Inspiration #6, a trader from Gotland

The sixth issue of our inspiration series introduces Radomír Jelínek, a well-known Slovak reenactor. Radomír aims to reconstruct a trader from Gotland in late 10th/early 11th century.

We can see from the photos that Radomír wears a brown tunic made from herringbone wool and hemmed with geometrically patterned silk. The tunic is belted with a girdle inspired by various Gotland finds. Its buckle, strap end and belt lamellae come from Rone and Hense graves, while hanging straps are derived from Ense. There is a bag on the belt decorated with sheet brass and silk, a purse based on a Birka find (Radomír currently works on a new one based on a find from Barshalder), a whetstone with a colourful mosaic, tinderbox based on a Birka find and a comb based on a find from Eskelhem. A small pattern-welded steel knife is hanging on his neck, adorned with silver and brass and based on a find from Rone. Then we can see a hammer pendant on a chain – Radomír intends to swap that one for a cross. He covers himself with a brooch-fastened, semi-circular brown cape from herringbone wool (Radomír wears three types of brooches based on Visby finds). There is a fur-hemmed woolen hat on his head, decorated with silk embroidery and a hat top replica based on Birka (the hat will be also decorated with ornamental posament). On his hands we can see some brass and silver bracelets with punched decoration. Finally his profession is symbolized by simple weighing scales which have been found in several locations (Visby, Akeback, Oja).

On his legs we can see wide breeches made according to Gotlandic pictures stones depictions and a find from Haithabu. Breeches are dyed with indigo and tansy. Shoes with two buttons are a replica of Dorestad shoes. There are white nålbinding socks covering his shins with a thin lace fastened with two small (2 cm) pins.

Weapons are also a part of this trader‘s costume. It is a sharp H type pattern-welded steel sword (unfinished) with Geibig type 3 blade (80 cm long and 6 cm wide), a sharp pattern-welded steel seax (Radomír owns two of these but plans to rebuild both, one of them is a Gotland find replica), a sharp pattern-welded steel spear of type I with brass crosspieces (according to a Gotland find) and a mace which is going to be replaced by a more authentic replica.

Aside from this Radomír plans to make a new silken printed caftan, maybe a new hat, satchel, purse, archer‘s equipment, strap divider for the sword with a belt according to Rone and Hense finds and crampons.


I would like to thank Radomír Jelínek for providing photos and a detailed description of his costume. Here we will finish this article. Thank you for your time and we look forward to any feedback. If you want to learn more and support my work, please, fund my project on Patreon or Paypal.

Metal Axe Sheaths

Almost five years ago, we published the article “Axe Sheaths” at this website, which mapped poorly described phenomenon of axe protections. The article has gained great popularity among reenactors around the world. The conclusion of the article was that we were able to find 22 axe sheaths made of birch, pine, beech, oak, juniper, alder, spruce, yew and willow wood and elk antler. Wood and antler sheaths are often decorated and have different fastening methods that we have tried to digitally reconstruct.

sheath suspension axes
Suggested variants of wooden sheaths. Bigger resolution here.

Metal axe sheaths of Roman age. Source: roman.military.history.

In light of new knowledge, it is my joyful duty to expand this list with three more unique specimens from Great Moravia and Ukraine. All of them are made of iron sheet that is bent around the blade and fastened. Let’s describe these objects in more detail.

  • Grave 1689 in Mikulčice, identification number 646/85
    The axe found in grave 1689 in Mikulčice, belonging to Kotowicz’s type IB.5.30 (Kotowicz 2018: 107-9), is provided with a metal protector of the blade (Luňák 2018: 104-107, 269, HFE 7/2a). The sheath is made of a piece of iron sheet with a thickness of about 1.5 mm. The sheet was originally triangular or trapezoidal in shape and was sharply bent over the cutting edge. On the left side, where it extends approximately 14 mm beyond the cutting edge and is roughly paralel to the cutting edge, it has been cut regularly and is only slightly corroded; it retains its original shape. On the right side, where the protector protrudes 28 mm beyond the cutting edge, it has an arcuate shape and is damaged. The original documentation shows that the right side protector protruded further into the blade, apparently in a pointed projection, where it was provided with two holes, one of which is still present to this day. These holes are most likely to be related to fixation and have analogies in the wooden sheaths from Sigtuna (Kitzler Åhfeldt 2011: 56) and Novgorod (Kainov – Singh 2016). A small flap extends from the top of the right side of the protector and forms a small cap that covers the gap between the two sides and prevents the movement. The cap is not present on the under side, which is the feature that can also be seen at Sigtuna antler sheath.

Axe HFE 7/2a, identification number 646/85, grave 1689, Mikulčice.
Luňák 2018: 107, 269.

  • Grave 15/57, Staré Město “Na Valách”
    The axe found in grave 15/57 in Staré Město “Na Valách”, belonging to Kotowicz’s type IB.5.30 (Kotowicz 2018: 107-9), had a sharply bent metal plate over the blade, which is depicted in only one published picture (Hochmanová-Vávrová 1962: 204, Tab. XI; Luňák 2018: 105, 201). The protector is currently lost. Looking at the drawing, it appears that the protector could have a similar construction to the find from Mikulčice. In comparison with the current state, it is evident that the right side of the protector reached a level of about 2 cm from the blade and was relatively straight. The appearance of the left side and the method of attachment are unknown.


The axe from grave 15/57, Staré Město “Na Valách”.
Hochmanová-Vávrová 1962: 204, tab. XI.

The axe from grave 15/57, Staré Město “Na Valách”.
Luňák 2018: 201.

  • Detector find, Ukraine 
    After publishing of this article, Russian expert Sergei Kainov informed us that he was aware of yet another metal protector of the Early Medieval axe and he provided us with all the available information. In March-April 2018, an axe belonging to Kotowicz type IIB.5.20 (Kotowicz 2018: 98-100) appeared at the Violity auction. It can be dated to 10th-12th century, or more closely to the 1st half of 11th century (personal discussion with Sergei Kainov). The axe came from a detector find made in an unspecified place in Ukraine. According to the seller, the axe was found at a depth of 40 cm below the ground. The blade was covered with two fragments of a remarkable sheet metal protector. It was constructed of one piece of sheet that was symmetrically bent around the blade. In the bent state, the protector takes the form of an anchor; it tapers toward the corners and forms an elongated protrusion in the center. The protrusion is extended to the center of the blade where the axe hole was located. There, the protector is shaped into a trefoil decoration with a central hole. The protector was easily pinned through holes to the axe body. This system is also well known from Novgorod (Kainov – Singh 2016). Currently, the protector is in a private collection.

Photographs of the find from Ukraine. The smaller fragment is not positioned correctly. Source: Sergei Kainov.

Both fragments of metal protector. Source: Sergei Kainov.

Schematic drawing of the metal protector from Ukraine.
Made by Tomáš Cajthaml.

In Europe of 10th–12th century, we have at least 25 axe sheaths made of wood, antler and metal. During a personal discussion with scholar and veteran reenactor Petr Luňák, who processed the assemblage of Great Moravian axes, he showed me a series of photographs and literary references that suggested the use of wooden, leather and metal sheaths in Staré Město and Mikulčice. Unfortunately, these protectors are now destroyed and cannot be analyzed. It is also worth mentioning that the Great Moravian axes could be protected with strips of fabric (Kotowicz 2018: 151). In light of these finds, the problem of axe protectors seems to be far more complicated than it had seemed so far, and the lack of interest for this type of objects in 19th and 20th century played a major role.


Reconstruction

The above-described type of metal sheath, specifically the find from Mikulčice, was copied by my friend and veteran reenactor Roman Král. His version uses only one hole located on the projection to fix the strap and the cap is not formed by folding the top edge of the right side, but is soldered. Roman’s intention was to make the upper part more solid so the protector fits tightly. Despite this change that pursues a practical purpose, it is a very tasteful work that illustrates how metal sheaths could look like in the Early Middle Ages.


Here we will finish this article. Thank you for your time and we look forward to any feedback. If you want to learn more and support my work, please, fund my project on Patreon or Paypal.


Bibliography

Hochmanová-Vávrová, Věra (1962). Velkomoravské pohřebiště ve Starém Městě „Na valách“. Výzkum v letech 1957–1959. In: ČMMZ, vědy společenské XLVII, 201–270.

Kotowicz, Piotr N. (2018). Early Medieval Axes from Territory of Poland, Kraków.

Luňák, Petr (2018). Velkomoravské sekery, Brno: Masarykova univerzita [dissertation thesis].

Kainov – Singh 2016 = Каинов С.Ю., Сингх В.К. (2016). Деревянный чехол топора с Троицкого раскопа // Новгород и Новгородская земля. Вып. 30, 196–203.

Kitzler Åhfeldt, Laila (2011). Några träfynd i Sigtuna under runstenstid. In: Situne Dei, 49–60.

Inspiration #2, A Man From Birka

In the second episode of inspiromat we will stay in Birka, but this time we focus on male costume. For this reason I asked my Russian friend Konstantin Shiryaev who willingly provided me his photos with description.

The costume is based on finds from Birka, particularly grave Bj 644, but he also uses finds from surrounding regions. This is a costume of rich warrior in the mid-10th century. Konstantin says that his costume will never be done, and he intends to continue improving it.

FIG.1:
On the head, we can see a circular four-piece woolen cap (type B) dyed with oak bark. Silk on the hem is dyed with natural indigo. Konstantin also wears linen shirt dyed with natural indigo. The shirt is fringed with patterned silk. The shirt is girded with a replica of belt from Garrison in Birka. On his belt a knife hangs in a leather sheath and a replica of the bag from Eperjeske 3. A similar find of bag was found in grave Bj 644. The lid of the bag is decorated with gilded silver plate. On his legs, we can see wide linen trousers (påsbyxor), with shape based on finds from Haithabu, woolen leg wraps and leather boots of type 8 from Haithabu.

FIG.2:
On his head, we can see a conical felt cap (type A) with silk sewn onto it. Hat is decorated with silver terminal and a beaver pelt hem. Then, we can notice a red woolen tunic, based on the finds from Bernuthsfeld and Guddal. The tunic is decorated with patterned silk and silver embroidery and is girded with replica of belt from grave Bj 1074. Over the tunic. he wears rectangular blue woolen cloak which is lined and has a hem made of beaver pelt. The pin used to clasp the cloak is a replica from grave Bj 644. This somewhat unusual way of wearing the cloak is based on the positions of pins in Birka, Finland and Russia. Konstantin is holding a replica of battle axe from grave Bj 644. Over the previously described linen trousers, he wears red woolen leggings pinned with replicas of bronze hooks from grave Bj 905.

FIG.3:
Costume in this figure is the same as in Figure 1. The only difference is the woolen caftan, which is decorated with a patterned silk and 12 bronze buttons. Konstantin says that the silk part of his caftan is the only fabric on his costume, which is machine-dyed, and therefore intends to sew a new one. At the waist, we can notice replica of seax from grave Bj 644 (Konstantin adds that this is the old version of the seax and now works on a new one).

FIG.4:
Battle version of the costume. On his head there is a helmet, which is inspired by a fragment of Tjele helmet. At the waist, we can notice the sword type H in a wooden sheath. Type H swords are the dominant swords in Birka. On the back, there is a wooden shield, its front is covered in leather. Hands are protected by gloves, which are made of leather and felt (left mitten is only made of wool).

FIG.5:
Another picture of battle costume, this time with a single-piece helmet. In accordance with Ibn Fadlan’s report, he has an axe, sword and seax. We can notice that his shoes are lower and his leg wraps are fixed with decorative garters.

I would like to thank Konstantin Shiryaev for granting me permission to use his photographs and for detailed description of his costumeHere we will finish this article. Thank you for your time and we look forward to any feedback. If you want to learn more and support my work, please, fund my project on Patreon or Paypal.

The Period Transport of Liquids

The transport and the storage of liquids are one of the biggest problems in the reenactment of any time period. Archaeological finds are only a few and making a keg or flask needs skill. For a person living in 21st century, it is much easier and cheaper to load a barrel of beer and some bottles of water to a car and after that hide everything in a tent. On historical events, there are principles of hiding modern bottles, however we would be lying, if we said that it is a generally valid and strictly followed convention.

If we move from a camp to a march, there is a necessity to have a field bottle, because in our luggage there is a limited space for equipment. In such a case, we are going to plan our way close to the springs and streams. Scandinavian streams (Old Norse lœkr) and mountain rivers have stayed drinkable even up till now, so if the Old Norse people made a good journey plan, they had no thirst. In the corpus of Old Norse dictionary, there is a term rǫst (“mile”), which literally means “distance between two halts”. Literary sources show existence of route with some fixed halts, which were located near the water streams.

Reconstruction of the farmstead Stöng, Iceland.

Even buildings and farmsteads were built near to the water streams. Water is necessary for a household, and people settled there not only because of water, but also because of fish. In some sources, the connection of a farm and a stream more than obvious:

Next to Ásólf’s hall, there was a river. Winter started and the river was full of fish. Þorgeir claimed that they settled on his fishing grounds, so Ásólf moved and built the second hall on west near to another river.
(The book of settlement, chap. 21, Hauskbók version)

The same situation was during the settlement of Iceland. Settlers often took up land, surrounded by two water streams. In addition, there was the law that the settler could take more land than she or he could walk around in one day. The farmstead Stöng, which was built in 11th century and covered by volcano ash in 1104, follows the same logic – it was built on a hill approximately one kilometer above the Fossá river. In densely built-up areas, water drained from wells. The most of farms did not need wells, because they had access to water streams (Short 2003: 74).

The containers for a water transportation can be divided to big volume containers and small volume containers. Among the big volume containers belong barrels, buckets and bigger ceramic vessels. Their volume can be between ones and hundreds of litres and they served for crowds, e.g. farm residents, merchants or soldiers on war expeditions. However, the dimension limits mobility, as can be shown by the quote from the Eyrbyggja saga (chap. 39):

Then too was it the custom of all the shipmen to have their drink in common, and a bucket should stand by the mast with the drink therein, and a locked lid was over it. But some of the drink was in barrels, and was added to the bucket thence as soon as it was drunk out.

The transport of barrels at the Bayeux tapestry.

The small volume containers were using for needs of individuals and they were parts of personal equipment. We are talking about different kinds of flasks, bags and bottles, which had limited volume – only up to several litres, but it was not difficult to carry them. It is necessary to add, that there are almost no preserved containers from Scandinavian area, so we have to use the written sources or look for the analogic finds from the period Europe.

The barrel from Haithabu.

The biggest container from the Viking period is a barrel (Old Norse: tunni, verpill). The barrels are well preserved in archeological, written and iconographic sources. In the previous written example, we can see the barrels were used for long-term storage of water on ships. Barrels also served for fermentation and storage of beverages in the halls. A big barrel with the volume of approximately 800 litres was found in Haithabu, Germany. Similar finds are known also from the Rome Empire period. Barrels of this kind are also depicted in the Bayeux Tapestry, where they are loaded on both carts and shoulders and carried to the ships. The Tapestry comments this depiction with these words: “These men carry arms to the ships and here they drag a cart laden with wine and arms.

A slightly smaller container is represented by a bucket, a tub and a vat (Old Norse: ker). The main advantage is a handle for the easier transport. It could be the most frequent big volume container of the period. A bucket was not provided with a permanent lid, because the liquid was meant for an immediate consumption. If it was necessary, the bucket could be covered by a removable lid (Old Norse: hlemmr or lok, see the quote from Eyrbyggja saga). The finds of buckets are well preserved in Oseberg and Haithabu. In Haithabu, they found imported big volume ceramics (so called Reliefbandamphoren) as well, which could be used for similar purpose thanks to transportation eyelets.

Opening of a bottle.  Made by Jakub Zbránek and Zdeněk Kubík.

We know only a few finds of flasks and bottles (Old Norse: flaska) made of leather, ceramics, wood, metal and glass in Early medieval Europe. Absence of local anorganic bottles in Scandinavia is a sign of the fact that organic materials were mainly used. From the following list, it is evident that ceramic, metal and glass bottles were imported to Scandinavia.

There are only a few written mentions about bottles from Scandinavia and they all are of the late date. It is interesting that some mentions are connected with bynames of people living in the Viking Age. We can find Þorsteinn flǫskuskegg (“bottle beard“) and Þorgeirr flǫskubak (“bottle back“) among the Icelandic settlers.


  • Leather bottle, made by Petr Ospálek.

    Leather bottles – it is the only kind mentioned in Old Norse sources. In Grettis saga (chap. 11), there is a funny story of Þorgeirr flǫskubak who is attacked by an assassin to his back, but he manages to survive, because the axe of the assassin hits a leather flask:

“That morning, Þorgeirr got ready to row out to sea, and two men with him, one called Hámundr, the other Brandr. Þorgeirr went first, and had on his back a leather bottle [leðrflaska] and drink therein. It was very dark, and as he walked down from the boat-stand Þorfinn ran at him, and smote him with an axe betwixt the shoulders, and the axe sank in, and the bottle squeaked, but he let go the axe, for he deemed that there would be little need of binding up, and would save himself as swiftly as might be. [Now it is to be said of Þorgeirr, that he turned from the blow as the axe smote the bottle, nor had he any wound. [Thereat folk made much mocking, and called Þorgeirr Bottleback, and that was his by-name ever after.”

This part continues with a stanza with this meaning: “Earlier the famous men cut their swords into enemies’ bodies, but now a coward hit a flask with whey by an axe. Even though it is a nice example of an Old Norse perception of society decline, but we can notice the mention about whey (Old Norse sýra). The whey was mixed with water in a ratio 1:11 and created a popular Icelandic drink, the so-called blanda (for the exactl mixture, see here, page 26). The saga suggests that Þorgeirr has got such a drink in his flask.

The leather flasks are mentioned in Anglo-Saxon sources and are archaeologically documented in Ireland, where were found some decorated pieces from 12th century. They are lightweight and ideal for long hikes. They are resistant against damage too. But sometimes water is running through, whis is a disadvantage. Summary, I recommend to reconstruct of leather variants.



A replica of a wooden bottle, made by CEA.


 

  • Ceramics bottles – ceramics bottles were popular for the whole Early medieval period. They were used in the the Roman times (Roman ceramics amphoras for a wine transporting are known from Rhineland), in the Migration period, as well as in the period of 9th to 11th century. One piece was found in Winchester, England (11th century, photos here, here, here), another one in Gnezdovo, Russia (10th century, photo here) and yet another in Great Moravian Staré Město (9th century, photos here and here). In Belgian Ertvelde-Zelzate (9th century, here), a painted flask was found. Analogies of this bottle were found in Dorestad and in Norwegian Kaupang too. The find from Kaupang is represented by nine orange painted shards – the only proof of ceramics flasks in Scandinavia (Skre 2011: 293). The similar shape to Roman amphoras remained popular in the Rhineland, and it devepoled into so-called Reliefbandamphoren that are up to 70 cm high. Some pieces were found in Haithabu as well. Ceramic bottles seem to be popular in Eastern Europe as well.


    The pottery industry of Viking Age Scandinavia was not very developed, so we can presume that all the ceramic bottles in Scandinavia were imported. Me and my colleagues were using this type for years and it proved to be very practical. On the other hand, the use is very questionable in Scandinavia.


  • Bronze bottle from Aska.

    Metal bottles – an unique copper-alloy bottle was found in the woman’s grave in Aska, Sweden. According to works, which I found on the internet (here and here), the grave dated to 10th century and the container is considered a Persian import, because of the inscription. The origin limits the usage in reenactment. A similar bottle was found in FölhagenGotland, and it is dated to the of 10th century (the picture on demand).

  • Glass bottles – I am aware of two Scandinavian bottle necks made of glass, they are very rare finds. The first one was found in Haithabu and is dated to the 9th century (Schiezel 1998: 62, Taf. 13:1–2). The second one was found in a rich female grave from Trå, Norway, dated to the 10th century. Pictures on demand.

All the mentioned bottles except the glass and metal examples do have the eyelets. So, we can suppose that they had got a strap for a hanging. To my knowledge, stoppers are never preserved, so they probably were made of wood. The experiments showed that oaken lathed or hand-made mushroom or cylinder-shaped stoppers are functional. While a simple wooden stopper works for wooden and leather bottles, in case of other materials, it is useful if the stopper is a bit smaller and wrapped in a textile, so the neck is not destroyed by the harder material of the stopper. 

I believe that the article provided a brief summary of Early medieval liquid containers. For reenactment purposes, I recommend to use the barrels and buckets for camp life and the bottles for a march. This can also lead to reconstructing proper banquet tools, like spoons, scoop and ladles, that are present in the sources. If needed, write your feedback into the comments, the problem of a liquid transportation is still opened. Many thanks to Roman Král, Zdeněk Kubík, Jan Zajíc and Jakub Zbránek, who helped me with this article and answered my questions. 

I hope you liked reading this article. If you have any question or remark, please contact me or leave a comment below. If you want to learn more and support my work, please, fund my project on Patreon or Paypal.


Bibliography

The book of settlement – Landnamabók I-III: Hauksbók, Sturlubók, Melabók. Ed. Finnur Jónsson, København 1900.

Grettis saga – Saga o Grettim. Přel. Ladislav Heger, Praha 1957. Originál online.

Eyrbyggja saga – Sága o lidech z Eyru. Přel. Ladislav Heger. In: Staroislandské ságy, Praha 1965: 35–131.

Cleasby, Richard  Vigfússon, Gudbrand (1874). An Icelandic-English dictionary, Toronto.

Schietzel, Kurt (1998). Die Glasfunde von Haithabu, Berichte über die Ausgrabungen in Haithabu 32, Neumünster.

Short, William R. (2010). Icelanders in the Viking Age: The People of the Sagas, Jefferson.

Skre, Dagfinn (ed.) (2011). Things from the Town. Artefacts and Inhabitants in Viking-age Kaupang. Kaupang Excavation Project Publication series, vol. 3., Århus.

 

For those interested in wooden barrels, buckets and ceramic vessels, I recommend these books:

Hübener, Wolfgang (1959). Die Keramik von Haithabu, Neumünster.

Janssen, Walter (1987). Die Importkeramik von Haithabu, Neumünster.

Wesphal, Florian (2006). Die Holzfunde von Haithabu, Neumünster.