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




Shorter canes are infrequently found, but walking staves are not. The staves should be simple and probably weighted at the end. Calling them trekking poles, Christine Bore notes that “On those uphill climbs, trekking poles help take some of the weight off your hips and legs by utilizing your arm strength.

On the downhill, they help ease the pressure on your knees. And on those stream crossings, these puppies have saved me more times than I can count by helping me balance.”


The trekker is not going to war, so hopefully he will not be dressing to go to war. Maille and a helmet are heavy, and there are some weapons which will hinder rather than help you on the trek. Some weapons are designed primarily for war—for killing people—and not merely for defense. Some weapons are for war, while others may be used for war but are primarily meant to be utility tools.

The sword—both the single-sided scramsax and the double-sided broadsword—was not only primarily a weapon of war but would be rather awkward on treks.

The spear could be used in various incarnations as, for example, a boar spear, and it could be used as a staff and was certainly not as clumsy and single purposed as a sword.

The axe was famously a heavy-duty weapon, but smaller, lighter, more easily transportable axes and hatchets were used primarily for cutting and shaping wood although if needed, it could be a weapon of self-defense.

Bows were of different strengths, but they were used for many purposes. The arrowheads determined the real purpose of the archery.

On the other hand, there are certain weapons—tools if you prefer—that are essential, both for hunting and for working in the wilderness.

Bows and arrows could be used for hunting and were fairly easy to transport.

Axes and hatchets were extremely useful for practical purposes.

The seax or knif could be used as a weapon of last result but was primarily used for practical, small tasks. It cuts cord, slices food, could prepare kindling and do many other practical tasks. Everyone of the time had at least one seax; even the thralls had a—presumably small—utility seax because it was so useful.

Some kind of whetstone should be brought. Like a utility seax, it is essential!

Beneath it All

There is precious little that we know about what was worn as underwear in period. If any was worn as all. As long as the underwear is not seen and does not affect the silhouette, wear what is needed unless you are trying to duplicate what might have been experienced at the time. If the weather is cool or cold, feel free to wear thermal underwear and woolen socks.



Much of the clothing of the time was unisex. Clothing that was worn mainly by one gender or the other is marked below with (m) or (f). Descriptions are taken from entries in Regia Anglorum’s Basic Clothing Guide.


Shoes come down to us in various styles, and the York Archaeological Trust created a timeline that showed the various types in York. They were secured in various ways and were of different heights, though during this period they were not known to be higher than the just above the ankles.

They were all made of leather—goat leather was popular—and were turn-soled shoes. Welted, hard-soled shoes were not seen until the sixteenth century. Marc Carlson describes turn-soled shoes as “The shoe is made inside-out (with the flesh side outward) by sewing the lower edge of the upper to the edge of a single sole using an Edge-Flesh stitch. The shoe is then turned the right way round so that the grain side of the leather is on the outside of the shoe and the sole seam is now inside.”

Shoes of the time seem to have all been made from the same thickness of leather, but some shoes—especially by modern shoemakers—have soles of a heavier weight to increase its endurance and durability. It is worth noting that the soles are smooth (and not gridded or hobbed) and, therefore, quite slippery, though there is some suggestion that shoes of the time placed pitch on the soles to increase the amount of traction.

It is more appropriate to say that leather is water resistant rather than water proof. Leather has a tendency to absorb liquid, so that it will not be waterproof unless it is totally coated. A Norwegian reenacting group, Hands on History, makes turnshoes water resistant with liver oil, tallow, tar and bee’s wax cod. They note that liver oil is greatest ingredient.

Unless you are trying to mimic the discomfort of the period, putting in cushioned innersole that are unseen is generally not forbidden. Just as bringing necessary medicine is essential, so is making these very important compromises, and it is one of the compromises that is necessary.

Belts & Pouches

For our purposes, the difference between belts and sashes is that the belt—whether leather, card-woven or fabric—has a buckle and other furniture, such as strap ends, slides and plaques (obviously, the higher status you were, the more decorated the belt could be), though the belts you bring trekking should probably be rather simple and inexpensive. Belts and sashes were, for the most part thin and, from the buckles that are extant, no more than half an inch or three quarters of the inch in thickness. We allow belts to be an inch in thickness. The sashes might have been card-woven, fabric or merely cord or rope.

Tails of the belt should not be hanging down; this was a later fashion. A look at illustrations of belted tunics during the period and the popularity of belt slides also indicates that the ends of the belts were placed into the slide and not hung down from the buckle. Sashes were knotted, but lengthy tails might well be doubted.

Buckles, strap ends and slides were made of horn, bone or metal. Belts are not seen in illustrations, being obscured by rucked-up tunics or gowns.

Some illustrations suggest that the sash may have been wrapped around twice with a twist in it. Regia Anglorum notes that “It is interesting to note that strap ends but no buckles have been found in Viking women s graves, suggesting that waist ties rather than belts were worn.” Tools and personal ornaments are sometimes shown hanging from women’s sashes and tortoise brooches, but we cannot be sure how widespread this practice was.

Rather than going through a list of available types of pouches or purses, going through what might be contained in them and especially going through where and how they can be displayed—something covered exhaustively elsewhere, and we wrote an entire book on the subject—let us just make a statement. It is best to have a scrip that hangs from the neck. It is useful and can contain many useful things. These pouches may be fabric (hemp or flax linen) or leather. Pouches are seen in illustrations of the time, but Bible book bags of the time are extant and show how the pouches actually were made.

The other type of pouch you might want is a small drawstring pouch, but this is just cosmetic It is a great place to put in coins and slash silver, souvenirs and other inconsequential things. The drawstring pouch should be kept under your tunic for no other reason than to keep it safe.



Much of the clothing of the time was unisex. Clothing that was worn mainly by one gender or the other is marked below with (m) or (f). Descriptions are taken from entries in Regia Anglorum’s Basic Clothing Guide.

Dress (f)

Women did not wear trousers. In fact, a woman wearing trousers was a cause for divorce.

The woman’s overdress was generally ankle length with full-length sleeves. The tightness of the sleeves varied with time. The body of the dress was not tailored and similar in shape and construction to the male tunic. It may have been belted at the waist and sometimes pouched over exposing the hem of the underdress. Belts or sashes were usually restricted to the lower classes, allowing them to keep clothing from getting in the way of labor.

The underdress was usually made of linen or fine wool, ankle length. Sleeves were long and tight, and the ends extended to the middle of the hand and were then pushed up to the wrist. Hangerocs were the traditional Scandinavian over-dress, though it has been suggested—because of the disappearance of so-called tortoise brooches can no longer be found after the conversion—that it was a style worn by the heathens. There are several reconstructions of this garment.


Gloves were coverings for the hands worn for protection. There were two purposes for gloves of the time, both practical. First, they could be used to protect the hand against heat, friction, abrasion and dirt while laboring. Second, they could protect the hand against the cold. Practical gloves were generally made out of leather or fur and wool, in three main versions.

Mittens, where a single sheath held the fingers together, was the most common and possibly the warmest. The individual fingered glove such as that common today was less frequently found and was probably preferred for work. The third variation—actually a variation of the glove style—were fingerless gloves where the palms are often padded to provide protection to the hand, and the exposed fingers do not interfere with sensation or gripping. Both glove and mitten have an individual thumb.

Trousers (m)

Trousers were mostly wool and seemed to have come in a variety of styles, both loose and tight fitting. There are few extant trousers—the pre-Viking era Þorsberg trousers are fairly complete—but our notions are mainly based on period illustrations and to a lesser degree on literary mentions. They were apparently held up both by drawstrings and by belts (with belt loops).

Tight leggings were similar to later hose and were apparently sometimes worn in period. They were usually separate and attached to a belt. In later times, garters were attached at the knee and the wearer rolled down the hose to cool the wearer. It is not known whether this was done at this period. The hose, like breeches, might have built-in socks.

Stockings & Socks

Hose was worn both by men and by women, though there is some suggestion that women wore garters. Both sexes did wear shorter socks. We have a few naalbound socks that are extant, but fabric sock tubes and even wrapped socks were also worn. There have been an indication that naalbound socks were thick enough that they could be worn as slippers, and I have personally done this! The naalbound socks are thick—at least at the beginning of their use—and provide excellent pads for the feet.

Plain white or grey socks are acceptable as long as they are mostly or entirely hidden from public view. Socks should not be loud or have designs of any sort.

Winingas—and many other names as well—were leg wraps later known as puttees, which went from the ankle to about the knee. There were several ways of wrapping them, and they were secured either with hooks or with various ties. There were mostly lengths of wool that were between two and three inches wide, about six to twelve feet long. They were probably mostly used by people in active trades or going through overgrown brush and would therefore be very useful for trekking. Evidence is scarce, but it would appear that types of Winingas were popular both with men and women.



Much of the clothing of the time was unisex. Clothing that was worn mainly by one gender or the other is marked below with (m) or (f). Descriptions are taken from entries in Regia Anglorum’s Basic Clothing Guide.


Hoods are about the only way to keep the sun out of your eyes! The hood was often of wool of varying thicknesses. Hoods worn in the heat were much cooler than you might suppose. Not only did the wool breath, but gaps between the face and the hood allowed ventilation.

The big disadvantage of hoods was that the sides often drooped down over the eye on one side of the other, rendering the wearer half blind. It also insulated the ear, so that the wearer was effectively deaf, but the hood could easily be pulled down about the neck so that the blindness and deafness of the wearer could be alleviated.

The cap is a kind of soft, flat hat and comes in many variations down to the present day. Caps of the period did not have visors or brims.

Panel caps were used by the Norse more than for the Englisc. No naalbound caps have been found, so these caps were probably four- or six-paneled woolen caps. The use of furry bands around the outer band of the cap seem to be reenactorisms.

The Englisc had skull caps, made of leather or wool, more like yarmulkes than the panel caps. They fit higher on the head than the panel caps.

Women had three basic styles of headgear, though there were many variations:v

Arming caps, familiarly known as “Baby bonnets” were a later development and were not worn during this period. Straw and slouch hats were not used in this period. Straw hats might have been in use by the end of the period but were not common. The slouch hat, although appearing in non-period illustrations of Oðinn, actually date from a later period. The Phrygian cap was a style from classical times and is found in contemporary illustrations but was probably not found in this era.


A rectangular or semi-circular piece of wool, often thick, secured at the neck with a pin of some sort. Most brooches or pins were on the right should (since the wearer was usually right-handed, and this made it easier to grab the sword), but they were also secured over the chest. Whether this style was used by women and people not armed, we cannot tell. The cloaks were worn both inside and outside since there was often no such thing as universal indoor heat!

The length of the cloak varied from a little below the waist to ankle length. For trekking, the length should probably be short enough for the hiker to move easily but long enough to keep him warn. Hoods were not attached to the cloak, though they were in later times.

Cloaks were not different for men and for women (and for children, except the size). Norse women also wore a triangular or rectangular shawl or cape, fastened at the neck with a brooch.

Not only did the cloaks keep a person warm, but they could be used as blankets. They should be tightly woven, which helps them to retain warmth and also protected against the wet.

The cloaks did not seem to be lined, but then few if any of the clothing of the time were lined. There are, of course, people who disagree with this, but we still urge that the cloak and any lining are the same color.

Mantles—essentially shorter cloaks and basically in the words of Regia Anglorum, “an oval shape with a hole in it for the head to pass through. It was sometimes worn over the wimple, sometimes under it”—were worn by wealthier women, and cloaks were often worn over the mantle while traveling.

Tunic (m)

The tunic was frequently worn by men during the Middle Ages. Formerly used as undergarments during antiquity, during the Middle Ages it became an outer garment, and an under-tunic was frequently worn as well.

Tunics of the time were loose and most frequently wool and more expensively linen. They were long sleeved, and the sleeves are usually “fairly loose on the upper arm but tighter on the forearm, often with creases or pleats shown round the lower arm. The skirts are full, frequently made fuller by the insertion of extra triangular panels at each side.” Viking tunics often descended to above the knees while Englisc tunics descended to below. In both cases, a belt or scarf was often used to ruck up the tunic, so that what belts were used at the time were often obscured (see the Julian work calendar).

Brooches or pins could be used at the collar to close the neckline or to secure any wrap-arounds. Buttons were known during the era but were not used to secure much clothing as they were in late eras.

It is worth noting that tunics were always worn; the male chest was not bared because that was a sign of effeminacy, indicating that the female chest could be bared (probably not sexual, just for nursing). Catherine Stallybrass notes, in the “Laxdaelasaga, I think, Guðrún Ósvífursdóttir marries her first husband (Þorvaldr Halldórsson) at the age of 15 and he turns out to be a man she cares little for. She makes him a low-cut shirt. This means that either he will refuse to wear it, in which case she can divorce him for unreasonable behaviour, or he wears it, in which case she can divorce him for effeminacy.” Trousers were taken off to avoid too much warmth; see the workers in the Julius work calendar.



You are not dressing for a royal progress. Dress for practicality and for comfort! Clothing should be made of unembroidered, untrimmed plain cloth. Fancy, expensive clothing should not be worn.

The fabric used should be wool, not linen. Not only was wool more common, but it was less expensive. And more practical than linen because the wool is far warmer and, even when it gets wet, remains warm and comfortable.

If allergic to wool, linen clothes may be worn beneath the wool. I consider it another medical necessity!

Colors are less important, though bright and expensive colors should be used seldom if at all. Regia Anglorum lists the status of colors as:

Lowest Rank

• Undyed Wool
• Cream
• Full range of Browns
• Grey
• Combinations of the above in weaves
• Unbleached linen (probably)
• Faded middle rank dyes

Low Middle Rank

Any of the above plus

• Weld: Yellow, Yellowy-Green, Moss Green.
• Wild Madder: Salmony-pink, Orange-brown, Bleached Linen.

Slightly Richer Middle Rank

Any of the above plus

• More intense madder Red from cultivated plants
• Woad: Blue
• Combinations of the above, e.g. Leaf Green, Bottle Green

High Rank

Any of the above plus

• Small amounts of Kermes Red (Cardinal Red)

High Clergy & Royalty

Any of the above plus

• Shellfish Purple
• Silk garments

The preferred colors for trekking are the lower, less expensive colors since dyed clothing was produced with more expensive dyes.

We will not be discussing jewelry, though we recommend that very elaborate jewelry be avoided. Some jewelry—especially some brooches and probably personally valuable pieces such as rings, armlets, beads (probably no more than three for a male)—will be covered.



Rips, tears and worn areas on your clothing happen and develop at all times. Repairs might not be essential or needed to be repaired or replaced immediately, but they might be very essential. At least you (or one person in your party if there is more than just you) should have carry an emergency sewing kit.

The kit needs not contain such things as a naalbinding needle, yarn, spindle or the like. If you want to use them for a project, that is one thing, but, it is suggested that these items are necessary:

• Linen or Hemp thread (on a period winder, not on a spool of wood or plastic)
• sinew (on a period winder, not on a spool of wood or plastic)
• At least one needle(steel, iron, bone or copper; make certain the eye is larger enough to accept the thread)
• At least one pin (steel, iron, bone or copper)
• snips or scissors
• fabric patches
• leather patches
• awl for leather
• A piece of wax

Contents of the kit should be kept in a period container, for example a small bentwood box or a bag of leather or wool, preferably red.


The accuracy of your clothing does not rely on how fancy it is. Accuracy depends on three different points:

• Whether each article of clothing (and jewelry) has the proper number of documentable precedents, either visual, literary or an artefact
• Whether the majority of the clothing and equipment is from the same culture, time and social status (a single exception per impression is sometimes allowed by a variety of societies)
• Whether all the material used in sewing the clothing is period, namely wool, linen (flax, hemp or nettle) or leather/fur

What you choose the clothing for your trekking impression, realize that you are not choosing costume for a royal progress or for an encampment.

You are traveling by foot or by horse-, ass- or mule-back, not by ship or even by waggon. The gear gathered should be light and not cumbersome, and both easily transportable and furniture should be kept at home or at a major encampment and not carried on the trek. You should be wearing neither a maille shirt nor a helmet. You are out hunting or just traveling from one place to another.

Remember: you are attempting to embody the common everyday non-martial lifestyle of the day!



Most modern objects should be avoided, but there are a few that should be included for safety reasons. However, if there is more than one member of the expedition, with a few exceptions these items should be entrusted to only one member of the expedition and not borne by all members.

• Keys and ID kept in a pouch
• Telephone (fully charged and not turned on)
• Compass and map or GPS (if not provided by the phone)
• First Aid Kit (see below)
• Small Camera (if not provided by the phone)
• Any necessary personal medication • Keys and ID kept in a pouch
• Telephone (fully charged and not turned on)
• Compass and map or GPS (if not provided by the phone)
• First Aid Kit (see below)
• Small Camera (if not provided by the phone)
• Any necessary personal medication
• Toilet Paper (you can use moss or vegetation…if you are certain it will be available and will not irritate your bottom if it is)
• Female necessities (each member of the expedition should have their own supply)
• Toilet Paper (you can use moss or vegetation…if you are certain it will be available and will not irritate your bottom if it is)
• Female necessities (each female member of the expedition should have their own supply)

Let a friend who is not going on the trek know your schedule, and agree to let that friend know when you get safely back into civilization.

A sounding horn (made from real horn) is not at all modern but can be essential in emergencies. Each person should have a horn that can be blown to let people know where they are if they get lost or to call for help.


Do I really have to waste any time explaining why you should have a first-aid kit when running around in the wilds with sharp tools and unpaved earth?

Rudimentary first aid kits may be purchased or built up personally. The following contents are suggested:

• Booklet explaining emergency procedures
• Gauze strips, gauge pads and tape (avoid plastic strips)
• Scissors to cut gauze or tape
• Antiseptic Wash
• Antibiotic Ointment
• Instant Cold Compress
• Thermometer
• Tweezers (modern tweezers might be more useful that period ones)
• Non-latex Health Care Gloves (I prefer Nitrile; for me, they must be large, but they come in a variety of sizes)
• Pain reliever such as aspirin, Ibuprofen or acetaminophen (gear selection toward allergies of members of the expedition)
• Sunblock
• Insect Repellent or unguent if especially needed)

Contents of the kit should be kept in a period container, for example a small bentwood box or a bag of leather, linen or wool (a green bag is suggested and even required by some societies).


This is an ironic mixture of period and necessary. The whole idea is that th reenactor must be able to find items needed for everyday hygienic tasks that are period and accurate. The tools were sometimes joined together on a ring for future use.

Period and common alternatives for the tools are:

• Comb (usually bone or horn, sometimes wood; a comb was carried by virtually all people of the time)
• Earspoon (what I call a medieval Q-Tip, a metal spoon to help scoop wax out of the ear; we will not get into the use of the wax)
• Nail Pick (for cleaning under the finger nails)
• Tweezers (used for pulling out hairs but also splinters)
• Towel (can be just a piece of cloth)

There were no nail trimmers, so knives were probably used most often.

Tooth brushes and tooth paste were not introduced into Europe from China until the fifteenth or sixteenth century, but there have been suggested that people had small sticks with frayed ends that were used for brushing while the other ends were sharpened to be a sort of toothpick. This was often known as a chewstick and was sometimes made from aromatic sticks to freshen the breath. small kindling was used to polish the teeth. These sticks seem to have been temporary. Modern toothbrushes, with hog bristles as the brushes, were invented by William Addis in England around 1780.

A sort of toothpaste seems to have dated back to 5000 bce and was made of such ingredients as crushed bones and oyster shells, powdered charcoal and powdered bark.



Call it Viking hiking, trekking, bushcraft, foot camping or some other term, it is an activity by living historians acting as experimental archaeologists and involved in recreating the Viking era (roughly 750 to 1100 ce for purposes of this essay)). Their research for historical trekking is accompanied by experimentation in historical situations, using the foods, tools, clothing, weapons and methods accurately recreating those used by the people of the era. The best way to preserve history is to research it, to experiment with recreating the culture and then to share the results of that research and experimentation with others.

Historical trekking is a way for Viking reenactors to learn and to experience first hand what life during the time was like. It is learning what, in the words of Nathan Jefferey, a person of the time “would have worn, used and experienced on their journeys into the woodlands….sometimes it is very hard to experience what they went through but by using what they used and wearing what they wore it is a way we can experience it and basically understand what our ancestors went through on their journeys and their hunts. It involves a lot of research. I suggest that you do research on your own.”

Keep a few things in mind when planning your trek:

• You are doing this for yourself, not to put on a show but to learn and to experience new things.
• Know your terrain! It might well be more exciting to explore and take things as they come, but…
• Realize that you may not know the time…not that you need to know an exact time. Hopefully, you can get an approximate idea of the time from the sun and perhaps from a mini-sundial
• Always consider weight and space when packing. Learn to do more with less!
• Leave no trace, pick up your trash and pick up the trash that others have left behind. Perhaps this is not period, but it shows a respect to the wilds that everyone should have!
• And remember that the lack of spectators is no excuse for shoddy standards and lack of accuracy!


By accuracy, I am referring to accurate historically impressions in this chapbook. I prefer reenactors to be accurate—within th restrictions of safety. You are trying to re-create ordinary life. You need to have at least two (or possibly three for some societies) precedents for an activity or a piece of equipment. Any exceptions must be approved by your society’s Authenticity Officer and strictly limited.

This may not be your goal. If you have no qualms about wearing spectacles, tennis shoes and a nylon parka while doing your impression, this may not be the chapbook you are looking for!




No tobacco since it was unknown.

They did know about marijuana and apparently used it (see the Oseberg burial, where one woman had a bag of marijuana, perhaps for religious reasons). Do not include it if you are trekking in an area where it is illegal.



No framed eyeglasses of any kind that did not have to be held up to the eye in some manner existed even after the invention of spectacles. There are many conflicting stories about when frames were first invented, but even the earliest was long after the Viking Age.

Spectacles themselves were invented around 1258 (for near-sightedness; various crystals and glass lenses date back to at least the fifth century, but various methods of magnification appear to have existed for a long time). Telescopes were invented in 1608 and although experiments with binoculars started soon after, modern binoculars date only from the middle of the nineteenth century.

No sunglasses (make certain you have a hood).

If you need a corrective lens from time to time, pack a magnifying lens, preferably of a period type. Draw it out only when it is needed.


They probably did not even have candle lanterns.

Matches or Lighters

If you want fire, learn how to produce it using flint and steel.

Paperback Books

See the section below on Writing and Reading to see what is acceptable. Hint: Even Game of Thrones is not!


No no no!


The blank wall by the Mooby’s Burger is aching for some period graffiti! Variations that inspired those noted below were carved in runes, but you don’t have to do that. Illustrations were often included or used instead of the words.

Variations of the graffiti text includes:

NN fucked. NN carved.
These rules were carved by the man most skilled in runes on the Western Ocean with the axe that killed the son of NN in the South of Iceland.
In the northwest, great treasure is hidden.
Jerusalem men broke into this hill.
NN is the most beautiful of all women.
NN is a horny bitch.
NN was here.
NN made this cross.
Is to me said that treasure is here hidden very well.
NN the Dane was weary when he came here.
NN the fair widow – many a woman has walked stooping in here a very showy person.
This mound was raised by NN SS when his sons were brave smooth-hide men.
NN the son of NN carved these runes
NN SS carved these runes
These runes were carved by the man most skilled in runes in the western ocean
NN SS carved these runes high up
NN SS carved these runes with this axe owned by NN SS in the South land
The son of NN says in the runes he carves his father ventured bravely.
NN the cook of the jarl carved these runes.
To the north-west is a great treasure hidden.
It was long ago that a great treasure was hidden here. Happy is he that might find that great treasure.
NN alone bore treasure from this mound. Carved by NN SS.
It is surely true what I say than treasure was taken away.
Treasure was carried off in three nights.
NN to me said that treasure is here hidden very well.
Into your hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit. You have redeemed me, O Lord, O God of truth.


NN stands for the personal name, and SS stands for the soubriquet or patronymic. The originals were founds in “11 Samples of Authentic Viking Graffiti.” and “Maeshowe’s runes – Viking graffiti.”


Well, historical films in general. Are historical films education or entertainment?

Let’s face it. Even documentaries are entertainment. Some reenactors are angry at any film that is not a hundred percent accurate. To them, the value of a film is not economic—anyone giving money to a film should be doing it for love of history—but educational. If someone is wearing a tunic that is not hand sewn—and they have turned their magnifying glasses onto enlargements of stills from the film—the entire effort is rubbish. Let’s face it. No one is ever going to come up with a cinematic effort that will please them any better than a book of popular history!

Of course, more knowledgeable people—and we are speaking about more knowledgeable about history as well as more knowledgeable about how the real world operates—say something different. Jackson Crawford is most concerned about his specialty, linguistics, and has posted a vlog that should have these experts dancing in fury. Jim Grossman, Executive Director of the American Historical Association notes in the words of Elisabeth Grant, “how movies can be used to generate questions, start discussions, and in the end, teach history.” George MacDonald Fraser, author of the Flashman novels and the Richard Lester “Three Musketeers”, said that “in a way, Hollywood has been a great historical educator, because if you or I or anyone else thinks of ancient Rome, you probably think of something you’ve seen in the movies. Who would know what the Romans wore or looked like or a chariot race looked like if they hadn’t seen Ben Hur? Who would know what a Philistine temple looked like if Victor Mature hadn’t pushed one over? I think we get more vivid pictures of history from the movies than we ever get from histories. Sometimes there are minor distortions, sometimes there are major distortions, but one can be pretty sure the background detail has been accurately researched.” And Norman Cantor writes in The Civilization of the Middle Ages, “Films are not a substitute for history books, but films can evoke the ambience and sensibility, as well as the visual locus, of the Middle Ages, not only in a supplementary reinforcing and entertaining manner, but sometimes in a distinctively perceptive and persuasive manner.”

I am a reenactor and not in any sense a professional historian. I was trained as a news-editorial writer. When I approach an historical film, I judge it by five factors:

1—Does the film-makers claim the film is accurate?

“The Pathfinder”—the remake, not excellent original also known as “Ofelas”—claims to be optimized for accuracy. Perhaps for the American Indians—not my forté—but certain not for he Norse with their horns helmets and plate armor!

2—Is the costuming accurate?

One might find this the most important thing. Films and television that will often make the clothing flattering for a star without any regard to accuracy. See, for example, “The Long Ships,” where Richard Widmark might look splendid while wearing something that is as accurate as a parka and sneakers! (Let us not talk about the buoyant golden bell)

3—Are the props accurate?

Actually, often more care is taken in background props. For example, the props in “The Vikings” are much better researched and manufactured than the clothing! This does not mean, of course, that they are all accurate to the period and not mixed with props from other eras.

4—Is there a consistent effort to make things accurate?

Just tossing in bits of history from other times—such as the armor in “The Thirteenth Warrior”—can often be confusing or prompting incorrect assumptions.

5—Is it a good story that makes no claim at accuracy?

I absolutely despised the History Channel’s “The Vikings” not only because they claimed absolutely accuracy without providing it but because the story sucked. On the other hand, I loved the Curtiz “Adventures of Robin Hood” because it had a cracking storyline and made no pretensions of its terrible and anachronistic costuming or plot and still think it one of the best historical films around!

For me, claiming accuracy while not really caring about the accuracy is the most important thing in my perception of a film. While it is perhaps hypocritical to look down on lying in a work of fiction, there are times when I cannot help look poorly on what might be a trivial inaccuracy! I stopped watching “Rome” when a market had some orange carrots! 🙂

As I said, these are the questions I have. You might have more and different questions.