Fall AS XXXVI (2001)
Volume VII, Issue 1 (#24)

From the Nachalnik

Send me stuff! This issue is not only a bit thin, but it also represents the last of any backlog I once had. I am always happy to continue editing and putting this out every quarter, but I need your help. We have over 400 members now. If even 1 in 50 of you could write a short (200-300 word) article, I'd be dancing the korobushka down the aisles. OK, maybe not, but you get the idea....

And a special favor to ask of you all. Would you check the membership list (or your mailing label) and see if I have the correct address for you? I plan to check over the next couple of months and will be pruning out anyone with an inactive surface address.

Yana and I were very sorry to have missed Pennsic this year, but thank the anonymous donation that was given to Mordak. We also wanted to thank Mordak, Jadwiga, and the others who helped with the SIG party this year.

Pennsic SIG Meeting News

By Mordak Timofei'vich Rostovskogo

The Pennsic 30 SIG meeting was smaller and more informal than in years past, in many ways resembling a meeting of friends, both old and new, more than a meeting. Paul and Yana were sorely missed but even so, thanks to the excellent leadership of Jadwiga and the contributions of the many folks who were there, this year's meeting was a resounding success. Here are some of the highlights.

After the initial introduction speeches by everyone attending the meeting, the real discussions began. Almost immediately, a very strong Eastern European influence was present this year, including both Baltic and Balkans discussions. Many of the newest SIG members hail from these areas of study and vastly enriched the free flowing discussions, in many cases bringing books and trading information freely amongst each other. Another highlight of this year's meeting was the attendance of members from all over the Known World and several unique areas of study, most notably Armenia, making this year's gathering of friends a truly Slavic family in many ways.

Many members graciously heeded my plea to contribute finger foods, including the BYOB rule. Lillibet excelled in her response to the latter request, bringing several friends and introducing many to the Ukranian tradition of vodka and kosher dill pickles, which is a very tasty and natural combination, as well as tea from a samovar. Other taste treats included pickled mushrooms, herring in sour cream, tasty breads and spreads, finger foods and many other excellent contributions.

Other members passed out class manuals or projects, in some cases wardrobes were brought for display. This year, several if the heavy fighters also brought out their gear and resources for inspection. Pan Sergei, hailing from the Kingdom of Artemesia, was kind enough to wear his fantastic Polish Hussar armor, complete with wings, helm and bozalbans. I brought out my newly completed bakherets body armor, as described in previous Slovo articles. In fact, several of our members stayed late discussing Eastern armor of all periods, including Boiar Dimitry Ryaboy from the West whose study is early nomadic cultures in the steppes around the Black and Caspian sea areas.

The highlight of the evening was the late arrival of Randall Vihar Farkas, fresh from the field court of her native East Kingdom where she had just been elevated into the Order of the Laurel for Hungarian research and studies. Her ceremony was spoken entirely in Hungarian, thanks to the services of the wife of a new SIG member. Though other duties called her away much too soon, I join the rest of you in a hearty "Congratulations!' on her achievement.

Next stop, the SIG meeting at Gulf Wars 2002!

On the Kyrgyz Steppes

By Peotr Alexeivich Novgorodski

[Editor's note: Lord Peotr missed Pennsic 29 a year ago, but he had a fabulous reason to do so. Instead of Pennsic, he went to Central Asia. This article is last of a series of pieces about his travels.]

For many weeks we crossed featureless grasslands. Here a man without a horse is like a Varangian upon the sea without a ship. Day after day there is naught but wind and heat and cold, looked over by the sun.

At last we found a camp of the people called Kyrgyz. They are like, to a degree, our old foes the Polovetsi. Their harsh tongue is more like Polovetsi than the Tartars, to whom they are tributary. The Kyrgyz village is but a collection of round, domed felt tents with herd of horses and sheep and a few camels nearby. It is said that when the grass is used up, or in token of evil omen, they will move the village. Moreover, the tale goes that everything in the village can be on the back of a draught animal not in a week, nor in a day, but in an hour.

Like the Polovetsi, in Igor's Tale, the Kyrgyz are fierce in war, but also great hosts to strangers. Indeed, that is the custom among most peoples of the steppes. We received great welcome, given hospitality of tent and hearth. Their tents, or as they say "yurta" are a marvel. Inside is sumptuous -- better furnished than a merchant's home. Layers of blankets, felts, lacquered and metal boxes line the walls, which are red stained wickerwork. At the center of the room is a hearth, most times with food cooking.

The practice of the yurta has many strange customs that the traveler must observe with care. There is a men's side and women's side to the yurt. No one must step ever step on the threshold, nor lean on the walls nor point a knife at the fire.

While we stayed with the Kyrgyz there was great feast. It was conducted thus -- as they worship the sky as father, they love best to spread the feast beneath him. Blankets and felts are spread out on the grass, like to three and even five thick. A fire is built up and burns and cooks for a very long time. Sheep are selected and slaughtered and butchered on the spot and the blood also is saved. Then is commotion, some sheep being roasted and other parts boiled or simmered in iron pots, seared or buried in the coals. The boiled head is served to most honored guests. If the Kyrgyz can trade for rice, they cook that and make a plov. If not, then grasses and herbs of the steppes augment the mutton. When the feast is ready all the meats and bones and flesh are stacked on an ornament platter. All sit around it taking with their hands and eating to repletion. Everyone gets very greasy from mutton fat. With this they drink koumiss, which is milk of a white mare fermented in the sun in a leather bag. It is said to give health and strength and to be stronger than mead. It was hard to know its strength because it is also very sour and to drink much of it the traveler must have a gut like saddle leather. But never spit out koumiss -- that is a bad insult.

With the feast came an honored bard of the Kyrgyz. He sang a long, long tale called the Manas. It is the story of a Kyrgyz hero and the feast was given to celebrate the bard's telling. The bard sang and told for three days from sunrise to past dusk and yet was not done! The story was how hero Manas baffled and overcame his many enemies and won through for his people.

The Kyrgyz say they descend from forty deer. They worship foremost the lord of the sky Khan Tengri. They have witches who speak with spirits and do healing. The Kyrgyz are warm to friends, but fierce in anger. We left them to travel to forests of the Altai Mongols.

This is the last of Peotr's letters. It is known that the Mongols of the Altai received him and his lady well, as she was of their tribe. Peotr and Otgon returned from their travels with great wealth and good fortune.

Clothing the Rus Viking Rower

By Mordak Timofei'vich Rostovskogo

The history of Norse activities in Western Europe is well recorded in both period sources and modem literature. What is generally less known is that the Norse also traveled east in the Baltic, eventually reaching both Baghdad and Constantinople via the river systems of what would one day become modem day Russia. On the way, they met Balts and Finns, Slavs and Turkic nomads of several varieties at the many towns, portages, and market towns. They also had to deal with powerful eastern empires based on the Volga River; the Volga Bulgars at the headwaters and the Judaic Khazars on the steppes surrounding the lower reaches down to the Caspian Sea, before eventually reaching Baghdad. Our Norse rower would probably have come from the areas of modem day Sweden or Denmark, though the sagas record that Norse of all the areas also traveled east, though in much smaller numbers. Arabic and Byzantine sources in period referred to these Norse as "Rhos," "Ros," and "Rus" which they were told meant "rower."

This class is a survey of the clothing found in grave excavations at the Norse trading centers at Birka (Uppsala), Gotland (Baltic) and Hedeby (Denmark), with a primary emphasis towards clothing a modem SCA re-enactor as a Rus Viking rower of the ninth and tenth centuries. Though all these styles of clothing could have been worn simultaneously by our rower, the reality is that these garments probably augmented what is considered normal Norse clothing, tunics and pants. In an age before passports, t-shirts, and bumper stickers, the best way to display your travel experience was to wear foreign clothing or simulations decorated closer to Norse cultural tastes. Think of souvenirs to show off to family and friends when and if you returned from your travels.

Though considered merciless raiders in the west, Rus Viking activities were shaped by the limitations set by river travel, which limits escape after a raid to either up or down the river, instead of out to the protective vastness of the ocean. As a result, period sources describe Rus Vikings primarily as traders in the east, though only a fool would have trusted them when met along a lonely stretch of river with no witnesses in sight. The adoption of foreign clothing became an issue in the Norse lands after the Norse settlement s in Gardarki (Northern Russia) and Kiev were started, promoting inter-marriage with locals and encouraging adoption of local clothing styles in the mid-ninth century.

For example, the ninth century is when graves at Norse trading centers start containing bodies dressed in coats of linen, wool and silk, buttoned from waist to neck, styled after the Persian riding coats popular with the nomadic Magyars and Pecheneg tribesmen around Kiev and the Khazars to the east on the Volga. These grave excavations indicate the patterns for these coats as almost identical to the classic tunic pattern already in use by the Norse, with grave tunics in Birka opening down the middle from the hem to the wearer's waist, both front and back. The coats merely extended this opening from the waist to the neck in front, this upper span being closed with buttons and loops. Their adoption by the Norse is no wonder when almost every Norse woman everywhere already knew how to make a tunic and a sharp knife or shears were all that was needed for conversion to an eastern fashion.

Because of the volume of trade between the Norse and Baghdad / Constantinople during this period, use of silk as edgings, decorative bands at wrists and neck or as the body of the garment is rampant in Norse lands amongst merchants, warriors and leaders, along with their family members. Though not always the case, in many of these excavations strips of thin (.25"-1" wide) strips of tablet-woven trim, braided cord and silk strips in contrasting colors are applied over these silk strips. In all probability, among those of more moderate means imitated these decorative touches in both wool and linen. Do not be misled by Hollywood though, the quality of the wool used in period was quite good, dyed in rich greens, blues, yellows, reds and even purples in Ireland, as Thora Sharptooth persuasively argues on her website. Less common is linen, which was a luxury fabric in period because it required significant processing before it could even be woven into cloth, besides being terribly hard to evenly dye in most cases.

With the help of Thorhalla, I also made a winter version coat using a coat weight forest green wool, edged in grey fox fur at all openings and overlapping down the front. The best way to describe the cut of this garment is a knee length tube, 30" across the shoulders and open down the front, but cut to overlap the center line of your body 2-3" on each side. It has loose tube sleeves and 5" diamond-shaped gussets in each arm pit to expand the chest fit. The neck line is angled in like a bathrobe.

The archeological article describing this garment failed to mention whether these front overlaps were squared off at the bottom or rounded off in almost a quarter circle from just below the crotch to almost the side seam, as I have done. Russian garments just after this period show this cut and since this garment was described as a tube with no side gores to expand the garment from waist to hem, I have found that the cut away opening vastly increases the comfort and reduces the constriction to the legs. It could be edged in cloth, silk or tablet woven trim instead of fur and be closed with buttons and loops, a sash, a belt or even a fancy cloak pin as I prefer.

Another unique item found in the grave excavations was a shirt, with the sleeves decorated at both ends with wide bands of fabric with strips of thin tablet weaving applied on top running its length, in addition to a strip connecting the two bands , also with thinner strips applied on top. On the chest was a rectangle running down the middle of the chest with horizontal bands evenly space down its length. I have used silk on linen for these appliques instead of the thin tablet woven strips on silk used in the artifact. When completed, it resembles nothing as much as a hockey jersey, which I find attractive in an ironic and humorous way. The original foundation fabric of the shirt was a very fine worsted wool, like that seen on nice business suits in the modern day and comfortable to wear against the skin.

Another distinctly Rus item is the cloth cone shaped hat, usually decorated at the brim with a strip of silk and decorative twisted pattern in wire applied over top along the length of this strip. A more common version for those of lessor means would have probably been a fur band or cloth band at the brim. The hat shown on Peter Beatson's website, "Rus Trader," shows a fur brimmed version, with a strip of silk over a wool base and a decorative wire applique sewn along the length if the cone to the tip on each side. At the tip, there is a silver cone point but not the wire covered, marble sized balls of fabric.

Another item I have chosen to utilize in my class are the gathered Viking pants described by Arab chroniclers at the Volga Bulgar capital as being "100 spans of cloth." While this may be an exaggeration, a few cloth pieces found have been a very, very light weight wool gauze in yellow or green. On my pair, I used a rough grade tan and white striped linen I felt to be of too low quality to make either a coat or shirt. Each leg was 36" in length and 144" in width, with a S" diamond shaped gusset to expand the crotch area. The stiffness of the linen really puffed out the pants away from my legs when gathered to a 36" waist utilizing a drawstring. Utilizing a drawstring on each leg also drew the pants cuff to just below the knee when gathered with a permanently knotted drawstring on each leg.

You will see on Thora Sharptooth's website that these pants are native Scandivaian garments, though pants of similar length in Persia and Central Asia is well documented in wall murals and drawings for at a thousand years previous to this period, but utilizing much less fabric. I plan to wear both ankle length turnshoes and calf length boots with mine, along with leg wraps when appropriate to heat or cold conditions. Close fitting pants are also appropriate for wear by the Rus Viking persona, along with cloaks, even when pinned at the waist as mentioned by one Arab chronicler at Bulgar in 962AD.

Borrowed Stories

By Peotr Alexeivich Novgorodski

These days, on the Internet, a good story rapidly makes the rounds. It does not matter whether it is true, but rather whether it is a good story. The original source is rarely acknowledged or even known. The Middle Ages were not very different. In the Russian Primary Chronicle we find tales that were copied from elsewhere. And tales from the Chronicle were retold elsewhere as well.

The Conversion of Prince Vladimir (983-7AD) describes how the ruler of the Rus chose the Greek Orthodox religion from among four emissaries of monotheistic religions: Islam, Roman Catholic and Greek Orthodox Christianity and Judaism. Each representative pleads his case and is questioned by the prince: "…Vladimir summoned together his boyars and the city-elders, and said to them, 'Behold, the Bulgars [Moslems] came before me urging me accept their religion. Then came the Germans [Roman Catholics] and praised their own faith; and after them came the Jews. Finally the Greeks appeared, criticizing all other faiths but commending their own…'" Various arguments are presented and opinions weighed. Vladimir rejects Islam, for example, because of the prohibition against drinking. Ultimately in the Chronicle, the Rus are swayed by the beauty of the Greek Orthodox churches and their ritual.

A very similar story is told by the Khazars, who once were neighbors to the Rus. The Khazars were a Turkic kingdom that inhabited the region of the Lower Volga in the centuries before the year 1000. Their conversion to Judaism is described in a famous exchange of letters between Rabbi Chisdai of Cordoba and King Joseph of the Khazars. The conversion of the Khazars parallels the Russian tale, this time with three emissaries: "Afterwards, the kings reputation spread throughout the world. The kings of Edom [Christian Byzantium] and Ishmael [Moslems] heard of him, and they sent messengers and emissaries with a large sum of money and many gifts, together with wise men, to the king, in order to persuade him to convert to their religion…" King Joseph, who already leans toward Judaism, asks the two other representatives to choose between his rival's religion and Judaism. Given this choice, each picks Judaism as "the better" and Joseph is validated in his choice.

It appears that the Khazar's story predates the Russian tale apparently by about 100 years, since the dates of Rabbi Chisdai at c915 - 990 and the tale is told as history. It is also more likely that it flowed in this direction as Kiev was at that time tributary to the Khazar Kingdom.

A case of a Russian story influencing a foreign tale is seen in one incident from the ripping yarn of Olga's Vengeance (946). Olga is besieging her enemies the Derevlians and they sue for peace offering to pay tribute. Olga requests a tribute of "three pigeons and three sparrows from each house." She has a trick up her sleeve: "Now Olga gave each soldier in her army a pigeon or a sparrow, and ordered them to attach by a thread to each pigeon and sparrow a match bound with small pieces of cloth… Thus the dove-cotes, the coops, and haymows were set on fire…" Olga succeeds in burning out her enemies, killing the men and selling the women and children into slavery.

The story is closely paralleled in the Icelandic tale of one of the last Viking Kings -- Harald Sigurdsson. Harald was a mercenary fighting for the Byzantine Empire earlier in his carrier, before eventually becoming king of Norway. King Harald's Saga chronicles his life, including exile in Novgorod and a certain siege in Sicily: "So Harald thought up a scheme: he told his bird catchers to catch the small birds that nested within the town and flew out to the woods each day in search of food. Harald had small shavings of fir tied to the backs of the birds, and then he smeared the shavings with wax and sulphur and set fire to them. As soon as the birds were released they all flew straight home… a host of birds set roofs on alight all over the town..." Harald thus captured the town.

In this case the Viking tale almost certainly is the later, based on the supposed dates in the respective chronicles.

The alert reader will certainly find many more examples of these borrowings. The Primary Chronicles has pieces of the Old Testament taken verbatim or retold closely to the original. A snippet of the Greek Alexander Romance also appears--the story of the unclean tribes of Gog and Magog walled up behind mountains by King Alexander.

In fact, medieval historians make a study of these borrowings and try to understand, among other things, the direction the tales travel. A historian friend described the process, "Basically, it's a textual analysis thing -- how old is the manuscript and how old is the text (not always the same thing). Which one influenced which, and all that jazz. Or it could just be a milieu thing -- none of them directly influencing the others. It's just something in the air."

For the widely read amateur it is possible to make discoveries like the ones above. How amazing that stories (and people) traveled so widely in the days long ago.


  • Ivan the Trouncable (Dale Baker, 521 S. Oak Park Ct., Milwaukee, WI 53214, 414-607-8985, daleallenbaker@yahoo.com) is looking for any information about fencing in Medieval Russia. He suspects that most of the fencing in Russia will be out of period and probably French, but solicits any leads that members might have.

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