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"Viking Re enactment pictures" Topic

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Arcane Steve02 Jun 2017 7:28 a.m. PST

My latest blog post with picture of a Viking/Saxon re enactment group. I include a picture of the colour dye sampler that the re-enactors use to show the colours available. I was surprised how predominant Orange was… I will certainly be using more pastel shades for my next Saga warband!


I hope that you find it useful.

Xintao02 Jun 2017 7:57 a.m. PST

Very cool. Thanks!


Green Tiger03 Jun 2017 12:00 a.m. PST

Yeah – you get pinks and oranges from using straw and onion skins so quite common. Shield rims are rawhide.

Aidan Campbell03 Jun 2017 2:03 a.m. PST

I don't want to appear overly critical of re-enactors, especially as that's my own group in the photos… however my background is in archaeological conservation where I once shared a laboratory with one of the worlds leading experts on early medieval textiles and dye analysis and now make part of my living supplying replica Viking/Saxon textiles to museums which I hope gives me a little authority to speak on the subject.

Individual reenactors look for bits of evidence or reasons to justify doing what they personally think looks cool which is not the same as a whole society studying all the evidence to establish and give a balanced portrayal of what was common or representative of the period.

All the evidence we have points to the fact that by far the most common amongst most folk, numerically dominating everything, was undyed wools in natural pale greys and browns, which is why odd scraps of literary evidence from the period imply "coloured" clothing was so rare without actually seeing the need to distinguish between different colours. Any mention of coloured clothing is used to instantly establish the rich or significant people from the mainstream masses.

In terms of dyes that survive in the archeological record to be detectable today madder reds are the most common in England (which with a weak or poor dye batch gives salmon pinks and pale oranges, all of which soon fade in the sun), In Norway woad blues are the most commonly detected, in Ireland lichen purples are the most commonly detected whilst in Denmark evidence suggests they seemed to favour over-dying things to create darker "blacks".

However we must be aware that the archaeological textile samples proving positive in dyes tests are so out numbered by those showing no evidence of dying that trying to say anything meaningful about different colours is merely speculating within statistical rounding errors.

A simple analogy would be to say that if talking about different Formula One motor racing cars you may not mention that most ordinary folk don't drive one but own a second hand hatchback.

The flip side of the argument is how few natural dyes survive the burial environment to be detectable in the present day, where most easily accessible plant based dyes give weak yellowy greens, save for weld which gives a lurid (high visibility security vest) yellow.

You can speculate and say that because onion skins give orangey brown colours and onions were probably common food stuffs they must have been commonly used for dying… truth is there is absolutely no way of verifying if it is a correct assumption.

Cerdic03 Jun 2017 11:15 a.m. PST

Aidan makes a good point about 'extrapolating' based on meagre evidence. I think all we can do is go with what was most likely based on what is known.

With regard to shield rims. I looked into early medieval shield materials and manufacture a couple of years ago, and the (again meagre!) evidence points to most rims being bound with rawhide. It is soaked in water first, then attached to the shield. As it dries, it tightens and binds the rim together helping to prevent damage. Lighter, cheaper and more effective than metal!

Arcane Steve06 Jun 2017 2:01 a.m. PST

Hi Aidan, some good feedback and information and confirmation that my 'dark Age' models are perhaps too colourful! I think that when painting wargaming figures there is a conflict for me between what looks 'good' on the wargames table and what is 'accurate'. I had certainly got the shield edges wrong by painting them in a metal finish – I wont be going back & repainting them but the next warband that I do will certainly have leather edged shields. I would ask the question though as to whether people in the dark ages would have been any different to us today. Once they had seen 'Baldric' in his posh new orange tunic, wouldn't they all have wanted one….:)

Aidan Campbell06 Jun 2017 10:52 a.m. PST

I would ask the question though as to whether people in the dark ages would have been any different to us today. Once they had seen 'Baldric' in his posh new orange tunic, wouldn't they all have wanted one….:)

Something about which we an only speculate but human nature is human nature and the wealthy have always loved to waste resources and be conspicuous consumers whilst the poor have always tried to find cheaper ways of emulating things seen as signs of status.

Counterfeit designer goods are nothing new, just google Ulfbhert swords of the Viking age, undoubtedly a skilled and notable swordsmith/workshop of the period, but his trademark has been found on many cheap knock-offs from the same time.

In terms of colours of clothing the Saxons and especially Vikings (who were often mocked for their fixation with personal grooming and fine clothes) could achieve all sorts of bright colours and decoration, it's just that what evidence we do have points to this being a sign of real wealth… That said if you could afford a mail coat, a sword and helmet you were part of that wealthy elite minority.

So in terms of painting gaming figures much depends upon if you are modelling some sort of royal hearthguard, a more widespread fyrd (which were probably still the equivalent of middle class showing odd traces of more muted colours in their clothing) or the main stream masses of drab undyed peasantry who would numerically dominate period society. I suppose it also depends upon the extent to which you/we wish to create a clear distinction between different troop types on a gaming table. I strongly suspect the true picture is probably far more confused then even the limited archaeological evidence we have makes out.

coopman07 Jun 2017 6:28 p.m. PST

We may never know the truth, so paint them up like you want them to look.

Elenderil09 Jun 2017 10:47 p.m. PST

I took the view that Generals personal units be they Viking Huscarls or Saxon Heathtroop or their equivalent would have brighter clothes than any one else. After that it goes to more muted and drab clothing as you defend the social scale. So for Anglo Saxons the Hirdmen get some muted colours. The Select Fyrd mainly light browns and greys and the general Fyrd are all drab greys and browns. Helps identify units too.

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