So, in this, the days of the panda’s panini pandemonium, life in the SCA has continued. We have a new set of royals in Calontir, but because this is indeed the panda’s panini pandemonium and also January, my partner and I decided that we could not really afford to travel to coronations.
Now, if you know me in any way, you would know that I’m a bit of a court junkie. I love pomp and ceremony. I love seeing my friends recognized. I love bringing that bit of theatre and drama into recognizing people for what they do well, and coronations are a huge part of that within the SCA. One of my favourite things is to swear fealty, and I do so, knowing that the oath I make to serve and to do my best is a serious one. It’s also a huge part of my understanding of my personae and how they would function in their society.
I have Justinian-era personae – Konstantia and Constans, who happen to be cousins (it’s easier on my internal storyline). Both were born in 526 CE, and as I’ve aged, so have things in the Eastern Roman Empire. For example, come November 14th, 2022, both my personae are going to be really pretty distraught when the only emperor they know keels over. But that’s not entirely cogent to this project – but it informs a lot of things. Eastern Roman sensibilities when it came to making oaths were that the oaths were the glue that held things together. Functionaries, high officials of the court, and dignitaries of the empire were required to swear an oath to the Emperor and Empress of the Empire, invoking pretty much every saint recognized at that time. This oath was given in writing to the royals beginning in the fifth century, and then the document remained in the palace archives and listed in a register. Each new functionary was required to swear the oath prior to investiture into their new job. (Source, btw, is The Byzantines, edited by Guglielmo Cavallo.)
I can hear you going, “yeah, but how does this work in the SCA?” I know, with royals generally stepping down anywhere from 4-6 months after their coronations, yeah, I hear you. Normally, at coronations, we swear fealty there, or if we can’t make coronations, we go the next event or so and catch up then.
But of course, it’s the panda’s panini pandemonium which has put a giant kink in the works. Thankfully, Their Majesties Calontir have allowed people to write in their fealty and send it to Them. So, after realizing that yes, this just hit all of my buttons with my personae and written oaths, I knew I had an SCA project ready to go.
The first thing I wanted to do was use a period oath. And thanks to The Byzantines, right on page 203, I found this oath. It is a period oath, which means that it is religious.
I swear by All-Powerful God, by his only son Jesus Christ our God, by the Holy Spirit, by Mary the saintly and glorious mother of God, forever a virgin, by the four Gospels which I am holding in my hands, by the holy archangels Michael and Gabriel, that I will maintain a pure conscience with regard to our very divine and pious masters Justinian and his wife Theodora, and that I will render them loyal service in the exercise of the duties that have been given to me through their piety; I will willingly accept all pain and all fatigue resulting from the office they have conferred upon me in the interest of the empire and the state. I am in communion with the holy Catholic and apostolic Church of God; in no form and at no moment will I oppose it, not will I permit anyone to do so, insofar as I am able to prevent it. I do also swear that I have truly given nothing to anyone nor will give anything for the position that has been conferred upon me or to obtain a patronage, that I have neither promised nor agreed to send anything at all from the provinces in order to obtain the support of the emperor, nor to the very glorious prefects, nor to other famous people who govern the administration, nor to their entourage, nor to anyone else, but that I have been granted my position virtually without salary and can thus appear pure in the eyes of the subjects of our very holy emperors and am content with the sum that has been granted me by the state.Functionaries’ Oath, The Byzantines, “Functionaries” André Guillou
Of course, religious oaths like this really don’t sit well in a secular group like the SCA, where participants may study religious items and concepts, but cannot force anyone else into religious activities. So, I secularized it to remove a lot of the religious connotations, and came up with this.
I swear that I, Konstantia hypatos will maintain a pure conscience with regard to our very divine and pious masters, King Hirsch and his wife Queen Magdalena, and that I will render them loyal service in the exercise of the duties that have been given to me through their piety; I will willingly accept all pain and all fatigue resulting from the office they have conferred upon me in the interest of the empire and the state.
I am in compliance with laws of the Kingdom of Calontir; in no form and at no moment will I oppose them, nor will I permit anyone to do so, insofar as I am able to prevent it.
I do also swear that I have truly given nothing to anyone nor will give anything for the position that has been conferred upon me or to obtain a patronage, that I have neither promised nor agreed to send anything at all from the provinces in order to obtain the support of the emperor, nor to the very glorious prefects, nor to other famous people who govern the administration, nor to their entourage, nor to anyone else, but that I have been granted my position virtually without salary and can thus appear pure in the eyes of the subjects of our very holy emperors, and am content with the sum that has been granted me by the state.Rewritten Functionaries’ Oath, Rachel Ost
The next step was to find a way to put it into Latin, this being the official language of the courts of the Eastern Roman Empire until the 7th century. Thankfully, I know a guy. My friend Andrixos Seljukroctonis (also one of my trim guys) taught Latin, and I asked him to translate the oath into Latin. We did run into a few things regarding gender (I’m nonbinary, and Latin, while it contains a neuter gender, is akin to describing nouns as “it” of which I am not). Below is his translation.
Me, Konstantiam hypaston, conscientiam puram nostris Principibus Divinissimis et Piissimis, Hirsico Rege et uxore Magdalena Regina tenturam esse, et Illis officium fidele in consectatione munerum quae mihi pietate illorum mandabantur praebituram esse dolorem omnem et fatigationem omnem quae ab officio quod mihi pietate illorum causa imperi et civitatis mandabantur sequuntur prompte accepturam esse iuro.Latin Translation of a rewritten Functionaries’ Oath by Andrixos Seljukroctonis
In obedientia legibus Regni Calontiris sum; Eas in modo nullo et tempore nullo opponam, nec aliquem opponere, quam maxime prohibere possum patiar.
Etiam me nihil alicui vere dedisse,nec aliquid stato quod mihi mandabatur aut ut clientelam capiam daturam esse iuro.
Etiam me nihil alicui vere dedisse, nec aliquid stato quod mihi mandabatur aut ut clientelam recipiam daturam esse nec pollicitam esse nec constituisse mittere aliquid e provinciis ut auxilium Basilei obtinerem, nec prefectis gloriosissimis nec nobillimis qui curationem moderati sunt nec sequentibus nec aliquibus, sed mihi statum meum virtualiter sine stipendio itaque puram in oculis civium sacerrimi Basilei et Basilissae videri posse, et me contentam plenitudine quae mihi a civitate mandabaturiuro.
Once I had the translation, I could get started on the scribal bits. I wanted to do something cool, though it was unlikely that this style was used for oaths such as this. But also, it was pretty, and cool, and I got to try something different. I wanted to try to dye pergamenata.
Purple codices (that is, books with the pages dyed purple) were expensive, but blingy and at one point were reserved for Roman and Byzantine emperors. (Saint Jerome, in a letter in 384 CE did state that “writes scornfully of the wealthy Christian women whose books are written in gold on purple vellum, and clothed with gems,” so that clearly didn’t last long.) One of the most famous examples is the Rossano Gospels, which is a Greek manuscript, and is the oldest extant illuminated manuscript of the New Testament Gospels. The vellum for the Rossano Gospels is dyed in shades of purple and uses silver ink. The Sinope Gospels, also dating from about the same time period, though was purchased in Anatolia, use silver and also gold ink.
Murex and vellum are expensive. Like, prohibitively expensive. (Murex dye is $100,000 USD an ounce. Vellum starts at $20 a cut sheet and goes up.) As I don’t want to eat ramen noodles for the next fifteen years to afford my hobby, I did the next best thing: I looked for substitutes that I could easily afford and that would give me the same period aesthetic without breaking the bank.
I went to a known decent resource: SCA Scribes on the other social network place, and asked if anyone had managed to dye pergamenata (purchased from John Neal Books) without it disintegrating. Pergamenata is a decent substitute for vellum, but it is still paper at the end of the day, which means that it can’t handle some of the things that our cousins in period did to actual vellum. Thankfully, someone actually had managed to dye pergamenata, and provided documentation as to how it was done. (and this is why reinvention of the wheel is a bad thing. Ask people for help!)
If you have worked with perg for any length of time, you know that it doesn’t like a whole lot of moisture added to it. Many SCA scribes will tape it down so that it doesn’t buckle and cockle and end up looking terrible. It’s a pretty big risk to try to apply large swathes of colour because it may not dry flat.
So, the first thing I did was tape down my perg using artists’ tape onto a stiff surface, which in this case was a portable lap desk I occasionally use when I don’t want to sit at my studio table to paint or draw. The benefit to this is that I could easily move the perg after I had dyed it, and because I didn’t want to ruin my desk too much, I’d have to be careful with dyeing it.
The next thing I did was grab some makeup sponges from a Halloween several years ago and haven’t used since. My thought on using the makeup sponges would be that I could add the ink (I chose an archival quality ink meant for creating special effects for scrapbooking) to, and then sponge it onto the pergamenata. The Crushed Grape coloured ink is pretty close to the colours that we see in the purple parchments (a dark, reddish-leaning purple), but to be safe, I also used a few sprays of the black spray to keep the purple from being a bit too bright and to allow the gold ink I had planned to use to gleam through the darkness.
Once it was sprayed onto the makeup sponges, saturating the sponge with ink because it dried pretty quickly, I first spread the ink on the taped perg, taking care to go in long lines and to not miss any spots. After this, I sprayed my sponges again and patted the perg to make sure that if I had left any lines that they were disguised. Of note, the artist’s tape I used did allow the ink to bead up a bit, and my hands are now the colour of the ink, so maybe wear nitrile gloves when you do this yourself.
After this last coat, I went back through with an unused sponge and went over the perg one more time to make sure that I had pulled up all of the ink. It might be hard to see in the photo, but there was enough moisture on the perg for it to cockle and buckle, so I definitely wanted to make sure that I had gotten it as sopped up as I could.
The next bit was to let it dry. Now, it’s January in the Midwest, which means that days are not too humid, and things dry quickly. (It may not be the case in, oh, July, so, check your local weather conditions.) I left it taped down until it was cold to the touch, but not transferring ink onto my hands, and then I took the tape off and sandwiched it between layers of glassine paper and a heavy book. I chose glassine so that the ink, if there were any wet spots, wouldn’t transfer that ink to the table or the book, and would keep things there. If you’re in a hurry, I suppose you could use an embossing tool or a hair dryer, but be careful to not burn the perg. It can happen. Don’t ask me why I know.
Once dry, I then got out a gold ink and my trusted crow quill and holder, and proceeded to emulate a hand from the Codex Bezae Cantabrigiensis, a 5th century codex containing most of the Gospels, Acts, and a small portion of 3 John in both Latin and Greek. It also uses a similar hand to the purple parchments (Byzantine Uncial), and honestly, because the facsimiles were easier to read because they didn’t use metallic ink on dark grounds, I could better emulate the letterforms.
The perg I used for this project is tiny – 5″x7″. The extant purple parchments are large, so I definitely had to size down my calligraphy to fit the entire oath onto the whole thing, plus include my signature. I probably should have used a ruler to keep things straight and to retain spacing, but if you look at the Codex Bezae, it was like they also couldn’t be bothered because none of their lines are straight or have particularly good spacing, so, I didn’t bother myself.
The Kuretake gold mica ink is a nice ink that has to be shaken consistently to keep the gold pigment in suspension. I could get through the bulk of a sentence or two, but would have to constantly cap the ink and shake. (It forced me to take breaks!)
I then cut the white border off with scissors. The white border was an artifact from the dyeing process, and made the finished piece look awful, so it had to go.
Once I got the entire thing written, I saw that I had room to seal the thing, so I grabbed a bit of fingerlooped cord made by a friend, some modern sealing wax, and a small seal that I’ve been using on letters until I can make the leap to getting a custom one made with my seraph on it. I used a bit of waxed paper to make sure that the sealing wax could release, and after cutting two parallel slits into the page, I took the cord with the wax seal at the end (similar to a Byzantine plomb in this case) and looped it through the slits. I signed my name in Greek with my title, and I was done.
I have to say that the gold gleaming on the dark background is a great metaphor for the hope a lot of us still have while we’re dealing with the panda’s panini pandemonium. I also really enjoyed getting to try something new, and while it’s not entirely period, this opportunity to do something really cool and meaningful for my personae is really neat.