This guide is intended to provide 3 things:
- Guidelines on determining if an item would be appropriate for use as part of the village.
- A basic set of gendered clothing items that represent a ‘default’ option for participants. This is intended to be useful for people new to the hobby or who are assembling kit for this event specifically.
- A short list of items that are not appropriate to be used as part of the display.
This guide is not intended to be exhaustive or cover every possibility out there, that would be impractical at best. If in doubt the easiest thing to do is ask for guidance from the event coordinator.
If you are an experienced reenactor of the period, you may wish to start with the last section (Items that should not be used) and read the basic principles.
A core objective of the viking village is accurate portrayal of the later viking age with a focus on Iceland, in order to support this there is a basic expectation of each participant that they are responsible for the authenticity of their own presentation. Each attendee should understand the basis for the items they bring into camp, we would like to move away from rationale like: “I saw a reconstruction on pinterest & copied it”, “Group x permits this, so it must be ok”, or simply “It looks cool” and move towards each participant genuinely understand why what they are wearing and using is appropriate.
Of course this is daunting for newcomers to the hobby or period and that is why we have put together a list of basic items to make their lives simpler. If an item isn’t included in that list that doesn’t mean it’s inappropriate, it does mean however you should know why it is appropriate if you choose to use it. The following rules of thumb are the best way to make these kinds of decisions.
Wherever possible items you use/bring should be reasonably consistent with themselves in terms of both geographical evidence (avoid cherry picking from dozens of sites where possible) but also in terms of status. If you are dressed as a wealthy man you should probably have shoes and your clothes be well maintained with very subtle repairs. Conversely if you are dressed as a poor man then you likely wouldn’t be carrying a sword and probably shouldn’t have blue or purple trousers (honestly the wealthy man probably shouldn’t have purple trousers either).
Items used in the village should be based on the known material culture of viking-age, north-western europe, with a particular focus on objects/items from the western diaspora (e.g. sites like Hedeby, York, Dublin) and near to the 950-1000 period. Iceland is of course the ideal source of material culture for our purposes, however sadly finds are uncommon and highly fragmentary.
Items used in the village should represent the common vs the uncommon. A rule of thumb is that there should be at least 3 (and ideally more) independent items of evidence supporting the item from the area we are interested in, these might be:
- Archeological objects
- Period depictions in art
- Literary references
… it is not unusual to have to draw on a group of sources for some objects. The intent of the material and techniques section is intended to help guide such interpretation. And a discussion with the event organizers is generally recommended to ensure your interpretation aligns with that taken elsewhere.
If you are new to doing your own research there are several great summary books out there worth reading, see http://goneaviking.blogspot.com/2014/08/books.html. For those that prefer their references electronically, good sites to start with are http://www.vikingage.org/ and https://regia.org/research.php but it should be stressed, these are starting points for a wider grounding in the period. Go back to the original item(s) referred to when making or selecting your own items.
Caution should be used when including items that:
- Have a strong eastern affiliation (e.g. the basis for these is solely objects from Birka, Gotland etc)
- Are associated strongly/only with the ‘early’ (pre 900’s) viking era.
Materials and techniques
Objects in the period we interpret were handmade without power tools and this is something we should consider as we look at any object we create or repurpose for our needs.
The dominant fibers used in our period are wool and flax (with hemp and nettle fibers commonly used). Silk was used but not widespread due to cost (around twice the value of silver)
Due to the time involved in production it would be common to find garments, patched, repaired and repurposed several times. The poorest in society would likely have ended up wearing clothes literally made from rags, such as we see from the tunic associated with a C7-8th bog burial from Bernuthsfeld (Germany) http://goo.gl/DEqfhL.
Common weaves are covered by http://www.vikingage.org/wiki/wiki/Cloth_Weaving_Patterns.
Cloth (especially wool) can be dyed, colors would have ranged (in approximate order of ‘value’ in period) from natural fiber colors, to yellows & some greens (from weld and other hedgerow dyestuffs), oranges/reds (from madder) and blue (from woad). Many shades would not have been available, with deep shades of green, red and blue and violets/purples likely prohibitively expensive for the majority of people (including the very wealthy).
Dyed linen was probably generally uncommon (linen takes dyes other than woad very poorly) however it’s not uncommon for people to wear more muted shades in linen as that is more available to us today than wool and the event is in the peak of the Manitoba summer.
Fur and Leather
Leather was an expensive product in the period when compared with today, the processes to preserve fur and leather would have been time-consuming and messy, and with generally fewer livestock leather would have not been a byproduct of the meat industry as it is today.
Leather and fur survive poorly in the archeological record, but was clearly used for some everyday products (e.g. shoes, belts & knife sheaths).
There is some evidence for fur used as trim and lining of clothing, primarily cloaks but this seems to be uncommon and would have been carefully applied, the preservation process is unlikely to have preserved the face or other features. Fur does seem to have been a common bedding material, and much of the archeological evidence for fur comes from this situation.
Fur on hides would have been preserved in a very different way to leather, and likely much more fragile, so their use as floor-coverings would be questionable.
Rawhide (untanned animal skins that have had all fats/hair removed and dried) were used to face/edge shields and likely used in other applications where its material properties were advantageous.
True leather production techniques (where the rawhide is further processed to preserve it & make it flexible) would have resulted in a range of colors from beige through to relatively bark brown, with a similar color through the thickness (unlike the characteristic paler/grey stripe we see in chromium tanned leathers). Most commercially available ‘vegetable tanned’ leathers would be a reasonable simulation of the processes available during the period.
Suede, produced from the underside of the leather, is likely a waste product in the period (from trimming the hide to a reasonably uniform thickness), whilst commonly available today this is unlikely to have been used as it did not become fashionable until after the C16th, and requires specialized tooling to produce in large even sheets as we acquire today.
Leather that has a glossy finish to the upper surface has today often been plasticised or treated by processes inconsistent with the period. Likewise leather with faux-skin effects is a strong sign of modern manufacture. Leather can be dyed using period techniques, but the colour pallete is limited and the degree that these processes were used is debatable so should be used with caution.
Wooden objects should ideally be constructed from native northern-european hardwoods or more practically from wood that resembles these woods. Generally this would only exclude exotic woods with distinctive colouration (i.e. mahogany, purpleheart) or obvious complex grain-structures (i.e. zebrawood).
Wood was generally available in wide enough boards and sections for the items to be made, so layered/plyed (e.g. project panel, cross-laminated plywood) and sectional materials (e.g. small stave built bowls, or sectional bowls) should be based only on objects where archeological evidence suggests this was the case only (e.g. stave-built buckets).
Wood would be processed into planked forms through splitting (rather than being sawn) so knots and similar irregularities would be generally absent, so knotty wood or holes clearly from knots are inappropriate.
All metal objects were labor intensive to produce in this period. Even simple iron was an expensive object used much more sparingly than we see today.
Lead, tin and copper alloys are often seen in decorative metalwork in the period, the precise alloys are very varied. As lead is toxic and infrequently used today it is common to find tin alloys acting as a stand-in for these kinds of objects.
Silver and gold objects would have been very valuable, gold being worth about 20x more than silver by weight. For context 1 dwt (pennyweight, around 1.5g) of 90% pure silver would have bought 15 chickens or 5 gallons of ale in anglo-saxon england. A ‘pound’ (240 dwt) was the value of a full ‘hide’ of land (the amount of land considered sufficient to support a family (anywhere between 10-50 hectares depending on the land). The man with a set of silver fittings on his belt decorated with eastern style studs and a couple of silver arm-rings is easily carrying around several farms worth of wealth on his person.
Many items were made from hardened or fired clay in the period, sadly very few items not specifically made for reenactment will be appropriate for our purposes (industrially produced pots are very very different to the kind of things we see in the period). Places to start looking at the kinds of shapes we see would be:
For a brief discussion of the types of pottery products (colours and properties) we might see commonly in the area of interest see https://docs.google.com/document/d/e/2PACX-1vRv5byUpJJ7ljub2ZKjAUKkEtqRLD6FtXpDkl72nR_UkvPk9gaMdfNn9CmJC_ijdrNlWcFgs328wHw2/pub
Glass would have been an exceptionally expensive item to produce in the period, even simple glass beads are thought to be as valuable as amber or imported semi-precious stones. Glass drinking vessels are known from the period but likely an exceptionally high status item that would have been treasured possessions of the exceptionally wealthy.
Tunic (ideally in a natural or lower status color like yellow, muted/mid green or orange)
Trousers or Hose (optional, and also ideally in lower status shades)
Cloak & pin (optional)
Dress (in similar tones to the Tunic above)
Headcovering (generally in undyed cloth, head coverings were probably washed frequently and this would cause dye to fade rapidly).
Mantle (recommended, but optional)
Bowl (probably made from wood)
Cup (wood or pottery)
Spoon (wood or bone)
Items that should not be used
- Modern visible eyewear.
- Items made with obvious modern / man-made materials (e.g. visible/exposed plywood edges, chromium tanned leather).
- Items with obvious modern construction (e.g. visible bolts/screws or pop rivets, visible weld lines, visible machine sewing).
- Given the geographic and temporal focus of the village apron dresses should be uncommon, but are acceptable in small numbers. Apron dresses are very uncommon in Scandinavia in even the middle of the viking period.
- Obviously eastern portrayals (loose baggy trousers and kaftan) should not be used unless explicitly approved in advance by the event coordinator.
- Wooden sectional bowls and cups (e.g. pinterest.ca/pin/535013630732862378/)
Armor and wargear
- Lamellar and scale armours
- Leather armor
Things we shouldn’t have to mention 😉
- Horned helmets
- Sheepskins/wolf pelts worn over the shoulder (i shouldn’t have to say this)
- Fur tails worn from the belt
- Amber chip necklaces
- Men wearing jewelry associated with female (or equine) inhumations
- Beads are exceptionally rare in male burials
- Boars teeth necklaces are also a no, see https://halldorviking.wordpress.com/2014/03/04/excuse-me-sir-but-you-appear-to-be-a-cross-dressing-horse/