Authenticity- the what and the why

Standard

This time, to break the monotony of combat tips, I shall indulge on the authenticity, and my personal views on it. Authenticity, as the names says, is the standard by which we judge how historically accurate an item is.

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For example- mail armour is authentic, as evidenced by written records, archeological finds and art of the day. Horned helmets are not, as there are not evidence what-so-ever for their existence and they are simply impractical.

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When you are a historical reenactor, you do more than just hit people with live steel weapons, as I have discussed in my posts about Living History. If combat itself was the purpose, we would not call ourselves Historical Reenactors, but the Fight Club.

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We strive, as best as we can, to present a historically accurate image of the Vikings and Saxons, as well as their contemporaries. We use authentic clothing, armour and weapons, we cook authentic foods over authentic fires and sleep in authentic tents and in authentic camps/villages, and we produce authentic artwork and craftsmanship.

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But it was not always so- I myself do not remember the early days of reenactment, I was not even born at that time, but those who have been in the business for twenty years or more can testify, that historical accuracy at the early stages of the hobby was dubious at best. But we have evolved since then, and we have worked hard to raise our standards of accuracy, to the point, where we are the closest thing to the actual Vikings there is.

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So, what actually is authentic? Anything for which we have evidence from the period and the place. Important- it is not enough, that a samurai helmet was made in the 10th century AD- since the Samurai were in Japan, and none have made it over to Europe ( to our best knowledge), we are not allowed to use samurai helmets, no matter how historically accurate they might be. Same goes for re-curve bows, American Indian knives, or sabres from the Middle East. As accurate as these items are, they are not considered authentic, because they did not appear in Northern Europe at the time of the Vikings. Although some exceptions do exists (occasional merchant, mercenary, traveller or a slave), generally people and items from far-off lands are not allowed.

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I do not need to mention, I hope, that items which do not belong to the period (Celtic wargear, Migration Period items, or items made in the later centuries) are also not authentic, even though they are accurate to the place.

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There are (small) exceptions to the rule of “Time and Place”- we do occasionally see a Frankish or Continental character, as well as people using Slavic and Eastern wargear (lamellar armour for example). Exceptions can also be made on the grounds of ethnicity (for example a black person who wants to be a Moorish merchant or a mercenary would be allowed to use items from the Moor kingdom, but to a limited degree). These cannot be pushed too much though, as it would defeat the point completely, fi we allowed anything and everything, just because “it is cool”.

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But that is not all about authenticity- for apart from setting us a standard to follow, it must also have its limitations. We cannot reasonably expect people to remove tatoos, dreadlocks or to manually weave their own cloth.

We must not forget, that after all, this is a hobby and too strict guidelines will turn people away from it. So, authenticity-nazis, who ban people off the field because of a wrong toggle on a shoe, or on the grounds of inauthentic underwear, are universally mocked and pushed into obscurity, where they will, hopefully, remain.

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Having said that, one cannot push the limits, and so ideas such as carbon-fibre shields, polar bear trousers, naked-torso fighting, outlandish weapon designs and Byzantine leg armour are regularly turned down.

We are a hobby, but, it is my opinion, we have a responsibility as well, if we want to call ourselves Historical Reenactors. There must be a standard upheld for all that we do, and it is at the moment a very high standard, with many people contributing to it. I, for one, am proud to be a part of this hobby and proud to represent the Vikings in the most accurate fashion I can, with the help of my fellow hobbyists. And now, after a long, long rumble- it is time for some authentic 21st Century ale!