist faith in the culture and certainly not that everyone went out to obtain a Buddha to be part of the in crowd (the so-called Buddha on the bucket is merely an imaginative interpretation in my opinion).
Many people religiously believe the old trope that something would logically exist—using modern logic—even if such an article has not been found. For some people, especially members of fantasy LARPs, a single occurrence or literary reference is all that is needed to adapt these into their appearances, and the multiple appearance of a unique artifact is not only tolerated but encouraged. To have a whole bucketload of supposedly unique things is considered commendable. One such person said that his personal attempts to “recreate” the culture of the past hinges on the appearance of unique and romantic items. They speak the loudest to him, and they represent what sort of an impression that he wishes to present. He seeks to avoid the more usual and conventional objects and to present unusual items as the artifacts that define that earlier time. It is as though he has been most influenced by popular culture, by novels and film about the era.
I call this trying to find an individual occurrence to justify an existing supposition to be retro-research. For me, retro-research is frustrating and causes anyone who does it to grasp at straws: To read something and then to try to interpret it in the manner that best supports the theory the reader wants to prove.
At the other end of the scale from what I choose to call romantic recreation is a more common convention in living history, that reenactors should be trying to recreate the ordinary life of the time. A person must find at least three occurrences of an artifact or three separate literary descriptions before it can be considered factual and routinely used or done. Determining what are three separate descriptions and not merely a duplication of something from an earlier account or source can sometimes be difficult, but this is one reason that extensive research is essential to good living history!
There are people who proclaim that they hate the authenticity police and want to be able to do anything that is not from the present day or at least common in the present day. There are people who say that unless an object or action has at least three proven and separate instances, you should avoid its use even if some object is needed and the proven article is unavailable, too expensive or dangerous. Many people take up a position somewhere in the center, and I suppose that if I was totally honest, I do as well. But I certainly veer toward the more accurate end of the scale!
What about you?
Homosexuality did not exist until 1869, when the German Austrian-born novelist, Karl-Maria Kertbeny, used the term in a pamphlet against Prussian anti-sodomy laws. It did go into popular use until almost twenty years later, when Richard von Krafft-Ebing used the terms homosexual and heterosexual in his book Psychopathia Sexualis, and it did not lead to the creation of a distinct sub-culture until even later.
Before this time, homosexuality was neither a culture nor a description; instead, people were more concerned with physical activities. Therefore, a common description of what we now call a homosexual was sodomite, which referred of course to sodomy—defined as man on man sex—which was decried by a church which was concerned with any sexual activity that did not lead to procreation.
And that brings us to the whole question of homosexuality in the Viking Age. By this time, the Anglo-Saxons had been converted for several centuries, so they probably followed the Church’s prejudices fairly well, at least in public. However, the Norse converted toward the end of the era, and we already know of the various ways in which the Norse went their own way in cases of activities, beliefs and practices. Let us look for a moment at the manner in which the Norse approached sodomy and same-gender affection.
Let’s face it, the Church little cared about same-gender affection; it was the act of sodomy to which they objected. If you look at correspondence and actions later in time, such intimate friendships were criticized only when they involved people of different classes. Norse laws, poetry and folklore were not written down in general until after the Viking Age, when Christianity was already deeply rooted, and much of what is generally thought of as indicative of Norse culture was invented by Christians from Christian viewpoints.
As Christine Ward-Wiedland motes, “myths and legends show that honored gods and heroes were believed to have taken part in homosexual acts, which may indicate that pre-Christian Viking Scandinavia was more tolerant of homosexuality.” The fact that during the Christian era that laws had to be drafted which dealt with and had injunctions against homosexuality is of the same cloth as etiquette rules: Their very existence indicate that people performed these activities.
Wolf notes that “Heterosexuality was the norm in Viking-age Scandinavia, but that homosexual relations between men were recognized as social phenomena were clear from Old Norse-Icelandic literature, especially the sagas.” While on the one hand, there was a general Norse dislike of effeminate men as well as non-effeminate women, this apparently had nothing to do with private sexual practices but instead with public behavior. In fact, the only offense noted in the secular law only prohibited the actions of the passive male.
However, it is interesting to note that “The secular laws of Viking Age Iceland do not mention homosexuality. The only place where homosexuality is documentably prohibited is by the Christian Church.”
From all this, a single decision is inevitable, that the Norse allowed homosexuality so long as the homosexual was not betraying gender stereotypes. Literary evidence is unavailable except when seeing what the Church warns against—suggesting that such activities were being practiced—and since any literary accounts were written down by Christians, and of course adhered to the Christian mythos.
It is interesting to note that lesbianism was not mentioned, but it was pretty well standard. After all, “according to the church sexual desires were evil and sinful…therefore women were not to orgasm or enjoy sex. Many times sex with men was not gentle because it was not meant to please the woman. It seems likely to me that since there were often more men than women in a stead, that they might have turned to each other, like cowboys on the range in a later time, for sexual release. The men did not apparently object to this and, in that manner, they might have been behaving in ways very close to conventional sexist ways seen today!
It seems obvious from these and other references that the Norse were very likely to behave in a manner that was convenient and pleasurable, a freedom that is duplicated in the modern time!
Christine Ward-Wieland’s take on the subject may be found at The Viking Answer Lady.
I have noted many times that living history is an illusion (good living history is a good illusion, and good illusion is an accurate recreation of a past culture). It s not a spotty recreation whose gaps and failures are unseen and unnoticed by the reenactor (I am not castigating the bad reenactor as a bad person, just as very misguided one who cannot see what he is accomplishing; they are to me more the source of disappointment and sympathy).
The subject of this installment is not the spex at events, the modern tattoos, the improper fabrics & colors, the furry mukluks pr the bright red plastic grinder drills. I saw them all at the recent event, but the most disturbing thing was the attempt to break the illusion with modern views on politics and religion.
To a good extent, this was not on the part of the reenactors. Most reenactors—no matter how farby or how accurate—try to avoid modern politics and religion (there are a few exceptions, but these are people with a very loose interpretation of living history to begin with, along with a self-assured belief that their beliefs have ben predominant throughout history). Without exception a good reenactor does not bring up things like the Republican or Democratic or any other political party, about any democracy except that of early Iceland, or Lutheranism or Latter Day Saints or Scientology. You might bring these subjects up as a way of putting the past into perspective but only fleetingly and not for their own sake.
Despite the fact that many MoPs do not understand this and may want to desperately to personalize their religious beliefs to you, it is essential that a good reenactor remains faithful to this behavior. These MoPs seem to want to intrude their personal belief into the past or in fact believe that no one in the past could believe any different from what they believe.
A reenactor represents all living history when he is in costume. This means not only that he must be accurate in his portrayal but that he must take care not to offend the MoPs. There are several ways to be polite when confronted by this…
When they bring up these matters, unless you can very quickly and easily put their views into perspective as what was different from what was believed during the period, you should just ignore it and not say anything either favorably or unfavorably. And then as son as possible, break in and attempt to bring the conversation back to the early middle ages.
Most MoPs will take the hint, but there are certain zealots who want to impress upon you how wrong you are and how right they are. At that time, the only way that you can react is to just smile and nod and not say anything. Listen for them to finish their ranting, then nod and dismiss them, saying, I have to go do this. Thank you for talking to me. At no time do you encourage them to goon…even if you personally agree with what they are saying.
Take care not to argue with them…even if they say things as patently foolish as Jesus told us the world was flat. They are the people to be educated and not belittled, so they must always be treated with care and with respect…even if you might not ordinarily give them that respect!
SEVEN TIPS FOR GAINING MORE FROM YOUR VISIT TO THE PAST THAN YOU MIGHT OTHERWISE
We dress in historic costume. We attempt to do things as accurately to the period as we can without endangering ourselves or you. We are not time travelers or visitors from another time. We do not live in some kind of Amish community. We do not live in the past, and we appreciate the many aspects of modern technology that has made life better and safer and many times more satisfying.
But we like to pretend that we live in a culture that no longer exists, and we stand ready to share information with you how life was lived at that time. We stand ready to educate and to entertain you, and we are so very willing and able to answer your questions about the time, about the culture and about the items that we have on display. Feel free to ask and to interact, and here are a few tips for how to gain the most from speaking with us!
Just remember: There are no foolish questions. The only foolish question is one that is left unsaid!
1 Embrace the Unknown
When you visit our encampment, you are not traveling to your past. You are traveling to another country! For the past is another country. Like any foreign land, you might travel to, it is natural to have some assumptions about what it is like. Your assumptions may come from your high school history class or what you heard from a friend or a novel on historical romance or a film or teevee series. Unfortunately, what you have been told, what you have seen and what you have read is not necessarily all the truth and may even be fantasy or misinterpretation. We encourage you to bring your natural curiosity and be prepared to enlarge or revise your thinking!
2 Put the Screen Down
It is difficult to immerse yourself in the tenth century if there is a screen between you and the encampment and the reenactors. Do not let yourself get distracted taking photos or texting. There will be plenty of opportunities to pull out your phone or camera, but you will have more fun if you set them aside for at least a little bit. Remember, we are not just models for vacation pictures, we want to talk to you.
Do not be afraid to speak in modern English. Do not try to pretend that you are something you are not. Do not think that we can only talk about the time period and culture we portray and cannot put things into focus, talking about things that created this culture and what was later created from it. There is much of the culture that remains today, that is still important or that helped form it. We find it fascinating to put the culture into proper focus for us and you today!
3 Start a Conversation on the Right Foot
Ask difficult questions if that is what you want know, and do not feel bad. If we do not know the Answer—and that will happen, often more frequently than we would like it to happen—we will admit the ignorance, direct you to persons or other things that may answer them and discuss theories and probabilities with you. History is often not a set of dry and unchanging facts. It is often the interpretation of these facts, and it will often change because of perspective, because of new facts and because of reinterpretations of old facts. Some disdain this as revisionist history, and perhaps it is. However, it is not a terrible thing but a part of the evolution of understanding. Remember that what you hear today might well change in the future and is not the end of comment on the matter. Be amendable to change; remember that the objects discovered in the Staffordshire Hoard a few years ago changed much of what we thought and knew about earlier life.
Begin a conversation just like you would with any stranger: exchange small talk. Share some pleasantries. Just say Good Day, ask how they are doing, or where they are from. Comment on the weather. But do not be hesitant to ask questions.
Some guests hesitate, especially in potentially sensitive situations such as slavery or prejudices or massacres or religious intolerance. These are all parts of the past and are important to the construction of how we view the past. Unless it is relevant, we will not speak on modern politics or religion. We are very consciously apolitical and religious.
Just say hello, remember that simply being polite goes a long way.
4 Let Your Guard down
Do not be frightened or intimidated by our costumes or our tools or that sword that is always nearby. Let go of the present and go into the moment—even if that moment is a thousand years ago.
Reenactors sometimes think of themselves as “playful scholars,” people who are deeply committed to conveying their passions to you but find it amusing and entertaining and who hope to pass these feelings on to you. Every reenactor has different interests and expertise, and no single reenactor will know everything. The reenactor will very happily refer you to another reenactor who might be able to answer your question, so you should not feel bad or hesitant. As we said, immerse yourself in the past, and feel free to ask questions of interest.
Play the game by letting us be your guide. Bring your own perspective. We will meet you wherever you want, help you be whomever you want and —hopefully—answer any questions you might have.
5 Ask Us Anything
You do not have to ask us about the fate of Vikings or the Englisc or anything else that is deemed important. Ask us trivial questions about the tools we use. Ask us about how clothing was constructed, how we worshiped our deities, how we made money (literally) and how we made so much of what you see. Ask me how I met our mates, about our children, about our friends (or enemies) and even about our pets and other animals. Ask about anything that might have been important in the culture we seek to recreate.
We are all afraid of feeling dumb sometimes. But remember when your high school teachers insisted there are no dumb questions. Even if you never believed them, you can believe that here.
We know that many of our guests have little frame of reference for a tenth-century world, and that means that sometimes they have to take a risk to make a connection. But we know that you are calling up whatever frame of reference you have and trying to make connections. And we appreciate it! So start with something simple, and work your way toward deeper questions. Do not be afraid to ask hard questions, since they will probably lead to an interesting conversation in any case.
6 Say Yes
We will go out of our way to say hello, to greet you and to draw you in. We might ask if you have any questions— we know you probably will and do not want you to hesitate asking them—and if we offer you a brochure that explains what we are trying to do or ask you a question or ask you to join us in a conversation or in a game or just to hold something, say yes. Trust us, and we promise not ne dangerous or will make you look foolish.
We are not trying to trick anyone, so believe our sincerity in helping you make the leap back in time. We appreciate the effort and will help you all that we can!
When you are watching us, we are watching you at the same time. We will not force you to do something you do not want to do, and we generally know when to leave you alone. In the end, we certainly respect you for choosing to spend your time visiting us.
7 Make Connections
It is not merely acceptable but encouraged to talk to any reenactor more than once during the day. We are not following a script, and we are not so absorbed in our own conversations that we will ignore you. Feel free to speak to us, even interrupt us if we are talking with a mate. You can feel free to come back and see us again, to continue a discussion, to ask a follow-up question, or to get another picture. You might be surprised that we remember you!
As you meet people during the day, try to put some of the historical pieces together. Make connections by figuring out how we relate to each other and how we might have related to the very world at that timer.
Have fun connecting the dots.
Inspired by “How to Talk to a Costumed Interpreter in 7 Easy Steps” by Bill Sullivan, published by Colonial Williamsburg
The most prevalent form of transportation was by foot. This was not only inexpensive, but most people never traveled more than ten miles away from home! Skis and skates (both used with ski poles) were known for balance and propulsion across the snow and ice in the North.
Two-wheeled vehicles were most frequently seen at this time, mainly for poorer people, since they were less expensive. Some define carts as conveyances that are propelled by only human labor, and carried timber, vegetables and other goods. See, for example, the June illustration of the Julius Work Calendar; this cart might well not be human-propelled, since we see oxen waiting nearby as the coach is loaded.
Chariots were popular in many civilizations early than the Viking Age, including the Roman, but had largely fallen out of use and popularity by this time, although once again semantics and definitions are important.
Waggons were heavier duty than carts, with four wheels and always pulled by animals. They were of varying complexity and appearance and were used to transport goods as well as persons.
Instead of wheels, sleighs had runners that enabled transportation across a flat surface, for example stone and, most frequently, snow. They were popular in Northern Europe; see the sleighs found in the Oseberg burial, for example, and were frequently elaborately ornamented. Sleighs, like carts and waggons, could be used to transport both cargo and human passengers, and they were almost invariably propelled by non-human meas. They were not so popular in areas which did not as much snow as other areas which did.
Horses were for the elite. Rarely, they rather than oxen or mules, pulled waggons or ploughs, but that was not their general use. The horses of th period was small, since they had not yet been interbred with the larger Arabian horses, and the smaller (and cunning) Icelandic horse was very similar to the general horses of the time. Sally Crawford notes, “Horse bridel fittings and trappings, and horse burial, are almost exclusively associated with male burial, suggesting that horse riding was an aspect of male, rather than female, elite identity (though it does not necessarily mean that women never rode horses.”
As Kevin Crossley-Holland notes, “sea power was essential to the success of Viking enterprises.” Because the name of the age was derived to a great extent from the Viking ship, the importance of ships and boats cannot be minimized. The importance of the crafts can be seen by such things as earlier inclusion in graves such as the Sutton Hoo burial (it is unknown whether these earlier ships had sails or if this was a Viking ship innovation), and later ships from a number of cultures imitated the Viking ships. They were quick and maneuverable and was replaced only taller ships which enabled extensive sea battles.
There were a number of Viking ships used at the time, including:
Open boat with two pair of oars.
Ocean-going trading ship (the truck of the Viking Age).
Coastal and river-sailing ship, transport ship.
Smallest longship, passenger ship, also known as a Karve..
A smaller longship, also known as a Snekke, Snekke or Snekkja.
A larger longship also known as a Drake, a Busse, a Skeid or a Sud, often used as a warship.
Roland Williamson notes that “I think they might have qualified each type by number of oars. Saexering and Fembering are names that come up. Also the various benches or thwarts on the boats and especially the bigger ones were ‘called’ rooms. So each room was two men in the crew.”
What many people think we know about the Norse religion was written down some two or three-hundred years after the close of the Viking Age by Snorri Sturluson, a Christian writer, for a Christian audience. He adopted many oral tales and wrote new ones that has more to do with Christian than with heathen theology.
The so-called Vulgate Latin translation of the Bible was done in the late fourth century at the direction of Pope Damasus I to revise the Vetus Latina collection of biblical texts in Latin then in use by the Church. The term “Vulgate” refers to the common tongue, which was used to describe the Latin tongue. Although it is called the Saint Jerome translation, it is conceivable that he did not translate it; but it remained the standard Latin translation until the sixteenth century, when strict Church authority over editions lessened, and further editing and interpretations were seen.
Although the translation of the Bible into common tongue from the Vulgate was later forbidden and deem heretical, leading to a great extent to the rise of the protestant faiths, it was commonly done during the Viking age and was routinely known as a gloss. Some editions of the Vulgate had the English translation–or gloss–written upon the page between the lines of the Latin.
Jesus was accepted as a god by many heathen Norse, but he was one deity among many, which irritated the Christian church. We are told in J. Sephton’s 1895 translation The Saga of King Olaf Tryggwason that:
“Helgi the Lean…was a Christian in name, but his faith was a very mixed one; for though he was baptized, and declared his belief in Christ, he made vows to Thor whenever he was engaged in seafaring, or any matter that required hardihood.”
The so-called Fenris cross was a tenth-century cross from Iceland and is probably a sample of what I refer to as a “Hedge Your Bets” cross. It features a Þor’s hammer with a Fenris Wolf at the top and a cross carved into the hammer itself. Some do not accept that interpretation, noting that crosses were used as motifs in heathen times without referring to Christianity.
Vikings did become Christians, but it is altogether possible that they also converted to Islam and to Judaism, though there is only a handful of such incidents recorded.
Early, “local” saints were just recognized as such as people in the area, and a person who was a saint in one area was not necessarily considered a saint in another. Saint Udalric was canonized by Pope John XV in 993 but some maintain that the first papal canonization was Saint Swibert by Pope Leo III in 804. Both local and papal canonization continued until 1153, and in 1170, only papal canonizations were thenceforth permitted.
There were three basic tonsures. These were shaving of the head done for religious purposes, and medieval monasteries even dictated who would use the hottest water for shaving.
With the Oriental method, the whole head was shaved. This was common in the Eastern Churches, though not in the Western Church. For example, Theodore of Tarsus—schooled in Byzantium—allowed his hair to grow out before being tonsured in the Roman style when he was ordained Archbishop of Canterbury by Pope Vitalian in 668.
The Celtic style involved shaving the head from ear to ear, but there are no illustrations of the exact shape. The Celtic tonsure was worn in Ireland and Great Britain and was connected to the distinct set of practices known as Celtic Christianity. It was despised by those affiliated with the Roman church, and some sources have also suggested links between this tonsure and that allegedly worn by druids in the Pre-Roman Iron Age. it ended with the Synod of Whitby in 660, where Roman Christianity triumphed over Celtic.
In the predominant Roman tonsure, only the top of the head was shaved, allowing the hair to grow in the form of a crown. This was almost universally see in the Viking age.
The preaching cross is a cross—sometimes wooden and sometimes stone, sometimes surmounting a pulpit—originally erected before the construction of churches to designate a place where a preacher would preach and where worshipers might gather top hear him. Some of the stone crosses have elaborate carving and runes, incorporating heathen as well as Christian motifs, and some still exist today, with a church built around them or perhaps moved to a church.
Chastity often referred to legal sexual relations, and priests were allowed to wed until th eleventh century, although it was frowned upon by the Church itself. In the eleventh century, it was outright forbidden.
Micel Folcland’s portrayal of slavery in the Viking Age is a portrayal of what was common at the time. It is not, in any way, an endorsement of the practice!
You can find the concept and practice of slavery throughout history, in nearly every culture and religion, from ancient times to the present. However the social, economic, and legal position of slaves and Klein and Vinson in, African Slavery in Latin America and the. Caribbean, noted that slavery was also vastly different in different times and places. Most folk in the United States—and other present-day nations as well—can only think of slavery in terms of the American pre-bellum ideal, based on race and rationalized by claims that the African natives were being converted to Christian belief.
Both the Englisc and the Norse peoples had slaves. The Englisc referred to a slave as a þeow or a þræl (bondsman or slave), while the Norse referred to a þrall or þræll (a wretch or a scoundrel). A female Norse slave was sometimes known as an ambátt, although this may have exclusively referred to sex slaves. Many concubines—frillur—were ambátts at least in the heathen times.
Slaves were routinely bought and sold. Running away was also common and slavery was never a major economic factor in the British Isles during the Viking Ages, though Ireland and Denmark provided ready markets for captured Anglo-Saxon and Celtic slaves. Slavery was so ubiquitous in Europe in the early middle ages that Pope Gregory I reputedly made the pun, Non Angli, sed Angeli (“Not Angles, but Angels”), after a response to his query regarding the identity of a group of fair-haired Angles, slave children whom he had observed in the marketplace. This chance phrase has been asserted as the origin of the term “Angle” and “Anglo-.”
Ruth Johnson in her encyclopedia of medieval subject, All Things Medieval, notes that all homes and businesses had repetitive, unskilled manual duties, and if possible, servants or slaves were engaged to do these tasks. There were few differences, it seems, between servants and slaves for the most part, though there were almost certainly differences that probably had to do with punishment and travel.
In the past few years, a new appreciation of artistic triumphs during what had been erroneously called “the Dark Ages” (and still is by many persons unaware of the actual cultures), have inspired certain people who dislike the idea of revisionist history, and they have written article detailing the thuggery of the time and have attempted to emphasize the inhumanity of slavery to justify their continued use of the term “Dark Ages.” Often, these writers tend to emphasize the worst aspects of slavery practices and to associate it more with what is familiar to them for later slavery.
We do not want to assert the benign nature of slavery by any means, and slavery was indeed the lowest social status for members of the Norse and the Englisc society, but there were few differences between slavery and other lower classes. We certainly cannot use it to tear down the society in general!
Acquisition of Slaves
There were five main ways that slaves were acquired. The first was that the children of a female slave—no matter whether the father was free—was a slave. The child might be manumitted by the owner, but this was not a automatic.
The second was that slaves were the spoils of war, raiding and other violent encounters. An amusing story is given of an Irishman called Murchad, who was captured by Vikings and sold to a nunnery in Northumbria. After seducing all the nuns, he was recaptured by Vikings and sold to a widow in Saxony, whom he also seduced! After many adventures Murchad eventually returned home to be reunited with his family. Not all accounts of slavery were so amusing and so well ended, but they certainly did happen.
The third is the slave trade, where slaves were purchased or even given as tribute. Slaves could also be acquired by the individuals by paying for them. The slaves for the slave market were made available in a number of ways—see the other sources for acquisition—and it is interesting to note that few slave markets or accounts exist in more advanced societies. It has been suggested that captured poisoners from more affluent areas were ransomed instead of being enslaved.
Prices for slaves, of course, varied, but Ben Levick and Roland Williamson gave the average price of a male was 197.5 pence (about $8000) for a male and 131.5 pence (about $5000) for a female.
The fourth way is that slavery was voluntary by people going through hard times. Sometimes this was for relief of debt, where the new owner took over the debts of the slave. Many times, slavery for debts was for a limited time—closer to being indentured than to being enslaved proper, and we can assume that the treatment of these slaves was more amiable than the treatment of other slaves. The fact that people willingly sold them and their family into slavery indicates that slavery at the time was very different than that of later times.
The fifth way was that, like today, slavery was a punishment for breaking laws. It appears that so-called penal slavery was imposed not only on the criminal but upon his or her family.
Trivia to Enslave Your Interest
Slaves were property, just as in most other times. They could be beaten and slain at the owner’s whim, but this was not apparently done often, since they were property and, therefore, money in the owner’s pouch. Ahmed ibn Fadlan tells of how slave girls were sacrificed at the funerals of their owners in heathen times so that they could accompany their lords to the after life. This was not a unilateral decision, apparently, the sacrifice apparently approached it like the sacrifices in some South American cultures, as an honor.
Slaves were often manumitted. Generally for payment of what they were worth. Owners seemed to often help slaves acquire the cost for their freedom.
It appears that slaves wore iron collars when being led to and from slave markets, but seldom wore them when settled into a home. Most people had two or three slaves it seems, and they were often treated as members of the family.
Slaves had knives. This was guaranteed by law; smaller knives were tools, not weapons.
There was a tendency for slaves to have short hair to help distinguish them if they ran away, and to wear tunics—generally made of rough fabric, although many slaves, and particularly ambátts, were given dress of very rich fabric—with no sleeves and high hems for the women’s skirt. Þor Ewing notes: that illustrations of some women—trolls but probably based in reality–were very short indeed!
Slaves who were manumitted became freedmen and not freemen. This was the very lowest status of society, and it seems that freedmen were not given the liberty to travel and may have been the progenitor of serfdom.
If a slave was killed or injured by someone other than his master, the offender had to pay the master the equivalent of the slave’s weregild (man price, the financial recompense given for violation, for injury, for loss of a body part or death). This same philosophy was used in fines for loss of any other property or livestock. No money was given to the slave except by the decision and action of the owner.
On the whole, there were few laws regarding slavery. A slave-owner had the obligation to provide medical care and a living for slave who were injured or crippled in their service. Slaves had to be granted permission by their owners to own real property and become married, though some slaves were given plots of land by their masters to raise and sell produce. The slave’s goal was to accumulate enough money to eventually purchase his own freedom.
The Norse had rituals of manumission, during which the slave was freed. In Iceland, the slave was inducted into the law, (lögleiddr), and functionally given citizenship.
The “End” of Slavery
Christianity saw the end of much slavery in Christian Europe, though the Church did not outlaw it directly and, as noted above, owned slaves themselves. The church did call for better treatment of slaves—for example, owners were forbidden to kill or maim slaves during lent—and they encouraged the manumission of slaves as acts of piety. However, it is worth noting that this was done mainly because the Church disliked the treating of Christians as slaves by other Christian. They were entirely accepting of the treatment of persons from other faiths, such as Moors, as slaves, and this philosophy continued through many later periods and might well be the source of pre-bellum American slavery.
There was an apparent uneasiness about slavery by the eleventh century, and many wealthy folks made certain that their slaves were manumitted in their wills. Slavery, for the most part, was ended in the start of the twelfth century, being replaced by the new concept of serfs and feudalism which was less extreme but in many ways no more permissive than many instances of earlier slavery. The reason was not a matter of morality but rather of economics. Slavery was no longer economical to maintain.
As Robert Lacey and Danny Danzinger note, “in the year 1000 very few people were free in the sense that we understand the word today. Almost everyone was beholden to someone more powerful than themselves, and the men and women who had surrendered themselves into bondage lived in conditions that were little difference to those of any other member of the labouring classes. ‘Slave’ is the only way to describe their servitude, but we should not envision them manacled like a galley slave in ancient times, or living in segregated barracks like eighteenth-century slaves on their cotton plantations—or indeed like the workers in South African mines in our own time.”
The term comes from the Old English distæf “stick that holds flax for spinning,” and describes a holder for raw material that is being spun into thread or yarn. It is associated, as its current use indicates, with women.
Since the spinning wheel did not enter northern Europe until around 1280, thread and yarn was made with a drop spindle, in which a weight (whorl) at the end of a stick twisted the raw fiber. Whorls were metal, stone and sometimes beads, but wooden weights might well be a modern derivation since period examples have not been found. In addition, the whorls seemed to have been at the bottom, although modern crafts drop spindles often have them at the top. They were still being used by people too poor to have a wheel until at least the eighteenth century.
On warp-weighted looms, bundles of warp threads are tied to hanging weights called loom weights which keep the threads taut. They often looked like doughnuts and were made from clay or from stones.
A two-pronged tool used in cordmaking or braiding which is believed to date back to the Viking age, although this is controversial. Later and modern crafts lucets are often wood, though devices of the Viking age that are interpreted as lucets were made of bone.
A niddy-noddy is a wooden tool used to make skeins from yarn. It consists of a central bar, with crossbars at each end. Niddy-noddies of the Viking Age were generally flat, although at some later point, the ends are at ninety degree angles.
A process for creating fabric that in Danish literally means “binding with a needle” or “needle-binding,” it is also known as nälbinding, nålbinding and naalebinding. It predates both knitting and crochet and is done with one needle. It was warmer than knitting, and the Finns had a caustic saying that a man with knitted mittens had an unskilled wife (who was not good enough to do naalbinding).
An ancient method of constructing fabric that has a natural elasticity. Its appearance is similar to netting when pulled open, but the intersections are not knotted. Unlike whole cloth, sprang is constructed entirely from warp threads.. Its uses were limited, and there are few good examples of its use. It was in use as late as the eighteenth century to make sashes for military officers, and the sashes doubled as litters for the wounded.
Swifts are tools, generally wooden, used to hold a hank of yarn while it is being wound off. It has an adjustable diameter so that it can hold hanks of many sizes, and rotates around a central rod.
Tablet- or Card-Weaving
This is a weaving technique where tablets or cards are used to create the shed through which the weft is passed. The method makes narrow flat strips for ties or trim. Tablet-woven cords are used to begin the end of a piece of woven fabric. The so-called loom was merely a frame to the warp under tension, and could as easily be a chair, a tree or the weaver’s waist; the tablets were themselves the loom. A band of card-weaving is used to start the warp for the vertical warp-weighted loom; the weft of the card-weaving becomes the warp threads for whole cloth.
The vertical warp-weighted loom was the most common loom for the Viking age, although horizontal looms were beginning to come into use at the end of the era. The warp-weighted loom was a simple and ancient loom that is upright in which the warp yarns hang from a bar between the uprights. The inkle loom was invented later and introduced to America only in the twentieth century.
Weft & Warp
The weft threads are horizontal threads on a loom through vertical warp threads are passed to make cloth.
Combing is method to prepare a fiber for a spinning method. Combs were nails that arose and through which the fabric was pulled to arrange the fibers in a parallel fashion, to clean the fiber to an extent and to remove tangles and clumps (noils) as well as short fibers and stuff like vegetable matter. In the fourteenth century, wool combing was developed.
Many thanks to Julie Watkins, who reviewed and commented on this list.
“Viking” is a job description and not an ethnic descriptor. It entered English in the ninth century in the poem Widsith, but was not used very much and was not used during the rest of the Middle Ages. It started to be used in English only in the eighteenth century. The usual terms earlier were Danes—even when describing people from other lands than Denmark—Heathens or Northmen. and was not generally used as a noun in Scandinavian writings before that time, being a part of “i-viking,” a verb meaning to go on a pirate/trade voyage. Pirates from other cultures, for example Muslim cultures, were known as Vikings in Scandinavian literature. In the Magnúsona Saga, for example, Snorri Sturluson relaters that near the Straits of Gibraltar, King Sigurth encounters a large number of Saracen corsairs (serkir Vikings).’
Histories are written by the winners it as I said, but it also written by the literate. The poor ideas that we have of the Norse raiders is from the writing of the people most assaulted: The clerics. This does not mean that the raiders were always peaceful and benevolent; they were thugs. However, everyone of the time was a thug, and there are plenty of examples of Christian atrocities that went without being complained about or even commented on by the Christian clerics.
Vikings did not have horned helmets. Horned helmets for Vikings—rather than earlier cultures—were first conjectured in the 1820s by the Swedish artist, Gustav Malmström, in illustrations for an edition of Frithiof’s Saga. The concept was popularized in 1869 by Carl Emil Doepler for Richard Wagner’s operatic cycle Der Ring des Nibelungen. Earlier, horned helmets are seen in artwork, but they were worn by priests in religious ceremonies, were never used in battle and by the Viking Age seems to have no longer been seen.
Vikings did not wear furry loin cloths, black leather biker outfits or go bare-chested. In fact, the men wore the same sort of clothing seen in most other European cultures of the time, differing only in the length of tunics.
Though modern thought often refers caustically to Anglo-Saxon obscenities, there is no indication that the Englisc had obscene curse words. They did have swear words, but in which they swear using religious terms such as God’s blood and I swear by Christ’s wounds.
Despite finding weapons in female graves, there is little indication— outside of fiction and fantasy of the time—that women fought. There is no doubt that women were taught to use weapons and that women were expected to help defend the home, but they did not go out on raid with weapons in hands for a number of reasons. The fact that weapons were found in graves means about as much that they were warriors as finding an adult key in a girl-child’s grave means that she was mistress of the house.
The only physical evidence of Norse occupation in North America has been found in L’anse aux Meadows and Sutherland, a farther north site. The Kensington Stone, the Heavener Stone, the Gulfport Tower and the Vinland map have all been proven almost conclusively to be the products of later times, either the results of forgery or of mis-interpretation.
The Norse were not a dirty people. Each Norse person carried a comb—like most other people of the time. This was not exclusively to look better but to help comb out lice and other bugs, but the Norse took a bath every Saturday night, and the original meaning of Scandinavian words for Saturday was laurdag: Washing Day. The results were apparent, for Anglo-Saxon girls were known to find the Norse boys more pleasant to date than home-grown ones. In fact, John of Wallingford, prior of St. Fridswides, who complained bitterly that the Norse men of the Danelaw were unChristianly clean, noted that the Norse bathed so completely just to put the moves on the Anglo-Saxon females. Gwyn Jones notes:
“It is reported in the chronicle attributed to John of Wallingford that the Danes, thanks to their habit of combing their hair every day, of bathing every Saturday and regularly changing their clothes, were able to undermine the virtue of married women and even seduce the daughters of nobles to be their mistresses.”
Norse men were not all big and blond. Analysis of bones from cemeteries of the Viking age indicate that Vikings and Englisc were about the same height as an average person nowadays, neither exceptionally tall nor exceptionally short. There were exceptions, to be certain, but these are specifically pointed out so that they were probably extraordinary then as now. Although blond hair was valued, it was not universal among the Norse, and there are many accounts of men bleaching their hair.