Winter AS XXXVII (2003)
Volume VIII, Issue 2 (#29)

From the Nachalnik

We seem to have grown very quiet now. Our numbers continue to increase modestly (about 20 new members annually). The discussion group seems to be healthy, albeit not wildly active at this moment. Contributions to Slovo are modest but sufficient to give us material to publish and even maintain a bit of a backlog. I suppose I should be thankful for the normalcy of it all. But I can't help but wonder if there isn't something that we should be doing that we currently aren't. If there isn't some sort of mission we should be fulfilling? I occasionally hear talk about creating a Slavic encampment at Pennsic, or doing a Slavic-themed event, but these are ambitious tasks. Are there smaller things we should be turning our attentions to? Drop me a note, if you have any thoughts (Paul Goldschmidt, 3071 Cimarron Trail, Madison WI 53719,

The Czech Rorate Mass: Self-Expression and National Identity in Bohemia

By Alastair Millar

During the Middle Ages people would make their way before dawn to church on the first Wednesday after St Lucy's Day (December 13th), or on the last Sunday of Advent, to celebrate Mass by rorate candlelight - symbolically, the light of the world brought into the darkness that preceded the coming of the Saviour.

Taking its name from the first words of the introit - Rorate coeli desuper "Shower, heavens, from above" (Isaiah 45:8) - the Rorate Mass was dedicated to the Virgin. It was something of a medieval favorite, as shown not only by its alternative titles of the missa aurea or missa angelica, but also by it gradually coming to be celebrated throughout Advent.

Marian devotions appealed to a broad range of the devout across all of Christendom. The first reports of morning Marian Masses in Bohemia and Moravia appear at the end of the 13th century, and they became more common during the reigns of Charles IV (1346-1378) and Wenceslas IV (1378-1419). Marian Masses in general also spread beyond Advent at around this time, and in the fertile cultural atmosphere of the 14th century a repertoire of Latin spiritual songs built up - among which were the non-liturgical "cantiones bohemicae."

By the 15th century these cantiones had become part of the Latin Advent liturgy in Bohemia: the 1410 Vyšší Brod MS prescribes the singing of Marian songs before a Rorate Mass, and the Vyšehrad MS (c.1450) provides a list of seven Latin rorate offices from Sunday to Saturday with incipits of choral works and interleaved songs.

Until the Reformation the binding language of the Western Christian Mass was Latin, but after 1420 the Hussites introduced the revolutionary idea of a vernacular Mass: the contemporary Jistebnice Cancional uniquely contains not only songs but even a large collection of Gregorian chants with Czech texts. It is not clear how far this Czech-language choral spread, however - all of the other contemporary choral sources to survive are in Latin alone.

In 1524 the Hussite - Utraquist (Calixtine) - Church formally proposed the use of the vernacular in the Mass, after the pattern of the Lutheran Reformation. This was soon reflected in music: from the 1540's manuscripts of Gregorian chants are given new Czech texts, and henceforth rorates survive either in the introductions to Czech graduals or in specialised Czech rorate songbooks.

The rorate attained its final form later in the 16th century, a period of general development in Czech language and culture: by this time they are collections of Czech Mass hymns for each day of the Advent week, from Sunday to Saturday. Mass began with the recital of Marian versicles and groups of antiphons before the rorate (while for the last week of Advent the "O-antiphons" - celebratory prayers for the coming of the Messiah - were prescribed). These were followed by the rorate introit and then the Kyrie, the gradual, the Alleluia, the sequence (prose), commonly the Credo (Patrem) and sometimes also the Sanctus, both sometimes prescribed as duets for Sunday.

The sung form of the Czech rorate, based on Czech texts, was unique in Western Christian choral music. The melodies employed were predominantly of domestic provenance, drawing on the repertoire of the 14th century Latin cantio and concealing several tunes of secular origin; the creators of the rorates also later borrowed from 16th century Czech spiritual songs. All of the melodies have new texts, with choral works mostly more or less direct translations of Latin originals. Several editions of the rorate competed in the pre-White Mountain era (those of Hradec Králové, Tábor, Rakovník etc), but over the course of the century the repertoire stabilised, and that originally from Hradec Králové spread most widely.

The European Reformation of the 16th century (a century after the Hussites) brought with it several simplified versions of the choral in the vernacular. The Bohemian Reformation, however, translated the whole broad list of choral types, while melodic forms were noticeably changed by syllabic textualisation and musical tropes. The rorate proceeded furthest down this path, and such a cycle of large solo songs is known from nowhere else in Europe. (The Polish royal ensemble of rorate singers active from 1543 in Cracow was a vocal choir, established to celebrate Rorate and other Masses canto figurato, in the polyphony of the Italian a cappella style.)

The Rorate Masses were generally sung by "literate brotherhoods" (lay choirs in urban churches) most commonly Utraquist. Nevertheless, even before the Thirty Years' War Rorate Masses took place in Catholic churches too, and they persisted even after the end of the Bohemian Reformation post-1621. This is shown by Reformation-period rorate books and graduals which bear traces of further use in the 17th and 18th centuries, as well as by the many smaller, manuscript rorate books and even printed Rorate Masses from this period. In the two centuries after the Reformation the Rorate Mass continued to hold a special place: while Latin was once again predominant, they represent an unusually large, continuous field of Czech music, which was otherwise represented only by individual Czech songs.

The long tradition of the rorate in the Czech Lands was interrupted by the Enlightenment and the reforms of Emperor Joseph II, which led to the liquidation of the literate brotherhoods after 1783. Attempts to revive the rorate during the 19th and early 20th centuries were largely unsuccessful, and today it is little known.

Vodka -- Little Water of Life

By Marilyn Niks

Vodka first appeared in Russia between 1398 and the early 1400s. It is believed that in the late 1400s vodka began to be distilled indigenously.

At first, it was used for medicinal purposes (I know you're all laughing at that, but it really was!). It was known as aqua vitae!

A Brief Timeline:

So, now you should know in what periods a person could or could not drink in public, and when they could legally make their own or drop into the local kabak for a nip! Hopefully this will help with period inappropriate drinking embarrassment.



By Kinjal of Moravia

I have been taken with archery of late to add to my persona. Soon I will have a bow of medieval influence and leather front belt quiver. It was in the Slavic lands that development of the bow reached its height, as practiced heritage met from four influences: Assyrian (Scythian to Magyar), Turkic (Alan to Avarian), Korean (Mongol to Crimean Tartar), and Nordic (Frankish to Hunish). In the 12-13th centuries it was common for Slavic archers to carry two bows -- a short, severe recurve of up to 130 lb draw, and a longer, lighter flight bow. The former had a flat trajectory and could be fired from horseback, with an accuracy of about 200 yards. The longer one with slight recurve was high trajectory, and had a range of about 350 yards, similar to the Welsh longbow. However, the current world record for a natural wood bow is of Hungarian design and a range of 440 yards! An amazing 54" recurve bow that draws to 35".

And now, some inspirational poetry:


Hear my song an arrow of Sarok [a river in Moravia],
Of the teeth of balyene[whale bone] gigantic.

I will not break, nor ready bend,
and can support a warrior's stand.
My adder tongue will quick remove
from fore clutch of a golden band.

From a luk [bow] bent to cheek I do sail
With a tail of feathers most proud.
Three hundred long strides I devour.

I will not break, nor ready bend,
and can support a warrior's stand.
My adder tongue will quick remove
from fore clutch of a golden band.

I answer to Strela [arrow] en Sorak.
Lay hidden in kolchan [quiver] of sable.
With head shaft assorted prepared.

I will not break, nor ready bend,
and can support a warrior's stand.
My adder tongue will quick remove
from fore clutch of a golden band.

My master is fletcher to Kiyan
With sure bond through time to honor
Archer code of mercy and pride.

Call on my strength to serve most bravely,
and guide y'r aim to a target true.
As an arrow there is none finer,
to serve lucknick [archer/solder] of noble hue.

Russian Porridge

By Alexey Kiyaikin

The Russian diet is very much centered around cereals. There are many good reasons for this. Firstly, in this climate you have to get fermentation agents not from wine, but from beer and yeasty bread. Second, the local agriculture must be considered. In the rich ancient agricultural regions of the Dnieper basin, grain is much easier to get than, say, fresh fruit.

So, from ancient times on, southern Russians used mainly wheat, but also knew barley and rye. Climate played a role here. As barley and rye demanded less warmth to grow, they were more popular in the colder regions. Thus, wheat was and is traditional for southern Russia and modern Ukraine, rye is a popular for central regions, and barley was grown further north. Millet was cultivated almost everywhere. Those sorts of grain made the difference in bread baking, as well as in traditional sorts of porridge. In the 14th -16th centuries, rice (first known as "Saracen millet") was borrowed from the East, and by the end of period, buckwheat ("Greek porridge") was borrowed from Greek colonists.

According to Herodotus, Scythians highly valued grain and made porridge (which they considered a holy food) out of it. Later on (some historians of food suggest) dried (or perhaps, baked afterwards) porridge became the first bread. Porridge was an easy to prepare yet highly nutritious food. Every sort of grain was used in several ways.

Boiled wheat with vegetable (hemp) oil was one of the oldest porridges. Rather hard to boil, it was yet commonly eaten in Old Rus. Sometimes they boil it now. Barley was and is eagerly eaten as savory porridge. They ate fine ground barley (iachnevaia kasha) as well. Millet (pshennaia kasha) was eaten throughout period and Sigismund Herberstein mentions millet flour as a popular porridge base in the Russian army rations.

Oatmeals was also very popular in same two variants: whole grain and flour (tolokno). Both made a porridge. Even rye was used in porridges. In northern regions, where rye could fail to grow ripe (for example, when the summer was rainy), it was boiled green, making so called "green porridge."

And other starches might play a role. One of the important ancient crops were peas. They were an important starch source for kiesel, it they also made a very nutritious porridge.

The Russian method of cooking presupposed very slow heating. Food was boiled in ceramic pots in the middle of the oven, which was heated quickly and then very slowly cooled down. So, in order to replicate this approach, a modern stove must be set on a very low heating, just on the verge of boiling, and the vessel for cooking should have thick sides. One more way is to put some bricks into the oven, under the pot and by its sides.

The amount of water plays its role. You can never make thick porridge out of thin one or vice versa, by adding or pouring out some water. The reason for this is the seepage that boils out of the grain and gives the Kasha its taste. The thicker the porridge, the less the seepage. So, you must know well how much water you need. The best way is to measure ingredients in cups (i.e., X cups water per Y cups of grain). The recipes you read usually suggest purely average thickness, while there are at least THREE different types of porridge according to thickness, so make changes in your recipe if necessary:

In old times they ate tough porridge mainly, treating thin ones as spoiled.

After porridge is cooked, it's not ready yet. You should put it aside, wrap it in old newspapers, towels, and so on, and let it sit, in order to absorb all of the remaining water. That makes half the kasha!

Kasha is kasha only when you add fat. The most popular is milk fat, be it milk, cream, sour milk, sour cream or cottage cheese. It can be one-sixth or even one-fourth of the volume of the dish. You may add that to the ready dish or better change water to milk some time before the groats are boiled. But also you can add any animal or vegetable fat. Kasha is also good with some meat, fish or peas, while tough porridges can be served with chopped egg and/or mushrooms.

[Editor's note: Alexey also provided several recipes which I have omitted here. Feel free to contact him directly (Alexey Borisovich Kiyaikin, Litovskii Boulevard 9/7 kv 403, Moscow 117593, Russia, if interested.]

Is Your Persona "Princely?"

By Mordak Timofeivich Rostovskogo

I have always been intrigued by the proverb, "Scratch a Russian and find a peasant" but would it be fair to alter this proverb to say, "Scratch a peasant and find a prince?" Considering the Russian version of primogenitor succession, this adaptation may not be as absurd as it initially seems. Unlike Western traditions dictating strict inheritance of property and title by the eldest son directly from the father, generation following generation, Russian primogenitor was traditionally more generous with succession passing successively from brother to brother and then through the eldest brother's sons. This complex and unmanageable system quickly led to internecine warfare and strife almost immediately, dooming the entire arrangement to failure.

Starting almost from the very beginnings of the Kievian period in the ninth century, prince succession of the many city-states of early Russia was shared amongst brothers based upon age with younger brothers assuming control of successively larger cities as older brothers died, in turn allowing younger brothers to inherit their former cities as they moved up in status. If birthrates are low or death rates are high due to conflict or war, this system inherently gives large cities the benefit of a steady supply of experienced, mature rulers with the political continuity of a dynastic family, at least during the expansion era of a realm. Absent steady expansion into new territories, successively fewer and fewer heirs were able to move up in status through attrition or opportunity, which chiefly came through political alliance, marriage, intrigue and infighting.

However, success bred instability once the Rus realm began to stabilize in the early eleventh century under Vladimir and even two of his sons, Boris and Gleb, were victims of a third son whom they refused to resist, dying in the process. Absent a strong, ruthless or crafty ruler, internecine warfare repeatedly wracked the realm over the centuries in bitter warfare, sapping its resources and ability to protect itself from outside aggressions. This was the political reality in many mid to late Kievian principalities during the eleventh, twelfth and thirteenth centuries. The result was inability to combine forces to repel nomadic invasions, starting with the Kumans and culminating during the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries with the Mongols and their successors, the Golden Horde.

A re-occurring story throughout Russian history was that the obscure branches of royal descendants were faded politically and financially over the generations. Eventually, many families might retain none of the material trappings except a village and the honorary title of "prince" (kniaz) by underlings and the use of the princely "vich" by social equals or as a gesture of courtesy by social superiors. A good example would be my own name, Mordak Timofeivich, which literally imply "Mordak, son of Timofei and descendant of a royal line". By the twentieth century there were tens of thousands of these pauper princes in Russia, whose numbers could be found in nearly every occupation or profession, especially in the countryside.

Of course, many of them desperately attempted to maintain their prerogatives, most only able to preserve an outdated sense of entitlement having no basis in political or financial realities. Into this mix, research into this period will reveal many other pathways to this often utilized title, sometimes by marriage and other times by outright purchase and fraud, whose success was measured generational as a family's true origins were supplanted by its adopted hereditary roots, which found its way increasingly among the intelligensia into the cities and in the countryside gentry prior to 1917, decreasing radically during the frequent Bolshevik pogroms of the 1920s and 1930s.

Is your persona princely? In terms of the SCA does this require some honor that implies a gentry or noble status? Some would no doubt scream in the affirmative, the perfect counterfoil to those in opposition to this interpretation. Considering the muddled historical precedence, does it really matter which modern interpretation is correct? Being a contrarian, mostly for personal entertainment, I favor a third preference for those who paid for their "title" or those whose persona pathetically clings to the title, absent any basis in reality. Why? Because it's the truest recreation of historical fact, being the most common circumstances for those utilizing princely title. What it lacks in the drama of "I was found as a babe in a jeweled cloak so I must be of noble birth" for Western personas is compensated by that seedy taint of reality so common in history and so loved by historical scholars. Of the many flavorings comprising personas in SIG, this is a unique and fun spice at your disposal. your persona "princely"?

Book Review

Latvijas Senaka Vesture: 9. g.t. pr. Kr. - 1200. g. [The Prehistory of Latvia: 9th Millenium BC-1200 AD] (Riga: Latvijas vestures instituta apgads, 2001)

Decent literature on the Baltic region is hard to come by. As the collective authors of this formidable tome from the Latvian Institute of History lament in their introduction, most of the works on the region were written by 19th century German or Russian historians or 20th century Soviet historians, each with their own ideological axe to grin. As they put it so diplomatically: "Since the restoration of the independent Republic of Latvia study of the Early Medieval period has taken into consideration the developmental tendencies of the local inhabitants." It is that vacuum that makes this work so welcome. The work seeks to be a survey of the peoples who lived in the region up to the 13th century.

The period covered by this book runs from the arrival of the first inhabitants until the beginning of native written records, thus it covers pre-written history. The authors have based their work on archeological literature already published, as well as an examination of the half million odd artifacts housed at the Institute of History. While the book purports to cover over 10 millennia, about a fourth of the book is actually devoted to the "Late Iron Age" of 800-1200 AD, and this will almost certainly be its greatest interest to SIG members. So, it is also that section I will focus on here.

As with the other sections of the book, the discussion of early medieval Latvia begins with a survey of historical events affecting the region (namely the retreat of the Finnic tribes as the Slavic ones moved in). With the historical context established, the authors now move into matters of much greater interest to re-enactors.

The architecture of fortresses and homes are documented (with numerous illustrations). The structures were predominantly made of wood and thus have not survived so well (although the text tantalizingly points out that -- due to climactic conditions and artificial flooding brought on by hydro-electric projects -- several structures are known to be well-preserved under water!).

Focusing mostly on the tools used, the discussion turns to agriculture, hunting, fishing, and beekeeping in period. Ploughshares become a popular implement, supplementing scythes that had started to appear around the Fall of Rome. A list of crops and description of the implements found is quite educational. The diet of the inhabitants was mostly cereals (with rye introduced in the 8th century), millet, legumes, and turnips. Meat was primary procured by hunting rather than organized animal husbandry.

Trades and crafts are also covered. Horizontal looms come on the scene, supplementing vertical looms, and supplanting tablet weaving. Potter's wheels also gain wide usage. And detailed drawings of iron smiths' tools prove interesting, especially as they relate to the discussion of weaponry.

The period of 800-1200 saw a massive upsurge in martial technology, mostly as newer and fancier weaponry found its way to the Baltics from the West (both through arms merchants and fallen soldiers of foreign invading armies). Clubs and single-bitted axes favored by the natives were upgraded to weapons that could cause greater damage, namely two-edged weapons (both axes and swords), which unfortunately did little to ease the difficulties of staying alive in feudal Latvia. The section on political life in the period makes this clear, pointing out that there were well over 400 simultaneously-ruling different feudal strongholds in what is modern-day Latvia.

Reenactors will find of greatest interest the sections on jewelry and clothing -- two line drawings of women's garb and one of men's garb (based on reconstructions from burial finds) prove quite useful and are a bit more helpful than typical equivalents found in Russian works. It should come as no surprise that the style will appear Scandinavian, almost Viking. There are many more pictures of jewelry, both for men and women. Again, naturally enough, much of this jewelry is made of bronze and amber, although a certain amount of silver is also found.

While written in Latvian (which I don't read), the book is copiously illustrated with clear line drawing and black and white photographs and there is a 35 page English summary at the back of the book. The bibliography by itself is well worth a look! Since the book is published in Latvia, don't expect to be able to purchase it in the United States. My copy came from Lithuania and it was fairly pricey (c$40). Still, a fantastic resource for Baltic research!

-- Paul Wickenden of Thanet

News and Resources

Peotr Alexeivich Novgorodski (Gregory Frux, 11 Sterling Place #3A, Brooklyn NY 11217,, a frequent contributor of articles and artwork to Slovo, now has a web home for his artwork -- While he does not have his Central Asian artwork yet, there is plenty of nice stuff to look at.

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: 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 (