Fall AS XXXVII (2002)
Volume VIII, Issue 1 (#28)

From the Nachalnik

Up north here we have had our first frost and the leaves have started to fall, but I have been largely unaffected by that. My modern job responsibilities and wanderlust have sent me all over the Known World, including an unexpected last minute three day jaunt to Pennsic. (my company asked me if I minded going to Pittsburgh in the first week of August!). Unfortunately, my three days there did not correspond to most of the activities that I wanted to attend. Chief amongst those missed meetings was the Slavic Interest Group gathering on Monday. I've heard that it happened, but haven't been able to pry loose from any of the attendees what happened and if anyone actually showed up! (Hint hint!)

As usual, there were a few classes with Eastern European foci, some of which were taught by SIG members. A brief list of the ones that I know about are:

  • Food and Drink of Eastern Europe -- Pani Jadwiga Zajaczkowa

  • Pysanky: The Art of Ukrainian Easter Eggs -- Lady Terryl MacAodhagain

  • Rumanian Clothing Post-1500ish -- Domina Despina de la Brasov

  • Russian for Heralds and Scribes -- Brigette de Sainte Mere-Eglise

    Now, my second hint: if any of those teachers would like to write up a short synopsis of what they covered in their classes, we would all be very appreciative.

    My special thanks to Birgit for her monetary contribution as well as our contributors for making this first issue of our eighth year possible!

    Daily Life in Kievan Russia

    By Marilyn Niks

    Kievan Russia generally is said to be confined to the period from the coming of the Varangians to the Mongol invasion in the early 1200s. Economically speaking, Kievan Russians during this time lived in a capitalistic society with a strong structure of civil laws. The cities abounded with every civilized convenience of the age. Culture, books, and learning were well respected. In the rural areas, however, it was another story. Most people were illiterate. One result of this are that there are few records of Kievan rural life except what is gained through folklore.

    Most Russian houses of this period were built very solidly and constructed of wood. Brick and stone were used exclusively for churches and palaces in this period. The houses were many times decorated with lavish wood carving. For window panes sheets of mica were used in place of glass. In most homes clay lamps burned oil in the evenings . Some had copper candle holders with wax candles instead. Late in the period kerosene came into use.

    Linen was the common use fabric for day to day wear. Flax and wool were also used. But for full formal attire many costly imported fabrics also were imported. Much Byzantine influence can be seen in the records of their attire. Both men and women wore an abundance of jewelry as well. Torques , earrings, necklaces, and neck chains to name a few. Belts and belt buckles were also very ornate and often ornamented with precious stones.

    Little is known of cooking in this period but we do know that they mainly ate meats and breads. In the south wheat bread and in the north rye bread. In times of famine I found it noted that goosefoot leaves were added to the flour as an extender. On the other hand for feasts there were very rich poppy seed and honey breads served. Almost every kind of wild and domestic meat as used with beef, mutton, and pork being the staple. Ham and corned beef are also mentioned in the records. After conversion to Christianity, the Church objected to the eating of many wild game meats. However, it seems the populace did not pay much heed to these dietary restrictions in the Kievan period and went on eating as they always had. Meat was generally boiled or grilled and vegetables were boiled or eaten raw. We also know that even in this period and earlier the Russians had very strong traditions regarding food cleanliness. They kept stored food away from animals and tried to maintain good storage standards.

    Regarding utensils, gold and silver were used by nobility and, when a set table was provided, only spoons were set out at each place as each person was expected to have their own knife to use. Forks were not in use at all in place settings in this time and period. Those who were not as well to do had pewter or wooden plates, bowls, and utensils.

    As for beverages, no distilled liquors were produced or used here in period. One staple drink was kvas -- a mildly alcoholic lite beer sort of a drink made from rye bread. Also, meads of several flavors were available. Wines which were imported from Greece at that time were generally for the Palaces or Churches only.

    It seems that in general the average Kievan Russian was better housed and fed than those of latter times. History shows that they seem to have been healthier and better fed than their descendants. The medical arts were no better than the rest of Europe at this time and so epidemics and plagues took there toll. In 1090 Efrem of Pereslav a Russian bishop who was from Greece is credited with building the first "bathhouse." This was along the lines of the Roman steam baths and is credited with helping keep Russians in good health.

    Kievan Russia also had a few other specific customs and traditions that you might find interesting:

    1. Women were considered unclean for forty days after birthing a child. So they were not allowed to attend their own children's baptisms.

    2. In princely families it became a custom in this period to give a child two personal names. The first a Slavic or Norse name. And the second a Christian name. The first was known as the "princely name." In this way Slavic names became part of the Christian records.

    3. Between the age of two and four a prince was tonsured to show rank and generally received a special church blessing. He was put on horseback the same day to mark his upcoming life as a warrior. This was followed by a large banquet at his father's palace. At seven or eight he began his tutelage in reading and writing.

    4. In the pagan period a bridegroom of the Viatichians, Radimichians, and Severians had to kidnap his bride. In some cases one needed to buy her from the clan. Among Polonians the parents brought the bride to the bridegroom's house one day. Then if all went well in the morning they delivered her dowry and trousseau.

    5. After Christianity came to the area at first only the princes and boyars sought the blessing of the Church for a marriage. The bulk of the population actually avoided them.

    6. Divorce was allowed on absence of spouse from the home for more than three years with no communication from or about the missing person. Also, it was granted for adultery. In addition if either party wished to enter religious orders a divorce would be granted. A monk or nun was considered dead to the world.

    7. Funeral rites of the time included a feast at the place of burial. In early days burial was of the kurgan type. In later days more Christian customs prevailed.

    8. At noon everyday the nobility retired and rested for a while. They believed this rest period had been proclaimed by God.

    Beyond this the day to day routine was broken by the many festivals of the Slavic calendar and social events like the princely hunts. These included feasting, minstrels, horse racing, and even tournaments.


  • Fedotov, G. P. The Russian Religious Mind: Kievan Christianity. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Univ Press, 1946

  • Mavor, J. An Economic History of Russia. London: William Dent & Sons, 1925

  • Vernadsky, George. Kievan Russia. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1951

  • Wallace, Robert. Rise of Russia. New York: Time Life Books, 1967

    Armor Quest

    By Kinjal of Moravia

    You faithful readers know something of the Gusari from earlier stories (see Slovo ##25,26). My choice of the Kinjal of Moravia persona (14th century) allows for a variety of story settings and use of myths from many cultures as I purport to travel from the Black Sea to the Baltic along the old Varangian trade routes. In order to avoid conflict between story and my active Gusari persona (I use four others also), I set most of my tales, songs, and poems around an earlier Gusari named Kiyan, circa 1200-1270. Because of the political confusion during this period and the assault of Batu Khan in 1235-1242, I can effect a position of non-allegiance to any prince, a mixed Christian and pagan bias, and a ready acceptance in any city or forest reach. In other words, I can get away with anything. However, I desire to remain as period correct as possible in dress, armor, food, etc. It is certainly possible that such a Gusari might gain employment in teaching martial arts and fighting methods with diverse weaponry. On the other hand, he must travel lightly, ever ready to protect from gussars [bandits], or to fight as a mercenary for a well paying Lord. I began a simple quest of discovery and imagination to 'gird the loins' of Kiyan with armor and weapons appropriate to the fiction. I have drawn liberally from Turkic, Slavic, Germanic and Norse sources to construct suitable light armor. My Kinjal persona now wears this armor and displays the noted weapons. The described link armor keptar [jerkin] and helm won a recent craft competition at the Black and White Challenge in Vacaville, CA. A combined Gusari story with magic effects won the Performing Arts competition.

    The names for garment and armor are primarily early Kievian and are defined throughout. It is possible that other cultural names would be more correct. The weapons and materials were collected from many merchants, or constructed and sewn by me. Any additional queries will be entertained at gusarimagic@hotmail.com. Armor pieces were constructed by, and in collaboration with L'Armurerie du Roi. For decorative appearance in my costume pieces, I have used bronze links mixed with steel. This is non-period, both because such links would never persevere in actual fighting, and because maile work was fired after forming and bronze would never hold shape.

    To Novgorod

    Kiyan surveyed the spread of clothing and armor with some regret. Many comfortable and useful items would have to remain behind to allow room for the pointless gifts the Prince was sending to Novgorod. The alliance was already secured by marriage. However, a steady flow of secret dispatches amongst the nobility was a source of profit for the Gusari. If the Prince of Kiev desired to finance this trip to the distant fabled city, all the better. Kiyan would have gone anyway! His supply of braided silk thread was in high demand and he had his own mission, to establish a spy network with the elusive skomorokhi [performers, who were similar to bards]. Intrigue and profit were as natural to the Gusari as fighting with nozh blade (carried at the back) and kristen' flail [metal and leather weapon combining a whip and lasso]. What to choose? Activity of the busy forest smalls indicated an early winter, so some warm clothing was provident. If the destructive cyclone of Batu's march moved quickly, he might even be trapped in the snow.

    The traveler was a master in blending in with any culture in dress and custom, while still maintaining his mystery and aloofness. It was a matter of survival. Most garments served a dual purpose. The bright yellow silk fusta [undershirt] had laces so as to be worn tight around the chest as first armor against spinning arrows, or loose as part of a decorative court array. Rather than a bonda [type of vest] of course grey slovin [hemp]or fleece, he preferred separate front and back rectangular pieces of cloth and leather. These were attached to either a hooded sucha [heavy upper cloak top] or mantle of fine maile. Together they formed a garment similar to an ancient Celtic gallic coat [like a poncho] that hung below the crotch. The rear section was tied with a separated waist belt to which money pouch and packages could be affixed. Sword belt or sash secured the front section and allowed a knife to be secured at the small of the back beneath the back cloth. As the garment had no sides, both nozh and valuables could be retrieved easily, yet remain hidden from casual view. In travel, Kiyan used his chain kristen' for the rear belt. One of the woolen fore patched contained vertical slots into which sections of arrow shaft or baleyn [whale bone] could be slid to complete a gamboised aketon [armored jacket]. His fore belt was of woven leather as wide as a man's hand in front and clipped in back such that it could be released while drawing the scramasax [peasant field] type blade. The heavy belt could be wound around the left fist and arm for protection when his small shchit [buckler type shield] was not available. The now flapping and distracting garment pieces combined with nozh and spinning flail with lethal effect. His izmene breeches (loose but tied at the ankles) were typically secured with wraps of rabbit fur or red leather, both of which contained cords of silk sufficient to support a man. Their combined 20 foot length had saved him on several occasions. His leg spike was balanced for throwing. Even the long pin that secured his lupo cloak was a weapon in well trained hands. Actually, the Gusari was a walking menace. His skill with the Scythian Kama [22" saber with throwing balance] was legend, and was close enough in form to a short sablya [Russian cavalry saber] to be accepted in Novgorod. Its reinforced sheath hung by choice from a shoulder sash of wide, soft leather.

    Kiyan's small pavilion was formed from a rogattna [boar] spear and four silk guy lines. These were wrapped spiral fashion with bolts of bright silk. The Gusari preferred to sleep beneath a spreading fir or fallen log, but the village required some conformity. He desired to camp close to the smithy who was finishing his armor. Though the tent was small, it served to cover his preparations. Anyway, he loved the smell of the forge and song on the anvil -- tink-tinkity-wham! For entertainment of the crown, he sang a response:

    "First must cometh the breath of a dragon
    to soften the steel resolve
    to feed through the eye of an adder skull
    and round a troll's finger revolve.

    Ten thousand such are rings by Thor struck off
    to make a mantle for me,
    for to shield my collar and yearning heart
    and leave my fierce battle arm free.

    With buckler in hand and axe in full swing
    I fear not staff or iron blade.
    I am safe beneath cape of banded rings
    forged in hell and forest glade."

    The specially forged pieces were of banded ring maile, with base links as large as a man's thumb. These were joined by small links in both staggered and regular flat display. Kiyan's chest protection was fixed to a leather keptar with thongs around the back and neck. The effect was that of the popular baidana [brigantine] hauberk, but not nearly so heavy. It could be worn all day! This ancient Alani approach to armor was enhanced by a stechtarche shield at the left shoulder joint. A large medallion of mother of pearl and brass served no purpose except vanity. The Gusari was experimenting with a short front apron of woven maile for groin protection. The special helm was of matching links over a padded leather cap. It might be accepted as a modified misyurka [armored soft cap], but was in fact based on a Turkic kulah zirah [peaked helmet] with avantail of lamellar plates and maile dagget oculars [ear protection]. Both could protect from a slashing blow or large tipped battle arrow.

    The new armor was wrapped in the disassembled pavilion silk. The boar spear shaft was separated into two lengths. An arming spike was added to the shortened blade section to form an effective pole-arm. In his practiced hands the broad blade became another slashing sword. It was regularly tied to his saddle where his horse could use the protruding tip in fierce attack. When preparing for battle, Kiyan would attach sickles to the steed's hind legs as well. The other section of the rogatina was topped with a cudgel bound with bronze bands to resemble an oslopi [Slavic armored quarter-staff] walking stick. So armed and prepared, the journey began.

    The Medieval Slavic Wagon

    (One Man's Quest for the Medieval Pick-Up Truck)

    By Mordak Timofeivich Rostovskogo

    Last year at Pennsic, I attended the Viking wagon class and a thought has plagued me ever since: "What would a Slavic wagon look like and how would it be built?" I have to admit, the idea of a medieval pick-up truck has its own appeal; armor, cooler, merchandise, kiddie hauling comes to mind. Utility is indeed the reason for the season in SCA circles, but what should it look like, how should it break down for transport and how big is too big?

    What should it look like? My first thought was of the scene out of Young Frankenstein with a much younger Teri Garr lounging in a straw filled wagon speaking with a truly atrocious accent. Too big, too clunky, too rural (the wagon, of course). Then I thought of the Hussites and their waggonbergs. After ruminating on the idea of a SIG wagonberg, sans the flail and charging cavalry but substituting chairs and sun shades, that thought was also appealing. Then I slipped into the impractical and esoteric, which was gret fun but more work than it was worth. Think Russian sleds, painted horse silhouettes (outstanding with the gypsy wagon), etc. Very fun but a diversion from the utilitarian practicality I had envisioned (see me dragging all my stuff to the field in 95 degree heat like a griping, cursing mule).


    Finally, two designs filled the bill: the hay wagon and the Hussite wagon. Both had the cultural flexibility to morph into any persona with some simple decoration of alterations. Both could be built small enough to drag around at Midnight madness, out to the field and to any classes you care to attend with the minimum of effort. Both are not only kid friendly, but can also double as a base for a sunshade with wings to cover more territory. Most of all, both can be built utilizing the same plans, with minor alterations, dependent on personal skill, tools and compulsiveness.

    This was the point in my daydreams that the idea of the Slavic wagon as a medieval pick-up truck first insidiously crept like a shadow into my admittedly warped imagination. My next thoughts were, how can I build it so it will tear down flat so I can pack it closest to the gate of my own pick-up truck (affectionately nicknamed "Scarlet the Harlot" based on repair costs at purchase). So, with the Viking wagon plans firmly clutched in hand, I reasoned that a 48" x 24" plywood bed, with an attached under carriage, steel rod axles, and several detachable pieces like a wagon tongue, wheels and sides would make for a "foot" imprint on the road of 66" x 36", including the draft animal (you, your spouse or a convenient kid). Narrow enough for Pennsic, Gulf Wars, Lilies, Estrella, Great Western War, etc. and small enough to fit behind the bench seat or a van or in the bed or a small pick-up truck, like my own Scarlet. Best of all, it would have to cargo space for armor, a chair, a cooler and a sunshade while still having a wide enough wheel base to be stable when carrying that precious cargo (i.e., your purchases or armour -- kids make great draft animals).


    The design is simple, but can be altered easily to achieve any look you desire. The base is a 48" x 24" piece of wood, either plywood, 2 x 4 boards, etc., with two parallel 2 x 4 boards running the length of the underside and nailed, screwed or pegged to the underside of the bed. This is for support and height needed for clearance of the pivoting front wheels when you make turns. Attached across these boards 12" from the back is a 24-30" 4x4 made of two 2x4 boards with a groove cut down the length with either a router, circular saw or a rip saw and narrowed at each end. The axle will be sandwiched between these boards and its length will need to accommodate the size of your wheel hub.


    The wheels themselves will be a pair of 30" circles for the back and a pair of 24" circles for the front. I suggest cutting 6" circles totaling 3-4" of height to be glued on either side of the center of each wheel. After gluing, set the wheel on its hub and pile bricks, cement blocks, anything heavy for a tight glue hold. Twenty-four hours later, drill out a hole in the exact center of your wheel hub through the wheel and out the other side of the wheel hub, Use a drill bit the size of the galvanized, PVC or siloflex pipe which is only slightly larger than your axle, then tap the pipe through the hole to strengthen the hub and cut off any excess or bent metal. Repeat on all wheels.

    The wheels can be left solid or be perforated with holes, triangles to simulate spokes, etc. If you are really competent, or ambitious you can make spoked wagon wheels with layers of plywood, boards, etc. A gentleman who actually did this used wedges between the spokes along the wheel rim and shaved each spoke to an appropriate sized point at the hub. In each case, he glued each in place between layers of wood, then drilled each and pegged them with thin wooden dowls, which seemed excessive to me at the time. Last, nail metal, garden hose (or whatever) along the wheel edge to quiet the wheels and preserve the edges. Use a cotter pin, wedge, forged pin through a hole at each end of the axle.

    Front Axle

    The front pivot point boards should be nailed, screwed or pegged onto the 2x4 support boards running the underside length if the wagon bed. A 6" circle of wood should be glued to this pivot piece, then drilled to accept a galvanized, PVC or siloflex pipe. Unlike the back axle, the front axle piece needs to have a built up area in the middle of the axle because the pin needs to be drilled just in front of the axle. If you chose to attach a central wagon tongue to pull the wagon with, the sides of this built up section forms a convenient mount. However, most Slavic wagons seem to have had attachments for a small tongue at the outside edge of the front wheel hubs. It is period, but for these purposes, makes large wheel hubs even more necessary to avoid rubbing against the wheel edges. A bar across the front should provide a convenient way of pulling it, all of which can be easily adjusted to the height and stride of the user.

    Wagon Sides

    The wagon side should slant out at an angle, 45 degrees or less to avoid scrapping the wheels, especially those on the front pivoting axle. Then easiest way is to cut two 24"x48" pieces, nail a 2 x 4 board to the outside long edge and cur it lengthwise at the desired angle and drill either pegs in the bottom of the side with corresponding holes in the bed. Another choice is to use hinges, remove the pin and replace it with a pin you can insert or remove when transporting or after arrival at site. A rope, chain, board, etc. cut to span between each side will support those sides. The same can be done with two boards running lengthwise and drilled with wooden dowl rods inserted between to look like a ladder. Last, cut one side at an angle lengthwise and attach pegs or hinges. For a more period look, use trimmed sapling sections and forged hinges, pegs and chain from wagon side to wagon side.

    Book Review

    James Chambers. The Devils Horseman, The Mongol Invasion of Europe (New York: Atheneum 1985).

    History comes alive when an author leaves in all the complexity and quirky details. The Devil's Horseman is a rich description of the invasions by the Mongol Empire into Europe. Though fundamentally a military history, its best feature are lucid descriptions of the period politics and analysis of reasons for the Mongol's overwhelming successes over all foes.

    The Devil's Horseman is a useful addition to any library of Thirteenth Century SCA Slavic Studies. It has good information on period warfare, belief systems, politics, religion and diplomacy. The narrative begins with Genghis Khan's conquest of the Central Asian Empire at Khwarizm around 1219 and ends with the divisions of the Mongol Hordes occupying Russia and the Middle East due to infighting in the 1280s and 90s.

    A number of chapters will be of specific interest to various people. Chapter 5 ("Mongol War Machine") has good information on garb, weapons and tactics of soldiers in the Khan's arm and of their opponents. Fantastic tidbits appear here and elsewhere in the book. For example, each Mongol soldier wore a silk shirt next to his skin, which helped in extracting arrows from wounds, since the tough material would following the arrowhead into the hole. In another chapter we learn the Russian Prince Daniel of Galicia had his horsemen outfitted and trained to fight in Mongolian style shortly after the initial conquests. Chapter 6 ("The Carving of the Mongol Yoke") includes blow by blow descriptions of attacks on the various Russian principalities. It illustrates the reasons for success of Mongol tactics and the failures of Russians and their destruction through lack of unity among principalities. Chapter 7 ("The Invasion of Europe") follows battles across Poland, Hungary, Bulgaria, Croatia etc. This and the following chapter also document the conflicts between the Pope and Holy Roman Emperor that eliminated any chance for an anti-Mongol crusade. Chapter 9 ("The First Ambassadors") describes the remarkable adventures of several emissaries from the Pope and the King of France to the Khan, each of whom passed through Russia. The little known travels of these Franciscan monks, especially Friar John of Plano Carpini and William of Rubruck were the earliest Europeans to make round trip visits the court of the great Khan. Their reports predate Marco Polo by more than thirty years. Their travels read like the greatest of fictional adventure stories.

    The Devil's Horsemen is a fascinating read for those interested in Thirteenth Century history. The maps included are clear and are much needed to cover the complex continents-spanning story being told.

    -- Peotr Alexeivich Novgorodski

    News and Resources

    Peotr Alexeivich and Otgon will again be hosting their annual Russian Winter Solstice Feast, on Saturday, December 21st at Sunset, at their home. All are invited to an evening of feasting, music and story telling. This will be an SCA style feast, so please come in garb and bring your own knife, spoon and bowl. The feast is free, but contributions of food, drink, labor and silver are welcomed. Musicians and bards will be richly rewarded. The setting is a feast hall in Novgorod. There are many East Vikings present this evening and Norse sagas are especially welcomed. Please confirm in advance if you plan to attend by email at gfrux@webspan.net or by letter (Gregory Frux & Janet Morgan, 11 Sterling Place, #3A, Brooklyn, NY, 11217-3269).

    For anyone looking for costume inspiration, Ruslan and Ludmila has just been released on DVD. This is a classic costume drama from Russia from 1972, based on the poem by Alexander Pushkin. The DVD has several additional features, including a documentary on Pushkin, an animated short "The Tale of the Fisherman and the Golden Fish," an interview with costume designer Kruchinina, and production stills and sketches. The price is steep (MSRP at $49.99 and the cheapest online prices were around $34.49), but it does sound good: "Based on a poem by the great Russian poet Alexander Pushkin, this beautiful fairy tale is the masterpiece of acclaimed fantasist Alexander Ptushko. In the midst of the wedding party of Prince Ruslan and Ludmila, the bride is kidnapped by evil sorcerer Chernomor. All the mighty warriors and heroes in the land are summoned, but only Ruslan stands a chance of rescuing his true love. Beautiful scenery and costumes mix with outstanding stunts and battle sequences for a visually breathtaking epic of cinematic fantasy."

    For those looking for a source for traditional archery from unusual places, Kinjal of Moravia recommends a merchant in Finland (www.traditional-archery-scandanavia. com) who produces bows and equipment for Magyar, Scythian, Crim-Rus, Turkish, and Mongol styles. There are, of course, many other sources available Stateside (like www.horsebows.com) but Kinjal points out this outfit's excellent prices and strict authentic construction.


    The Summer issue featured an article on Pelmeni by Alexey Kiyaikin in which an editorial error caused a mistake in the ingredient list. The ingredients for the filling should have read:

    "Filling: 1 lb beef, 1/2 lb pound pork, 1 lb mutton, 3 onions, 2 tbs flour, 1 egg, 1/2 teaspoonful ground black pepper (an additional ingredient usually omitted by Russian cooks is 1/2 cup neatly chopped nettle, previously scalded)."

    The editor regrets the error.

    Standard Disclaimer Stuff: Most of us are members of the Society for Creative Anachronism, Inc (SCA) but our Interest Group and its newsletter are not officially affiliated with the SCA. Naturally, then, Slovo does not bear any intentional resemblance to anything that the SCA officially endorses.

    The original authors retain the rights to their works. Please contact them directly for permission to reprint. Uncredited material is the property of the publisher.

    The publisher and editor is Paul Wickenden of Thanet (Paul Goldschmidt), 3071 Cimarron Trail, Madison WI 53719, 608-288-0255, e-mail: goldschp@yahoo.com. There is no subscription fee and copies of this quarterly newsletter are available free of charge from the editor. Slovo is also available on-line at the Interest Group website (slavic.freeservers.com).