Justified and Ancient: Babylonians at Birka

The Earliest Period.
The Final Frontier.
The Alpha to our not-yet-happened Omega.
The Cradle of Civilization.
The Mesopotamians.

I am insane. As if my entry to the Garb Challenge last year wasn’t crazy enough, I had to find a way to one-up myself. Because that is what I do.

It’s not a challenge unless you’re actually challenged.

Her Majesty Thyra called for a “celestial” theme for the Birka garb challenge for this year, leaving it fully open to the interpretation of the artistes.

When I think of “celestial,” two things come to mind: the zodiac and tea. As funny as it could have been to dress up as an interpretation of Celestial Seasonings (that idea is totally attributed to my Laurel’s husband) I figured that the zodiac would be more cool. After all, Leo is by far the most superior sign in the entire sky, and with 1/12th of the world’s population, we should really be ruling it. Those other guys? Peons.  Meh.

I’ve been toying with the idea of the Earliest Period for a while. There’s just not much to work with but an interesting artistic record and old books on the subject. Plus, the majority of what’s been done is for religious plays, so sources are more  theatrical, rather than historical. In the end, I ended up getting a pleasant mix. Let’s get started.

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“GET OFF MY ZIGGURAT!” (I love this frieze way too much.)

The Babylonians and their sister Mesopotamian cultures (Sumerians, Assyrians, Ugarites, etc.)  invented  the origins of what we consider as our Western Zodiac and modern astrology. So they’re responsible for your bad hair days during Mercury Retrograde, and your incompatibility with Libra.  They also didn’t wear much, and left behind just enough for us to get the gist. As for sources, I was only able to get my paws on a couple:

Jenkins, David. The Cambridge History of Western Textiles. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 2003.

Houston, Mary G. Ancient Egyptian, Mesopotamian, and Persian Costume. Mineola: Dover. 2002. Reprint by Dover of a 1920 edition.

What they DID leave us, is jewelry. Holy smokes.

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An “attendant” to Queen Puabi found in the Great Death Pit find at Ur. Source: http://sumerianshakespeare.com/117701/118101.html

It was actually my husband Geoffrey that alerted me to this. I was going to make some sort of turban or hat. In fact, I came up with this bright idea while he was away on deployment during the Fall. So he had no idea how I planned to torture him until he got home. At first, he looked at me like I had six heads. Then I told him that he didn’t have to play, and he could just help me with some projects. Then I didn’t see him for weeks once the brass came in.

Anna’s job: Design the costumes and do all the soft parts.
Geoffrey’s job: Execute the metalwork and jewelry designs.

Anna’s work:

Before Geoff was even home, I got the fabric ordered. My plan of attack? Vintage sarees. Did the Babylonians wear sarees? Well, no. And certainly not ones out of cotton, silk, and polyester.  They wore a lot of wool actually, and from what I gathered, sheep fleece made into fringe. However, they did wear spiral wraps, and it wouldn’t surprise me in the least if they did have influence on the fashion of the Indian subcontinent. In their existing artwork, you see tons of interesting motifs, including palms, various vines, and geometrics. Sometimes the wraps were over tunics, sometimes they weren’t. Sometimes they were nakey, but that wouldn’t fly for January in New Hampshire. So I had to play around with what we could do. First: Color.

There’s a variety of options out there for saris, but the zodiac has their own colors assigned to them. Most of my research (See also: Fast Google Search) returned that Leo was yellow, and Aries was red. Easy enough. Geoff can wear red. I can wear anything because I’m fabulous. I’m also a fan of orange, previously established last year, so I had to include it again. Some charts said Leo could wear orange, so…let’s do this. I decided on flame colors for Leo: Yellow, orange, and gold. And decadent shades of red and gold for Aries. Both signs are fire signs, so the gold needed to get in there. Other details I discovered was that Leo is ruled by the Sun, while Aries is ruled by Mars. We were also both Rising Capricorn, whatever that means, which involves purple and silver. So, I thought of throwing a stripe in there somewhere, and then decided not to.

I found a variety of sarees to work from in the eBay store of a seller in India. I bought so many that they sent it via FedEx for free, and I had a package from India in less than a week. I love the internet.

Once I had supplies in hand, I started the design process. Surprisingly enough, men seemed to have more convoluted options than women, so I started with myself first.

Women were usually depicted wearing the spiral over the left shoulder. Sometimes with a tunic underneath, but usually not. I decided to go FOR the tunic, as the materials I got were rather sheer, and well, January.

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An image of Ishtar wearing the spiral, with attendants that I THINK are wearing sleeves.

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Image from Houston, I think this is a dude, but there’s the tunic.

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Another image from Houston from a cylinder seal that shows women.

I decided that the yellow saree would be the tunic, and the orange and pink one I got would make a nice spiral. This would give me a flame-like appearance. I got a new dressform for Christmas, so I got to play. \m/

First, I played with the spiral.

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Once I got in the 20yds of fringe, I trimmed it. I got asked by my apartment manager why I needed 20 yards of fringe when it came in. (I’ll cover the jewelry in a bit.)

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Tunic time. This took some thought. How would I cut the sari to best accommodate the ornamentation of the fabric. I ended up going with my simple dalmatica pattern, which would probably be the most reasonable way the Babylonians may have sewn something without tailoring.

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It was very sheer and oversized.

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And I got to use scraps as a headband like a rockstar.

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I recycled the fall from the bottom edge of the saree as the belt. So sheeeeeer.

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So I went ahead and wrapped the spiral up, folding down some layers to be able to build the dress, and voila. Finished garb.

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Onto Geoffrey as Aries. This is where it got tricky. The tunic would  be a given, but there’s a fairly large amount of fantasy Babylonian out there because of religious plays, and some old, old plates from Victorian costume books. I needed to do what I could to make it less theatrical and more historical, despite the gaudy sarees.

His tunic was the same pattern, then I took the trim from the edges of the saree and added an accent to the sleeves and collar, which is actually pretty Roman-looking. Aries is more decadent than Leo, so I decided to give him more metallics than myself. I would have enough bling with my jewelry.

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I cut the pallu off of another saree, and trimmed the bottom of this tunic to make it longer and to mimic some palm designs I’ve seen in artistic record.

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Now for his spirally goodness. I used the saree that I had cut the pallu from for his wrap, added the fringe, and looked at some art. This one has men dressed in several types of wrapping, so it’s clear that there was no set method.

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So I kept it basic for the drape test.

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And then I had the prettiest mannequins in Portsmouth. My work was pretty much done.

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I had to make him a hat. We debated for a while on which shape was best, but I ended up going with the “fez” shape, as it seemed the most reasonable for the application of his horns and wireform Aries symbols. Easy enough. 2 layers of felt and extra saree trim. It was still a bit squishy, but workable.

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….And then we had the jewelry.

By the time I was on the website for Fire Mountain Gems, Geoffrey said we were going big, or going home. In that case, we were going to spend the money for actual semi-precious stones, rather than glass or lower-quality rocks. So, yes, our necklaces are all real lapis lazuli and carnelian. Fortunately, a friend of ours went in on the Fire Mountain order and saved us over $100. The gold tone beads are plated brass, as there’s no way we could afford that much real gold.  We based most of the necklaces off of pictures from this page that was wonderful for reference shots. http://sumerianshakespeare.com/117701/118101.html

They were just simply threaded on monofilament. We couldn’t find a hemp or linen cord thin enough for our use, plus, we are planning on taking these apart and re-using them for other projects or selling them. So for temp stringing, the fishing line would do just fine.

I could string beads, the rest was up to Geoffrey.

Geoffrey’s Work:

Geoff has been exploring the intricate world of jewelry a bit. He’s the only active coinmaker in the East (as far as we know) and he’s been doing great work with pewter casting. These pieces couldn’t be cast, so he finally got to dust off the pitch plate he purchased at Pennsic (nice alliteration there) and enter the wiley whimsical world of chase and repousse embossing. (He has his own blog and you should follow it at www.jeffthemoneyer.wordpress.com. I do maintain the page, he’s not very websavvy.)

He purchased the sheets of brass from onlinemetals.com. We originally wanted bronze, but the price was a bit higher than what we wanted to pay because the cost of tin is up, and they didn’t have a good thickness anyway. He used brass sheets that were probably still too thick at 24 gauge.

The original circlets from this period had leaves. They’re absolutely stunning. However, in order to not appear presumptuous and pay honor to the Order of the Laurel which I am not apart of, we decided to go with round medallions instead of leaves. Each of the large medallions he hand cut, repoussed, soldered, and wheel polished. This took days. DAYS. It took so long that we had to cut the process short for the other circlet, and just go with smaller medallions he could use punches with.

The large medallions have the Leo symbol, and a Babylonian sun motif that is connected to the sun god, Shamash.

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Lap top metalwork in the bathrobe. Yep. This is how we roll.

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The beginning of the first piece.

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Symbol of the sun god, Shamash.

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The first completed sun.

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He got a polishing wheel from Santa, and put it to good use.

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The finished medallions!

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The first layer of carnelian and lapis, following the same pattern as the original circlet.

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Original circlet.

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My Leonine circlet of shiny and messy hair. The test fit.

He did the same thing for the smaller medallions, only with one row of beads instead of two. And polished up a hammered brass circlet he had made me previously. Combined with the necklaces, and brass earrings from Thailand, I had my first full costume fitting:

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Next, we moved onto Aries. He hammered the “horns” for the traditional hat right out of cut pieces of brass.

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So much shiny, and this is PRE-polishing wheel.

And I made 2 dozen wire formed Aries symbols for dongles to sew onto the top of his hat in place of the feathers, and some ornamentation on his sleeves. This sucked. Anna is not a jeweler. Anna LIKES having skin on her fingers and not smashing her hand with a hammer. I also made Leo symbols that I ended up not using. C’est la vie.

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Those got attached to his hat by hand. Sewing the upside down fish hooks on was enough of a challenge for me. He had to rivet on the horns with pieces of brass wire he soldered on. This made the hat uncomfortable. The horns also made it a bit snug since he didn’t form them to his head enough. He was going to be in some pain when this was done.

They say props are everything:

I made two cuneiform tablets out of terracotta Sculpey, with a stylus Geoffrey formed for me out of a brass dowel.

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The tablets read:

Leo: “Remember this: Leo rules and Aries drools!” (He wasn’t happy about that one.)
Aries: “If you can read this, you’re pretty damn smart.”

They are in English, not Akkadian,  and I just translated them into cuneiform using this website: http://www.paleoaliens.com/event/babylonian/ (PaleoAliens sounds like a legit source!)

 

The finale:

After all was said and done, we did our test wearings, and figured out the best ways to wrap the spirals on our bodies. You need to start at the belt like a saree, and work it up your body, carefully folding to create the tiers. For Geoffrey, we brought it up to about his sterum, and used his kidney belt to secure it. Mine was safety pinned in the back to hold the drape in place.

Over all, this was an exercise in experimental archaeology and making fancy kinda-accurate showy garb. If anyone is serious about looking into the persona of the Earliest Period, I recommend you actually attempt dreadlocking your own sheep fleece for the fringe. ;) Other than that, I don’t have much to say on the subject of garb from this period. What you see is what you get until more artifacts are found.

As for women, if you’re curvy like I am, this may not be the best option. I’m not sure how Mesopotamian women were shaped, but this garment is not figure flattering. It fits to the widest part of your body, and stays there. SO for me, it was my hips. I lost my waist entirely in the wrap, so the pictures coming in are mortifying.

I couldn’t get Geoffrey to wear a wig and beard, or even kohl on his eyes, but in the end, wigs and a fake beard would have no re-wear for us. So it would have been a waste of money. At least for the garments and the jewelry, most can be reconstituted into different pieces. His tunic is going to become a Byzantine kamision for him, and I will be taking the wraps and making loroi/pallae, and maybe a delmatikion. My yellow tunic can work under a Roman dress for a splash of sheer color. So everything can be re-worn as something else. This way the money and time we put into this won’t be for nothing.

But, we DID win Best Garb in the Early Period category for the Fashion Show! We didn’t win the overall Celestial Challenge, that went to a woman who made an AMAZING cloak with the planets from a 14th Century Manuscript.

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Here’s some pictures of us in action at Birka, enjoy!

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Award of Arms scroll for Lady Petra de Cilicia

I’ve done some translation before for scribal work, but I never really get the chance to play wordsmith. So when the husband of a friend receiving her AoA at Birka this last weekend asked me and the other ladies of the house to help, I got excited. Her persona is Spartan, which makes things surprisingly difficult as written Spartan anything is scarce. There’s only 2 recorded Spartan poets, and they were entirely chronicled by later authors. In this case, I was able to find some Tyrtaeus quoted by the Roman author, Plutarch, in “The Life of Lycurgus” from The Parallel Lives, and some snippets of awesome from his section on Spartan sayings in Moralia.

This is what I was able to come up with, with notations in brackets:

Phoebus Apollo’s the mandate was which they brought from Pytho, [Pythian Apollo was a  Spartan patron god.]

Voicing the will of the god, nor were his words unfulfilled:

Sway in the council and honors divine belong to Edward and Thyra, [King and Queen of the East.]

Under whose care has been set Sparta’s city of charm;

Second to them is one, Petra de Cilicia.

Who swift in foot, aides our Hoplites of Eastern Shores,

Supporting the armies, and the love of her husband unwavering

and thus, the understanding that a helmet is for personal protection,

but the shield is common good for all. [The court laughed a lot here, I wish they didn’t. The quote is serious.]

And by this duty, our king, our queen, and council

Name on this day, Lady Petra, and award her arms for her to bear alone.

Duly confirming by vote this unperverted decree

Declared six days before the month of Eleusinios, [Eleusinios is approximately the Spartan month of February, named for the Eleusinian Mysteries, another cult that the Spartans revered.]

Before the great council at Market Day at Birka, [Spartans were huge into councils.]

Koino̱nía Étos Forty-Nine. [‘Koino̱nía Étos’ is Greek for the Latin ‘anno societatis’ or, ‘in the year of the society’.]

For anyone interested in Spartan society, I highly recommend the above sources by Plutarch, and also Herodotus’ Histories.

Linkage:

Plutarch: “Sayings of the Spartans” from Moralia:
http://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/E/Roman/Texts/Plutarch/Moralia/Sayings_of_Spartans*/main.html

Plutarch: “Life of Lycurgus” from Parallel Lives:
http://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/E/Roman/Texts/Plutarch/Lives/Lycurgus*.html

Herodotus’ Histories:
http://www.gutenberg.org/files/2707/2707-h/2707-h.htm

New Facebook Page

I’ve created a page for this site, and to allow folks who aren’t friends with me on Facebook to connect. I have a lot of friends on my mundane page, and this will simply streamline the process for those that wish to contact me and get updates about what I’m working on.

All of my work, articles, patterns, and handouts will remain HERE, but I can have all updates to my blog posted to Facebook for more social interaction.

https://www.facebook.com/annasrome

It is a page, not a profile, so anybody can “like” it, as opposed to needed me to approve your friendship.

Twelfth Night Bliaut Pictures

From the blogger that brought you Long Dress is Long, and Overdue Modifications to the Norman Longdress, I give you, actual pictures of me in the dang dress.

As I mentioned in my previous post, the Twelfth Night event in the Barony of Smoking Rocks (Southeastern Massachusetts) often has an early period theme. Typically 11th-12th Century. This year’s period was 1066, pre-conquest, so we went as my husband’s parents, Robert and Adelize de Tosny, looking to check out real estate on a plain called Hastings.

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“Why the same thing we do every Twelfth Night in Angleland, Geoffrey, TRY TO TAKE OVER THE ISLAND!”

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For those experiencing instant site-envy, I give thee the Raspberry! Neener, neener!

 

For the curious, the site is the Unitarian Universalist Society in Fairhaven, MA. Here’s some additional pictures of the site and event.

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Overdue Modifications to the Norman Longdress.

I need to confess that I name my nice garb. I do. If it hangs up in the closet and doesn’t get balled up and thrown in a tub for camping season, it has a name.

For example, my heavily pearled gold delmatikion is my Dalek Dress. I didn’t name it that, but it stuck, and I certainly did want to exterminate all the things by the time I was finished beading it the first time around. My Turkish fencing coat is the Portuguese Whirling Dervish, because of the colors, and my Buccaneers-inspired Elizabethan from last Birka is the Traffic ConeMy burgundy bliaut is the Norman Longdress, because long dress is long. Much like the longcat of internet yore.

Longcat is Long.

I told you. Long dress is long.

I didn’t fix it last year after I wore it to Smoking Rocks Baronial Investiture, and it’s been sitting in my closet since. Not that anything was terribly wrong with it, but I didn’t have a lacing up one side to create the ruching effect that Norman women found ever-so-sexy. So I simply made the dress tighter, and hoped for the best. It worked, but not that well.

Since the local 12th Night event that I attend in the Barony of Smoking Rocks is usually 11th Century Norman and/or Saxon, I figured that’s where I would get the most bang for my buck with this floor dragger. I didn’t wear it last year since we did a murder mystery in which Anna as a Byzantine needed to be present, so this year, I FINALLY get to wear it again. Time to get the lacings in.

Fortunately for myself, I had some sort of plan when I sewed the thing, and left the side seams unfinished so I could pop one for the lacings. This made me more happy that it probably should have. So I split the right side of the dress from the upper arm to the hip, hemmed it, and got to play with my machine’s buttonhole function 41 times. In theory and practice, yes, I should be doing eyelets by hand, but I assure you all that my machine does a way better job than I can do, and in a quarter of the time. Cheating? Yeah, probably. Utilitarian? Very yes.

So here’s the first look, before I put on the girdle. You can see how the lacing (spiraled, I should mention that) draws up the length of the dress to create the desired wrinkles. The “I’m so important I can afford extra fabric to just wrinkle around mah belly” look.

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And here’s with the girdle, which after doing the requisite dancing around the house, is necessary. The design is not only decorative, but it holds the ruching in place in the front. Otherwise, you’re going to walk on your dress and faceplant. I wonder how many Norman women fell down the stairs before they figured this one out.

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My husband didn’t even pull it as tight as it could go. I wonder if we really yanked it around my chest if it would draw up the fabric more. The torso is approximately a foot longer than my own to allow for this extra gathering. My underdress is tailored normally. Each have 4 gores instead of just on the sides to allow for very full skirting. It is HEAVY, and when I spin around I feel like a princess, and then try not to fall.

I do think that the bliaut itself would be far more beneficial in wool than linen. I can’t afford that much dress-weight wool right now, but the stretching and conforming to a shape with body heat versus the less pliability of linen would make a HUGE difference. So those reading this post to get ideas, I would recommend that if you can swing it. If not, linen is a perfectly fine choice.

I’m hoping to finally get REAL pictures of me in this dress next to my Lord in his Norman. So we’re finally in the same time period at the same time. Once I eventually make him real Byzantine on par with my own instead of the one tunic he occasionally wears when I order him to, we can have a set of good photos for things such as holiday cards, and gifts for our families who think us terribly weird. :D

My very heraldic Christmas and Io Saturnalia!

My lord had to go do Navy things for a few months, so when I should have been studying for school, I sewed things.

I also found out that Santa Claus can read heraldry! You see, we stayed home for the holidays this year when both of us usually travel, sometimes in opposite directions to keep both families happy, so we had no decorations. None. Zip. So  I was shopping for the necessary trimmings, and found that they’re all way too expensive and I didn’t like them all anyway. So I went to Joann’s, dropped $60 in supplies, and went to work.

Here’s our heraldically (is word?) influenced tree skirt, hand appliqued, lined in horrible plaid with fringy fringe that was more of a pain in the butt than it probably should have been:

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And our heraldically correct stockings, you know, instead of writing our names in puffy paint:

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But modern Christmas is not terribly period ,but it sure is pretty. So, I decided to try Saturnalia from the 17th-23rd of December for the first time this year, and we definitely had fun! We set up a household altar with Roman goodies: an amphora, a cup of wine and a cup of olive oil, lamps, and I had a tea light for each night of the festival (how, uh, syncretic of me.) Each day the lord and I would make an “offering” to Saturn in the ways of whatever we had around. This varied from my actual Roman artifact rings, to a cheap rhinestone ring, amber necklace, chunk of shortbread, coffee, and Geoffrey’s Dungeons and Dragons Elementals. I am not even kidding.

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The First Day of Saturnalia.

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The star lamp would have been very appealing to the Romans, who were fond of gilding all the things with gold suns and stars for the festival. I kept it lit the entire 7 days.

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The last night of the festival with all the goodies we offered! Rainbow Brite pillowcase from the 80s and chopsticks my husband brought me home from Guam. Why not?! I was burning some extra candles since we weren’t home for a couple of nights.

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The magnet on my car. Complete with some New Hampshire December ice and grime.

It was all in the spirit of the season, and trying to feel as the Romans would have felt. Every holiday in December has one thing in common: The solstice and the return of light at the darkest part of the year. So I’m a big fan of setting things on fire or putting a mere 1500 lights on my balcony and 400 lights on my tree.

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And lawn flamingos. Nothing screams winter like pink plastic.

Most of all, we had FUN. I hope everyone else had fun with the holidays this week, also!

Felicem Dies Natalis Sol Invicti!
Καλά Χριστούγεννα!
Or as my friends say, “Happy Lights!”

I hope everyone has a Happy New Year, and I’ll catch you all on the flip side with some neat info on Byzantine outerwear, and the upcoming garb challenge at Birka!

THIS IS WHY WE CAN’T HAVE NICE THINGS, ANNA.

On the 1st day of Saturnalia, dilectus meus gave to me: A Judean Date Palm Tree.
On the 2nd day of Saturnalia, dilectus meus gave to me: 2 Punic Wars, and a Judean Date Palm Tree.
On the 3rd day of Saturnalia, dilectus meus gave to me: 3 Gauls dead, 2 Punic Wars, and a Judean Date Palm Tree.
On the 4th day of Saturnalia, dilectus meus gave to me: 4 Good Emperors, 3 Gauls dead, 2 Punic Wars, and a Judean Date Palm Tree.
On the 5th day of Saturnalia, dilectus meus gave to me: 5 Aureii! 4 Good Emperors, 3 Gauls dead, 2 Punic Wars, and a Judean Date Palm Tree.
On the 6th day of Saturnalia, dilectus meus gave to me: 6 legions a slaying, 5 Aureii! 4 Good Emperors, 3 Gauls dead, 2 Punic Wars, and a Judean Date Palm Tree.
On the 7th day of Saturnalia, dilectus meus gave to me: 7 Hills of Rome, 6 legions a slaying, 5 Aureii! 4 Good Emperors, 3 Gauls dead, 2 Punic Wars, and a Judean Date Palm Tree!

The end.

You’re welcome, and Happy Holidays folks, no matter what edition of lamp burning or tree lighting you partake in.