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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.

Drop Spindle

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.

Loom Weights

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.

Warp-Weighted Loom

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.

Wool Combs

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.



Living History is an illusion, and it is our duty to make the illusion as well as we can. We are not living in the past. We are trying to make onlookers regard us as if we are! We are attempting to recreate a totally different culture as completely and as accurately as we can.

We are dealing here with male costume for recreating the culture of Northern Europe in the Viking Age; that covers roughly the years 800–1100 ce. To a great extent, essential kit depend on the accuracy regulations that you subscribe to. Here, I adhere to the regulations mandated by Regia Anglorum (different societies have different interpretations, different strictness and, in the case of one society, no regulations at all. I shall assume that anyone reading this has an interest in the more strict side of the coin).

Let us divide the soft kit into three categories:

First is the material. Quite simply, that means that no garments will be made of cotton nor of any man-made material such as nylon or polyester. The materials to be used are wool, flax (linen, hemp or nettle) or silk. Silk was very expensive and should only be used for posh, uncommon kit. Only royalty or high ecclesiasticals had garments entirely of silk; even the wealthier folk would only use silk for trim. Linen was not nearly as expensive, but it was expensive and had to be processed in an expensive, time-consuming method. However, because some people are allergic to wool to one extent or another, the fact that garments touching the skin are linen is well within the limits of safety and compromise, even if the garment made of linen is not for the class that might have routinely used it. Wool, inexpensive and plentiful, easily manufactured and available, is the preferred material.

Second is the design. Books such as Þor Ewing’s Viking Clothing and Gale R. Owen-Crocker’s Dress in Anglo-Saxon England deal with the styles that were available. It is interesting to note that styles were largely the same across different cultures, but they did change slowly with time, and they did change in little details from one area to another. Whether or not you assume an impression, you should take care to establish costume for a certain era and a certain location and not merely wear a coat from one era and trousers from another and carry jewelry and objects from another. While this is bad and should be avoided, it is not as bad as just making up things whole sale (or copying from Victorian illustrations and such films as Lee Major’s Norseman or The History Channel’s Vikings). It is called the practical application of research, and it centers upon Research!

Finally is the basic necessity—a tunic. You can have no footwear. You can have no trousers. You can certainly have no hat, gloves or belt. But there is a medieval Scandinavian law that forbade men to expose their chests in public (unlike women, although that was probably to allow breast-feeding and not for any prurient interest). The Tiberius and Julius work calendars show men working in the heat of the field, bare-headed and wearing a long-sleeved tunic. But trouserless to keep cool. The reticence to show a male naked chest continued to some extent into the early twentieth century. Men’s swim suits concealed the chest until the third decade and later. In early Tarzan films, Tarzan wore something across his chest (in silent films, it was Jane who was topless in some instances!).

Let us assume that you have more than the bare necessities. You have an adequate, if not posh soft kit: an undertunic, a tunic, trousers, a belt (and knife; as Eleanor said of a slightly later era in “Lion in Winter:” “Of course he has a knife, he always has a knife, we all have knives! It’s 1183 and we’re barbarians!” I think the term “barbarian” is too much modern chauvinism, but you never find me today without a knife!). And shoes.

Let us further assume that the garments are on the extreme side of accuracy. There are three ways to ruin the illusion can be ruined:

The inclusion of oop jewelry and body modifications, such as a watch, male earrings, other modern jewelry and visible body jewelry and tattoos of any sort.

Footwear that is not accurate, that has been external modified for convenience and comfort. The shoes should be turn-soled, no higher than just above the ankles and have no buckles or buttons. There are plenty of surviving shoes from the Viking Age. There is a very good developmental chart in Leather and Leatherworking in Anglo-Scandinavian and Medieval York. There are some reenactors who stress that having an improper set of shoes is the crowning part of a wonderful impression, and substituting sneakers, boots and even welted facsimiles of period shoes is an easy way to make everything worthless!

And finally, there are spectacles. Anyone wearing spex while portraying a Norseman—even an otherwise impeccable portrayal—is just doing a fantasy LARP and flushing any historical integrity that they might have down the toilet. Wear contacts if necessary; go without spectacles if you can replace them with contacts. You might not see details, but most people can operate without the aid. Experiment, and go without spectacles at other times as well. A friend has long talked about writing an article on her own experiences going without spectacles in period kit, and I still hope that she will write it!

Living History is an illusion, and it is our duty to make the illusion as well as we can. What can ruin that illusion for you?


At the 2015 Market at the Square in Urbana, Illinois, Micel Folcland manned a table once a month. We released a new installment every month, at our appearance at the Market, in this continuing serial set in the Danelaw of the early eleventh century. We tried to keep the installments as related to common everyday life in the Anglo-Scandinavian culture of the, and we tried to deal with matters of history and culture that were largely unknown and that would provoke question and thought. We were glad to answer any questions that might be posed, and we still are!

WHAT HAS GONE BEFORE—Sixteen-year-old Beornræd’s family has a stall at the market, selling grain and textiles, and they are doing brisk work. Business has been good, and Beornræd encountered a young girl who is still in his thoughts. The family has also encountered a Norseman, who buys fabric to trade, but when a thievery is discovered several booths away, the Norseman disappears. When the victim of the thievery, Rædwulf the smith, learns that the Norseman is near, he sends out a manhunt to find him. Afterwards, as they search, Beornræd goes to visit the minster and runs into the girl, who is hiding, and Rædwulf’s knife falls at her feet…

Surprised, Beornræd stared at the knife in his hand. Then he looked at the girl he still held onto and said, “Wh-what…”

“Do not tell anyone,” she pleaded. “I was going to sell it for food…I will…”

“An innocent man stands accused,” said Beornræd. He stared at the girl.

She teared and looked down. “I am an orphan.” the girl cried, “with no money, with no home, with…”

“Become a nun,” he said. “If they will take you.” And he was immediately sorrowful that he had been so smitten with her. “Now…come with me!”

He pressed his way through the crowds, dragging her behind him. “Make way! Make way!” he cried as he pulled her toward Rædwulf’s stall. People got out of the way, and the curious followed. And at the smith’s stall, he hesitated. There he say the red-faced Rædwulf standing with Eadmund, and armed men held spears at the throats of disarmed and bound Ármóðr, Fróði and two other Norsemen. They looked solemn and angry.

Rædwulf was crying, “…and the Danes who are attacking our shores to the south will be given a distinc5t warning tha…”

“Hold!” cried Beornræd ass he walked up to them. He pulled the girl around and flung her to the ground in front of Rædwulf.

“What is this…?”

Beornræd cast the seax into the dirt at Rædwulf’s feet. “Here is who stole your seax,” he said. “The Norsemen are innocent!”

Rædwulf paused and stooped to pick up the knife. Then he stared at the girl. “Did you steal this?” She said nothing, but she nodded sadly. The fur left Rædwulf’s face, and he turned to Ármóðr. “My apologies…my apologies to you.” He waved his arms. “Let them go!”

Ármóðr said nothing but reached out to grasp Beornræd’s shoulder. Then he nodded his head and led his mates and Beornræd off without a backwards glance.

Wærburh stared as the procession approached. “What is going on here?” she asked.

“He is innocent,” said Beornræd. “The girl stole the seax…”

“His testimony freed us,” said Ármóðr. He paused, looked at Beornræd and said, “Know this, that you are now under my protection. You have done me a good turn, and you will find me always willing to give you a good turn.”

Beornhelm smiled at his son. “You did a good thing.”

And Ármóðr said, “We will secure you lodging for the night. You need not travel in the dark and face those robbers who might come forth on darkened roads.”

Beornræd glanced at his mother and father, and they smiled. He said, “My thanks…”

“And we will visit the pubs and listen to storytellers sing of your actions.” He paused and smiled. “And if they do not…then I will compose a song for you myself!”

the end



At the 2015 Market at the Square in Urbana, Illinois, Micel Folcland manned a table once a month. We released a new installment every month, at our appearance at the Market, in this continuing serial set in the Danelaw of the early eleventh century. We tried to keep the installments as related to common everyday life in the Anglo-Scandinavian culture of the, and we tried to deal with matters of history and culture that were largely unknown and that would provoke question and thought. We were glad to answer any questions that might be posed, and we still are!

WHAT HAS GONE BEFORE—Sixteen-year-old Beornræd’s family has a stall at the market, selling grain and textiles, and they are doing brisk work. Business has been good, and Beornræd encountered a young girl who is still in his thoughts. The family has also encountered a Norseman, who buys fabric to trade, but when a thievery is discovered several booths away, the Norseman disappears. When the victim of the thievery, Rædwulf the smith, declares the Norseman is the villain and sends out a men to find him. As the search begins, Beornræd goes to visit the minster.

The minster was close to the market, but that was not to say that Beornræd could reach it easily or quickly. Not merely because of the market or even the crowd of people in it, but because there were so many things to see. Beornræd was not often allowed to wander, and he too advantage of his freedom from the family stall to look at the merchandise, to stop and handle it, to exchange greetings with people whom he knew but seldom saw. Some were from farms and even villages some distance away, and others were kept as busy on their farms as he was on his father’s.

Vegetables and grains did not interest him. Breads were boring, and his mother made better fabric than anything he saw in the stalls. But the handicrafts, the carved spoons of wood and horn, the turned bowls and the ceramic cups. They all interested him, and he took his time handling and examining them. But at last, he reached the edge of the market and walked on to the minster.

Few buildings in the village were made of stone, but the church was one of them. It was not as if Beornræd had never seen it before, but the sight of the tall stony bell tower always caused him to pause reverently. He had run through the market, but as he got close to the minster, he slowed and stood motionless before the building.

Then he went inside. The building was deserted. Even Father Særic, the paroche preost, was not around. But for what he needed to do, a priest was not necessary. Beornræd walked up the center aisle and knelt before the altar, a slab of Roman stone, inscribed now with crosses, and covered with a pure white altar cloth, with a triptych set up at the rear, in front of chalice and pyx. Within, a relic was secreted, a bone of St. Mark, in whose name the minster was named. In front of the altar, Beornræd crossed himself and looked up at the cross which rose before the arched window behind the altar. Then realizing that his father expected him back soon, he knelt on the steps before the altar.

Aloud, he prayed. “And to us sinners who are your servants, grant confidence in the multitude of your mercies, and some lot and part with your holy apostles and martyrs…”

There was a noise to one side of the chapel that interrupted him. Beornræd looked and saw a flash of blue. Not Father Særic or someone else from the church. Curiosity forced him to stand and to move. The blue figure, hiding in the shadows, moved out, and Beornræd caught the figure by the wrist.

And the face of the young girl who had so haunted his mind looked at him, eyes wide in fear. Not letting go of her wrist, he grinned and said, “Hold. What are you afraid of…”

And the seax dropped onto the floor. Beornræd stooped and picked it up. He immediately saw the maker’s mark.


—to be continued



At the 2015 Market at the Square in Urbana, Illinois, Micel Folcland manned a table once a month. We released a new installment every month, at our appearance at the Market, in this continuing serial set in the Danelaw of the early eleventh century. We tried to keep the installments as related to common everyday life in the Anglo-Scandinavian culture of the, and we tried to deal with matters of history and culture that were largely unknown and that would provoke question and thought. We were glad to answer any questions that might be posed, and we still are!

WHAT HAS GONE BEFORE—Sixteen-year-old Beornræd’s family has a stall at the market, selling grain and textiles, and they are doing brisk work. Business has been good, and Beornræd encountered a young girl who is still in his thoughts. The family has also encountered a Norseman, who buys fabric to trade, but when a thievery is discovered several booths away, the Norseman disappears.

Beornræd was kept away by the crowd about Rædwulf’s stall. It was not that Rædwulf was so popular, but he was the only smith hereabouts, and his neighbors were more concerned with his happiness than if he was just another smith, and they are important enough!

He asked the man to his left, “What is missing? What was stolen?”

The man glanced at him. “A seax I hear.”

Another said, “It is terrible that one cannot trust his neighbors.”

“Aye. Everyone at the market is known and…”

Beornhelm said, “There was a Norseman.”

They looked at him. “What?”

“There was a Norseman, a stranger, going through the market. He stopped at…”

And Rædwulf was suddenly by him. “I recall him.”

“He was a trader, trying to find goods he could buy for Birka.”

“So said he,” said Rædwulf. “Where is he now?”

Beornræd said, “I know not, but he could not have gone far.” He paused. “Why, do you think…”

Rædwulf said, “He is a stranger.” He turned to the crowd of people. “Hwæt! Spread out and find the Norseman. Ælfwig, go fetch Eadmund. If we find this Norseman, I want a fine levied against him and have him exiled from this land!” He folded his arms and breathed heavily, saying almost under his breath, “I will deal with him…” Then he caught sight of Beornræd standing there, and he stared at him as if he had never seen him before and said angrily, “Get out of my sight, boy! Run down that lawless Norseman and bring him to me!”

Beornræd nodded and, saying, “Yes, sir,” turned and walked away very rapidly. He shook his head and smiled to himself. When Beornræd returned to the stall, his father was busy with a customer. When the customer was gone, Beornhelm looked at his son and asked, “What was stolen?”

“A seax. Rædwulf now has people out searching for Ármóðr. Since Ármóðr is a stranger, we feel that he is the thief.”

Beornhelm sighed. “Rædwulf might be a decent smith but he is sometimes a real wanhoga. An honest trader who will spend good silver on a cartload of fabric but will steal one small seax? I rather doubt it.” He shook his head.

Another customer came by, and Beornhelm smiled his merchant smile and turned to help him.

It was by then about mid-day, and the bells of the minster rang sext. Beornhelm waited for his father to stop talking with the customer, then said, “Da, may I go to the minster and say a prayer for Grand-da’s soul?” Wærburh’s father had died last winter.

Beornhelm nodded. “Business is slowing down, so certainly. Just be back as soon as you can, because I expect business to speed back up this afternoon.”

With a nod, Beornræd smiled and ran off toward the church.

—to be continued



At the 2015 Market at the Square in Urbana, Illinois, Micel Folcland manned a table once a month. We released a new installment every month, at our appearance at the Market, in this continuing serial set in the Danelaw of the early eleventh century. We tried to keep the installments as related to common everyday life in the Anglo-Scandinavian culture of the, and we tried to deal with matters of history and culture that were largely unknown and that would provoke question and thought. We were glad to answer any questions that might be posed, and we still are!

WHAT HAS GONE BEFORE—The family of sixteen-year-old Beornræd has set up their stall at the market, where they will sell grain and textiles. Beornræd has encountered a young girl, but she has moved on. They are doing a brisk business, talked when they notice a Norseman approaching.

Brunstan saw the Norseman first, and he urgently said, “Da,” and pointed. His tone was not of fear but of fascination. Beornhelm followed his son’s outstretched arm. Although they lived in the Danelaw, most Norsemen in the area by this time have been assimilated into the Englisc culture. The Norseman walking toward them, however, obviously had not.

He was tall, muscular, with long brown hair ane carefully trimmed beard. What he wore was close to what they wore—tunic, trousers, boots—but there were small differences. The tunic was not as long as what they wore. The trousers were not as fitting. And he was alone, not one of the here that were causing trouble with their invasions to the south.

As the family watched, he walked straight toward their stall in rolling steps that had been borne of an experience from ships. He stopped in front of the stall and bowed slightly, saying in an accented English, “Beornhelm?” Beornhelm nodded. “I am Ármóðr Halfdansson. I have been told of your wife’s weaving?”

Beornhelm led the Norseman to where te fabric was folded and stacked. Ármóðr stooped to examine it more closely, keenly looking at it and holding it carefully in his fingers, and he rubbed. “Good, good,” he said. He straightened up and said to Beornhelm, “I am a trader, from the ship Glærfreki, newly arrived from Jótland. Several mates and I have been looking for goods we can take back to Jótland. I think I have found some!” He smiled, and Wærburh said, “It is my weaving, sir.”

“How much do you have?” Wærburh named an amount and then a price. Ármóðr gave a smaller sum, and so they debated back and forth for a time, until they agreed. Then they shook hands, and Ármóðr brought forth his pouch. He counted out several coins.

Beornhelm took the coins and looked at them. They were old dirhams, brought at some point from Arab lands and once the purest silver available. He brought out a small iron scale and carefully balanced the coin with his weights. “Too much,” he said.

“You are honest,” said Ármóðr. He took a coin and, pulling out his seax, cut it in two, handing one half back to Beornhelm. Beornhelm added it to the scale and, with a smile, nodded. “That will do it.”

“Good.” He looked back and saw a mate pushing a small cart. “Fróði! Here!”

Fróði pushed the cart up, and Ármóðr snapped an order. Fróði started to pile the fabric that Beornræd and Brunstan brought forward onto the cart.

Beornhelm and Ármóðr stood together, watching, and Ármóðr said, “We will be back. If those in Birka or Hedeby like this fabric as much as we think they will, we will be in the market for more. Can you supply it?”

“We can, indeed. We…”

There was a cry from Rædwulf’s booth. He cried, “Someone has stolen some goods!”

Beornhelm frowned. A bad incident at a market that was known to be friendly and honest. “See what is gone,” he snapped at Beornræd. Then he turned to Ármóðr and Fróði, but the Norsemen were gone.

—to be continued



At the 2015 Market at the Square in Urbana, Illinois, Micel Folcland manned a table once a month. We released a new installment every month, at our appearance at the Market, in this continuing serial set in the Danelaw of the early eleventh century. We tried to keep the installments as related to common everyday life in the Anglo-Scandinavian culture of the, and we tried to deal with matters of history and culture that were largely unknown and that would provoke question and thought. We were glad to answer any questions that might be posed, and we still are!

WHAT HAS GONE BEFORE—Sixteen-year-old Beornræd’s family has set up a stall of the local market to sell grain and textiles, ad sales have been good. Then they are visited by a young girl who attracts Beornræd’s eye!

Beornræd smiled at the girl in what he hoped was an irresistible manner. “May I help you?” he asked.

The girl smiled back. “I am only looking. My mother is over yonder, and I am merely marking time until she has made her decision.” She was examining the fabric. It was unbleached and undyed, but the weave was very well done. Wænhold was a accomplished weaver and often complained that she had no daughters to learn the art.

Beornræd said, “My mother wove this from wool she got from the sheep we grow.”

“That I can see.” She smiled at him warmly and then turned her head. “My mother is calling. Good day, sir. I had better be moving on.” She moved through the crowd gracefully, and Beornræd looked on her until she faded out of sight.

Beornhelm reached and ruffled his son’s hair. “Bring back your wits, boy. You are needed here!”

Beornræd turned to his father. “I suppose that you are so old that you tell me how to be realistic about things,” he drawled.

“But still young enough to…”

“Beornhelm!” cried a new voice. Both turned to see the reeve walking up in an even gait.

Beornhelm said, “Good day, Eadmund. How fare you this fine day?”

“A good enough day.” said the reeve. He was a slender man who had seen forty summers. His black hair was beginning to grey, but he was still a vigorous and strong man. He walked up and shook Beornhelm’s hand. He nodded to Beornræd and his brother. “Good day, boys.”

“Good day, sir,” they chorused back, and the reeve turned his head to their father. “Are your prices the same as they have been in the past?”

“They are. And we have taken care not to adulterate our wares.”

The reeve nodded. “No less than what I expected from you.” He drew closer. “There is a merchant up there, named Ceolwulf, is a traveling vendor. He comes from Mercia, or so he says. I don’t know whether to trust him or not, since I have found that his wares are not what he advertises. If he continues to misrepresent himself, I shall have him scourged and driven from the market.”

Beornhelm clucked and said, “It is people like him who tar us all. If it were in my power, he would already be running away.”

“To be expected,” said Eadmund. “But you are not the reeve, and I have made my decision.” He smiled and bowed toward Beornhelm and moved on.

Beornhelm watched him move away as avidly as his son had watched the girl. When the reeve was out of earshot, Beornhelm said, he thinks he is a worthy man and that all fear, respect and love him.”

“But he is respected no more than the Lord’s goat?” said Beornræd, just as he had often heard his father say.

“Indeed!” his father laughed. “But…”

He went silent, staring at the man who was approaching. “We seldom see such as he in this area,” he said.

Beornræd followed his father’s gaze, and so he saw the Norseman as he sauntered through the crowd, coming toward them.

—to be continued



At the 2015 Market at the Square in Urbana, Illinois, Micel Folcland manned a table once a month. We released a new installment every month, at our appearance at the Market, in this continuing serial set in the Danelaw of the early eleventh century. We tried to keep the installments as related to common everyday life in the Anglo-Scandinavian culture of the, and we tried to deal with matters of history and culture that were largely unknown and that would provoke question and thought. We were glad to answer any questions that might be posed, and we still are!

WHAT HAS GONE BEFORE—Sixteen-year-old Beornræd and his family are traveling to a nearby market and have just arrived and are ready to set up their stall, selling grain and textiles.

The oxen were guided to where the family’s booth would be set up, and th father reined in the oxen. He carefully guided the waggon to where it would sit, and he turned to Beornræd.”Unhitch them and stake them yonder,” he said to Beornræd. “Give the man a coin so they could get fed, and then hasten back here, and we will set up the stall.”

Beornræd ran to do what his father said, as his father and Brunstan began to pull out the poles that would hold up the fly. The oxen were placed with other animals a distance from the market area, and he talked to the old man who oversaw the animals so that they would be fed and protected. And ran back to where his father and brother were hard at work. All around him, people were setting up, ready to sell. At some he smiled and waved, and they greeted him as he ran past. When he arrived, panting, where the Father and brother were working, his father snapped, “Help us with the frame. Wærburh, fetch out the cloth for the awning.”

It is a good day,” she said innocently. “There is little likelihood of rain.”

Beornhelm took an acid glance at her and said, “The clouds may blow away, and we will need shade from the sun,” he smiled, but Wærburh was already pulling out the fabric that would be stretched over the frame.

As they worked on it, securing the frame and stretching forth the fabric, a plump man in a deep green tunic walked up. “Good day, Beornhelm,” he said when he stopped before the stall..

Beornhelm turned and smiled. “Stay at work or you get the back on my hand,” he said to his sons. Then he walked over to the burgess and shook his hand. “What is the toll, Æthelberht?”

“It is as much as it always is,” said the burgess, “Sometimes I think you are merely trying to have me impose a lesser toll, so often do you ask that. But I am not so old that I would forget and do that.”

“Indeed,” agreed Beornhelm. He pulled his pouch about his neck from beneath his tunic and carefully pulled out a coin, hading it to Æthelberht. The burgess smiled and slid the coin into his own pouch. “So much do I trusty you, I will not even check on its purity,” Æthelberht smiled. “And besides, if you have tried to cheat me, I know where to find you!” He clapped Beornhelm on the back and went on to the next booth.

Beornhelm returned to where his sons had the fly mostly up, and he nodded begrudging approval, noting, “Hurry now. Customers are already filling the market, and I want to be ready for them. Now, put that frame leg there, and stretch the wool. Good…good.” He smiled and turned back to the wagon, pulling out a plank which Beornræd ran to help slide it between the frame to make a table. As soon as they had set out wares, folk began to stop by, taking glances, examining the wares. Some Beornhelm knew and greeted by name. Others. He did not. By the time they had been set up for an hour, trade had been brisk and quick, and Beornhelm was smiling. It will be a good day,” he said.

Then a young girl, dressed in fine blue, her hair unbound and blonde came up. Beornræd smiled and said to his father, “I can take care of her.”

His father, glancing at Beornræd’s mother with a knowing grin, said, “I am certain you think you could…”

—to be continued



Welcome to a continuing serial set in the Danelaw of the early eleventh century. At the 2015 Market at the Square in Urbana, Illinois, Micel Folcland manned a table once a month. We released a new installment every month, at our appearance at the Market. We tried to keep them as related to common everyday life in the Anglo-Scandinavian culture of the, and we tried to deal with matters of history and culture that were largely unknown and that would provoke question and thought. We were glad to answer any questions that might be posed, and we still are!

Beornræd was shaken awake by his mother before sunrise, and within moments, he was wide awake. Today was the great market, and he had been looking forward to attending it since they had gone to the last a month ago. Last night, the waggon had been loaded with grains grown by his father and with textiles that had been woven by his mother, and she said, “Harness the oxen. We’ll be off!”

With a grin, he sprang out of bed and pulled on tunic and braises, slipped into shoes and ran out to fetch the oxen and to harness them to the waggon. He was by now fourteen and being given the responsibilities of adulthood, and he welcomed the status, trying to do his best. By the time he was finished, the first red fingers of dawn were filling the skies. His father climbed onto the waggon and said, “Let’s get going!” When his mother and brother joined them, the waggon began to roll.

It was only an hour from the farm to the market, but the father did not tarry. They rolled down the path, over a hill, past a wooded glade and then onto the old Roman road. The stones were burnished and worn from centuries of traffic, but it was not overgrown and was smoother than the unpaved pathway had been. Still the wooden wheels creaked and groaned, and they jostled in their seats as the wheels made their way across the stones of the old road, and they joined in with the others traveling toward the market.

Their fellow travelers were no doubt merchants as well. Most were neighbors, and Beornræd already knew them, though some had traveled much farther and were known only from being seen at earlier markets, perhaps even in previous years. He was fascinated. There was Uhtred, who would sell onions, leeks and turnips from his farm. Beyond him was the smith, Rædwulf, whose cart clattered with his wares and the contents of his repair shop. He did original work as well and “signed” that work with a maker’s mark of R, for he was proud of his ability. And far ahead, Beornræd could see the cart of Alric, who carried milk and eggs. He smiled, since there would be so much and so many to see, and he had not seen many of them for months.

As they rolled along, Beornræd’s younger brother, Brunstan, said, “Will we have trouble finding a spot?”

“Nay,” said the father, “Not in there days…”

Beornræd closed his eyes and smiled anew, for he knew that a tale from his father was coming up, and his father was an excellent storyteller.

“When I was your age,” the father said, “The market was not chartered, and merchants set up as they were able. Many were the fights and disputes. I remember when old Æthelhun was knifed by a merchant who disliked where he set up. There followed a great struggle, and many people had their heads knocked about!” He sighed. “Things have become so much safer after the market received a charter, even if the tolls are greater than they were then.” He laughed. “But I would not want to go back to those days!”

In a while, the roads began to convert, joining together in a great hub, and the oxen were guided to a space close to a bridge over the river. It was by then quite bright, and the day looked warm and clear, and the Father smiled and said to the mother, “Today will be a good day…I can tell!”

The mother replied, “That it will be” and looked around excitedly herself.

—to be continued



This is based on an article by Cal Kinzer for the American Civil War community. To see what it contains, see http://www.authentic-campaigner.com/forum/showthread.php?1094-A-Dozen-Inexpensive-Ways-to-Improve-Your-Personal-Impression-By-Cal-Kinzer

Cal notes better than I could, “Everyone thinks it costs big bucks to have a first-rate authentic soldier impression. However, there are a number of things any Reenactor can do to improve his impression that cost little or no money.” As he directed his list to ACW reenactor, I direct this list to Viking Age reenactors.


Non-period BVDs are permissible (we will not here deal with the fact that period underwear remains for the most part unknown), but anything that is seen should be documentable. Wearing a kirtle of the proper weave, cut and color does not obviate the need not to wear not to wear farb such as black cotton pants, Harley boots and a cowboy hat if nothing comparable may be found or bought. A person wearing a period style kirtle and nothing else is preferable to the person dressed as a fancy party goer!


This should go without saying. Do not wear watches, spectacles or shades. Keep any tattoos hidden, as well as most body jewelry (women can wear earrings, but only if they are accurate to what a few women of the time wore). Even if a mobile phone is kept with you (put it on Vibrate and Mute it), keep it hidden and retire to someplace where you are not obvious to use it. Even if you keep your keys with you, keep them in a pouch and unseen. The same with money (especially since it may be needed if there are things being sold at the event). Do not combine modern and period wear in camp or walking around, although that may be permissible on the drive home if you cannot change. You might not be from the period—all living history is an illusion, but good living history is a good illusion!)—but you should look as if you are, an if you are miraculously transported back in time, ideally, those around you will not suspect you are not from their time and culture until you open your mouth!


Everyone had a comb. It was used to help strain out fleas and other louses, but it was also used just to be presentable. People took pride in their appearance, and they combed their hair, bleached it often, braided it apparently and had various toiletries that they used to make themselves look better. In fact, the Norse took full immersive baths once a week, a practice that upset at least one English clergyman, who complained that local girls wen after the sweet-smelling Norse youth rather than to the English boys who did not bathe so often!


It is a great reenactorism to walk around in full armor, helmet on your head and mail jangling, looking deep and dark and macho. Chances are that this was not done in period and ought not to be done by reenactors. Unless there is a reason–guard duty, coming from or going to the battle), the cumbersome armor was probably set aside, and the warrior would be lounging around in his civvies.

I won’t even mention the old Shield Maiden myth. If a woman dresses in armor and fights alongside the men, she had better look like just another bloke and change into female dress at the end of the battle!


There has been a pretty good indication that jewelry was gender related. A man wore a pendant for good luck and to do homage to his deity(ies), but he seems to have worn only two or three beads if at all, and some at his waist. It was the women who wore a lot of jewelry, since their bling indicated how rich–and generous–their men were. In fact, if you are a man and wear a lot of beads, it might be advisable to just give it to your woman and take pride in how she looks! 🙂


I am referring both to era and status. There are exceptions, but we think that having one piece from another era (just one, and from an earlier era, not anything after the era portrayed) and class (a person in peasant rags carrying a broad sword is just ridiculous, although a person of a lower class might well have one small item that had been given by the lord). The idea that you would be dressed like some kind of scarecrow wearing anything gathered as a souvenir on your travels is either a cinematic affectation or a stark reenactorism!


Metal and jewelry should be polished and burnished frequently, but unless the material is covered with mud or grease, or it absolutely reeks, brush the wool and launder the linen every once in a while. Believe it or not, many people in the past were not always immaculate and bright!


Modern politics, modern religion, television shows, novels, films…anything that does not have a direct reference to your presentation. Talking about a modern folkway or fact is okay if you are doing a third-person impression and are using it to compare or contrast with what is being done today, but take care that it is only a tool—and not over-used—and not the whole reason for talking!


This a reference not only to clothing but also to what you might eat in public. Know what fruits and vegetables might be available fresh; otherwise, dried or preserved victuals should be used (as well as tack about the Hunger Month if that is timely and appropriate), and meat should be carefully moderated so that it was either salted and preserved or fresh only in slaughtering months. Persons of the time—even the most exalted and wealthy—were dependent upon agriculture, and that differs from today so much, and that should be accurately presented to the MOPs!


Chances are from extant garments and practical experience, any fur was worn with the fur toward the body and not as a shaggy cloak, hat or something else. It was warmer, and that was as good a reason as any!


This was a later style, it seems, and probably was not done in our era because of the slides that are found so often that keeps the end of the belt attached to the belt itself after the buckle. A metal slide is inexpensive and often may be easily found, but slides of leather or even of cod are also acceptable.


At least if “bad” is a positive, macho term. Amulets, belts and much else was small by modern standards. Belts were thin, and most jewelry and pendants were similarly small. We are trying to portray ordinary people from the time, and not members of the wrestling foundation from the 1980s! (At least hopefully)




Despite the modern moralistic condemnation of gossip, gossiping is a very important part of human nature, and this was true in the Viking Age as well as today. It gives us a very good idea of how the culture approached certain private matters, just as gossip today does. For example, in the ancient cave at Mæshowe, Norse runes were carved saying:

“Ingebjork the fair widow—many a woman has walked stooping in here a very showy person”

“Thorni fucked. Helgi carved” [This was censored on the original site, which notes that “the official guidebooks usually tone this inscription down.” Is this evidence for exhibitionistic sex?]

“Ingigerth is the most beautiful of all women”

In other words, people behaved the way that people do nowadays, and they were not afraid to comment on it.

Other examples may be taken from the rune sticks that appear in England and Scandinavia. University of Oregon medieval scholar Martha Bayless shared rune sticks from centuries past that were found in Bergen, Norway. They were thought to be rare and restricted to important matters but there were 660 such sticks found in a small area of Bergen, Norway and they carry brief and personal everyday messages (exactly like tweets) that show that sharing “too much information” is nothing new!

“They are both living together, Clumsy-Kari and Vilhjalm’s wife.”

“Ingebjorg loved me when I was in Stavanger.”

“Arni the priest wants Inga.”

“I love another man’s wife so much that fire seems cold to me. And I am that woman’s lover.”

So if you have a good story about Olaf getting drunk and pissing in the kitchen sink, you’re not being inaccurate by spreading it!



Dress Me for Reenacting

THE DEAD TRUTH ABOUT VIKINGS (you don’t hafta read anything else)

After researching some of the most up-to-date and well-written books on the Norse culture, I got tired and threw the books aside to watch the best of Viking films I could find: “The Long Ships,” “The Norseman,” “Vikings” and “Pathfinder.” With testosterone surging through me, I wrote the following!

The Vikings were a misunderstood bunch of merchants. Each year, the Vikings would do a lot of housekeeping at their manors. Then they would gather together all their junk and go to their Things (which were sort of like flea markets, only you didn’t want to use that term since it kept people away during the Black Plague). These were sometimes called “stable sales” and were forerunners of today’s “garage sales.”

After a while, the Vikings figured out that they were just moving things around and not really getting rid of anything. So they loaded their old paperback sagas, junk jewelry and teakwood statues of Odin with clocks in his left eye into ships and sailed off to make a buck somewhere else.

Unfortunately, the Church didn’t like the Vikings, since they were cutting into the Church’s sale of its own worthless junk (called “relics”). So the Church got its propaganda machine going and told all their priests to end their prayers with “And deliver us, O Lord, from the dross of the Norsemen.” Unfortunately, Latin was already a dead language; and the priests misunderstood, praying instead to be delivered from the “wrath” of the Vikings.

When their congregations heard this, they figured that the priests had pissed people off again and that it was up to them to save their skins. So when the Vikings arrived to set up shop, the natives tended to hustle down and try to close them down, breaking their display cases and setting fire to their merchandise. The peace-loving Vikings, seeing the destruction for no reason, decided to give the Christians a taste of their own medicine and really kicked ass. They then helped themselves to Christian merchandise to help replace their own damaged goods.

When news of the fiasco came out, the Church decided to cover up for their priests’ mistakes and came up with the Viking myth as we know it today. The Vikings, who were very sensitive, changed their names to Normans. Since no one expects much from anyone named Norman, they were easily able to conquer half of Europe before the Church figured out what was going on. The Church then shrugged and sat back to wait until the King of England wanted a divorce. Then, they figured, they would show them.

The Vikings invented a lot of things but didn’t patent them, so other people took credit for them. They loved to go boating but never got the hang of waterskiing. When they were on dry land, they really missed their ships. Their phrase, “I ban longin’ for my ship” became shortened to “long ship” and became synonymous with the ships themselves, which the Vikings actually called “floaty things,” since they were looked on as floating flea markets.

A few Vikings set up a protection racket, called “Dane Geld,” which was short for “Give the Dane your spare change or he’ll cut your balls off.” When the Vikings changed their names to Normans, this group conquered Sicily and later changed their names to Mafia.

Swedish Vikings never wore horned helmets; theirs had wings. Norwegian Vikings wore horned helmets and were distinguished from Swedish Vikings. Danish Vikings wore flutes on their helmets. All of them dressed alike otherwise. Anyone who did not wear a furry skirt and a muscle shirt wore blue jeans and t-shirts (their t-shirts had fancy Celtic knotwork embroidery but no snappy sayings, since hardly anyone could read their runes). It is still being debated whether Vikings wore tennis shoes or cowboy boots.


Old pal, Dr. Emily McEwan-Fujita, came up with a funny thing pertaining to her specialty: Anti-Gaelic Bingo. It reminded me a lot of the SCA’s Bad Garb Bingo and set me to working on a Norse equivalent.

Here is my version…

bad viking bingo g

To see Dr. McEwan-Fujita’s original, see http://emilymcfujita.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/02/Anti-Gaelic-Bingo-Card-1.jpg



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!


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 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.


The Norse did not run around wearing the furry loincloths and bikinis shown in so many Viking films and other popular media. There is no reason to believe that they were habitually nude, though the fact that the Norse had weekly fully immersive baths indicates that nudity did not have the same status in that time as nudity does today. In fact, going by later graphics of mixed-gender communal bathing, even the nudity of the opposite gender was acceptable (as long as the hair on top of the head is covered) and could feature clothed attendants helping the bathers.

To a good extent, clothing—when worn—reflected the status of the wearer. The dress for sex slaves—slaves who served as concubines—were very distinct. The average dress for slaves was practical in at least four ways. They were not confining, so the wearer could work more easily. They were used for identifying a slave and were different from what was worn by freemen. The cut of the clothing reinforced inferior status in the minds of slaves. And the costumes of frillur were, in many cases probably as erotic to men of the time as are a corset, stockings and high heels today. One has to wonder if wives and later non-slave concubines wore similar clothing when tending to husbands’ sexual needs.

A slave girl is described in Rígsþula, has no shoes, no jewelry. Bare arms and bare legs. Most skirts are knee length at most. Most slave clothing was rather inexpensive and plain, but Ewing opines that concubines might have worn clothing made of fine fabrics and, giving an incident in the Laxdæla Saga as a source, jewelry. Some literary and graphic references show slave girls wearing a skirt coming to mid-thigh or even “so short that her genitals were in plain view.” While this clothing might be, as conjectured, a reinforcement of the slave girl’s sub-human status, it might well have been a fetish fashion that should be very identifiable to most peoples nowadays!

There is no doubt that men and women had certain conventions and standards that had to be obeyed in their dress. In fact:

Another reason found for divorce in the sagas was what we might term “cross-dressing.” If a husband wore effeminate clothing, especially low-necked shirts exposing his chest, his wife could then divorce him…and if a woman appeared dressed in men’s trousers, her husband could then divorce her (Ibid.; also Williams, p. 114).

The Laxdæla saga says,

make him a shirt with such a large neck-hole that you may have a good excuse for separating from him, because he has a low neck like a woman.

The man was prohibited by the Grágás (Gray Goose Laws) from wearing a low-necked shirt—showing his nipples—saying that only women regularly exposed their breasts. While this might seem to document female exhibition, the real meaning is probably somewhat less prurient and refers to women wearing clothing that was suitable for breast feeding.

The wearing of trousers by women is not as forthright but no less a part of the culture:

She insisted upon wearing man’s trousers, for which cause her husband divorced her.

While women were more powerful and self-sufficient than in most other cultures for centuries afterwards, there were gender-specific fashions!

It might hear be appropriate to note here that declarations by Annika Larsson in 2010 that Vikings wore colorful, sexy fashions, devised a revised reinterpretation of the Norse hangeroc that has been pretty well demolished!


Christian fundamentalists might deny it, but the Norse culture was not monogamous, and neither was the Anglo Saxon culture. In fact, most early cultures were not monogamous. The Norse cultures spelled things out a lot more than the Christian Saxon culture did, even after it was Christianized.

The terms of “polygamy” and “polyandry” are terms often seen in an historical context. Polygamy refers to a man having multiple relationships at the same time, while polyandry refers to a woman having similar multiple relationships. For the purposes of this book, I use the more modern term of “polyamory,” which refers to different love—often sexual—relationships enjoyed by a single person at the same time.

The polygamous aspects of the Norse culture are fairly well known. After all, the Sturlunga saga indicates that “almost universally, men indulged in extramarital affairs with numbers of women before, during, and after marriage” Besides brief temporary relationships—seductions and rape—the men could have a wife, concubines and, apparently. multiple wives (often in different lands).

Although concubines have often been referred to as “sex slave,” the use of the term is in general a bit of an overstatement. To be sure, there were probably men who raped and dominated unfairly, but for most people, the process of choosing a frilla is not so simply summed up. Although some have stated that concubines were all of an inferior status, in Iceland at least this not always true:

Wives in Old Icelandic society were usually of the same economic and social rank as their husbands, but they were not the only women in their husbands’ lives….In the earliest period after the settlement, many married men, whether farmers or chieftains, kept slave women as concubines. These women were called frillur (sing. frilla). As slavery died out in the eleventh century, men continued to maintain frillur. No longer slaves, these women came from families of equal status as well as form, more commonly, from families of lower station than those of the men with whom they lived. Becoming a concubine of a prominent man often increased a woman’s status and influenced between her siblings and kinsmen, and chieftains often treated male kinsmen of their concubines as trusted brothers-in-law. In some instance’s concubines had wider latitude to act in their own interest than they might have had in poor marriage. An Icelandic folk saying of uncertain age goes, ‘Better a good man’s frillur than married badly.’

As often is presented in polygamist relationships, there was little conflict noted between wife and concubine. Some have theorized it was because everyone knew that the wife held an superior and unassailable position which the concubine knew she would never attain.

The laws of Iceland—the so-called Grágás or Grey Goose laws—say almost nothing about concubinage, “but the sagas…speak so frequently of them that one scholar has written, ‘It is scarcely possible for anyone who reads the Sturlunga and Bishops’ sagas not to notice that concubinage was the national custom in Iceland during the Free State period.'” (Byock)

Most ancient and medieval non-monogamy was polygamy and not polyandry. Polyandry, in fact, is seen in only as few cultures such as the Inuit. But, “This is not to say that women did not engage in extramarital sex. Women who avoided pregnancy suffered no penalty under the law” though a sexually promiscuous woman was not expected to accept an inheritance. Jesse Byock notes that “to judge from numerous saga examples, husbands were not the only men in their wives’ lives either. Given the living conditions, on separated farms, extra-marital relationships were seldom secret.”

Staffordshire Hoard Donations

Not strictly speaking appropriate to the Viking Age, but deucedly worth it! Help the Staffordshire Hoard examination. We did! http://www.staffordshirehoard.org.uk/donate Via David Constantine


Write a Verse That Tells Me What You Think of Me

“Rune” is derived from the word run, “mystery secret” reveals much about the limited extent to which members of the tribe were trained in runes. Perhaps the best way to keep a secret during the Anglo-Saxon period was to write it down. The fuþark was initially just another literary alphabet, Although used for some religious or magical purposes. Limiting its use to magic is similar to saying that since the Latin alphabet was used to write down charms and prayers that the Latin alphabet was solely a magical alphabet! The fuþark did not attain its current occult mystery that later writers ascribed to it until much later. It was not used on divination boards or stones during the era of its heyday.

After all, the fuþark was used in many prosaic situations. There is the Halfdan’s bored graffiti in the Haga Sophia in Constantinople, and we are told of a barrow in the north of England where a graffiti was scrawled that might as well be scrawled today: “Birgit was a good lay.” However, when rune writing was “rediscovered” and became almost instantly popular, they were instantly linked to magic. Their use as divination apparently dates from the twentieth century, and nowadays the only place to find books on runs is in the newage section of the bookstore, and the books have more to do with newage philosophy than with actual history!

The actual name fuþark came from the first six of its characters, just as the Latin alphabet is known as the ABCs from its first the characters. The names of the characters are given below, though not only did the names vary and differ with time, the meanings of the runes themselves has remain controversial and probably varied from place to place.

Readin’ an’ Writin’ an’ Runematic…

Runic inscriptions are sometimes difficult to understand, and even after concentrated study, the same runic inscription, academics can come up with several different readings. This is very normal, since there are several things about the writing of runes that make them difficult:

1. There are two major variations of the younger fuþark and several variations

2. Each character in the younger fuþark meant several sounds and so the words formed by runes could stand for several words

3. Runic inscriptions could be written forward or backwards according to the artistic taste of the carver

4. They runic words often had no spaces or other divisions between them but ran on

5. The same letter following itself was generally not be repeated, even if it were written in separate words

These should also be kept in mind when writing your own runic inscriptions. It is advantageous to consult the following chart; good luck!


The subject of rune lore is extensive and fascinating. We may very well having another installment in this, touching on the many matters that we did not speak of here, or to comment further on that which we did.

There is an excellent section in Anders Winroth’s The Age of the Vikings that speaks on runes and runestones, and I have stolen from it liberally. Readers may want to see my inspirations in a book that is altogether fascinating on other subjects as well!


Them Vikings Rune Everything!

It is has been said by many popular historians that the Norse—and other Germanic peoples—of the Viking Age and the late Iron Age were illiterate or preliterate. Which is about the same as saying that they had no poetry since alliterative verse did not rhyme in the sense with which they are familiar! The difference between the fuþark and the ABCs is merely in their uses.

Although Katherine Holman writes in The Northern Conquest that “Unfortunately for us, Scandianian society during the Viking Age does not appear to have had a literary culture and so there are no written histories, poems or tales that have survived to tell us about the Viking homeland in any detail.” I disagree with her facts as well as with her interpretation. True, the fuþark was not used to write histories or prose. But they were used for writing poetry, generally on such things as runestones and drop spindles. See for example the poem on the Karlevi Stone, which is a full stanza in the style of poetry known as drótlvætt. Or look at the riddles on the Buckquoy spindle whorl from Orkney.

The runes were used to inscribe on stone, wood, bone or metal. Probably its most common and known use during the period was on monuments and memorials—the famous runestones—contained a brief description of who erected the stone, in whose honor it was erected and why it was erected, as well as some poetry as well. The one seen here is the Asferg Runestone, which is displayed at the Danish National Museum in Copenhagen. It says: “Þorgeirr Tóki’s son raised this stone in memory of Múli, his brother, a very good þegn.”

Runestones were often set at crossroads or along roads so that travelers could easily read it, to spread the honor and fame of the relative but also the generosity and wealth of whoever set it up since having the stonecarved—generally by a professional carver who often signed his pieces— and set up was not an inexpensive process. There is a controversy as to how many people of the area were rune literate, though I believe there was a high level of runic literacy.

The fuþark was developed in the first or second century by someone in the north who was literate in the Latin alphabet. It was inspired by a Latin cursive, but the strokes were simplified and altered slightly so that it could more easily be carved/ The Elder Fuþark had twenty-four characters. By the time of the Viking Age, two variations—long twig and short twig—of the fuþark had been reduced to sixteen characters for the Younger Fuþark. Many characters had more than one sound. Later, the so-called Modern or Christian fuþhark added a few sounds back, starting in the eleventh century. The Anglo-Saxon version was known as the Fuþorc and brought over to England by the Anglo-Saxons and Frisians.

The end of the use of runes differed from location to location. The Anglo-Saxon version, known as the fuþorc, was rarely used after the ninth century and not used at all after the tenth. The actual fuþark, which had been introduced by Scandinavians, was apparently not used after the Norman invasion. Runes were phased out in Denmark in the thirteenth century and used in Norway until the eighteenth century.

Runes were in regular use in Sweden until about the fourteenth century. Johannes Bureus, a Swedish antiquarian, polymath and mystic, started serious study of runes in the sixteenth century, and allegedly learned the system from a rune-literate farmer from the Swedish province of a Swedish province of Dalarne. In the Thirty Years war (1618–1648), several Swedish officers used runes as a ready-made code (it is uncertain whether this was from Bureus’s writings or from knowledge handed down in families). Runes were still being used in natural, non-academic situations in Sweden and were apparently used the last time at the end of the nineteenth century. At the same time, many people were following Bureus’s scholarly studies, and runes were being used in such situations as the markings on gravestones.

Any of the books by Stephen Pollington is recommended; for learning more about runes, his Rudimentary Runelore is an excellent brief introduction!


The authenticity and literal existence of shield maidens has become a more popular topic in many quarters lately because of their appearance in Michael Hirst’s fantasy that purports to be the literal facts. Unfortunately, the proposed existence of shield maidens is probably just as remote as many other of the “facts” presented by the show.

Their existence is based to a great extent upon fable, mythology and not a little amount of the allocation of modern thought to actions of a previous day. Any of the appearances of valkyries and mortal shield maiden n the popular literature of the time appear to have little if any relevance to what actually transpired.

I have no great hope that this small essay will cause people to see the light and to change their ideas, but I am still filled with a quixotic desire to note a few points.

The very worth of the woman might be seen as a two-edged sword. For example, there was a thirty percent chance that a woman would die in childbirth, so women were important parts of the culture and necessary for its perpetuation. As Roland Williamson notes, this percentages does not lend credence that the safety of such a vital part of the culture would be endangered by having them engage in warfare. The deaths of men in battle set a higher premium on a higher birthrate and the replacement of lost males, and one would have been reluctant to endanger this replacement by sending the woman out to battle.

On the other hand, it appears that many cases of exposure were of female babies because they did not contribute to the work force and were simply another mouth to feed. However, most exposures were done by the lower classes and consisted of women who were not members of the warrior class to begin with. Exposure was tolerated but not seen as a good action a the time even though it might have been necessary for the family. For example, if we look at the Saga of Þorstein Oxfoot, where Þorstein , a son of Egil Skallagrimsson, wants a daughter to be exposed simply because of her action in a prophetic dream, and the man’s wife, Jofrid, chastised him, saying, “Your words are unworthy of a man of your standing. No one in your easy circumstances can see fit to let such a thing happen.”

There have been some observations that the graves of some women contain weapons and that this is evidence that shield maidens were real, but this totally ignores the fact that some graves of pre-pubescent children contained weapon as well, not smaller, child-sized practice copies but full-sized swords, other weapons and such things as a full-sized key (symbol of the grown woman’s authority in a house). Using the logic these people use, there should be a bunch of toddlers on the field as well! It is much more likely that the weapons were seen as valuable artifacts rather than indication of warrior status!

Of course, there was the very real likelihood that the females of the time were tutored in the use of weapons alongside the males. This was not because they were expected to be shield women, but because they were in charge of the homes and were expected to be able to organize and to probably participate in home defense when the men were away. We see many instances of this happening in the sagas and other writings—including Freydís Eiríksdóttir’s familiarity with swords from the Greenlander’s Sagas—while there are no eye-witness accounts of the existence of sword maidens!

(The supposition that this would lead to a feeling among the females of “I’m just as good as the men, so I’m going out on the field” owes its existence to applying a modern mindset upon an early period in my opinion and is therefore of little validity.)

If you have encountered any period eye-witness accounts of shield maidens, I would love to hear of them! Until then, I have to relegate them to the fantasy files!

For additional points and facts, see Robert Ferguson’s The Vikings: A History. Cannot agree with all the interpretations and conclusions, but a rich source of valuable trivia!


Here are a few pet peeves that assail me by Viking reenacting…

Horned Helmets, Fur Loincloths and Other Stereotypical Viking Appearances

After spending so much time and effort getting things just right about my impression, seeing popular media interpretations being presented—sometimes proudly presented and touted as accurate—gripes my guts. And when I see a fellow reenactor—I use the term loosely—wearing kit and costume based on these incorrect interpretations, my pain moves slightly lower!

Referring to a Farby Fantasy LARP as a Reenactment Organization

Calling a duck a swan does not make it a swan. If I go to a Viking-theme event and see people wearing sneakers, shades and black cotton trousers and watching belly dancers, it is not a reenactment and it is not being sponsored by a reenactment society!

People Who Insist Their Society Is Not Fantasy Because it Does Not Have Any Dragons, Magic Swords or Enchanted Puffballs

Look up fantasy” in a dictionary. These people should realize that there is “high fantasy” and “low fantasy,” and know that just because your society is not magical, that does not mean it is not a fantasy!

Trying to Assert That a Religion Based on the Writings and Creations of a Christian Author Writing for a Christian Audience Some Two Centuries after the Close of the Viking Age Is an Education Going Back to the “Old Ways

‘Nuff said. Read Katherine Holman’s history of Norse settlements in Britain and Ireland, The Northern Conquest and Nancy Marie Brown’s biography of Snorri Sturlasson, Song of the Vikings!

Talking “forsoothly”

For people unfamiliar with the term, that is talking like nineteenth-century Quakers or like mid-twentieth-century funny book heroes). Generally with an Irish accent that came straight from a Lucky Charms advertisement…

Much or Any Forcing People to Choose Impressions According to Racial Stereotypes That They Have

I love the response of someone from Australia who responded to a reenactor saying that no black person—he did not use the term “black person”—by saying that he was more concerned with accurate clothing from the skin out!

People Who Claim They Are Descended from an Important Person from the Time

No one is ever descended from Wig the Ceorl, have you noticed?

The Term “Garb

Just like “fantasy,” look up the definition of “costume” in a dictionary. As Kim Stacy wrote, “Inevitably, at each event, I overhear some reenactor, respond with sophomoric indignation to the question from a visitor about ‘The costume’ that the reenactor is wearing. At which point, the reenactor, with an imperial tone of voice, proclaims:

‘ “This is not a costume!’ At this point, the poor innocent visitor promptly regrets asking an important question….[but] pair of levis, Adidas sneakers, t-shirt, and baseball cap, is every bit of a costume, just the same as your period garb.” This was written many years ago, but it is as true today as it was then. Say “historical clothing” or “historical kit” if you want to avoid using “costume,” but me, I will always say “costume”! ‘

Farbs Who Say If They’da Haddit, they’da Usedit!

Uh, no. That is not experimental archaeology or extrapolation. That is fantasy wish fulfillment!

Farbs Who Say That They Can’t Reproduce Artifacts Accurately, So We Don’t Have to Worry about Anything Else

All good, serious living history is evolution. No one starts out dead perfect; maybe you will never get there. But that does mean that it does not matter. Always strive for perfection, even if you might not get there!

People Who Claim That They Do Not Even Notice Spex or Other Farby Anachronism

Do they just have no clew, or are they not noticing anything or are they just frigging idiots? How many jokes in popular films that depict historical characters wearing anachronistic spex for comic effect go totally over their heads?

Farbs Who Justify Their Farbiness with Reductio Ad Absurdum

And especially when they do not realize what they re ignorantly doing. These are the people who degrade your efforts at accuracy by asking haughtily if you drive a car to events, forsake your inoculations or pull out your dental filling. They just do not—or do not want to—realize that I am visiting the past, not living in it!

Using “Viking” as a Cultural Term

Too many serious books use the term in that way because modern mainstream audience see “Viking” as a cultural description. In Viking Kings of Britain and Ireland, author Clare Downham justifies the use of the term by misdirection, “I need to clarify my use of the term ‘viking’. The name has acquired many shades of meaning and been used in a variety of ways in both scholarly and popular literature….There are problems of being over-specific with ethnic terminology as identities are subjectively, but not objectively, created or assigned.” For us non-academics, the reaction was bullpucky!

The Term “Dark Ages”

The so-called “Dark Ages” were named by the Renaissance author, Petrarch, who deified classic Roman civilization and who neither saw nor understood the time, and many modern scholars think that the term should not be used. The era saw many discoveries and innovations as it emerged from a Europe dominated by Roman empire, and it cannot today even be claimed that facts concerning the era are either unknown and obscure. The phrase I will use—except for humorous effect—is “Early Middle Ages.”

These are the terms that annoy me most of all. There are undoubtedly more. What are yours?