What is Re-enactment?
Wychwood in York, Easter 2007

Re-enactment is a broad label that has lots of aspects and covers many different activities. The photo above shows some of these- everyone is in a Viking village, dressed as Vikings, and there are people sewing, people making food, and people with weapons and shields preparing to fight.

Kit Making - Fighting - Talking to the Public - Feasts & Fires - Characters - Want to know more?

Kit Making

The most obvious thing that marks re-enactors out from members of the public is that we're in costume! Basic male clothing in the Viking Age was fairly similar for Saxons and Vikings, and isn't too difficult to make. A knee-length undertunic (i.e. shirt) made of linen paired with a knee-length overtunic of wool and some sort of leg-covering (trousers or hose) was the universally recognised style for several hundred years. There were some changes, especially in posh people's fashions, but the basic peasant of 600 A.D. wore much the same as the basic peasant of 1066 and even later. This means that people who aren't particularly interested in clothing history can start re-enacting Viking Age history very easily- especially as most re-enactors are happy to lend new people kit.
Female kit is a bit more complex. In pre-Christian Saxon and Viking societies women wore tubular apron-dresses fastened by broaches. The fashions in these dresses changed over time, and there are still debates about which styles were worn when, and how tailored they were.
I've got quite interested in costume and crafts, and found that there's lots of room for research & experimentation and lots of different projects to try. I've made a lot of different sets of standard kit; used authentic crafts like tablet-weaving to make decorative braid for the edges of tunics and to make belts; tried some experimental ways of cutting Rus Viking costume (especially kaftans/coats); and dyed some material naturally.
For more info on costume, you might like to check out the "Kit" section on Wikiwood.

Kit Making - Fighting - Talking to the Public - Feasts & Fires - Characters - Want to know more?

Fighting
A small skirmish at
DAS

A lot of re-enactors initially get involved because they're interested in battle re-enactment. Getting to attack your friends with big metal swords, axes and spears is definitely part of the appeal of the hobby! Of course, we make sure that everyone has training in weapons and combat techniques before letting anyone loose with potentially lethal weapons... The key rules are that only blows to certain target areas are allowed, and that all blows must be pulled- no hitting people at full strength on the head!
Combat can be at almost any scale. In the past couple of years I've done one-on-one training, one-on-one show fights, small skirmishes & shield-wall clashes, fought in a battle at Tintagel with about 100 people per side and been on the battlefield at Hastings 2006 with over 2000 people (including 100 archers and 100 cavalry!)
Of course, no-one has to fight if they don't want to, and most re-enactment societies have lots of other activities.

Kit Making - Fighting - Talking to the Public - Feasts & Fires - Characters - Want to know more?

Talking to the Public

A lot of re-enactors have a passionate interest in history, and love chatting to the public about life in the Viking Age. This may involve living in authentic villages (like Murton Park, the village pictured above), or going to festivals of history or museums or schools.
I've really got into this! I love chatting to people, and this gives me a captive audience: mwah-ha-ha! Also, getting kids interesting in history is a great thing, in my view. So I've been to two schools to discuss how costume & weaponry reflects social status, as well as talking to lots of folks at public displays.

Kit Making - Fighting - Talking to the Public - Feasts & Fires - Characters - Want to know more?

Feasts & Fires
A
Wychwood fire

All this fighting and talking can be tough work, and there comes a time in the day when everyone gets a bit hungry and thirsty. So we take feasting very seriously! Banquets can have eight courses or more, made using authentic recipes and ingredients (bread, stews, soups, roasts, pates, cheeses, cakes...), and are washed down with mead (honey wine), cider and ales from drinking horns. During feasts rude songs might be sung and games or contests might be held ('knife fighting' with red marker pens, dice or board games, axe twisting...) Feasts can be inside in a great hall, or outside around a fire.
Obviously I love these! Particularly the mead and the rude songs, it's a good combination... Both DAS and Wychwood, my two main societies, have very good feasts.

Kit Making - Fighting - Talking to the Public - Feasts & Fires - Characters - Want to know more?

Characters
My characters-
Godfrid the Saxon, Hauk the Viking and Galfridas the Anglo-Norman.

Obviously none of us are really Vikings or Saxons (& hopefully none of us are really enemies!), but some re-enactors are interested in acting like these characters. We give ourselves historical names, and attempt to act more like our historical ancestors. Within boundaries, of course- the pillage & associated activities are frowned upon these days!
I find the insights this can give you into how people might have thought absolutely fascinating. I have three main characters: Godfrid is a Saxon, a devout Christian who left swine-herding to fight the Vikings for King Alfred and then later became a monk; Hauk is the Viking equivalent of Flashman- more interested in meeting friendly ladies, travelling to exotic locations, and wearing fancy clothes than he is in fighting; and Galfridas de Nordcote & his family are Anglo-Norman knights with lots of armour!
DAS does lots of character-based re-enactment (in fact, I don't know the 20th century names of most of my DAS friends!) Some people in Wychwood have characters as well, but not everyone and it isn't as important there as it is at DAS.

Kit Making - Fighting - Talking to the Public - Feasts & Fires - Characters - Want to know more?

Want to know more?

I'd definitely recommend that you check out the two societies I'm a member of. They're both small and friendly. DAS (the Dark Ages Society) is a national society, who meet about once a month. They mainly do weekend events, with skirmish fighting as well as great feasts. They do more roleplaying of their characters than most re-enactment societies. The Wychwood Warriors are the Oxford University Historical Re-enactment Society, and they hold several events per week in Oxford during term-time, as well as sometimes travelling further afield during holidays.
Or, if you've got any questions, email me! haukragnarsson@googlemail.com


Made by Hauk, DAS New Member's Rep & Wychwood Old Git - Main page: www.haukr.co.uk - Email: haukragnarsson@googlemail.com