Period and Persona: Figuring It Out Part 1

“All history is biography. – Ralph Waldo Emerson”

While I have been aware of the SCA for about a decade, I didn’t really get involved until February of this past year.  I’ve spend a lot of time mulling over period and persona, which I have found a bit difficult.  Let’s face it, we spend our whole lives learning who we are so having another version of yourself to figure out can be quite daunting.  Joining the SCA is like a second puberty…only less Pro-Active and more blunders in sewing.

Period: In some places on the internet the SCA lists itself as a pre-1600 to 500 CE focus.  However, from interactions with others the only really limit is pre-1600.  Early period and even ancient period personas seems to be welcome and have their groups, but the focus lays within a medieval scope.  However, I can say that visually at events I would put the focus on not only the medieval periods but also the viking age as being immensely popular.

Geography: Europe.  Europe is the focus, however, I find the non-European personas/gear are present at events and welcome.  Generally speaking, whatever I have read for guidelines doesn’t really encompass the mentality within the group which for the most part is: “If it’s your passion: do it.”  Good to know.

Laying down the groundwork for picking out a persona I spend a lot of time thinking about period and culture.  There truly is no period or culture I cannot find myself in love with.  I am a total whore for history so picking just one was like eating just one chip: can’t eat just one.

However, there are some that have that little bit of a special draw for me for a variety of reasons.  My original short list in a notebook I keep in my desk was:

  • Late Iron Age Pictish
  • Merovingian Gaul/Francia
  • 14th Century Italy

However, at present my kit is decidedly continental 100 BCE – 100 CE (pushing towards Gaul, specific region is up in the air presently) but there was a path I took to land here, and even now I am still waffling with my persona as I am approaching picking out a name and heraldry for myself.

As I made a hard list of the periods and locations that enticed me more there were pros and cons to each, and also a varying level of comfort with each.  While I think I have a much better and detailed understanding of the high medieval periods thanks to a better number of extant items: my archaeological experience focuses mostly on Iron Age and Early Medieval North Atlantic Europe.

Late Iron Age Picts:  This focus appealed to me because I spent some of the happiest moments of my life digging Pictish sites in the Orkney and Shetland Islands for a few summers in my early and mid 20’s.  I am also very aware of the limit to the information we have for them and the women who were part of their demographic.  If you laid out “Celtic” artifacts from Ireland to the Alpines I could pick out Pictish items without a problem.  I can see in my head the surviving extant garments (not many but enough, praise be the anaerobic soils of the North Atlantic) and feel comfortable with putting together…a male persona.  There was my hiccup.  While I could draw from some Danish textiles for women, that would beg a question for another post: borrowing from other cultures to fill in an archaeological gap.

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Pictish Stone at Hilton of Cadboll, woman seated top and center.

Pictish Pros

  • Familiarity with objects and textiles.
  • Easy clothing to make and spruce up.  This fits within my sewing capabilities.
  • Stupid amount of reasonably current books in my personal library.
  • Connections to leading Pictish researchers and re-enactors in Scotland and Britain if I need any help.
  • Tons of archery depicted in surviving art with a focus on hunting over war.
  • Cold and hot weather clothing will be easy and comfortable.
  • FLESH PAINTING
  • Tro-lol-lol-lol Romans can’t touch this.

Pictish Cons

  • More material on male objects and textiles.
  • I am the least ethnically Scottish person and don’t feel like I would visually represent the women of that period or culture. The knowledge base is there but I don’t really identify personally with “being” a Pict.

Merovingian Gaul/Francia:  This focus appealed to me on two fronts: History and Short Tunic Dresses(which may not be an accurate portray unfortunately).  The Merovingian  ruling period was a fascinating.  Cultures in transition are complex and really get my brain buzzing.  The Long Haired Kings and their people were a society in flux between the Roman way of life and the newly Christian way of life.  You have Salien Franks, which were neither quite Germanic, not quite Roman, and not quite a native Gaul, but the culmination of what I would consider the three major cultures in Europe for that locations.  It touched on so many beliefs.  The option of be pagan, christian, beholden to the Roman way of life or embracing the new, more medieval way of life approaching…the options were tantalizing.  The surviving material culture was also very strong for women.

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Fancy, pancy Merovingian women’s kicks.

Merovingian Pros

  • A great deal of surviving information and material culture but limited extant images of women that aren’t angels or the Virgin.
  • Vast and varied options for culture flavor (Gallo-Roman and Germanic).
  • Potentially short tunic dresses/pants.
  • Shoes for this period are bomb.

Merovingian Cons

  • I am not the best versed in this period.  I have an extremely general understanding of the Merovingian world.
  • Short tunic dresses, though used a great deal by many re-enactors, are likely a construct of modern wishful thinking.
  • Role of women greatly diminished culturally.  I would love a period where women had more freedom of movement within their society.

14th Century Italy: My family claims mostly Italian origin and genetically this holds true for me.  My family name can be traced back to the mid 14th century as a briefly noble family in Florence and then we disappear from records until the early 19th century where my ancestors re-emerge in commerce and politics (and we have member of our family still in office in Italy today, though I do not know him personally).  Heritage wise, this period holds interest to me.  I could straight up persona one of my own ancestors.  In the mid 1300’s, the plague hits Europe and something incredible happens: women come into their own in both wealth and business as a results of the plague.  A cultural BOOM occurs driving changes in fashions and the lives of women for about 50 years, during which butt-hurt menfolk start laying down guild and sumptuary laws to control our wild uteri from controlling the Christian world.  Also plague, did I mention plague?  FASCINATING.

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Tacuinum Sanitatis School 1370

14th Century Italy Pros

  • Direct heritage to the time period and opportunity to persona one of my ancestors.
  • Plague period, love me some of that plague history.
  • Unique circumstances for women.
  • Plenty of resources for research, most information available.

14th Century Italy Cons

  • I am garbage at sewing, portraying accurate clothing would be difficult as I have no interest in sewing 30-40 gussets/gores into the shoulder of my dresses for optimal fit and movement.
  • Archery could not comfortably fit with this persona.  While there is no rule against it, I have a desire to be able to reasonably fit my activities to my persona, this one would be a stretch.
  • I have no interest in a Christian persona.  The pagan persona appeals to me more.
  • Complex hairstyles.  I can barely handle having a bob.
  • Heavy clothing in summer, long dresses forever, falling over for days.  I sense discomfort and a lot of torn hems in my future.

Verdit: Iron Age Picts have the best math.  I could quickly get some passable and accurate garb together and get active.  This is something I could build upon over time and fit within the most active of my activities within the SCA (archery).

Boom, first event was the Royal Archery Tournament in Bright Hills in April of 2018.

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Driving to my first event, Royal Archery Tournament hosted by Bright Hills, April 2018.  I have since reconsidered face painting.

My specific area of focus has shifted since and is no longer Pictish, but that evolution will be a topic for another time.  Gaul is coming.