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.
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!”