Byzantine Monograms: a heraldic practice

As an early-period Byzantine within the Society, I have come to grips that my arms and badges as registered with the College of Arms are perhaps not the most period for my persona, and so, this concept of trying to find a way of marking things that were mine or even blinging out things further with a mark of some kind had sent me down a rabbit hole of research – monograms.

Found on rings, clay, wax and lead seals (the lead seals called “plombs”), and coinage within the early Byzantine period, square or box monograms marked official documents in both secular and sacred contexts or as maker’s marks, and were used by rulers, magistrates, die makers, and moneyers. As far as a heraldic practice, it’s a form of identification, much like someone’s shield on the battlefield or banner in a hall is. The only difference is that within Byzantine practices, western-style pictorial heraldry was done rarely, and usually by someone with later-period western contact (check out the late period examples of Anna Notaras Palaiologina and Andronikos II Palaiologos for western-style heraldry used by eastern personages), though note that both were from the 13th and 14th centuries, about the time where heraldry was in heavy use in both on the European continent and in the British Isles, though still late to the medieval heraldry game.

As an artisan, I wanted one, too (and it’s been a while, too. I’ve been poking at this for at least a decade). And as a noble in the game that we play, I could easily justify one as well. After reading The Use of Monograms on Byzantine Seals in the Early Middle-Ages (6th to 9th Centuries) by Werner Seibt, and poking around at an article with PNGs of monograms from ancient coins at The Collaborative Numismatics Project, I started work on my own. (And half-jokingly, I suppose my southern US roots kicked in and I needed to monogram all the things, so . . .)

The first thing I did was to take my Society name (Konstantia) and change it into Greek letters. Conveniently, the Prosopography of the Byzantine World (part 1 and part 2) had a citation for a Konstantia (located here) in Greek and I ran with it. Now, sure, I have a pretty late period name (it’s good for 11th c), but in this particular case, the Greek still works for this per Seibt’s article, which noted the use of Greek letters in early period Byzantine seals, so, I’m sticking with it.

Sticky notes: almost a researcher’s best friend.

Anyhow, I now had Κωνσταντίας (or Konstantias), which I then capitalized all the letters and knocked out all duplicates. This left me with the Greek letters kappa, omega, nu, sigma, tau, alpha, and iota to play with letter-wise. You can see what I started noodling with on a sticky note, as well as the capitalization. One of the things I noted was the shape of the alpha in other monograms, which had a little sharp point in the crossbeam that I really liked, so I worked with that.

Many, but not all, of the monograms from the 6th-8th centuries also were cruciform shaped, calling to mind the state religion, and also made integrating straight lined letters like iota and tau great, as they were present in the crossbeams. The concept of a ligature, which, of course, is not new to a scribe, was used heavily. Letters were connected together with other beams, or sometimes with other straight lines. My first attempt was perhaps not my favourite, though it did have most of the letters of my name within it and the funky crossbeam on the alpha. And yet, it just didn’t sing to me, so I went and attempted again. One of the cool things is that there were multiple monograms used by the same person at the same time (and in the case of coinage, on different valued coins), so even if I didn’t like this one, I still had a monogram that was useful for something.

Anna’s trial run monogram, consisting of the letters alpha and nu.

So, I tried again, and doodled something I loved. It had the cruciform elements, the alpha with the funky crossbeam, and instead of using a capital omega, I used a lower case one (of which there is precedence with Emperors Zeno, Justinian, Heraclius, and Constantine VII), and I liked how it looked, though my Byzanbestie Anna mentioned that it looked like an anime “uwu” face and as per my usual, I may not have helped in that situation. I even made a proof of concept monogram for Anna (who has a palindrome of two different letters for a name) and I’m rather pleased with how that turned out.

At any rate, my next step is to make a signet ring featuring this design, possibly out of a not-period gold metal clay. I also may do some research in lead (or to make it safe, pewter) casting and try and make my own plombs as period-style tokens for attafolks.

Also, if at any time I get sick of the current design, I have groundwork to make a new one, following the same design rules and concepts.

Key takeaways for making your own Roman/Byzantine-style monograms:

  • If you’ve got a Christianized persona, it’s pretty safe to go with a cross-shaped or cruciform design.
  • Ligatures and connections are the way to go! There are a few examples of seals with letters that don’t connect, but on the whole most connect with other letters with a line or a cross.
  • It’s hip to be a square – most designs are blocky and compact.
  • If they look like something that could be drawn on a floor in chalk to summon a demon, you’re on the right track. (I mostly kid, but Anna and I did discuss that if one did summon a Byzantine demon, they’d probably turn all the silk to sackcloth, so don’t tell me if you actually did.)
  • If you don’t like it, draw another – there are multiple examples of seals and coins with different monograms on them.

One more thing before I go: the chances of having a monogram registered by the Society College of Arms is pretty close to nil. Part of heraldic language (or blazon) is the need to be able to identify what an item is and two, where it is on a field. Byzantine monograms, while striking, aren’t easy to blazon according to Anglo-Norman heraldic practice (what the College of Arms uses to describe heraldry), so again, the chances of doing that are pretty close to nil. Don’t anger the heraldry gods. Trust me.

Posted in Byzantine, carving, early period, herald, heraldry, history, how-to, influences, persona, persona development, rings, Roman, SCA, Society for Creative Anachronism | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Zaneta’s Silver Hammer

When an opportunity drops in your lap to write a text for a fellow herald, sometimes, you drop everything and do it. Zaneta (our current Eyas herald) has been doing some fantastic glasswork, and her ability and patience to teach people how to do things with a rather finicky artform has not gone unnoticed.

So, when the opportunity came, I started researching guild texts and laws from Northern Italy. Zaneta’s persona is late 15th century Venetian, a region well known for glassmakers. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find any laws (that weren’t behind a paywall!) that I could crib from in writing the text, so, I went a little earlier and a little further west, and stumbled onto the statutes from the town of Biella, in the Piedmont region, dating back to the 1400s.

Italian city-states do mean some differing cultures in ways such as clothing and food, and in some extreme cases polity and other political structures, but law-wise, many of the guild frameworks appear to be similar, so I felt a bit more justified in using the translated (from Latin) text (found here and here).

Zaneta’s text is below. Congrats, lady! I’m so proud of you!

Among the first things, it is decreed and ordained that, at this feast of All Souls the Credentia of the Silver Hammer, or a major portion thereof, or a portion thereof specially selected for this purpose shall be called to the Shire of Axed Root.  These artisans will welcome to their Order one Zaneta Baseggio, who is charged with the following to the extent possible, to create, learn, and maintain her standing within said order and all of its principles, rights, and honors.

In the same way, it has been decreed that the selfsame Zaneta is obliged to, should be, and can be compelled to be a member of the Credentia of the Silver Hammer for the sciences which she practices and to pay attention to the by-laws, which have been made for her by the Credentia in a rational manner.  Saving that the honor and advantage of the Order and saving that the statute placed under the rubric of the Credentia are not compromised.

Done by our hands on this 2nd day of November.

Of note: Credentia refers to a Cabinet of people, or in this case, the Order. The original text refers to a Credentia of Consuls frequently, and referring to the Order of the Silver Hammer as such really helped with the general feel of the region. I also wanted to make sure we could have a good solid date, and as many documents from this period use the Church calendar of feasts and fasts to render dates, I did so here, too.

Posted in Italian, later period, SCA, scroll text, writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Demystifying Heraldic Submissions: Waiting Is the Hardest Part

Picture the scene: you’ve got your name picked out, your badge forms coloured in, and you’re itching to get your device painted on your shield. You go to your local herald, and as you’re discussing the process, the question of how long your submission has comes up.

This article will go into the submissions process and how long each stage takes, what happens at each stage, and what to expect. As always, if anything is an outlier, please contact your consulting herald, Principal Herald of your kingdom, or your Submissions herald of your kingdom if anything seems amiss or you’ve waited longer than expected.

The start of our pipeline starts with handing your submission over to your local herald or submissions herald (or if you’re at a war, the herald in charge of the day). Provided all of your ducks are in a row (payment, any copies of documentation if they’re needed, and you have all of the forms/coloured appropriately), your forms will go to the next step.

From here, your forms will go to your submissions herald. Most kingdoms have an internal submissions herald, who handles all incoming submissions and prepares them for an internal letter of intent on the herald’s commenting website, OSCAR (or the Online System for Commentary and Response). Preparing this letter involves scanning in the submissions forms, retyping the details on the form into OSCAR, and then publishing it.

A letter of intent is a gathering of a month’s worth of submissions, prepared for members of that kingdom’s college to check for conflicts with a previously registered item, typographical errors in the submission, or to attempt to further document more difficult submissions. This process should take no more than a month from submission – so, if a gentle submits an item for consideration, that submission should be on the next month’s letter of intent for their kingdom. Any commentary made on an item is kept confidential. I repeat: any commentary made on an item is kept confidential. This is done so that any commentary made on an item in an unbiased way cannot be taken personally by the submitter.

Once the kingdom level commentary (and kingdom-level decision meeting) has occurred, the next stage is for the kingdom level letter (known as an Internal Letter of Intent) to be published by the submissions herald (in some kingdoms, this is done by a separate herald, known as the External Submissions Herald) to the next level, which is then known as an External Letter of Intent. At this stage, the submissions herald will take the information from the kingdom level commentary and with the submitter’s permission, may make small changes (like replacing a letter for spelling) and then will submit this letter again on OSCAR, this time for the entire College of Arms to see and comment on.

Much like the previous level, this letter receives commentary from heralds, though unlike the previous level, this commentary can be seen by all heralds who have an OSCAR account, are logged in, and who have permissions from their Principal Herald. Generally, a way to get this is to provide consistent commentary that adds to the conversation (it isn’t Reddit or social media – the College of Arms and the Sovereigns of Arms need feedback that can help them with their decisions). Commentary at this stage may find more than just conflicts – things such as style (does the submission contain name elements from disparate times and locations or does the submission combine too many modern elements?), typographical errors, additional documentation for items found in period, etc. Again, commentary is still kept confidential. This level lasts for another two months.

Once an External Letter of Intent has finished this month, this letter, along with nineteen other kingdoms’ worth of external letters, go to decision meetings. These meetings, held virtually, are where Wreath and Pelican Sovereigns of Arms decide, based on precedent (both historical and Societal) on the registerability of submissions. The position of Wreath decides on heraldic devices, and the position of Pelican decides on names.

Now, most submissions make it past this part without too many issues. If an item is discussed in a decision meeting, it is usually due to a question along the way, though even this is dependent on the Sovereign running the meeting. These meetings can take many hours in not only preparation, but the actual discussion of the items, and again, commentary in these meetings is kept confidential.

Once the submission leaves the respective decision meetings, it then goes to a three-month long proofing group consisting of heralds; our equivalent of peer review. As these letters may contain typographical errors, last minute decisions, and the possibility of changes of decisions, these decisions are kept confidential. There are two proofing sessions: one for catching the last chance for conflicts or weird heraldic precedents that could have been missed in commentary or the decision meeting, and the other to catch typographical errors. Proofing takes anywhere from four to six weeks. Once a letter has been proofed twice, it then is published. (it is a bit of a joke that asking when a letter gets published will push it back a few days or weeks, but seriously, the schedule for publication of letters does hinge on the fact that all heralds are volunteers and while we try to keep to a schedule, life and events sometimes get in the way.)

So, let’s recap. Let’s say you’ve submitted your heraldic item to your submissions herald in January. It has then gone onto the February internal letter for a month, and then published on the March external letter for another month of commentary. By the time the Sovereigns see your submission, four months has already elapsed, and adding another three months for proofing, and you’re looking at it being nearly August. Add one more month to prepare the letter for publishing, and voila! Like a baby taking nine months to be born, your heraldic submission has been published and is official.

However, a few things can gum up the works. Not having the correct payment, finding a conflict at a late stage in the commenting process, having improperly filled out or coloured forms, or even submitting your heraldic paperwork at an SCA war can cause a longer-than-anticipated wait to occur. All heralds, like any other office in the Society, consist of volunteers who spend their time and energy to not only help create the submissions, but also in commenting, researching, and checking devices. Sometimes, thanks to the volume of submissions during the war season, heralds are stretched thin – but this is where you can help. If you have an interest in becoming a commenting herald, please contact your Principal Herald to get started. Commenting heralds should have some knowledge of how the heraldic system works, but also be willing to learn what the rules are as we use them.

And that is the heraldic pipeline. Most submitters will find that while the wait is hard, many heralds will note that there are ways to streamline the process, listed below.

  • Ensure your paperwork is all together. This means that if you need extra documentation that requires photocopies, have those ready to go and printed off.
  • Have your consulting herald (the person helping) run a conflict check ahead of submitting. (Or, if you want to be very thorough, have a few experienced heralds check, too.)
  • Make sure you have paid the correct amount.
  • Consider submitting your heraldic forms outside of war season. Some heraldic letters do get broken up into smaller chunks to be easier on commenting heralds to research and digest, which means that there is possibility for delay.
  • Consider submitting your forms electronically (by email) as well as the paper forms. (Though, check with your kingdom to make sure that this is a valid way of accepting forms.)

I hope this helps demystify the process on what a typical submission process looks like. Ideally, your consulting herald should help keep you abreast of any information, including where it is in the process (but never the commentary!), but in the event that you can’t remember your consulting herald, or you submitted on your own, contact your Submissions Herald for assistance!

Posted in herald, heraldry, SCA, service, Society for Creative Anachronism, writing | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Omphaloskepsis: “Real Life Comes First”

Today, on that Other Social Network, I noticed a group dedicated to a century drill of service. For those not knowing what a century drill is, it’s 100 days of combat work, whether it be at a pell or with another person. It’s a good use of bettering yourself as a combatant. It also works well for A&S, too. (a similar thing in the modern world is the practice of Inktober, of which I’m planning on doing this year.)

Service, well, I have a harder time accepting this sort of discipline for a service-related activity. Here’s why I think this, and why I think there are better ways of supporting volunteerism across the Society (and out of the Society, too).

To better clarify what the century drill of service looks like for this particular group, it involves creating a log-in and then doing 10 minutes per day of SCA service for 100 straight days. with the caveat of “If you miss a day doing service, your 100 days starts over again.”

So, here’s why I have some problems with this.

The biggest aspect of this is that while we often say things like “GPA before SCA,” “real life comes first,” or “we’ll be here when you get back,” many SCAdians don’t actually mean this. We question someone’s devotion to the hobby if someone has an attack of life! If a person cannot attend certain events, especially if they’re on a service track, they are snubbed for not giving their whole being to their kingdom, their local group, or to the Society itself.

Story from my life: I was principal herald of my kingdom while my mother had been diagnosed with leukemia, and even though she fought well, I had to make some tough decisions, with the toughest being that of taking her off of life support the day of a Crown Tournament. Most people in my kingdom knew what was going on, and even though I had made appropriate plans to cover for emergencies, the expectation of following through on kingdom duties was still there – the job still had to be done.

I remember being asked when I’d be coming back to events mere days after the funeral – I was still not done mourning! Some even mentioned that they felt that I needed to give more service to the kingdom just to “get over” my mother’s death. (By the way, I think this a poor way to start any healing process. Taking time for oneself is not a bad thing, especially over major life changes like this.)

Now, while I came back, albeit a bit sooner than I should have, this is not an appropriate way to handle another member’s attack of life. Nor should we hold their brief disappearance as a reason to exclude them from orders. (now, if you’ve been gone for over a decade or so, there’s probably some discussion on that, but that’s probably for another blog entry.)

So, point the first: let’s actually let people have breathing space between their hobby life and their home life. If people need to concentrate on getting a degree or caring for a family member or just need brainspace that isn’t filled with medieval life, then we as an organization need to be okay with that, and we need to recognize that people can and will do things that aren’t the SCA and it’s a perfectly acceptable way to spend their time. Their loyalties to the organization won’t magically disappear because they’re off at a LARP or a comic con or cleaning their house. Priorities will shift and that’s perfectly okay.

The other reason why I think logging one’s service in public is a bad idea is less related to time needed away from the Society and more of a personal standpoint. My faith tradition has a saying about prayer being that of “And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.”

The same goes for service.

Sure, there’s types of service that are very public. Examples can be that of being principal herald, serving in a Society office, or always doing a particular job. There’s absolutely no problem with that. Let me repeat: yes, you can do service in a very public way, and it’s okay. It starts being not okay when in your execution of the public job is making life more difficult for others in the Society.

At the same point, though, there are some service activities that can be done in secret. One of the jobs I did for a crown was go on order of precedence dives and pull up awards for individuals going to certain events. The only other person (besides the crown and me) that knew I was doing that activity was my Pelican – and that was fine. I didn’t log the activity as sort of a merit badge rubric point, but rather did it because the job needed to be done. (and admittedly, I love going on order of precedence dives because there are always interesting data points out there. . . but I am also a nerd when it comes to things heraldry.)

In short, I did the job because I found it fun, and that’s really the point. If we are to play the SCA for fun, then our fighting, our creative expressions, and our service needs to be fun. (I mean, I know plenty of people who can make literally crappy jobs like mucking out the portajohns fun, so . . .)

So, rather than posting what service a person does on That Other Social Network, perhaps, just perhaps, we just need to concentrate on the quality of service a person does. If they took a break from the SCA, would that service be missed? If that person is burnt out on service, are we giving them space to be themselves outside of a service-type activity?

If so, then we are building an organization that is safe for volunteers. Until we 1) give people space to grow and learn both in and out of the Society, 2) recognize that service doesn’t have to be public for it to be just as valid, and 3) recognize that doing service for the joy of serving, not as a merit badge rubric point, we’ve got a lot of room to grow.

For more information on volunteer management and how to put those tools in your service toolbox, please check out my handout from KWHSS ’19 and my article from the KWHSS ’17 Proceedings.

Posted in SCA, SCA Philosophy, service, Society for Creative Anachronism, volunteer management | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Omphaloskepsis: Consent

Housekeeping notes: this post is going to be dealing with some really heavy subjects, including sexual assault and a lot of boundary crossing. If you are uncomfortable with these things, it is perhaps best to not read this post. Additionally, this post is not to condemn or villanize the SCA as a whole, but rather to encourage a spirit of deliberate conversations about where we want out of future participation and participants in SCA culture. TL;DR: sexual content, description of sexual assault.

So, let me set the scene a bit. I was maybe in the SCA for about a year at the time of this particular incident. I was so new that I didn’t have my AoA quite yet, and well, I hadn’t quite come to accept the full splendor of a full Byzantine sartorial riot. I had maybe been to a handful of events in that time period, and was simply soaking in all the things that the SCA had to offer. There I was: I was at one of my first SCA events – a lot had happened already that night. Went through gate, set up my very first nylon tent, had already started to immerse myself into the medieval mindset for the weekend, and did what seemingly every Calontiri did, which was sit around a fire pit, singing Calontir songs.

Feeling tired, I went back to my tent, but was way laid by a fighter pulling me into the shadows, speaking sweet, seductive words. Words of “I’ll fight for you,” “I’ll make you a princess,” and “you’re beautiful,” all words my geeky, gawky, somewhat romantic naïve self wanted to hear but had never been told in earnest. Kisses tasting of alcohol peppered my face and lips, and while I felt desired, I was in already in a relationship at the time and didn’t think it appropriate to be in this position and said so to the man kissing me.

The kisses didn’t stop.

I had to push him away, but he squeezed me closer and in places I was very uncomfortable with and when I finally broke out of my shell-shock of silence, I knew I needed to be elsewhere.

It thankfully didn’t go past that point, however, I was pretty mortified. I did put on a brave face, determining to be as pleasant as I could the next day.

When I waved at him in greeting the next morning, I was ignored. I saw his significant other next to him and knew that by her presence, those questions, those words that he told me the previous, would never be fully-formed realizations. It somewhat crushed me. Admittedly, I was not in the best relationship at the time, and that certainly didn’t help, but many new people in the Society often have their own ideations of a rather romantic sense of Chivalry and The Dream.

And so, I remained silent about what happened to me that night, struggling with processing the information and what that would mean for my own path. I was aware of other people being shamed for being open about what happened to them by other people and I didn’t want that to happen to me.

As my time progressed in the Society, I saw him become a Peer for his work in the martial field. I had hoped that what happened to me was an isolated occurrence, but as I am finding out now, was not.

I am disappointed and saddened at finding out that his behaviour continued and I am further disappointed that this particular man, who is now a Peer and someone marked as someone to emulate, has yet to figure out that his behaviour while drinking was affecting the rest of his Society experience. And I am saddened with the thought that we are still having to have a discussion about consent and boundaries, especially when it comes to sexual autonomy and other people’s bodies. Of course, I wish I could say this was the last time something like this happened to me with another SCAdian, but alas, I cannot.

Perhaps I have Thoughts.

While it is certainly true that while Peers are people and people are fallible, therefore, Peers are fallible, perhaps, just maybe, is it also be true that Peers have a responsibility to be an example of someone to emulate behaviour in and out of the Society? People are going to mess up. Peers are going to let people down. It is how they recover from the mistakes that they make that’s the important part.

Also, if you think that by not being a Peer precludes you from not behaving as best as you can towards others, guess what? It doesn’t.

The Society is dealing with a slew of a lack of respect towards other people within our group. If we are going to push past this, we have a responsibility to be better.

I’m going to do my best on my return from my current exile from the Society, whenever that is, to try and be better towards calling out the behaviours in as kind and as gentle as a way as I can. If the Society is to survive, we have to leave it better for our future generations, much like we have to leave our campsites better for those who use them after us.

It also means that we have got to learn how to accept that other people have boundaries, whether they be sexual, emotional, or even physical, and learn to work with people, but to also extend grace when people invariably mess up on those boundaries. Of course, if repeated incidences of boundary breaking occur, then discussions with either the offending party and/or appropriate kingdom officers need to occur as soon as possible. We need to be better about hearing the word “no” and knowing what enthusiastic consent is. I touched on it briefly here, in a discussion on consent in A&S circles, but the thing is, the concept of consent applies everywhere, in everything we do.

And I want to remind people that if you are uncomfortable, I am a safe space. I’ll urge you to seek out help (and probably give resources), but definitely will support you.

Posted in philosophy, SCA, SCA Philosophy, Society for Creative Anachronism, writing | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Text: Adelaide Sarsfield’s Calon Cross

Our Minister of Youth has done a bang-up job at taking care of the youth of Calontir, and when I was approached about writing the text, I said yes. (Also, I love writing scroll texts, and often wish I could write more.)

It’s based on the letters written by Henry VIII to Cardinal Wolsey, and while Adelaide has a 14th c persona, not a 15th, the language of letters didn’t change so remarkably. (Also, thanks to my friend Alys Mackyntoich, who publishes all of her scroll texts to her blog, because that helped a considerable deal with this text.)

The text itself is written in Middle English, so there are some bits that look different (and actually read different) to eyes that are used to reading Modern English. (words like behoveful (meaning requisite, necessary, pertinent, appropriate, proper), tendershippe (meaning favor, regard, esteem), and circumstaunt (meaning accompanying).

Anton the Kyng and Yseult the Quene to Adelaide Sarsfield, right trustie and righte welbelovid wee greete you well. We recommande you with all owr hart to the children of Calontir and the Known Worlde, and thanke yow for the grette paynes and labour that yow do dayly take in the bysyness and maters of those great of spirite and small of stature. And we commande, desyre and instruct yow to take summe pastyme and comfort from yowr labour, to the intent that yow may longer endure to serve us and our Reaulme. Surly yow have so substancyally orderyd maters wythyn yowr sphere that lytil or nothyng can be addyd; indede we are well contendyd with what order yow have mayde in all maters to whych yow sett yowr hands, shewinge therbie yowr great love and loyalltie towardes the Crowne and children of Calontir, which wee accept most thanckfullie from yowr handes. And further, desyryng, wantynge and wyshyng that the valew, esteeme and tendershippe in whiche yow are beholden be made both perficte and manyfest to all persouns of whateuere estate, Wee have theerfore thoughte it meete and behoveful to give, graunt and bie thees presents lettirs convaye untow yow admittance into the Ordre of the Calon Cross, with all circumstaunt benefetes, avauntage, profits, pryvyleges and honnours, and we instruct and commaunde our heraulds to attende fourthewyth to þe circumstauncis of the sayd Order. It is so accorded that We permytteth said Adelaide to wear the badge of sayd Order, to wyt, Or, a cross of Calatrava within a bordure purpure. Given under our signet at our mannor of Cúm an Iolair the 27th daie of July in the 54th yere of the Societee.

Modern English Translation:

Anton the King and Yseult the Queen to Adelaide Sarsfield, right trusty and right well beloved we greet you well. We recommend you with our heart to the children of Calontir and the Knowne World, and thank you for the great pains and labour that you do daily take in the business and matters of those great in spirit and small of stature. And we command, desire, and instruct you to take some pastime and comfort from your labour to the intent that you may longer endure to serve us and our Realm. Surely you have so substantially ordered matters within your sphere that little or nothing can be added, indeed, we are well contented with what order you have made in all matters to which you set your hands, showing thereby your great love and loyalty towards the Crown and children of Calontir, which we accept most thankfully from your hands. And further, desiring, wanting, and wishing that the value, esteem and tendership in which you are beholden be made both perfect and manifest to all persons of whatever estate, We have therefore thought it meet and behoveful to give, grant, and by these presents letters convey unto you admittance into the Order of the Calon Cross, with all circumstance, benefits, advantage, profits, privileges, and honours, and we instruct and command our heralds to attend forthwith to the circumstances of the said Order. It is so accordere that We permitteth said Adelaide to wear the badge of said Order, to wit, Or, a cross of Calatrava within a bordure purpure. Given under our signet at our manor of Cúm an Iolair the 27th day of July in the 54 year of the Society.

Posted in calon cross, ceremonies, ceremony, court, herald, heraldry, later period, SCA, scroll text, service, Society for Creative Anachronism | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Omphaloskepsis: Burnout sucks.

“Konstantia, where have you been? Why have you not been blogging so often?”

I’ll tell you.

Burnout sucks. For many of us, the SCA is everything we do.

It was certainly that way for me for a while. My social life was entirely the SCA. I moderated groups on That Social Media Site for the SCA. I did all of my art projects . . . for the SCA. I’d drop everything and do only the SCA. All of my relationships within my avocation had to do with the Society.

I have to tell you: that schtuff is exhausting.

And, as I’m learning, really not that healthy. Lots of impostor syndrome and wondering if you’re ever good enough. When something in your life becomes that all-encompassing, it’s time to take a major step back, especially if it’s not making you happy.

So I did. I took . . . rather, I’m taking a major break.

I’m still here, but I’m taking care of me. I’m not at as many events. I don’t comment on SCA things as often on That Other Social Media Site. (I mean, I still do, especially when I get summoned, but, it’s less of a priority.)

In fact, I’m going to KWHSS this year (next week!), teaching two classes, and then, who knows what I’m going to do next? I’m painting more modern stuff. As much as I love the medieval, I need a break, otherwise, the SCA won’t hold the magic that it once did.

I learned some important things – like knowing to just go do something not SCA-related. And while most of my friends on That Other Social Media Site are SCAdians (and I still ask SCA-related questions), I’m playing board games and doing other things. It’s okay to take a step back. I learned that if I’m rubbed so raw by things in the Society that it’s probably time to go do something – anything – else.

In short, the SCA is not the end-all of activities. It’s absolutely okay to go do something else, and not everything you do has to be done through an SCA lens. If you’re fighting that rubbed raw feeling, go do something else. Anything.

Also, in case you’re wondering – this blog isn’t going anywhere. There’s still plenty to explore and to find; but I’m just going to be a bit more slow about posting things about my findings – I’ve got a board game to catch, after all.

Posted in about me, about this blog, burnout, Retrospective, SCA, SCA Philosophy, Society for Creative Anachronism | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Let Me Google That For You: How to Use Internet Tools to Research Effectively

In my post Experimental Archaelogy and Social Media, I talked about the concept of provenance, and why it’s so important to historians of all levels. This post, though, will go a bit further in showing that there are tools available to all of us in properly determining where the original post comes from.

I was an early adopter of Pinterest, and used it to do a lot of preliminary research. What I love about Pinterest is that everything is very graphical and there are lots of photos and pictures, and it makes it easy to just group things together on individual boards. What Pinterest is not good at, however, is provenance. It can be difficult to find the original post, or the links could be broken, or any number of things. This is where another tool in my arsenal comes out to play.

Let’s start with this pin. It’s a beautiful piece, and it looks period. However, we’re missing a few bits of critical information. One, the post doesn’t link through, and two, there’s no information about the piece’s provenance.

When researching, it helps to have the information about the piece – what it was used for, what it was made out of, the techniques that went into making it, and even where it was found and when it was dated to. If you’re wanting to best figure out if an artifact dates from a particular time period, it helps to have all of that information.

So, Konstantia, (you might be asking), where do I get information about something if the only thing I have is a picture?

I’m so glad you asked that, Gentle Reader.

Let me introduce you to the concept of the reverse image search.

Like Google, which finds things by keywords, reverse image search looks for similarities on photos, indexes them, and when you need to look for the object by photo, you can see where the photo was used previously. I generally use, which is easy to use, though there are others, like Google, which also works decently well.

Copy and paste the image (or you can also download and upload it to the search), and then, if you’re lucky, you’ll get some responses. Very lucky me, I got some results (only two), but I was able to see where the rest of the links were. In this case, the Pinterest links actually led me to another board, where it was linked to the actual piece, found here.

Now, not all image searching is this easy. Sometimes, it can still be fraught with difficulty, and sometimes, even the image search ends up with sites you don’t want to go to. (For example, one of the Byzantine belts I was researching [the Branko belt] ended up with image searches going to a white supremacist’s website – which I emphatically did not want to go to. It’s another pitfall of medieval recreation and reenactment that I am emphatically against, but definitely something to be aware of.

TinEye is also great when it comes down to sorting saved images from a million years ago and you can’t remember where you found them. (I have an entire folder of pictures on my computer that I’m in the middle of using reverse image search to figure out where I downloaded them from.)

My point is, using the Internet to research is not a bad thing. Many of us in the Society can’t afford to go travel internationally, and the Internet and the images we search for help make our world a bit smaller.

We still have to think critically, know that some images may still not be completely possible to find, and if found, may involve some ethical sourcing of research material. It’s our job to use our tools wisely – and when our tools point us in a direction, it’s also our job to use our brains well, too.

Posted in how-to, musings, SCA, Society for Creative Anachronism, tutorial, writing | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Andrixos’ Herald Extraordinary

When Brigida, Gold Falcon Principal Herald, asked me if I wanted a crack at a scroll, I asked who it was for and I jumped at the the chance. You see, Andrixos (or Drx, more familiarly) wrote both my Calon Cross and my Court Barony scrolls, and it’s always fun to get people back in the nicest way possible.

So, I reached out to my Byzanbestie Anna to write the scroll text, with Brigida’s assent.  I mean, if you’re gonna do a Byzanblowout, let’s go full Byzantine.

Meanwhile, I started searching for Byzantine miniatures from Drx’s time period.  I’m fairly early, Anna is middling, and Drx, well, is right in the middle of us.  Knowing this, I waffled between a couple of manuscripts, and landed on the Madrid Skylitzes.  It’s a bit later than Drx’s persona, but it covers much of the time period his persona lived in.  (Also, it’s one of the most complete pieces of Byzantine illumination from the middle era of Byzantine life, so. . .)  Anna and I had the discussion that Drx was probably going to kill us, his Imperial Ladies, for this, but it would totally be worth the death for it, so, yeah.

Anyway, so I started work on the scroll.  The extant piece is written in Greek, so I did some transliterating.  (It’s not the best option, but as I don’t speak Medieval Greek, nor did I have time to get it translated, it was my best option.)  So, if it had a “F” sound, I used the Greek letter Φ, and so on and so forth.  Again, not the best option, but the aesthetics of the Greek was an important thing to me.

So, once I had the text laid out, I went in with the darkest brown ink I had, which was Noodler’s Kiowa Pecan.  If you look at the scans of the Madrid Skylitzes, the ink is more of a dark brown, not black, so, I went with what I had at home.  (Also, the Kiowa Pecan is a nice strong brown that is close to the ink and I didn’t have to buy more art supplies, so, go me.)

One thing to note about writing in a text you’re unfamiliar with.  Go.  Slow.  Seriously.  I screwed up a couple of times in ways that I was not able to scrape and fix.  It happens.  It could have happened less if I had slowed down considerably.

Anyway, so I found the perfect marginalia for the scroll.  I am digging the trumpets, and all of the Byzantine side-eye.  So, I used it for the basis of the marginalia on Drx’s scroll.  Instead of a red platform, I did a purple one with a cross of Calatrava (post period, but it’s one of our kingdom’s symbols) in FineTec (Coliro) gold, with the name of the kingdom in Greek, resembling the patterning on the extant.

As I worked on a smaller piece of perg than the extant (the extant is about 11″ x 14″, give or take – I used a 5″x7″ because it’s what I had at home), the details aren’t as crisp they are in the extant.  My 20/0s still got a workout (I love those brushes).  I think in the future, working on a piece of perg that’s the same size as the extant is the way to go.  On the other hand, I’m a lefty, so there is always a chance things get smeared past all recognition (and those are harder to fix for me sometimes).

I love working in details in scrolls of people and things that would be important to the recipient.  Drx, of course, is no exception.  So, I made sure that his wife, Countess Fionna (in the yellow and hearts) was in the scroll.  I also made sure that Brigida was represented, as well as Anna and I, as a sort of signature on our end.  (Look for the teal and the orange.  Can’t miss us.)  I’m not happy with the fewer figures in Drx’s scroll, but again, I think if I had added more, it would have been too difficult to make out all of the people.  (another point added for using the same size perg.)

Drx, welcome to the Herald Extraordinary club.  I’m so glad to have you be a part of it, and I’m so glad I got to do this for you.

Here’s video of it being presented in court.

Posted in Byzantine, calligraphy, calontir, ceremonies, ceremony, court, herald, heraldry, illumination, paint, SCA, Society for Creative Anachronism | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Experimental Archaeology and Social Media

So, it’s been another week of a post being shared on That Social Media Site of purported 14th century Byzantine garments as they make the rounds. . . again. They’re beautiful, well-crafted, and the photos look like they’ve been taken from a museum of sorts. The fabric looks right, and there’s plenty of bling. So, that means they’re Byzantine, right?

Well, not quite.

One of the pitfalls of being a hobbyist researcher is that there’s a lot of photos out there that look right.

Sourcing our research materials, especially for cultures that may have a lot of lacuna (or gaps), like Byzantium, mean that we have to look at everything with a grain of salt, but also making sure that we’re filling in the gaps in our knowledge in the most logical way.

So, back to the post that was shared. So, let’s look a bit more closely. Note that there’s nothing backing up the information that it’s Byzantine, or even that it’s a contemporary piece from Western Europe. In fact, there’s no provenance. Provenance is a caption which tells you what a piece is, when and where it’s from, and hopefully what museum it resides in. (Which, if it’s in a museum, you might be able to see it somewhat up close!)

The post has a simple assertion that it’s Byzantine from the post authour, who also doesn’t have any form of research authority (like they’re another researcher) or any other form of academic rigour behind the assertion.

Unfortunately, we can’t take this simple assertion that these garments are Byzantine at face value. Research means being able to go down the rabbit trails as far as we can go until we have an answer and being able to look at that answer with a critical eye. So, let’s keep looking at this critically.

Thankfully, there are a few quick sources to look at. One place to start is looking at other art pieces from the specific time period and general location. (this means no Victorian redrawings!) Examples of this include iconography, psalters and other books, mosaics, and statuary. This can be difficult, especially when dealing with cultures that had periods of decline within their art forms. (Still looking at you, Iconoclasm.) Another thing to be aware of is that much of the media that’s in the list here is in two dimensions, so how a garment may have draped may have been up to the artist to figure out. We might also have descriptions of garments. If we’re really lucky, we may have an extant garment or two to look at.

Unfortunately for a lot of Byzantine clothing researchers, there’s not much in the way of extant garments. What we do have are a handful of Egyptian garments from the 6th and 7th centuries, and then threads and other fragments from later pieces, so many of us have to rely on the method involving art or contemporary writing, which adds a lot of difficulty.

So, let’s break this down. The assertion is that the clothing from the post is from 14th century Byzantium. Let’s do a quick dive into Wikipedia to see a few famous names. (because within period, that’s who was largely being documented.) We can also use this method to look up art pieces from the time period.

Of note: Wikipedia is a great launching pad. Do not go to Wikipedia as your first and only source, though! Because Wikipedia is edited by others in the world, it means that the articles may not be written by experts in the field, and at any time can have information replaced with completely incorrect information. However, Wikipedia and Wikimedia does have a treasure trove of other sources. The scan below is a Wikimedia Commons piece, and I love that I can get a close-up view of a piece I’d have to travel to Europe to go see – which is sadly not in my budget right now.

Dem sleeves, though.

Good news is that we do have some 14th century art to look at. This particular example to the left comes from the Lincoln Typikon (which dates from the 14th century), and while some of the ink and paint has flaked off, we can see the patterns of the fabric. We can also see that the garments for both Constantine Palaiologos and his wife, Eirene, don’t really resemble the cuts of the clothing from the post from That Other Social Network. A lot of the patterns look right, but Eirene’s gown is kind of a shapeless sack with huge sleeves, in comparison to other dresses.

This is pretty damning to the assertion from the social media post.

So, if it’s not Byzantine or even from the 14th century, what are the garments from the social media post from?

Well, the post from That Other Social Network features garments from the Palio di Legnano, a modern folk event or reenactment that takes place annually in Northern Italy the last weekend in May, commemorating the battle fought May 29, 1176 between the troops of the Lombard League and the Holy Roman Imperial Army of Frederick I, known as Barbarossa. (The HRE was neither holy, nor Roman, nor an empire, but that’s for another post.) Check out the link above for some gorgeous costuming, but remember that these are the equivalent of costumes for a Renaissance fair here on our side of the pond.

Many of us love using social media to share our research and to inspire others to check things out, and I love that we can do this. On the other hand, we have to remember to look critically at what we’re posting (or sharing). If it doesn’t look right, it’s okay to ask for provenance. If the details don’t make sense, question it! Part of researching means to ask the questions that may not be getting answered.

And lastly, if you aren’t sure, tell people you aren’t sure about it. I would rather see someone trying to make an attempt in researching an item and say, “hey, I am not sure if this is right,” than someone passing on completely incorrect information with an air of authority. We’re all learning. I’ve made bad research choices, and I learned from them, and hope that by writing this post, you’ve got a chance to make some better choices in the future.

Posted in Byzantine, clothing, how-to, illumination, influences, later period, SCA, Society for Creative Anachronism, writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments