This is definitely more of an aristocratic tradition than a lower class tradition, though I assume that well-to-do merchant class Byzantines may have had a tiered wardrobe.
While doing research, you may find annotations or information for clothing known as “undress”, or “court undress”. Before you think you need to get nekkid, look at the context. It’s somewhat antiquated, but the concept of “undress” is the lowest level of acceptable dress. Not really your pajamas, but something you could be comfortable being seen in, while out for a meal in the palace with friends, or maybe the emperor if the occasion is not a state one.
Basically, court undress is your business casual, while full court dress is your best of the best ceremonial-grade garments. In between could be half-dress, your “cocktail hour” attire, or something you would wear to a weekly liturgy at your local basilica, a gathering at the palace, or a less formal court. Coronation? Easter? Christmas? A marriage? Get your good stuff on, non-optional.
It’s no secret that I love garb. I sew a lot, and probably own way more than I actually need to. My reasoning, or at least, what I tell people, is that you really can only get better and learn to understand new patterns and shaping if actually get the needle out. Another reason, is that stratifying my Byzantine collection is important. I’m still working on it, and developing more “undress” for myself as an aristocratic woman.
For example, my 12th Century outfit? This is not for everyday wear. This only gets trotted out for special occasions, namely coronations, and fashion shows because it’s just so extra. This is court dress. The propoloma elevates it.
But then, you have my 11th Century set which I made for my thesis. Is this court dress? Well, the mantle certainly kicks it up. But it’s not the highest ceremonial dress. Why? I’m not wearing a propoloma, I’m in a fakiolion instead. Could I wear this to court? Yes. Probably not for a coronation, or for Easter/Pascha ceremonies. But this would be acceptable for an event where fine dress is required. It could even be undress if I lost the mantle. That is more or less adding an air of piety to cover my shoulders for the divine liturgy. If I added a propoloma to this, it would be court dress without question. This is a good example of half-dress.
True undress? Probably more along the lines of this look. I’m in a minimally decorated wool delmatikion, with a plain white veil. I still have jewelry on, as I am aristocratic and need to wear some wealth, but this was Festival of the Rose out in Caid in February of 2017, and not a major event like Coronation or Crown Tournament. I was comfortable and completely dressed, I just don’t have a full body picture.
A good source for a woman in aristocratic undress would probably be the Theodore Psalter, which Tim Dawson references for similar reasons in “By the Emperor’s Hand”. Here, the woman pictured in well dressed, but not weighed down by ceremonial accouterments. This is something more along the lines of what I should be wearing regularly (when it’s not as hot as the surface of the sun outdoors.)
I do have a couple older linen delmatikioi I should try wearing more beyond Pennsic when I’m not melting down here.
Another level, though I am unsure if this is truly an aristocratic woman or not, is from this miniature in the Menologion of Basil II. I like this because it doesn’t have the long angel sleeves, and clearly has a short-sleeved esoforion beneath it. However, I’m not sure, exactly, who she is. Is this the empress in her “casual” wear because of the red boots? Is this a middle class woman? Either way, it’s another form of undress. My guess if she is aristocratic, or the empress, it’s very much of a “It’s warm out, and I’m keeping to myself” type of clothing. It’s still pretty ornamented, and red is not a cheap color. Of note is the fact that it is clearly an emergency situation with the “bad omen” in the sky, and her head is uncovered outdoors. Lots of questions!
Anyways, I hope this post helps people think a bit more about building a tiered wardrobe. It’s definitely something I need to put more thought into working on for myself.
I was contacted back at the beginning of the year by Konstantia that Andrixos, or Drx, of Calontir Trim fame, was being awarded his Herald Extraordinary by the Principal Herald of Calontir. With their blessing, we took over the scroll duties: I would write the words, and Konstantia would do the illumination on one of her signature “tiny scrolls”.
Drx’s persona is a bit earlier than mine, so I scoured the internet for sources based on that, and his notability for rallying the Calontir troops at war. The material I chose was a military hymn dated to the mid 10th Century. With a few tweaks, I was able to pretty much keep the meter and feel.
Let us gather together people of Christ And celebrate the memory Of our brothers who died in battle And those who perished in intolerable captivity. Let us entreat on their behalf.
They were valiant until their slaughter Your servants, Lover of Man; They received Blows pitilessly Persevering in fetters; Let it be that these men for these things Achieve atonement of their souls, Lover of Man.
You alone who are without sin, Took in those who are your servants, Illustrious generals ( stratêgous ), commanding commanders ( taxiarchas ), Brave soldiers ( stratiotas ), Judge them worthy of your repose.
Let us gather together people of Calontir And celebrate the verbiage Of our brother who sings us to battle And those who listen Let us entreat on his behalf
We the people of Calontir Your servant, Gold Falcon; Has received Petitions mercilessly Persevering in letters; Let it be that Andrixos Seljukroctonis for these things Achieve Herald Extraordinary for his soul, Lover of Words.
You Andrixos who are with song, Praise in those who are your contemporaries, stratêgous, [Illustrious Generals] taxiarchas, [Commanding Commanders] stratiotas, [Brave soldiers] You deem them worthy of your reverbs.
Done this day __________ at our Spring Crown Tournament, Anno Societatis LIII
Rumor has it that we may be relegated to a convent for this endeavor. I say the only good gotcha, is a nice sneaky one. 😉
I’ve been slacking in my period beverage making as of late. I’m still brewing mead, and my hibiscus mead just won 1st place in a mundane brewing competition down here in Florida, but as far as recreating a medieval recipe? Total slacker.
I’m very close to making craftsman level in the East Kingdom Brewers Guild (Yes, I live in Trimaris, but I still panel with the East because I can.) and it was suggested that I add more non-alcoholics or medicinals to my repertoire. I’m a fan of the 13th Century Anonymous Andalusian Cookbook for the weirdness and variety of its medicinal syrups, so I decided to give one a whirl.
The recipe I chose was the Syrup of Sandalwood, and it reads as thus:
“Take two ûqiyas each of red and white sandalwood, and an ûqiya of white manna of sugarcane. Then pound the sandalwood and cook it in rosewater until its substance comes out, and let there be five ratls of the rosewater. Then take the clean part of it and add it to two ratls of sugar, take the tabâshîr and put it in a bag, and cook all this until it forms a well-made syrup. Its benefits are to calm the heat of jaundice, to cut thirst, and to profit in the other ailments and fevers of jaundice. It leaves the nature as it is, without causing retention or thinness of urine. It fortifies the stomach, the liver, and the other organs, and in this it is most extraordinary.”
I mean, why wouldn’t I pick a syrup that was made with one of my favorite incenses? According to this article from the Getty, Sandalwood (as well as rose) was used in the home, but was also a luxury perfume. While we have serious lacuna regarding Byzantine foodways, these culture-adjacent recipes still provide a bit of a hint as to the smells and bells of what the Byzantine Empire could have enjoyed. Even though it’s a supposition, I feel like an expensive perfumed drink would be right up a Byzantine patrician’s alley.
A quick bit of internet research led me to this site for measurement conversions. Al-Andalus would be Maghrib/North African:
An ûqiya seems to literally translate from Arabic to English as “ounce”. So I went with that.
So let’s break this down into a modern redaction using these measurements:
2oz of White Sandalwood
20oz of Red Sandalwood
10 cups of Rosewater
1oz of Sugarcane manna…
What the heck is manna? Manna is basically the sap that extrudes from the joints in the cane, or simply the juice. This is not really all that easy to obtain for the average SCAdian unless you have a cane farm, nor is it something to put into a “bag” as described in the original recipe. So, what I did was cut a piece of fresh cane along the grain (it is very, very hard), and exposed the flesh. Sugar is made from reducing the juice from the cane into crystals, but again, this needs to be in a -bag-. So, after some thought and weighing what I had on hand, I decided to slice up and use 2 full ounces of sliced sugarcane for this project.
1oz 2oz of sliced sugarcane
4 cups of granulated sugar
There, that’s what you need!
But rosewater is best when you make it, versus buying it in the store. How do you make it? Infusing roses into water, of course. Easy peasy. My general recipe is about 1/4 cup of dried roses for every 2 cups of water. Bring the water to a boil, remove from heat, and let steep for an hour or until the roses lose their color. I recommend putting the roses in a bag or making “tea bags” for them out of coffee filters. It makes cleanup easier and results in less absorption and liquid loss. I made 5 ratls of rosewater, or, 10 cups, with a full cup of roses, and it was plenty strong enough.
While the rosewater was steeping, I following the directions and got to pound up the sandalwood in a mortar and pestle to help it release more aroma and flavor. I purchased chips, versus powder, and I’m glad I did. It made it a bit better for infusion, I think.
I put my smashed incense into a larger saucepan, and added the rosewater. Like before, I brought it to a boil, and reduced the heat to a simmer. The recipe says to cook until “its substance comes out”, but this stuff is so aromatic, my entire house smelled of it, especially the red sandalwood, which is a stronger incense. I gave it a good simmer for 30 minutes, and removed it from the heat. I let it cool until I could handle the pot safely, and filtered out the sandalwood chips using a coffee filter in a funnel into a different pot. Fortunately, most of the chips sunk and stayed in the pot. This made cleanup super easy, where I doubt powdered incense would have had the same benefit.
Into the saucepan I added my granulated sugar with the sandalwood rosewater, and the sugarcane slices in a bag. I measured out my fragrant water and had only 6 cups instead of 10, so I topped it up.
This is when the fun begins.
When I make sekanjabin, my ratio of sugar is higher than my ratio of water and vinegar, thus, a lower temp simmer does the job in 30 minutes, and you have a nicely sweet syrup. If you go higher in temp and bring it to a boil, you can scald the sugar and make it too thick. I wanted to avoid this. So I brought the entire cast of characters up to a boil, and then dropped it to a low simmer for a half hour. This resulted in no syrup. It was a pleasantly favored and colored sweetened water. Damn. Where did I go wrong?
Did those 4 cups of water I added back in screw the pooch? What could I do? I let it cool overnight, and woke up to no syrup. I needed to troubleshoot this. I could add more sugar, yes, but it was already pretty sweet. What I ended up doing was going against my initial judgment, and giving it a boil at med-high heat for another 30 minutes, and THAT did it. The recipe says, “cook until this forms a syrup”, and that is what you have to do. You have to observe, you have to be medieval. We get so stuck in our modern ways of cooking with times and measures, that we forget that sometimes you just need to use your eyes. I periodically checked on the boil and watched it reduce. I could probably reduce it more if I wanted, but I decided to leave it be at this point. It was a syrup, not molasses.
The final product is a deep reddish-brown liquid that is pretty opaque.
I let it cool completely, and then spooned some into a glass of water to test it. It is basically a face full of sandalwood with a sweet, nutty, rosey taste. It’s very pleasant. I wouldn’t drink it all the time, but adding it as a sweetener to tea, or as an iced beverage on a hot day, and it could be lovely. It is definitely “Middle Eastern”, and definitely different for those that may not particularly be familiar with floral beverages, but I like it. I think it will panel well, and I’m going to give out some small bottles as gifts along with some of my cinnamon sekanjabin as I never drink all of my syrups. That’s A LOT of sugar, and these are supposed to be a treat, or medicine, you know, in case we need to calm the heat of jaundice.
For those looking for a less-chatty version of my redaction, here it is:
Syrup of Sandalwood An Anonymous Andalusian Cookbook of the 13th Century
Redaction by Anna Dokeianina Syrakousina
For the Rosewater:
1 cup dried roses
For everything else:
2oz White Sandalwood chips
2oz Red Sandalwood chips
2oz sliced sugarcane
4 cups of granulated sugar
Make the rosewater by infusing 1 cup of roses into 10 cups of water. Bring water to a boil, remove from heat, and let steep for 1 hour or until the roses lose their color. Discard roses. (I recommend making tea bags out of muslin bags or coffee filters to control the roses better.)
Pound each sandalwood in a mortar and pestle to release additional aroma and flavor. 5-10 minutes of stress-relieving pounding for each variety.
Place rosewater and sandalwood in a large saucepan and bring to a boil. Drop to a low simmer and steep for 30 minutes. Filter out sandalwood, and transfer liquid into a clean pot.
Place sugarcane in an infusion bag into pot with sandalwood-rosewater and 4 cups of sugar. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to med-high as to have a constant boil, but not one that will cause the sugar to foam and boil over. (This makes a huge mess.) Boil for 30-40 minutes or until a syrup is rendered. Remove from heat and let cool completely. Bottle.
Sugar syrups should keep indefinitely as long as the bottles are sealed. Add to cold or hot water to taste.
I’m using the generic term “himation” ( just “garment”) here for the overgarment shown in my source fresco. At the time, a delmatikion would have had the long exaggerated sleeves you see in my court garments. This appears to be a lesser gown. “Chiton” could also work, being a generic term for “tunic”, heck, it could also be “kamision”, but for the sake of ease, it’s himation for this one.
I basically copied what I saw, only using a different pattern than my usual to achieve the effects seen.
I mostly cut my garments simply, to allow for as much fabric as possible with minimal effort, basically, conspicuous consumption at its best. But for the common Byzantine folk, that would not have been cost effective. Fabric was woven narrowly, and garments were usually pieced much more than I do. So I went with that in mind, and cut narrow body panels, with sleeves and full side panel gores to allow for the width I needed for comfort. The connecting seam results in a nice guide for potamioi, should I be applying them. Tim Dawson has this pattern in his “By the Emperor’s Hand” book, and it’s also seen in contemporary Persian styles.
And to add to my misery (and authenticity), more Byzantine whipstitchings for all of the contrast work.
But the combo really looks sharp. And SOOOO much better belted because of the blockier shape from the seam placements. I really do not personally enjoy the aesthetic of the elongated sides because of the straight grain, but the fresco and other sources show this as a common feature, so I replicated that. This can be avoided by cutting gores on the bias. The seam placements look sharp, though, and it is so much easier than inserting a gusset, but definitely not as easy as a rounded underarm as I normally cut.
I belted it using my hand-tooled leather apprentice belt with my Syrian buckle. After hiking with it (forthcoming post), I think one of my normal cloth or woven belts would be more comfortable. Of course, I had to test the sleeves.
And voila, the clothing was done.
And here’s the source fresco again as a refresher.
Next week at a Trimarian event called “Corsair’s Heart”, Mistress Mayken van der Alst is coordinating a Medieval Hike! I decided that this sounded more in my wheelhouse than an entry into the Birka Garb Challenge, so I chose to go full bore and see what I could come up with.
The short answer: A middle/working class Byzantine ensemble that would be comfortable for hiking in. The hilarious thing is that I don’t own anything lower class, or uh, casual.
But for real, in period, in persona, I would have been carried to Jerusalem in a litter, or rode in the back of a carriage. If I was “roughing it”, I would be on my own horse. Walking? Bah!
But that’s not the point of this exercise. The point is to walk, and wear and carry something that I could walk in, comfortably.
Better start at the bottom. Layer that is.
In my searching for *sigh* casual Byzantine, which, by the way, not that easy, I found a Cappadocian fresco that is contemporary to my period. Here, a midwife and Salome bathe the infant Jesus and his rippling man-pecks of the Divine.
Everything here seemed perfect. You have women working, wearing clothing indicative of an arid climate that would have been passed through to continue to the Holy Land. The colors are great, and my favorite part? The Midwife’s SLEEVES:
I determined it was either one of two things: A guard that was slung over the shoulders to allow her to pull her clothing back and away for midwifery duties, or, slits in a tunic designed to do this, again, for her profession. Both are plausible, of course, but I decided to test the theory on a tunic, as it’s also supported by some of the work Dr. Timothy Dawson has done with kavadion/gambesons whereas the underarm is open, and the padded long sleeve can be pinned back for more movement.
This is what I came up with.
The base pattern for the esoforion (undershirt), is the Manazan Caves Tunic, which I’ve used before for some shirts for the hubby here. The reasons I decided to go forward with one of these for myself were: A; The high collar is good for protecting against the elements. B: The extant tunic is contemporary to Cappadocia, but not in the same location. The Manazan Caves are in present day Karaman, Turkey, and the Dark Church is in present day Goreme. This is a distance of about 270km. That doesn’t mean that these settlements weren’t in contact, and it’s still close enough for approximation of Cappadocian fashion. C: The long gore construction of the Manazan find would work well with allowing a ton of ease and slack on the arms for slits in the sleeves.
So, with my pile of 3.5oz natural linen, I set off on an adventure. I determined that the sleeves would have to be longer to pull this off, but since that was a Persian trend that had trickled into Byzantine fashion and stayed, I had no qualms with some potentially droopy sleeves. I also ended up hand-sewing the entire collar, and all openings/hems. There are only 6 machine sewn seams in the whole thing, not bad. I do want to do an entirely hand-sewn one of these, and I have the fabric to do it, so I figured this would be good practice. Plus, as I mentioned in my previous blog post about this tunic, hand sewing the collar construction is a must, anyway. It just won’t work right with a machine. Good thing too, because after the couple days it took me to complete the collar setup, I returned to the machine, and promptly sewed a full stitch through my left index finger, INCLUDING THE NAIL. Typing hurts right now, but it’s healing. I guess that’s a sign I should keep on my hand work practice.
So much whipstitching, man. The Byzantines loved them some whipstitch.
Tacking down the inside facing.
Seeing the hand stitching on the outside.
Putting the placket over the front.
Attaching the band collar.
Finished handsewn collar.
Whipstitching the whole darn hem! I usually use a blind hem stitch, but it’s really not accurate.
I decided on the arm slit placement after basting the side seams together, and looking at fit. Each slit is 8″ out of the front seam that connects the gore. I then cut the basting, turned in a hem, and it was done. Zero fuss, and zero fabric waste or odd cuts into the garment.
The pictures speak for themselves. It works. The placement of the uber-long gore makes for a full range of movement, and as you can see, I can still create more slack to go over an outer tunic.
This garment is more than practical for just midwifery. While on pilgrimage, it would be beneficial to cover your skin for sun protection, and the long sleeves still allow for this. But, if I get too hot, or need to cook/set camp/do dirty work, I can tie my sleeves back and be comfortable doing so. Genius.
I’m going to use a tie on the front of the collar this time, versus a button and loop as I did for Gieffrei, because I feel it will allow me to adjust fit and function better during the hike. I can inkle weave a small band easy enough in an hour on my little loom.
Of course, the outer garment is next after that. I’m following through with the color scheme of the fresco, especially the look that Salome is wearing on the right. I have a block printed cotton I will be using for the turban to match the Cappadocian look, as well.
My final touches will be a shoulder bag, and a relic bag for my belt. If I can find out more, I want to research into accurate ankle support as well, only because I’m a chronic sprainer and could use the, uh, help. These will all be completed over the course of the next week, and I’m looking forward to pulling it all together for the hike!
I field more emails and more online questions about the Varangian Guard than I do actual Byzantine personae. I lifted most of the information below from my Byzantine Personal Basics page above, but I’ve included a bibliography to hopefully help those on the path find what they’re looking for.
I’m going to preface this by saying that I have nothing against Varangian personae, but I’m about to be very blunt: Varangians are not Byzantine.
The Romans viewed them as barbarians and outsiders, and despite the fun tales from the Norse Sagas, chances are, they weren’t well liked in the City. The truth of the matter is that there are currently more Varangians in the SCA than there ever was serving an emperor at one point in time due to the fact that it gives Norse personae an excuse to wear lamellar when it’s hot (which is fine, we don’t need anybody dropping dead at war, please). Not everybody could show up at the Blachernae Palace steps from somewhere up North and demand they be admitted into service to the Purple. It was a bit more complicated than that, and each emperor had different requirements. Not to mention, Varangians were only predominantly Norse for a short period of time in the mid 11th Century if we assume what the Sagas say is true.
The first Varangian Guard was not established until the late 10th Century (around 980) when Basil II was given thousands of Kievan soldiers in exchange for marriage of a Byzantine princess to the Prince of Kiev in order to defeat the Bulgarians. The Kievan Rus were not Norse, they were Slavic, potentially with Norse ancestry, but the term “Viking” itself is a particular Norse occupation. The “Viking Age” was pretty much over at this time. We do have record of plenty of Norse travelers coming to Constantinople prior to this, but the “Viking raid” in 860 was actually Rus that had come down into the Black Sea from what is now Ukraine.
To further screw things up, the term “Varangian” itself was used by both the Romans and the Rus to refer to Norse Vikings prior to the 10th Century. So, if this is the route you desire to go, determining if you’re just a Norse traveler from early period, or an actual member of the Emperor’s elite guard is important.
If you do decide to go Varangian GUARD, here is a list of “waves” of ethnicities that served at specific times. This is by no means set in stone, but it provides a guide for those that want to pinpoint a specific time period that suits their goals:
988 – 1020ish: Kievan Rus
1020-1070ish: Scandinavian (Icelandic, Norwegian, Swedish) Bolli Bollason and Harald Hardrada served at this time.
1070-1204ish: Danish and English (Anglo-Saxon). The term “Danes” comes up in Byzantine literature often to describe the Varangians, and the English were escaping Norman rule in England at this time. This is documented in the saga of Edward the Confessor. Siward Barn served at this time. Normans were NOT permitted to be apart of the Varangian Guard, but some may have served as mercenaries in other capacities.
The Fourth Crusade has probably some of the best documented accounts of the Varangian Guard in action protecting Constantinople. After the retaking of Constantinople and re-establishing the empire, however, there didn’t appear to be as formal of a guard unit, and those that were a part of it, had fully assimilated into the Roman culture. It is unclear if the Varangian Guard really remained a thing until the Fall of Constantinople in 1453.
There are a lot of myths surrounded what they actually wore, especially in the SCA. The “red is for the Emperor’s service” and “green is for the Empress’s service” is totally a SCAdianism as far as I’ve found. It looks like the on-duty color for the guard was blue or red, while off-duty, you see them in nothing more than plain tunics and slim-fitting trousers or hose, which was typical for men’s casual wear throughout the empire. Earlier travelers would have continued to wear the clothing of their culture, versus picking up stuff along the way. Clothing was expensive and difficult to carry and launder, so the other SCAdianism of having a diverse wardrobe boasting the latest fashions of every exotic port of call you visited is also inaccurate. They would, however, assimilate over time if they decided to stay put in an area. This does not include trade goods, but items that were exchanged in business were not necessarily the same as the clothes you wore on your back.
As far as religion goes, during the period of the active guard, most serving were already Christian, or converted to Orthodoxy from a later, heavily modified and somewhat hodgepodged version of Arian Christianity which was more common in Eastern Europe and the Scandinavian countries very early before the Western Church started coming in with missions. Please, remember that Arianism IS NOT THE SAME THING as Aryanism. Mind your i’s and y’s! Either way, the idea of your persona dripping in lovely Asatru regalia would be incorrect as a guardsman, but as a very early Norse traveler to Constantinople, still possible.