The Vikings Didn’t Wear That!

There are two things (well . . . at least two things) that have slowed actual information on the Rus as far as costuming go. One concerns incorrect ideas that have simply not lost sway. The other concerns politics.

When I’m talking to someone with a Viking persona about what they want their garb to look like, I generally sketch out some ideas. Almost half of the time they tell me that one or two of the things I sketched aren’t Viking and that they are Rus or early period Russian. Mainly, it’s the kaftan-like coat and the poofy pants.

My first reaction, after confusion, is to tell them that some of the best extant pieces of these garments come from Viking finds in Scandinavian countries – Birka and Hedeby respectively. Granted, those cities were trade cities with people from all over the known world, but the graves that the extant pieces came from were Scandinavian-type graves. So why do they think that these are Rus or early Russian articles of clothing?

Generally, they don’t really know the exact reason other than that friends who have Rus personas often wear them. To which I say that maybe they were Rus items of clothing, but you can not argue with the hard evidence that they were Viking as well.

Over the years of battling this common misconAlexander Vasilevich Viskovatov uniformception, I’ve developed a pet theory. We’ve all seen Fiddler on the Roof, and we’ve all seen pictures of early Russian folk costumes. My educated guess was that since we’ve seen Russians wearing the kaftan and the poofy pants, despite that the context was centuries after the Vikings, we still associate those items with Russia. Somewhere in our brains we have overlapped images of 19th century Russian folk costumes with the costumes that people would wear in Viking-age Russia.

An example is the image on the right from Alexander Vasilevich Viskovatov’s 19th century book “The Historical Description of Clothing and Weapons of Russian Troops.”  Does the outfit these “17th century” soldiers wear look familiar?

At the time, not having researched into Russian garb, I had no idea if those items were part of the Viking-age Russian costume, but I did know that they were Viking.

A while ago, while researching Rus garb, I was translating Saburova’s essay “The Old Costume” and I read something that he wrote. Basically, when the field of archeology opened up in the mid 19th century, it was okay to write wild theories with little or no proof and not have people read you the riot act. In 1868, this guy Golovatsky wrote a book saying that the 19th century folk costume had a direct line back to medieval Russia down to the tailoring techniques. In 1916, this fellow Volkov picked up the torch and kept it going. After that, we have a whole slew of other archaeologists who perpetuate this idea.

In the 1800’s and early 1900’s we had very little extant evidence to say one way or another. Any theory can be true when we are simply guessing. But why did this theory stick for so long?

That’s when the politics came in. During the era of Soviet Russia, it was down-right dangerous to promote ideas about the Slavic culture being influenced by anyone outside of Russia. Basically, they wanted to believe that the Kiev State and the then modern Russian State developed all on its own.

During this time we have a great amount of archeological finds popping up with extant fabric, but it was not a bright idea to say that the people in these grave-finds were of Viking origin. Not until the fall of communism in the early 1990’s were the scholars able to start comparing the textiles find in Viking-age Russian graves to the textiles found in Viking cities.

Does this mean that the kaftan coat and the poofy pants were not worn by the Rus? Not necessarily. It simply means that even if the Rus wore them, the Vikings wore them too. It also means that my confusion makes sense. Hopefully as we reexamine more and more of the Viking-age finds in Russia, we can unlock what the Rus actually wore.

Saburova, M. A. “The Old Costume.” Ancient Russian. Life and Culture. Moscow: Moscow House: Science, 1997. 93-109.
Сабурова, M. A. “Древнерусский костюм.” Древняя Русь. Быт и культура. Москва: Москва, издательство «Наука», 1997. 93-109.

Rus – What does it mean?

Sometime last year, I offered to help make garb for a friend and asked him what time period and style interested him. Being a typical early period fighter-type guy in the SCA, I knew he was leaning towards the Viking-age, but when he said Rus I had to pause. “What do you mean by Rus?” I asked.

How little did I know that this one simple question pushed me into my rabbit hole, and I have little hope of ever returning. The general idea of a Russian Viking is not hard to find, but as a serious costumer I wanted to know what makes the costumes of the Russian Vikings different from all of the other Viking-age outfits. My rabbit hole question is trying to define the garb of the elusive “Rus.”

Before I could do that, there were many other questions I needed to answer. Did the Rus exist as a separate and distinctly different culture from the other Viking groups of the time? What made them different? How would they have defined themselves?  What distinguishes a Viking-Rus grave from a grave of a native Slavic or someone from the East?

And then the more penitent questions for me: What extant evidence do we have?  What is the current hypothesis that the Russian archaeologists propose concerning the costumes?

With as many people bandying about the term Rus and with as many books written on the subject, one would think it would be a cut and dry answer. Not so much! I’m still searching for these answers, but I want to share what I’ve learned so far and what I will learn.  My posts on this may be slow since I’m painstakingly translating Russian archaeology articles, but when one wants to know about something, it is best to go to those with the most access.

First of all, for my personal use, I am defining Viking-Rus as those settled in Russian areas who were of Scandinavian origin culturally.  What does that mean?  Whether or not they were born in Russia or in Norway, I’m focusing on the people who still had connections to the Scandinavian Viking culture.

How is this determined?

One word: graves.  An archaeologist determines what someone is culturally based on how the dead person was physically treated and what items were in their resting place.  What about a DNA test? you ask.  Those are really expensive and most archaeology departments are not that well funded.  Maybe some future culture will value the information more and swing for a slew of DNA tests, but until then we have body remains and grave finds.  And that topic deserved its own blog post.

I hope you enjoy this series. Leave comments and questions – I always appreciate them and we learn best from each-other.

Viking-Age Accessories Part 2: Men & Shopping

Accessories for Men

An introduction to common accessories found in Viking graves to help the reenactor put together a kit to look more like a Viking.

The drawings are my own – please do not scan or upload to the internet. Copies made for educational purposes, such as classes, can be as long as credit is given and my contact information is added. Feel free to email me for questions, corrections or comments.

MEn image words 2 wm

Hat tip:

Hat tip: There is no doubt that Vikings loved to bling things up, including the ends of their caps.  These hat tips were cone shaped metal ends that were often elaborately decorated.  They were found in both the western areas, such as Birka, as well as the eastern or Rus regions.

Pennanular Brooches:

Pennanular Brooches were used to pin cloaks near the shoulder, a style that makes it easier to reach a weapon or gear. Cloak pins were sturdy, often a large pennanular (horseshoe with a sharp nail) or annular (circle with a sharp nail) brooch. Other brooches are fine as long as they have a sturdy pin.

Thor’s Hammer:

Thor’s Hammer, or Mjølnir, was often shaped like an upside-down cross. They could have animal heads on the bottom or be plain hammer-shaped.

Arm Ring:

Arm Ring are thought of as signs of status and wealth, arm rings and a common Viking grave find.  These ranged in a variety from elaborate, animal headed small torqs to simple twisted and coiled wire spiraling around the arm.

Belt Accoutrements

Buckle:

Buckle:  Vikings had buckles, not rings, which held their belts together. These were often elaborate in design and very sturdy in construction, but rarely were larger than able to accommodate a 1 inch belt.

Belt Studs:

Belt Studs, also called belt plaques, were metal affixed to the belt with studded backs. Common in Viking-age graves, a single set did not always perfectly match but were similar and had a common element. The idea of a consistent and matching “set” is modern.

Belt Tips:

Belt Tips increase the Viking flavor of your outfit, even if you can not find belt studs. These metal tips often matched the buckle, not the studs, in design.

Belt Pouch hardware:

Belt Pouch hardware, including buckles and leather studs, are a common Viking grave-find. Some whole pouches, such as the Birka pouch, can be used as a pattern. These pouches had leather loops in the back that allowed them to slide easily onto the belt.

Seax:

Seax:  Rarely do we find an adult male Viking grave without a weapon. Even most female graves contain weapons. The seax is a common Viking knife, which often hung horizontally by using metal rings and leather straps rather than vertically, like a modern knife sheath.

Winingas Hooks:

Winingas Hooks answer the question of how a Viking man kept his leg wraps on. These small, metal, triangular shaped hook tags were sewn onto the leg-wraps using small holes near the flat edge. They are almost always found in matching pairs.

Where to Find Accessories?

Other than waiting for large events, such as Pennsic or Gulf Wars, the internet is the place to find Viking accessories.

There are a few good shop in the U.S.:

Crafty Celts http://www.craftycelts.com/
Raymond’s Quiet Press http://quietpress.com/
Also look to Europe.
Etsy (www.etsy.com) has great European vendors.

My favorites are (in no particular order):

Other European Shops:

If using Chrome to see these sites, you can right click to translate to English. And most of them take PayPal! ~~~ Enjoy! Esperanza

Rus Embroidery #4

I’ve been having fun sketching Viking Rus embroidery designs from period sources.  Their artwork, as I may have said before, is this amazing mix of Viking, Byzantine and Eastern.  I’m still researching on the stitches they used, but I haven’t yet found enough to post anything.

Here’s a new design. It’s based on a sword hilt from 11th century Ukraine.

Neckline / collar

rus embroidery 5 d wm

 

Hem, Sleeves and other Straights

Rus Embroidery 5 f wm

Documentation

rus embroidery 5 wm

Viking-Age Accessories Part 1: Intro and Women

I was scheduled to teach 4 classes at Gulf Wars this year. Unfortunately, Gulf Wars turned into Gulfnado and I was only able to teach 1.  I’ll try to schedule them for future events, but until then, I’ll share here.

An introduction to common accessories found in Viking graves to help the reenactor put together a kit to look more like a Viking.

The drawings are my own – please do not scan or upload to the internet. Copies made for educational purposes, such as classes, can be as long as credit is given and my contact information is added. Feel free to email me for questions, corrections or comments.

A word on names:

Naming object is so important in human history that it is mentioned early in the Bible when God gifted Adam with the task of naming all of the animals. We give names weight when we debate on whether or not something fits into a category (think of Pluto, for example).

The names used here are common names for the items, but are not definitive. Even with alternate names, this is not an exhaustive list.

Names have power. For example, let’s look at the Viking apron dress, which is often called a hangerok. This name was given to it by Agnes Gejer, a German archeologist from the early days of Viking-age archeology. In German, it refers to dungerees or overalls, which is not a dress but a practical workman’s outfit. The Russian word for the same item translates to sundress, which gives the connotations of something fancy we wear on holiday. There is no Viking-age word for this item of clothing, but only words given in the last 100 years. Each name gives a different feeling to the piece. All, yet none, are correct.

i.e., don’t fixate on names.  I’ve written more about this in my blog post:

https://maniacalmedievalist.wordpress.com/2012/11/12/a-cotehardie-by-any-other-name-would-look-just-as-lovely-some-thoughts-on-research/

Woman Image words wm

Accessories for the Woman

Turtle Brooches

Turtle Brooches are the most distinctive of Viking-age jewelry. Also called oval brooches or paired brooches, because they are oval in shape and were almost always found in pairs, these were worn on the rise of each breast to fasten the strap of the apron dress to the front top of the dress, like the buckles on modern overalls. The turtle brooches rarely went through the cloth but were most often fastened through a top and bottom loop. The turtle brooches often had beads or chains connecting them together and other items, such as scissors or ear spoons, hanging from them.
Alternates: In Finland, round brooches were more common, and in Gotland, animal heads, such as bores or bears.

Trefoil Brooch

Trefoil Brooch: was one possible brooch found at the neck close the opening of a dress, like the top button. Others included small round brooches, snake brooches, or small penannular brooches. Larger trefoil brooches could be used as a cloak clasp. Worn with a leg pointing down and fork up, much like the letter the “Y”.

Mirror Brooch

Mirror Brooch, called such because of their symmetry, were used as clothes fasteners. They are most often found singly laying in a horizontal position, relative to the body. Can be used in pairs vertically in lieu of tortoise brooches. Also called equal armed brooches.

Beads

Beads: of glass, metal (sliver, gold or bronze), metal pendants or gemstone beads were often strung between the turtle brooches. Glass beads, made like modern lampwork beads, had complex patterns and shapes. Although amber is the most frequent gemstone bead used today, carnelian, quartz, garnet, amethyst and jet have been found in both necklaces and hanging between the brooches.
Other Danglies: Viking women also wore practical items hanging from brooches or hanging from their belts.  Amoung these items are ear spoons, tweezers, scissors, needle-cases, keys, combs, and tooth or fingernail picks.

Freya Pendant

Freya Pendant:  Many pendants have been found in graves of Viking-age women.  Pendants of Freya or Valkyries are fairly common.

Cloak Pin

Cloak Pin: Cloaks could be fastened on with a single pin in the front or on the shoulder, or with two cloak pins pinning the cloak open in the front. Cloak pins could be very simple, such as these large decorative nails, or rather complex, such as trefoils or penannular brooches.

Belt

Belt:  Although belt buckles were uncommon in graves of Viking women, cloth belts could have items hanging from them. We often find remnants of tablet woven belts, which were perhaps tied.

Head Scarf

Head Scarf: Viking women wore something on their heads or fixed their hair in elaborate braids. The head scarf, which can be tied in a large knot at the nape of the neck, is inspired by images of women from pendants.  A Jorvik styled cap or head-rail can also be used.

Tablet-Woven Headband

Tablet-Woven Headband:  Although the headband/temple-ring combo is thought to be more of an eastern or Rus Viking custom, tablet woven headbands are found in the western graves in Birka and Hedeby.

Temple Rings

Temple Rings are found near the temple of the head and were possibly worn, in the eastern Viking regions, attached to head scarves or headbands, a tradition which continued through the centuries in Russia. In the Western Viking-age world, they were possibly used as earrings worn around the ears rather than attached to the headband.

Rus Embroidery #3

Between 2 days of homeschool co-op and one of my best friends getting married, it’s been a busy couple of days.  I’m just posting a new Rus Viking embroidery design based off of an 11th/12th century piece of Rus embroidery.   Documentation to the piece will come later.  Enjoy!

rus embroidery 4 whole wm

Viking Design for use in Embroidery

I’m still working on research on Rus sewing techniques and embroidery methods, especially those not gilt or bead.  From what I’ve learned, it is different from the contemporary techniques we’ve found in western Scandinavian lands. Not sure if I would call it more complex, but it certainly has a level of complexity I did not expect to find in 10th and 11th century textiles.

Until I can gather my notes into more writing, I’m still working on my Viking and Rus designs for use in embroidery.  You know how I love the combination of curves and geometric figures.  This one is inspired by a pattern Sue Margeson’s book on “The Vikings in Norfolk.”

viking in Norfolk