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Dress in Anglo-Saxon England by Gale R.Owen- Crocker

A comprehensive, yet readable text, from the Settlement Period to the Conquest.

Owen-Crocker has collected a great deal of relevant archaeological, representational and linguistic evidence and discusses it knowledgeably.

The volume is well illustrated throughout with over 200 careful line drawings and a dozen colour and a dozen black & white plates. Usefully, the author covers hairstyles, footwear and dress items such as jewellery as well as clothing. Chapters are presented for men & women separately & for each period (C5th-C6th, C7th-C9th and C10th-C11th) with additional chapters on textile production & the social significance of dress perfect for Living History enthusiasts seeking to use or recreate the the correct weaves and techniques, though you will need more specialist guidance on dyeing. Where the evidence allows, she discusses regional variations as well as social ones.

It is well referenced, yet readable and so is ideal for serious re-enactors of the early medieval period as well as students.
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Elliot-Wright, P. J. C. 2000 Living History London: Brassey's

A good overview of historical re-enactment

Elliot-Wright provides a good overview of historical re-enactment across a range of the more popular periods, with a particular view to research and accuracy and the contibution of re-enactors to our understanding of how kit, skills and techniques worked in practice.

The photographic illustrations are an excellent window into modern re-enactment and of interest for any member of the public who has asked a question over the safety rope, as well as multi-period re-enactors such as myself, but most particularly to anyone considering re-enactment but unsure which period or group is for them.

The author focuses on specific groups, principally in the U.K., with reputations for historical accuracy. The majority of these would be categorised as 'Combat Re-enactment' groups based on particular military institutions. 'Living History', is a term more used specifically for the portrayal of domestic life, which for most of the groups featured is a secondary aim, however, I would say that the title and author's focus reflect the growing movement amongst re-enactors to break free of the 'beer and a bash' image of recreating battles and to seek a more rounded portrayal and understanding of the past, as illustrated in the section devoted to medical care across the ages.

Where I am in a position to judge the accuracy of the material, Elliot-Wright has been clearly, but understandably lead by the ideas and perspectives of the groups involved, so re-enactors with other stances on some matters might quibble with some content, but I am happy to accept that this is inevitable and in some ways is just a product of the level of detail sought by the author.

In the 'Dark Ages', he uses Britannia and, surprisingly briefly, Regia, giving more space to Conquest. I found the sections on the Wars of the Roses and the English & American civil wars just as interesting as those on my own periods.
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Oh dear, oh dear. New period action series, multi million pound budget and what do they spend it on?

'Attitude', presumably, 'cos it wasn't the writing. The clich├ęs hit you like a freight train.

I wasn't expecting any more historical accuracy than the traditional tights or biker jackets, but I wasn't quite prepared for this. They say each generation remakes their stories in their own image and to prove it Robin wears a T-shirt & a leather hoody & Guy of Guisbourne sports a black leather Barbour jacket. No message there, then. The signature longbow has become a recurve bow and the extras' mail and armour is breathtaking.

Well, at least they're not Kevin Costner, or battling sorcerers. Although I half expect a Harley to turn up at some point ;-)
salvianus: (Intercisa)
Quick review of The Collection at Lincoln.

I like the innovative archaeology displays, including a model prehistoric causeway you can walk over & an aerial map that looks like a floor mosaic. There are a few interesting Roman artefacts including a 1cm scale that the curators think might be too small to offer real protection & a nice late ring with a Victory intaglio.

The Saxon finds are more impressive, including a very well preserved leaf bladed spearhead and it was good to see an adze from the Torksey iron hoard that looks like mine. The medieval swords with unintelligible inscriptions, perhaps 'magical incantations', were fascinating.

The stand out collection for me is the late C7th Tattershall Thorpe grave assemblage of metalworking tools, including a range of hammers, punches, files, a 'draw-plate', snips and tongs. It is the evidence of the life of the owner that strikes most: a bell (perhaps because strangers should make a noise when off the path so as not to be taken for a criminal or enemy & killed with impunity), what might have been lead models to serve as reminders, the box of tiny scraps of assorted metal, presumably for re-use and recycling and various Roman artefacts.

While we were there we saw the travelling British Museum exhibition Across the Board. This is definitely worth a look, to see 24 of the Lewis chess pieces. They have a number I've never seen in books, including the guys with helmets that look like bowler hats and you can see all round them, showing off the knot work patterns on thrones and so on.

It's at The Collection until 3rd September 2006, & then at Luton Museum 23rd September 2006 - 21st January 2007.
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I am very, very pleased with this & thoroughly recommend it to all.

Quite a few of the displays are not numbered at the moment, probably in the process of re-numbering. Some of the lights are placed badly, so if you stand to look, you block your own light. A friend of ours was on duty when we went & introduced us to exhibition organiser Elizabeth Hartley & they are certainly aware of these issues & I understand they are working on it. Might be worth waiting if you are travelling a long way.

The static displays are a bit 'old school' compared to the animatronic dinosaurs we're used to, but they project a nice CHi-Rho & it's always nice to hear the Nicene Creed in (church) Latin.

I also feel that the emphasis on Constantine promoting Christianity rather plays down some of the less attractive elements of his life as 'companion of the sun god', although the continuity of symbolism & practice from Classical to Christian worship is illustrated by exhibits very well.

And the tools were not on display when we went! I want to see chisels!

My Highlights:
The mail shirt from Arbea in all it's crumpled glory & in an environmentally controlled case, looking like an old unravelling woollen sweater. 7mm rings, alternate rows rivetted, late third - early fourth century.

The Dalmatic tunic from Akhmin on loan from the Victoria & Albert Museum (T.361-1887). 130cm long, 206 cm wide, 'first half of the fourth century', full length purple wool clavi with interlocked geometric gold thread embroidery, with two identical bands on each cuff. Simpler pattern than I'd expected, but so attractive.

The glass beaker (from Bonn?) showing Constantine's guards over from Cologne & pictured in Southern & Dixon.

The Chi-Rho votive plaques from the Water Newton hoard - a strong reminder of the pagan flavour of early Christianity.

The central roundel with Christ & Chi-Rho from the mosaic at Hinton St. Mary, Dorset. Mid-fourth century. I love the way they've displayed it on a carpet showing the rest of the mosaic!

Silver military belt fittings from the Traprain Law Treasure. I want some.

Golden Chi-Rho monogram seal ring from Suffolk, a beautifully worked golden armlet from Cologne and, not least, the golden ring inscribed 'Fidem Constantino' from Amien & of a type probably commonly worn by soldiers in his service.

Lifesized goose statue with internal pipes to allow it to emit steam, smoke or possibly sound effects!

On 'til October. The catalogue is well worth it. Why not combine it with the York Roman Festival celebrating the 1700th anniversary of his acclamation, 21-30 July? Comitatus is taking over Barley Hall on the second weekend!

The exhibition site:
The Festival Site, such as it is (don't expect the rest of it to be as well organised as our bit):
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Rome at War AD 229-696 (Essential Histories)
Michael Whitby

Michael Whitby does well to produce such a readable introduction to the period in such a compact and very affordable volume.

As well as outlining the political situation, he gives thumbnail portraits of some of some of the key players and gives an idea of some of the consequences of the conflicts featured.

It includes some excellent colour maps showing the late empire and the major migrations and campaigns, although the duplication of some illustrations from other Osprey titles of the period is disappointing. That said, the plan of the course of the battle of Adrianople is clearer than the isometric drawings in the Osprey Campaign title dedicated to the battle.

A handy primer in accessible Osprey style.
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Just got 'Romano-Byzantine Infantry Equipment' by I.P. Stephenson.

Stephenson is looking at the period from the accession of Diocletian 284AD to the abdication of Romulus Augustulus in 476 in the western empire & from then to the death of Heraclius in 641 in the east.

He seeks both to summarize the growing published evidence about the Romano-Byzantine military, but also to challenge what he sees as some rapidly ossifying misconceptions. His flagship example is the Duerne helmet pictured on the cover, attested in one of it's inscriptions as belonging to a cavalryman, but which he does not see as representing a 'cavalry type' not worn by infantry. He also brushes aside the re-enactor's interpretation of shield 'clips' for carrying plumbatae, rather than carrying them in the hand, which seems a little strong given that these are described as 'clipped inside the shield'.

For a relative newcomer like myself, however, this volume seems to put together a wealth of information that expands considerably on the equipment chapter of 'Southern & Dixon' & will easily hold me until the new edition of 'Bishop & Coulston' comes along. Hopefully very soon.

The colour reconstruction drawings are not to my taste & some of the plates & illustrations of the extant examples will necessarily be familiar to many within this field of interest, but I definitely prefer it to his book on cavalry equipment & would say that the additional resources and analysis are well worth adding to even a fair sized late Roman library. I suspect this single volume guide to the period will become something of a manual for late Roman re-enactors.

I'd be interested on how folk think this volume compares to his 'Roman Infantry Equipment: The Later Empire' & which I have to admit I have not rushed out to buy.


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February 2011



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