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Joonas Pessi




Location: Finland
Joined: 05 Oct 2017

Posts: 76

PostPosted: Thu 07 Jun, 2018 5:53 am    Post subject: Red clothing, a sign of status in the viking age?         Reply with quote

I have heard that red clothing was a sign of status in the viking age, since madder does not occur in scandinavia (as far as I know)

This seems to be supported by both archeological and literary evidence: The "queen" buried in the Oseberg ship find was laid in madder-dyed red cloth, the wealthy man buried at Mammen had on him, an embroidered cape dyed with madder, and probaply a tunic also dyed with madder.

In the sagas red clothing is mentioned along with other signs of status such as golden armrings, gold brocaded bands sewn to cuffs, swords, and helmets. I have compiled a few examples here that illustrate this:

-here a shepherd is describing a band of men to Helgi, and this is how he describes Bolli Bollisons clothing:
"Next to him sat a man in a gilded saddle; he had on a scarlet kirtle, and a gold ring on his arm, and a gold-embroidered fillet was tied round his head. -Laxdaela saga Chapter 63

-Gunnar has disguised himself as "Huckster Hedinn", a poor and quarrelsome character, but one man notices something peculiar about him and describes it to Hoskuld:
"I saw how a golden fringe and a bit of scarlet cloth peeped out at his arm, and on his right arm he had a ring of gold". -Brennu Njals saga Chapter 23

-Gettir is wrestling with Audun, when Bardi enters the hall:
he sees a man come up, of goodly growth, in a red kirtle and with a helmet on his head. -Grettirs saga Asmundarsonar Chapter 28

There are lots of examples of red clothing associated with status in the sagas but I think these serve to illustrate my point.

What I haven't found out is how common other, less expensive colour choices were for rich people. Would some rich people wear tunics that were not red out of personal preference, much like modern people do, or would they have considered showing his status more important than his colour preference? And how frequent would it have been for someone of a higher status to choose not to signal his status via clothing colour?

I am asking this, since I am planning to portray a rich person from Hedeby, but red as the main colour of a piece of clothing has never been very appealing to me, and I would rather wear blue, but I might just have to get over my modern preferences, and make a red tunic.

The one example that I have been able to find is of Harald Hardrada wearing a blue tunic before the battle of stamford bridge:

The English king Harald said to the Northmen who were with him,

"Do ye know the stout man who fell from his horse, with the blue kirtle and the beautiful helmet?"

"That is the king himself." said they.

So would it be ahistorical to wear a blue tunic as a rich person in 10th century Hedeby?
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Mark Millman





Joined: 10 Feb 2005

Posts: 238

PostPosted: Thu 07 Jun, 2018 3:49 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Dear Mr. Pessi,

Keep in mind, if you're reading the sagas in translation rather than in Old Icelandic, that skarlat, which is now usually translated as "red" or "scarlet", really meant something more like "brightly colored" when the sagas were written. There seems to be some scholarly opinion (among historians studying the luxury woolen broadcloth called "scarlet cloth", which is the source of the Old Icelandic word) that red (specifically from the dye kermes) was always a component of the final color, but it could be used along with other colors, such as blue (from woad, to produce purple) or yellow (from weld, to produce orange). I don't know how widespread this opinion is, but it seems to have some weight. Like you, I understand that red was a high-status color, and that dressing to reflect one's status was more important in the Viking Age than it is today, but I think that you at least have the option of dressing in purple.

Note also that many people think that there were two colors indicated by the Old Icelandic word blár, and that it could be used for "blue" or for "black". In the latter case, it would have been a deep raven black or blue-black produced by dyeing, rather than the color obtained by, for example, weaving the wool of black sheep, which was svartr. There seems to be some scholarly dissent from this idea (specifically at https://scholar.colorado.edu/gsll_facpapers/1/), but I'm not sure how influential it is. At any rate, high-status individuals in the Icelandic saga planning to commit a killing are often described as dressing in blár clothes, so deep blue or blue-black probably works for your impression.

I hope this proves helpful.

Best,

Mark Millman
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Joonas Pessi




Location: Finland
Joined: 05 Oct 2017

Posts: 76

PostPosted: Sat 09 Jun, 2018 4:40 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Thank you for the reply Mark, I had not heard that the word skarlat, in old norse meant brightly coloured, and not just red. I had thought that kermes was only used on imported silks, and not wool. What are these scholars basing this opinion on, is there archeological evidence for woolcloth, which has been dyed using kermes as a component?

Yes dark blue is what I am going for when the woad that I have planted is ready to harvest. I am still wondering would dark blue be high status enough for someone that can afford a helmet, and perhaps even a mail shirt? At least it was good enough for Harald Hardrada, but its about a century later than what I am going for, and the wrong geographical location.

The prevalence of blue clothing in the sagas might just be due to the fact that blue was the most prevalent clothing colour all over scandinavia, (from what I have read) and they might have just used the best clothing they had for such an important task, and that they would have been noticeable, since a killing committed openly would be manslaughter, but if it was done covertly it would be considered murder.
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Mark Millman





Joined: 10 Feb 2005

Posts: 238

PostPosted: Sat 09 Jun, 2018 4:26 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Dear Joonas,

On Saturday 9 June 2018, you wrote:
Thank you for the reply Mark, I had not heard that the word skarlat, in old norse meant brightly coloured, and not just red. I had thought that kermes was only used on imported silks, and not wool. What are these scholars basing this opinion on, is there archeological evidence for woolcloth, which has been dyed using kermes as a component?

That information is based on:

John Munro, “Scarlet”, in: Encyclopedia of Medieval Dress and Textiles. Consulted on line on 09 June 2018.
http://dx.doi.org/10.1163/2213-2139_emdt_COM_550
First published on line: 2012
First print edition: ISBN: 9789004124356, 20120503

and in print:

Munro, John H. ''The Medieval Scarlet and the Economics of Sartorial Splendour'', in Cloth and Clothing in Medieval Europe: Essays in Memory of Professor E. M. Carus-Wilson, ed. by N. B. Harte and K. G. Ponting, Pasold Studies in Textile History, vol. No. 2 (London: [n.pub.], 1983), pp. 13-70.

and

Munro, John H. ''Scarlet'', in Encyclopedia of Medieval Dress and Textiles of the British Isles, c. 450-1450, ed. by Gale Owen-Crocker, Elizabeth Coatsworth and Maria Hayward (Leiden and Boston: Brill, 2012), pp. 477-481.

Specifically archaeological evidence appears in:

Scott, Margaret. Medieval Dress & Fashion (London: The British Library, 2007).

referenced at:

http://lexissearch.arts.manchester.ac.uk/entry.aspx?id=4176

Quote:
Yes dark blue is what I am going for when the woad that I have planted is ready to harvest. I am still wondering would dark blue be high status enough for someone that can afford a helmet, and perhaps even a mail shirt? At least it was good enough for Harald Hardrada, but its about a century later than what I am going for, and the wrong geographical location.

At that, the sagas may not be good literary evidence either, given the dates at which they were recorded. But many of the prominent saga characters--even in comparatively poor Iceland--seem to have been able to afford helmets.

Quote:
The prevalence of blue clothing in the sagas might just be due to the fact that blue was the most prevalent clothing colour all over scandinavia, (from what I have read) and they might have just used the best clothing they had for such an important task, and that they would have been noticeable, since a killing committed openly would be manslaughter, but if it was done covertly it would be considered murder.

True, but deeply dyed clothes in intense colors are always expensive compared to other colors. Black and near-black hues are known to be difficult to achieve in cloth with traditional dyeing techniques. My belief is that if you use a sufficiently intense color, it will be accurate. But if you're uncertain, then go with the sure thing despite your color preferences. (Let me add, while I'm thinking of it, that color preferences may well be affected by social conventions, so I can imagine that it may have been unusual for people to prefer other colors of clothing to red, regardless of what colors they may have liked to see in, for example, flowers or painted decorations.)

Best,

Mark Millman
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Joonas Pessi




Location: Finland
Joined: 05 Oct 2017

Posts: 76

PostPosted: Mon 11 Jun, 2018 2:52 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Yeah I am probably going with a deep blue tunic, trimmed on the neck with deep red/purple silk, and silver brocaded tablet woven bands at the cuffs.
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Tommi Syrjänen





Joined: 07 May 2018

Posts: 5

PostPosted: Mon 11 Jun, 2018 9:58 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Joonas Pessi wrote:
Yes dark blue is what I am going for when the woad that I have planted is ready to harvest. I am still wondering would dark blue be high status enough for someone that can afford a helmet, and perhaps even a mail shirt? At least it was good enough for Harald Hardrada, but its about a century later than what I am going for, and the wrong geographical location.


It's a different location, but in Finland and the Baltic states blue clothes have been found from rich burials. In Finland it was more common with women, but there are finds also from men's graves. For example, the grave 348 from Luistari, Eura is an exceptionally rich male burial and its occupant had a deep blue cloak. That grave has been dated to the second quarter of the 10th century. Though, it's possible that blue was considerably more expensive in Finland than it was in Hedeby as at the time woad was not cultivated in Finland and all blue dyes were imported.
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Joonas Pessi




Location: Finland
Joined: 05 Oct 2017

Posts: 76

PostPosted: Tue 12 Jun, 2018 1:18 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I have seen the chieftain from the ladby burial reconstructed with blue clothes, although I am still trying to confirm this with from the museum.
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Joonas Pessi




Location: Finland
Joined: 05 Oct 2017

Posts: 76

PostPosted: Tue 12 Jun, 2018 1:23 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Tommi Syrjänen wrote:
Joonas Pessi wrote:
Yes dark blue is what I am going for when the woad that I have planted is ready to harvest. I am still wondering would dark blue be high status enough for someone that can afford a helmet, and perhaps even a mail shirt? At least it was good enough for Harald Hardrada, but its about a century later than what I am going for, and the wrong geographical location.


It's a different location, but in Finland and the Baltic states blue clothes have been found from rich burials. In Finland it was more common with women, but there are finds also from men's graves. For example, the grave 348 from Luistari, Eura is an exceptionally rich male burial and its occupant had a deep blue cloak. That grave has been dated to the second quarter of the 10th century. Though, it's possible that blue was considerably more expensive in Finland than it was in Hedeby as at the time woad was not cultivated in Finland and all blue dyes were imported.


Yes I have read about that burial, probably in the exhibition about Tursiannotko in Vapriikki. Perhaps woad held a similiar status in Finland and the Baltic states as madder held in Scandinavia?
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