From the Nachalnik
Spring has finally shown its head. Given the sluggishness of the season this year, it seems that the Orthodox Christians have it right, holding off on celebrating Easter until May, unlike the Western Christians who fit it in before even the crocuses thought it was Spring. But the turn of the season here was most marked by my old computer declaring itself a glorified doorstop a few weeks back. This necessitated an emergency trip to Best Buy for a new computer. The new machine is still experiencing growing pains, so everything has been a bit thrown off kilter and the newsletter delayed.
It’s probably not too early to put in a call for articles for the Summer issue. There are a few things in the pipeline, but it never hurts to build up a reserve. It will be hot and steamy July by then and preparations for Pennsic will be underway. Articles about the season will be most appreciated.
Archeobotanical Samples from 13th & 14th Century Poland
By Jadwiga Zajaczkowa
Archaeobotany is the study of botanical remains, including pollen, plant parts, and other plant evidence in various sites. http://members.aol.com/postquem/32402f14.htm and http://www.pastperfect.info/archaeology/archaeobot.html give excellent overviews of the subject. There's also a charming grade school unit on the subject online at http://rla.unc.edu/lessons/Lesson/L205/L205.htm. Recently, I came across an interesting article which included list of plants whose archaeobotanical remains have been found in 13th & 14th century strata of Elblag or Kolobrzeg in Poland).
In addition to discussing some of the domesticated plants whose remains were found in those strata, it covered the (probably) wild plants whose remains were found in situations suggesting they were weeds. The authors discussed how the collected data could indicate the environmental conditions in the area at the time. As students of medieval Eastern Europe, we are more interested in what this listing tells us about what plants we can document to our time period. Of course this doesn't mean the plants were used, but it does mean the plants were accessible to people in our period of study.
The authors list Humulus lupulus [common hops], Brassica nigra [black mustard seed]. Linum usitatissimum [flax], Cannabis sativa [hemp], Panicum miliaceum [Wild-Proso Millet / Broomcorn Millet], Secale cereale [rye], Hordeum vulgare [barley] and Triticum aestivum [common wheat], Avena sativa [oats] were found as presumably cultivated grains at one or both sites. Of interest to herbalists are finds of chickweed, charlock, sheep sorrel, yarrow, creeping thyme, valerian, viola/pansies, dandelion, comfrey, sorrel, plantain, selfheal, woodland angelica, wild chervil, sowthistle, pennycress, stinging nettle, corn speedwell, shepherds' purse, gooseful, golden/dyer's chamomile, St. Johnswort, oregano, cinquefoil, meadow-rue, lambsquarters, corn spurry, cleavers, cowparsnip, and cowparsley.
Here is the authors' list of weeds found, with common names in parentheses:
Weeds of Cereals and Flax
Agrostemma githago (corncockle), Anthemis arvensis (corn chamomile), Bromus secalinus (rye brome), Camelina alyssum (Mill.) (gold-of-pleasure) , Camelina microcarpa (littlepod false flax) , Centaurea cynanus (bachelor button), Fallopia convolvulus (black bindweed), Galeopsis ladanum (red hempnettle), Galium spurium (cleavers? False cleavers? Marin county bedstraw?), Lithospermum arvense (corn gromwell), Lolium temulentum (darnel ryegrass), Matricaria maritima subsp. inodora (scentless chamomile/scentless mayweed), Neslia paniculata (ballmustard), Papaver argemone (Long pricklyhead poppy), Raphanus raphanistrum (wild radish), Rhinanthus serotinus(oborny var. apterus) (late-flowering yellowrattle), Scleranthus annuus (German knotgrass) , Silene gallica (common catchfly), Sinapis arvensis (charlock mustard), Spergul a arvensis subsp. maxima (corn spurry), Valerianella dentata (narrowfruit cornsalad), Viola arvensis (field pansy)/Viola tricolor (johnny-jump-up/heartsease)
Weeds of Millet, Root Crops, Gardens and Ruderal Habitats
Agropyron repens (quackgrass), Anthemis cotula (stinking chamomile), Atriplex nitens (hoary orache), Aptriplex patula (orache?), Ballota nigra (black horehound), Berteroa incana (hoary false madwort), Capsella bursa-pastoris (Shepherd's purse), Chenopodium album (lambsquarters), Chenopodium glaucum (oakleaf goosefoot), Chenopodium hybridum (mapleleaf goosefoot), Chenopodium murale (nettleleaf goosefoot), Chenopodium polyspermum (manyseed goosefoot), Cichorium intybus (chicory), Cirsium arvense (Canada thistle), Cirsium vulgare (bull thistle), Conium maculatum (poison hemlock), Echinochloa crus-galli (barnyardgrass), Euphorbia helioscopia (madwoman's milk), Fallopia dumetorum (copse bindweed), Galium aparine (stickywilly), Hyoscyamus niger (black henbane), Lamium album (white deadnettle), Lapsana communis (common nipplewort), Linaria vulgaris (butter and eggs), Melandrium album (bladder campion), Mentha arvensis (wild mint), Myosotis arvensis (field forget-me-not), Plantago major (common plantain), Poa annua (annual bluegrass), Polygonum persicaria (spotted ladysthumb), Potentilla anserina (silverweed cinquefoil), Ranunculus repens (creeping buttercup), Rumex acetosella (common sheep sorrel), Rumex crispus (curly dock), Setaria italica (foxtail bristlegrass), Setaria pumila (yellow bristlegrass), Setaria viridis (green bristlegrass)/ verticillata (hooked bristlegrass), Solanum nigrum (black nightshade), Sonchus arvensis (field sowthistle), Sonchus asper (spiny sowthistle), Sonchus oleraceus (common sowthistle), Spergula arvensis (corn spurry), Stachys arvensis (staggerweed), Stellaria media (common chickweed), Thlaspi arvense (field pennycress), Urtica dioica (stinging nettle), Urtica urens (dwarf nettle), Veronica arvensis (corn speedwell), Xanthium strumarium (rough cockleburr).
Meadows in Wet and Fresh Habitats
Achillea millefolium (common yarrow), Angelica sylvestris (woodland angelica), Anthriscus sylvestris (wild chervil), Barbarea vulgaris (garden yellowrocket), Caltha palustris (yellow marsh marigold), Campanula patula (spreading bellflower), Carex cfr dioica (bog sedge?), Carex panicea (grasslike sedge), Centaurea jacea (brownray knapweed), Cerastium holosteoides (big chickweed), Cirsium oleraceum (cabbage thistle), Danthonia decumbens (common heathgrass), Festuca rubra (fescue), Filipendula ulmaria (queen of the meadow), Galium cfr mollugo (false baby's breath), Galium uliginosum (fen bedstraw), Heracleum maculatum (cowparsnip?), Iris cfr sibirica (Siberian Iris?), Juncus conglomeratus (Compact Rush)/effusus (common rush), Juncus cfr. effusus, Leontodon autumnalis (Autumn Hawkbit), Leucanthemum vulgare (oxeye daisy), Linum catharticum (Fairy Flax), Lychnis flos-cuculi (ragged robin), Lythrum salicaria (purple loosestrife), Melandrium rubrum (red catchfly), Molinia caerulea (moor grass), Myosotis palustris (forget-me-not), Plantago lanceolata (narrowleaf plantain), Poa pratensis (Kentucky bluegrass)/Poa trivialis (rough bluegrass), Polygonum bistorta (meadow bistort), Potentilla erecta (erect cinquefoil), Prunella vulgaris (common selfheal), Ranunculus acris (tall buttercup), Ranunculus sardous (hairy buttercup), Rhinanthus serotinus (late-flowering yellowrattle), Rumex acetosa (garden sorrel), Rumex thyrsiflorus (garden sorrel), Scirpus sylvaticus (woodland bulrush), Stachys palustris (marsh hedgenettle), Stellaria graminea (grasslike starwort), Symphytum officinale (comfrey), Taraxacum officinale (dandelion), Thalictrum flavum (common meadow-rue), Valeriana officinalis (garden valerian), Viola cfr canina (Heath dog-violet)
Dry Grasslands and Pasture
Anthemis tinctoria (golden chamomile), Arenaria serpyllifolia (thymeleaf sandwort), Bromus hordeaceus (soft brome), Campanula glomerata (Dane's blood), Centaurea scabiosa (greater knapweed), Cerastium arvense (field chickweed), Dianthus armeria (Deptford pink), Hypericum perforatum (common St. Johnswort), Knautia arvensis (field scabiosa), Luzula campestris (field woodrush), Luzula multiflora (field woodrush), Origanum vulgare (oregano), Picris hieracioides (hawkweed oxtongue), Potentilla argentea (silver cinquefoil), Potentilla neumanniana (spring cinquefoil), Potentilla recta (sulphur cinquefoil), Ranunculus bulbosus (St. Anthony's turnip), Silene vulgaris (maidenstears), Thalictrum simplex (Small Meadow-rue), Thymus serpyllum (creeping thyme).
Source: Malgorzata Latalowa, Monika Badura1 and Joanna Jarosinacuteska, "Archaeobotanical Samples from Non-Specific Urban Contexts as a Tool for Reconstructing Environmental Conditions (Examples from Elblag and Kolobrzeg, Northern Poland)," Vegetation History and Archaeobotany 12:2 (September 2003), pp 93 - 104.
Note: Images of many of these can be found in the USDA plant database: http://plants.usda.gov/.
Notes on a Slavic Bestiary: Part One
By Paul Wickenden of Thanet
In all cultures, there have been stories created about creatures. Some of these creatures have been familiar animals like foxes and bears, but often given characteristics that they don’t exhibit in nature (like the ability to talk, perform music, or engage in everyday commerce with humans). Other creatures like minotaurs and goblins have been more fanciful, bearing little resemblance to anything that exists in the known world. The Slavic world, of course, was no different, and most of us know about the more shining examples of the Firebird (zhar-ptitsa) for example.
But whether the beasts of stories are mundane or exotic, these creations usually were symbolic of human beings or of human traits. Perhaps as a metaphor or as a means to clearly explain a behavior to the listener or reader, the beast served as a tool. As a result, the way that a beast or monster is depicted (both in illustration and in description) can be revealing of the people who created the stories.
The following random examples (in no way an attempt at giving a complete bestiary of the Slavic world) is intended to give a taste of some of the beasts and monsters that occupied the Slavic medieval mind. The drawings are mostly taken from an 18th century treatise on Medieval bestiaries (which I chose for their clarity) but are based on period depictions.
We can begin with common creatures that were largely known and thus depicted pretty much as they were. In period literature they were often used to draw comparisons to human behavior, for better or for worse.
Of course, the bear is a much used image of modern-day Russia. In period, the associations were not as general (or as friendly). Rather than being a jovial child-friendly creature, the bear was seen as gluttonous and quarrelsome. In one case, the bear was even described as a sodomite. A far cry indeed from being the mascot of the Moscow Olympics!
Night heron (vran noshchnyi)
This drawing of a bird from the late 15th-early 16th century would not meet Audubon’s standards, but is a largely accurate representation of the bird. Although not nearly this plump in real life, this particular example is actually less exaggerated than some illustrations that have the bird being nearly spherical! The night heron is largely associated with Jesus and so makes frequent early appearances in the culture.
Then we have the problems of explaining beasts that were quite unlike anything known in the region in period. Sometimes, the illustrator was struggling with a poor description to begin with, but other times the creature was simply too far outside the realm of local understanding.
Consider the difficulty in describing the rhinoceros to others. The 15th century text says that it is like an elephant (because it has horns) but is far more “terrible.” The artists had to make do. Initially drawn as a bear with tusks, artistic license eventually lead to an image that only Picasso could love.
Sea urchin (ezh morskoi)
A rather amusing example is the sea urchin. The Russian name actually translates better as “mer-hedgehog” (bearing in mind that “urchin” is a synonym for hedgehog) and the artist who drew it in this example obviously saw it as a marine equivalent of the hedgehog. Scribes opined that this sea-based creature did not breathe at all and was found in the deep sea amidst the “heaviest stones.”
Starling fish (skvorets-ryba)
At some point, the confusion of name and animal could grow so complete that trying to assemble now what the animal actually being described was is quite difficult. In this case of a “starling fish,” which features a fish with a bird’s head, we really have little idea what sort of animal this truly was supposed to be. But we can see that the artist didn’t suffer from lack of creativity.
Next: The beast as metaphor and the monsters!
Russian Campsites: Part One
By Mordak Timofeyvich Rostovskogo
One of the greatest challenges of creating any "Slavic" persona with any depth or multi-dimensionality is the story, the accoutrements like clothing, armor or personal adornment, and the research that makes it all possible and authentic. But when you are at an event, either camping or indoors, and your “campsite” is the typical conglomeration of sack chairs, armor tubs and coolers, how much of your mundane persona is overshadowing the Slavic persona you have devoted so much effort and time in creating? I'm certainly not advocating total immersion, but an economic approach that creates the ambiance of your persona without sacrificing portability, ease of transport or limited cash reserves.
The easiest way is a medieval area rug, some brocade or appliqued throws for over mundane chairs and coolers. This is an approach whose strengths are minimal work, minimal space for transport and minimal maintenance/cost. I've used this approach for years myself, through several different personas before I found my "true calling" as a Russian. This approach can be easily enhanced with a wrought iron candle holder or three, the footed kind that you can pick up at the after Christmas sales or in trade with one of the blacksmiths in the local group.
A step up from this is a backdrop with craft felt appliqués, which can be either glued on or sewn down with a running stitch. Animal motifs, scenery, figurines or repeating designs are rife in mosaics in Eastern Europe, Central Asia and other points along the Silk Road. A couple straight saplings, dowel rods or decorative planks set up as a framework will add a lot of atmosphere for little cost and minimal effort. If your kingdom’s climate allows many outdoors camping events, a couple portable holes will more than adequately provide anchor points for backdrops. Ask around, someone in your group can fill you in on this item and the ease of construction. For that matter, the intersect points of the framework provide excellent spots to hang caftans, archery equipment, and that weapons belt during the day.
A step up from that is buying a sheet of quality plywood and the making tables, chairs or couches that can be pegged together and painted or stained, dependent on your artistic goals and wallet. I built a 60" couch with a hinged, adjustable back like a Morris chair, in essence a wider version of the plywood medieval design chairs often seen at SCA events. To prevent predictable damage from armored fighters (like me) or the many overly generous anatomical proportions, the seat was reinforced with two 2X4s and pegged into the chair arms. So far, it has survived snoozers, children, three absolutely huge people at one time and several individuals "breaking it in", without my knowledge. I painted mine a brick red and decorated it in a Turkish foliate pattern from period pottery and has a fair bit of scroll cut work. My lady has also tricked it out with cushions and bolsters in several Central Asian brocade patterns, which made my medieval barcalounger that much more comfortable. It's heavy but fits in my Saturn and is a real eye catcher at events. In a lurch, it also makes a pretty good bed, even for a 70 inch long guy. Its too narrow for two but I have plans for an addition this winter........its just a matter of the proper motivation!
Continuing in this line of discussion, often the best group sites or camp sights are exactly like any other group site at any other event site you've ever seen (that is, armor strewn underfoot, personal items and projects stashed behind, under or beside chairs, etc). No! The element that set them apart was the furniture. Specifically, the absence of modern sack chairs, aluminum camp tables, and so on. In their place you see wooden furniture, wooden tables and wooden chests for the coolers. I'm not a carpenter, possessing minimal skill at the very best, and to be honest most of the wooden furniture seen in the SCA is plywood, albeit high grade plywood. Until recently, the old and venerable thrones of my Kingdom were, you guessed it, plywood. They were stained and nicely painted and lightly upholstered but merely high-grade plywood. The proof of their durability is in their use 35 -50 weekends a year, every year for the twenty years they were in use. Given the fact that many of use regularly attend twelve or less events a year, furniture made from this material should last our entire time in the SCA.
That said, what would one see in a typical house in Eastern Europe or destinations eastward where our interests lay? Dependant upon your personas wealth, position in life and culture, possible furnishings include beds and chairs. Definite furnishings include shelving, stoves, benches (freestanding and attached) and a variety of boxes, trunks and chests. Other less common items might include personal armaments, saddles and gear, personal wagons, crockery and washstands. As a Russian, I would have had at least one icon of either the Virgin and Child or some saint, including patron saints with some attribute or notoriety personally meaningful to my persona.
All these items, either singularly or in combination, add a certain element to your space that builds and supports the theme of your persona and most importantly, are for the most part able to compact for transport and storage. In most cases the only tools needed are a jig saw, a drill, tape measure, screwdriver and a tape measure. With a high quality plywood only minimal sanding is needed, other than a stain you favor and a design painted over top before sealing with a flat, semi-gloss or high -gloss polyurethane. I really recommend oil based paints, even though clean up isn't as easy because usually one layer is needed in design creation. With water based paint you need several layers to really make the design come out. This is also the point where a handy friend comes into play. While none of these furnishings are particularly hard to make individually, the process and your personal learning curve is much faster with the aid of a experienced craftsperson.
Start simple, stay simple. It's harder to break, faster to construct and easier to ad lib design changes. The typical small plywood table has three pieces; the typical event chair has four pieces and is pegged together. These designs can be seen at any event or in the Known World Handbook. But they're generic, common, and not noticeably Slavic or whichever culture your persona hails from. Very little artifactual evidence exists from our geographic areas or cultures so you must punt and imitate design specs from existing architectural and ecclesiastical design specs that are in evidence. In addition, don't worry if your decorative painting is not perfect, my guess is that most folks built or bought what they could afford, not what they desired and coveted, like society in the modern day.
Chairs and tables are excellent opportunities for design elements added to a basic design. For instance, if you like the onion domes you see in Orthodox churches like I do, you could cut that silhouette out of each footing section of a table or the footing section of a chair's side panels for a subtle but noticeably slavic design element. You could even peak the back section instead of leaving it flat across and add a similar cut out at the bottom, middle or back of the panel to reinforce the design elements. You can widen the seat and back panels into a love seat and either repeat or add new design elements to this basic theme. The same with the tables, utilizing slotted leg panels with decorative cutouts, or even lengthen the tabletop and utilizing two or more sections of slotted leg panels.
For a little pizza and beer, your local woodworking shire member or handy friend can help you design and pencil those designs onto your piece of plywood, if you are willing to use a jigsaw for a couple hours in a basement. Next time, the bench seat / bed conversion project for your canvas izba hut.
Now we will look at multi-use furnishings that also break down for easier transport and storage. In period I very much doubt that many major furnishings were either mobile or compact, but many people in period might only travel 20 miles from home, short of major relocation. For the Born Again Slav in the SCA, travel is neither a rarity nor optional. By necessity nearly everyone in our group will travel a considerable distance to attend an event or War. As wanderers in this SCA tribe, our gear must be compact by absolute necessity and multi-utility by design for a variety of different circumstances.
How many times have you paid a chunk of cash for a motel room, blown up an air mattress only to wake in the night on the hard ground or spent a long, long night on a cot or couch? Me too. More than I care to remember without the comforting numbness of drink. For this reason I designed the Russian Hide-a-bed. The design is simple. If you recall my description of my Turkish Pennsic couch, the hide-a-bed is two, 70" long, with a 19" deep seat hinged to a 20" back, adjustable but able to be laid flat by a wood ledge on each side piece level with the seat and reinforced with 2x4" lumber. You make two of these, identical in design utilizing two sheets of plywood, preferably 5/8" thick. Add wooden ledges to stabilize wood joins that are pegged together for added strength as needed
The idea is for both couches to face each other with the backs laid flat to form a large bed, so you need to hinge each side and pop one bolt out during the day so the couches form an angle like a modular couch. At night you simply push them together on the other end, pop in the bolt and drop the backs level with the seat. Instant bed for two or leave one side hinged and drop the back of one for a single or both for you and a buddy at right angles to each other. Make cushions, pads, etc. to your taste in whatever fabric suits your purposes. Paint in whatever motif you feel is period from your research. You can even pop the bolts from the hinges joining the seat and back sections for added ease of carrying to car, to event site, to storage.
In a canvas izba hut (that is, your tent) it opens an entire area usually wasted during the day and works particularly well in combination with chests for gear, tables for utensils and a portable wardrobe with cloth curtains for clothing, Speaking of which, a wardrobe is two lipped shallow rectangle boxes with slotted corners for the four dowel rods, the upper box having a dowel rod running its length inside the box 2" from the front edge and another also running the length but right down the middle. If the bottom box is footed it will look just like a low, wide chest when broken down. The curtain on the front dowel can be button on for removal for washing. Add a rod in the back if you worry about moisture or sun damage from the tent wall. The top of the box is great for boots, hats and that convenient flashlight. The bottom is a loss free sock drawer or laundry hopper, depending on depth. Hooks along the inside width of the top box are convenient for hanging belts, sashes, chains, archery equipment, and so on, in case your tent floods.
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