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



Obviously, speaking with more experienced members can give you much information, though you must be certain that their advice is backed by provenance (the member should not be offended by a request for documentation and should, in fact, have provided it before you asked). Obviously a preference should be made for advice from the AO, though hopefully any other information given you will not be contradicted!

Bibliographies and lists of recommended books can be helpful, but a list of books that should be avoided or not believed is often just as vital! Do not trust everything that anyone tells you or that reinforces your beliefs. Do not trust anyone who make a a statement and provides no provenance, and do not trust anyone who uses a discredited person as provenance.

Personal research is essential. Just remember that what you find may be with odds with old and cherished myths. Never be reluctant or hesitant to discard old beliefs when you uncovered documentation that contracts them! Please note that sagas were historical fiction that was written down several centuries later. They probably contain true parts, but using them as unassailable fact is similar to using “Prince Valiant” as unassailable fact. Stay away from Pinterest, Reddit, Wikipedia and similar sites unless you intend to do further research elsewhere!

Attending events is helpful. This will tell you whether reenacting is for you. You can talk with fellow members, observe interactions with MoPs and perhaps even have your own. Have fun and be friendly to both fellow participants and to MoPs, laugh a lot and offer to help where needed. Thank people who help you, and talk to MoPs. If you do not know the answer to a question, admit it and don’t feel bad about it. Refer the questioner to someone who does know the answer, and learn the answer yourself! And above all, remember that as a reenactor, you represent all reenactors!

The experience at an event may be very enlightening and, hopefully, enjoyable. And perhaps, after this experience, we may embrace you as another experienced fellow reenactor!


A recent project was to make a medieval calendar (based in general on the Julius Work Calendar). Certainly not an exact replica, but close enough to the original to confuse anyone on the street today. While I had a passing familiarity with medieval calendars, I had to do a lot more research to obtain what I needed!

People of the Middle Ages experienced calendars very differently than we do today. They were religious guides, and they were not used by lay people. Especially important dates or feasts were written in red, thus the term “Red Letter Day.”

Four columns were commonly found on most calendars, but more columns were used from calendar to calendar. One containing roman numerals was used to determine the phases of the moon, Easter and associated holidays. Another repeated the letters A thru G which were used to determine the day of the week A stood for Sunday, B for Monday and so on. Instead of dividing the month into weeks as we do, the month was divided into three unequal segments called Kalens, Nones and Ides.
A-First Column

In period calendars, the first column contained the Golden Numbers. These were the phases of the Moon from what remained as a lunar calendar, to help determine Easter, using other charts to help determine this.

B-Second Column

Actually, there were sometimes many more columns, denoting referenced to various tables that helped to calculate Easter and other ecclesiastical matters.

C-Third Column

This column was the day of the week. Sundays were important and so were red.

D-Fourth Column

These indicated what “week” was portrayed. Instead of dividing the month into four weeks, the month was divided into three segments, and Kalends, Nones and Ides were used to show the reader where he was in time.

These are the days of the month. Months had the same number of days as in our current system, but they were not numbered sequentially from 1 to 28, 29, 30 or 31. Instead, they counted backwards to indicate the names before the next nones, ides or kalends. Kalends was the first day of the month; nones fell either on the sixth day, and ides came eight days after nones.

E-Fifth Column

Saints and festivals commemorated on this day. So-called Floating Feasts, based on the lunar rather than the solar calendar have not been included in thecalendar but may be, like the days of the week, insered by you if so desired.


Some of these terms you might be familiar with. Others unfamiliar. As Lynn Bloom says, “Everyone new to a group…has to learn its code, in language and in behavior, as part of the initiation process. This is how we enter and become part of a discourse community.” Here are a few terms that that you will encounter in reenactments:


The real or imaginary line between which everything should be historically accurate.
Public Hours

The times when the historical accuracy behind the Ropeline must be adhered.


Authenticity (or Accuracy) Officer, who is given the power to decide on the historical accuracy of an item.


Anything inaccurate, first seen in American Civil War reenacting in the 1960s. Origins are uncertain, but it may come from the phrase, “Far Be It for Me to Criticize, But…”

First Person An impassions where you pretend to be from another time and behave in that manner, so that you do not know anything that happened after the date of your impression.


Anything not period accurate. The word originated as the name of a British orange drink in the 1950s, and it was later popularized as street slang. One theory is that its use in reenacting described someone who dresses as though they came from a jumble (yard) sale.


The possessions of a reenactor that might have been owned by his impression. A kit may be dictated by military regulations or merely be objects that a person of a particular time might have owned. Battle kit is a term often used to describe a fighter’s uniform, armor and arms.


Member of the Public; a spectator.


i) An abstract term referring to historically authentic dress, mannerisms, etc.; ii) being in the style of an historical period.

Retro Research

Creating an artifact without doing research and then trying to find documentation that will justify it.

Second Person

An impression where you present yourself as a person from another time, but you can break impression to comment on things that happened after the date of your impression. Also knownas a ghost impression.


Accurate, coming from the term “authentic.”

Third Person

An impression where you present yourself as a person of the present and, therefore, know things after the date of your impression.


For the past few days, I have concentrated on making clothlets. Gary Golding, a fellow Regia member, former society AO and an earnest scrivener, has been working on his scrivening outfit during Quarantine. And he has greatly inspired me. I had most of the tools he mentions, but I have gotten some new ones and am intending on getting or making some more.

One of the things are clothlets, which are linen patches that have been dipped in various dyes and dried, repeating the process a dozen times. To use them, they are then cut into small pieces and soaked in water (and alum or vinegar) and gum arabic for about 24 hours. The result ca be used as a wash. It was suggested in a later source that they be stored in a book and out of the damp. There is no indication how long they were good.

Gary started with three colors; he’s made several more, using methods he learned from Theophilus and from the Mappae Clavicula. He notes he will probably make more, and I know how he feels. For the most part, they will be on display and not used.

I had bought some dyestuffs for my wife, when she was making some dyes. She quickly lost interest, so I just had it. I was able to use the colors for making my clothlets: welt (yellow), woad (blue) and madder (red). I’ll probably make at least one more.

It was the first time I did dyeing, so I probably didn’t do it as well as I should. The smells were informative; welt was sweetish, woad was sourish and madder was basically neutral. And linen does take natural dyes very well, so e results are not the even dye that you get from dyeing wool. And, of course, with more practice, I would no doubt do better. But it was fun, will make a great display and might even be useful if I decide to ry to use them!

I was inspired to make a new book, incorporating various essays, both borrowed and newly written. The books are not for sale and are useful for keeping the DIY information at hand. I made certain that there were several blank pages, which will be used to store the clothlets.

My scrivening setup, of course, had more than the clothlets. I already had ink wells, pens (quill and reed), scraping knife, a leather penner and much more. Inspired by Gary, I made up a way of storing them for work, and I made a small desk with holes for holding tools. I also have a DIY setup that has the ingredients for making iron gall ink, and supply of parchment. Actually small scraps of parchment or vellum that I bought from a parchment maker; they are the results of various projects he did. I have had the ink and pens available for MoPs to use to make little keepsakes for themselves at events, and the other tools as well. The scrivening set will no doubt get larger; in many ways, Gary and I are very similar!

At the beginning of the book, I include a poem by Colmcille the Scribe that was translate by Seamus Heaney. I describes ascribe’s life perfectly and says

My hand is cramped from penwork.
My quill has a tapered point.
Its bird-mouth issues a blue-dark
Beetle-spark of ink.

Wisdom keeps welling in streams
From my fine-drawn, sallow hand:
Riverrun on the vellum
of ink from green-skinned holly.

My small runny pen keeps going
Through books, through thick and thin
To enrich the scholars’ holdings:
penwork that cramps my hand.


Wax Tablets were used for thousands of years, from at least the time of the Greeks until the middle of the nineteenth century. To a good extent, they were medieval PDAs, where you could mark down notes, sums and other information that might be transferred to a more permanent medium or just “erased” and written over.
The original tablets came in a variety or sizes and ratios, and the size was dependent on personal need or taste. Sometimes, there were more than one pane on each side of the tablet. Most of these were apparently used in business.
Styluses were apparently anything that would mark wax: dedicated metal or wood styluses, broken arrows and much else. Many had a flattened end, which was used to erase, that is, to smooth over the wax. When the wax became too choppy and unsmoothable, the wax could be melted, so you could stop from scratch—pun intended—with the writing surface.
It is unknown whether wax tablets were used in “illiterate” cultures, though none have found.
Making a Wax Tablet

Choose two pieces of wood, preferably a hard wood with no holes, of the size you want. The boards should be about a quarter or half an inch deep. Sand them and stain or varnish them.
Using a router or a chisel, a depression should be made in the center of each panel. The depth is up to you, but it should neither be so shallow that marks can be made nor so deep that it goes through to the other side of the board. There is really no need to sand or smooth the depression, since the irregularities help keep the wax in place.
Melt 100% bee’s wax. When it has been melted stir in some carbon black to it to help visibility. The amount is up to you. Either make the carbon black manually by scraping soot off a ceramic or other such item (I would make the soot by burning a lighter against a plate and scraping the soot off; tedious!), or buy a can of carbon black from a paint store (much less time consuming). When the wax and the carbon black have been integrated and melts, the mixture should be pour into the depression. It should smooth and to the corners (the drying usually means there will be a gap). If necessary, use a pencil or dowel to smooth it out; the hardened wax may be easily rubbed off where it does not belong.
Set it out on an even surface to dry.
You might want to drill holes for leather thongs to hold them together, either before after the wax is poured.
A stylus of the desired type can be included with the tablet. On my first few, I drilled a hole in the stylus and attached it by a cord to the tablet so that I did not lose it!


A few days ago, while getting ready to make a right turn, I was interrupted by someone in the left turn lane who peeled out and made a right-hand turn in front of me. The car had a big sticker on it, proclaiming the driver’s political views, and it occurred to me that I was tempted to be unfair and ascribe such selfish, illegal motives to all his fellow believers.

Then, as I made the turn safely, I mused that anyone with a sticker on his car was setting himself up as a representative of his cause and was almost honor bound to behave in a responsible manner. They are the representatives, whether they like it or not, of all people who share these beliefs. Then I expanded it to t-shirt slogans and logos, and before I reached home, I had expanded it as I do so many things to living history.

Let me step back for a moment. When someone is wearing a uniform of any sort, I consider him a representative of everyone wearing such a uniform, and I often hold him to a higher standard than others. For example, if I see someone in a police uniform, I hold that person to a higher expectation than I do someone in civvies. I expect him to help, of course, but I always expect him to be friendly and not to use that uniform as an effort to receive perks. If he behaves in a privileged, jack-boot manner, it leads to my wanting to avoid all persons wearing police uniforms because they are loose cannon.

But uniforms, in my mind are not just police or military or the such. For me, the costume that a reenactor wears is a uniform. I see someone in historical clothing–no matter what era–and I expect them to behave in a certain manner, to have certain standards and to represent, for better or worse, all reenactors. Not merely in their actions but in the quality of their interpretation. If he is wearing sneakers or sunglasses or the like—unless, of course, that such is appropriate for his impression—it is tarring how folk see all reenactors. If he is either unwittingly or knowingly farby, he is telling every onlooker, I’m doing this for cosplay or a lark, and I really don’t care whether it’s right as long as I’m having fun!

There are those who say, of course, that a society or subculture should be judged by the best representative. I can’t agree. If the reenactor is gracious and kind, helping a non-reenactor, making certain that kit is exemplary and accurate…all that is forgotten by one rude, inaccurate reenactor. If a person thinking about getting into reenacting sees a lousy impression, he might think, “So that’s all I have to do!” I love the saying that an AWI reenacting veteran said: “What is permitted is promoted.”

How stringent are you about your actions and demeanor when you’re in your reenacting kit? How stringent are you in creating appropriate kit? I know that when I wear or make a bit of reenacting kit, how it will be received and perceived by others is always in my mind!


In a recent Facebook post, featuring some extremely farby gear that I found hilarious, there were some snarky remarks. One person—who owns the group and who loves claiming that a fantasy LARP is a reenactment society—wrote: “Stop complaining. Who cares?”

Earlier responses laughed at the gear if it was being passed off as accurate. After this gentleman made his statement, many people told him in no uncertain terms who cared. They beat me to the punch!

You see, as a matter of fact, anyone who is interested in doing serious living history cares. We have dealt with that before that I care, and many of my friends care. It is my feeling that any good living history is going to be educational and not merely entertaining. Saying that you are doing living history implies a responsibility and a contract. The responsibility is that you are telling the truth, and the contract is a personal commitment to see that this responsibility is fulfilled! If you do not feel these, then there is nothing the matter with being involved in a fancy-dress party, in a drama of some sort or in a fantasy LARP; the only thing wrong to my mind is to characterize it as living history, reenactment or any kind of accuracy! But if you are doing what you consider living history

As to how extreme you want to be in requiring provenance, is more or less up to the individual and to the society whose Authenticity Regs he has promised to uphold. In some extreme cases, if there are not three physical artifact that exists, it will not be allowed. But in other instances, there is a degree of compromise, If something is not out-and-out incorrect and is based on interpretation, or if financial or hygienic limitations are restrictive or if the period practice is just dangerous and unsafe, then generally a one-step link, where a single logical leap of intuition is allowed (although most reputable societies require that this variance be approved or modified by an Authenticity Officer). For example, hemp might be used for trousers, though dark black hemp would not be. If any derivations or compromises are are made or used, then admission of this fact must be made to all MoPs and certainly to any participants. Rebated weapons are compromises, though even the most extreme probably do not want people to head onto the field to use sharpies against each other. The compromise should be elucidated and explained if necessary (perhaps as a warning to MoPs who want to imitate it). It is honorable at the very least to acknowledge the compromise, to state what was actually used and why the new variation is being used. As far as I am concerned, such an explanation is essential!

Creating an inaccurate physical presentation to the MoPs is roughly analogous to entries in books which are presented as hard fact but which are not backed by any proof whatsoever, no resources or provenance. It is likely to be anti-educational even if the interpretation is correct. But in many cases, it is an attempt to perpetuate certain comfortable mythologies or cozy commonly held inaccuracies.


A reader looking into the histories of tattoos must realize that they were not known as tattoos since that is a Polynesian term that originated in the eighteenth century in a journal by Captain James Cook (it is one of two words in the standard English lexicon that comes from Polynesian sources; the other is taboo). Tattoos were indelible pigmentation inserted under the skin and were before 1760 known as markings, incisions, pricking or even painting. We see samples on the “Iceman” Ötzi, in China, in Egypt, Japan and, of course, Polynesia.

Tattoos were used by the Celts, by the Anglo-Saxons and by the Norse. Ahmed ibn Fadlan’s description of the marks on Rus Vikings is well known, and tattoo enthusiasts have come up with an exaggerated history of their use that takes the slightest indication and expand it immeasurably. For the most part, these tattoos were symbols of heathen faith, and there was a steady attempt by the Church to get rid of them, though that never seems to have been complete.
What were the tattoos for? Apparently as magical symbols, as medicinal marks, for identification and for the same reason that many tattoos are applied nowadays, because they’re cool art. Were they part of the sex life or considered sexually attractive? Probably so, though you can never tell since they are not generally talked about.

What did the tattoos look like? Well, we have those on the body of Ötzi, which predates the Viking Age quite a bit; and we have the ambiguous description by ibn Fadlan, that the Viking males were covered from “fingernails to neck” with dark blue or dark green “tree patterns” and other “figures.” Whether this was actual flora knotwork or runes remains uncertain, so we do not know what tattoos were worn by the Norse!

It is interesting to note that some folk—particularly prudes and modern tattoo-removal doctors—insist that the Norse had no tattoos. The ultimate truth, perhaps, will not be revealed until we find a flash frozen Norse Ötzi!


The most prevalent form of transportation during our era was by foot. This was not only inexpensive, but most people never traveled more than ten miles away from home! Skis and skates (both used with ski poles) were known for balance and propulsion across the snow and ice in the North.

Asses, Horses and Mules

Other animals were used for locomotion, no doubt. Dogs and goats were used to draw such things as buggies, carts and sleds, both then and in later times, but for the most part oxen, asses and horses were used to pull waggons and perhaps carts. When it came to riding, asses and horses were predominantly used. We can see them being used in illustrations such as the Bayeux Embroidery, the Oseberg Tapestry and the picture stone from Gotland.

Saddles had an ancient pedigree, and the invention and dissemination of stirrups in the eight century made riding on the beasts more convenient and led to mounted warfare (soldiers used their mounts to travel to a battle site before then, but then dismounted for combat, sort of like dismounted cavalry later. These were sometimes very ornamented and like the horses themselves were an indicator of wealth and social status.

Prior to the introduction of the larger Arabian horses and the development of palfreys in the eleventh century, the horses were primarily small. Hybridization and breeding changed the size of the animals, and today the closest horse to what was used in the early middle ages is probably the small, intelligent and agile Icelandic horse. No other type of horse has been allowed on the island, and any Icelandic horse that leaves the island or that is born elsewhere is not allowed to return.

Camels and elephants, while known in other cultures for providing transportation, were almost certainly not used in Northern Europe, though these animals might have been used as modes of transportation when the northern Europeans were in the Mid-East. The offspring of an ass and a horse, the mule, has an ancient pedigree and was no doubt used this time. The Old English word for a mule was mul while the Old Norse was múli, indicating that the hybrid was used in those cultures.

Four-Wheel Waggons

This was a common design that dated both to earlier times and to later. The waggons were plain in some cases, but they could also be carved and decorated. See, for example, the waggons in the Oseberg tapestry, as well as the one found in that burial.

The waggons were large and cumbersome, able to carry large loads but were drawn by oxen and by horses, not by human power.

Sleighs or Sledges

Especially in Scandinavia, sleighs appear to have been popular. In many aspects, they were similar to waggons, being used for both transportation of people and goods, pulled by draft animals. The popularity of sleighs might be indicated by the presence of four separate sleighs in the Oseberg burial. Three of these were carved and decorated.


The “Viking ship”—the drakkar, the knarr and other sorts designed for special purposes—was important enough that it gave the name to an entire era. It was the most advanced technology of the time; the Viking Ship was exemplified by its low draft (generally no more than three feet when loaded), was swift (as swift under the right conditions as modern racing yachts), moved in both directions (which allowed quick raids) and was propelled both by oars and—the thing that made the ships really unique—wind. The clinker construction—where boards were laid atop each other, made water tight with caulking or rags, and this method of construction seems to have created an airfoil kind of effect.

The design was developed by the Norse and copied by many other cultures, some related to the Norse and some not. The ships seen in the Bayeux Embroidery are examples. Earlier designs did not use the sail as well as the Viking ship did. There are many examples of these ships, for example the ship used in the burial at Sutton Hoo. Some earlier and later ships were propelled by slave power at the oars, but the oarsmen on Viking ships all appear to have been freemen.

The predominance of Viking ships was overtaken when cogs started to be built in the early new millennium. In earlier combat, the ships were brought together, and warfare ranged over the ships in pretty much the same way that land warfare was waged. The higher towers of the cogs meant that ships drawing close to each other could engage, throwing rocks and shooting arrows down from the towers. The Viking ships tried to get the best of both and started to build towers on their decks, but they succeeded only in creating ships that were easily toppled. The cogs were predominant by the twelfth century. Viking-style ships were still being built, and they are still built today, but they are no longer the size of the stereotypical drakkar or knarr.

The cogs were phased out by the development of gunpowder and the use of cannon on shipboard. The new ships were more in the style of later galleons.

Two-Wheeled Carts

Two-wheeled vehicles were most frequently seen at this time, mainly for poorer people, since they were less expensive. Some define carts as conveyances that are propelled by only human labor, and carried timber, vegetables and other goods. See, for example, the June illustration of the Julius Work Calendar; this cart might well not be human-propelled, since we see oxen waiting nearby as the coach is loaded.

Chariots were popular in many civilizations early than the Viking Age, including the Roman, but had largely fallen out of use and popularity by this time, although once again semantics and definitions are important.


That is, leathers which are appropriate for Viking-Age reenactments is a fairly straight forward subject. For the most part, leathers of the period were brain, alum or vegetable tanned (tawed is a term used to describe a hide tanned with fur kept on one side) and were not specifically dyed another color, so the leather as generally brownish or a light tan. There is an indication that some of the leather found in York was dyed or painted red, but this remains controversial. It is safer just to assume that the leather would not be colored, and it certainly would not be colored black even though finger oils, consistent wear and use of the leather will darken it into a fine patina.

It is sometimes difficult to find these leathers nowadays. Certainly chrome-finished leathers is more frequently found and is less expensive but at the same time is more anachronistic. Its use should be avoided unless you get special permission from your Authenticity Officer to substitute the chrome-finished leather for what should be used.

It is far easier to find out where leather would be used during the period. In the earlier days, leather and fur were commonly used for clothing, but this had mostly died out by the Viking Age and is today the province of bad cinema and worse reenactors. Leather was commonly used for ropes—which were not part of the outfit—and for shoes, for belts (men’s belts were invariable half an inch to an inch wide) and for other straps, although there is some indication that leather was used for trousers. Some translations of Ælfric’s Colloquy, for example, the translation used by Kevin Leahy in Anglo-Saxon Crafts, notes: “I buy hides and skins and repair them by my skill, and make of them boots of various kinds, ankle-leather shoes, leather breeches, bottles…”

The use of leather for smiths’ and other craftsmens’ aprons is logical, but no artefacts or literary evidence has been found for such usage!

As to whether leather was used beneath byrnies, it is hard to say. In fact, it is hard to say if anything was used as padding beneath byrnies at all, whether it was mere a padded gambeson, a firm layer of leather or fabric or a quilted gambeson. On the other hand, it little matters because whether the fighter in period wore a gambeson or not, the gambeson should be hidden beneath the modern reenactor’s byrnie and should not only be viewed with difficulty but virtually unseen at all. What this means, very simply, is that when the reenactor removes the byrnie back at the wic after the combat, the public should not see the gambeson if such a thing is worn!

An essential work from the York Archaeological Trust, Leather and Leatherworking in Anglo-Scandinavian and Medieval York, is available for a free download.//  //