Elinor No More

With my transition away from Elizabethan England and towards Roman Gaul over the last few years, my SCA name of Elinor Strangewayes no longer really fits me. That, and I’ve come to the unavoidable conclusion that the name “Elinor” is currently about as popular in the SCA as the name “Raven” is at your local Ren Faire, or “Madison” at a daycare. Shout my first name, and you get half a dozen ladies named Elinor/Eleanor/Alianor in response. I’m ready for something else.

I wanted a name that reflected the time period and region of my current research: Romanized Gaul, circa 1st-2nd centuries. I’m intrigued by how local and invasive cultures intermingled. The Gauls typically used a given name and patronymic system (“Dave, son of Bob”) among themselves, sometimes adding a tribal affiliation if necessary. The Gauls became Romanized fairly quickly after the Gallic Wars ended, though, and their language and distinct naming practices vanish within a few hundred years. During that transition period, you see a hybrid mix of Roman cognomen (equivalent to our first names) and Gaulish patronymics.

That was the pattern I set out to copy: Pick a good Roman woman’s cognomen and a Gaulish man’s name for the patronymic. I live on a rural homestead, so Agricola seemed a good choice. It means “farmer” (we get “agriculture” from the same linguistic root).  A Julia Agricola was born in AD64 – on the early end of my preferred date range, but quite reasonable.

For the patronymic, I wanted to find a man’s name from one of the tribes of Eastern Gaul. My partner’s persona is a Romanized Germanic tribesman, so having my persona reflect an affiliation from one of the Gallo-Germanic boundary tribes would be good. (David Cuff wrote a fascinating PhD thesis on the families of Roman auxiliary soldiers, including their marriage practices.) There are a few tribes along that frontier: The Aedui, Sequani, Treveri, Mediomatrici, and Helvetii are among the most prominent. Our local Interlibrary Loan Department was able to get me a copy of David Ellis Evans’ book Gaulish Personal Names, which when combined with Joshua Whatmough’s Dialects of Ancient Gaul is practically the Bible for the subject.

During my search for a patronymic, I happened to be discussing the subject of Romanization one afternoon with a fellow Roman-persona friend. He asked if I had settled on a name yet, and when informed that I hadn’t, he immediately claimed me as a member of gens Julia. (Ironic, since Julia Agricola was one of the examples I was using to cite that cognomen!) I was initially skeptical of the idea, since I wasn’t sure there were period examples of a traditional Roman woman’s two-part name construction with a so obviously non-Roman name tacked on at the end as a third component. However, Karin Stüber’s article “Effects of language contact on Roman and Gaulish personal names” provided the breadcrumbs I needed to document a three-part name system by citing examples of Romano-Gaulish women’s names in that format in the Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum: Iulia Bellorix Abrextubogi f[ilia] (CIL XIII.5665) and Iul(ia) Litumara Litavicci f[ilia] (CIL XIII.4711).

Iulia Litumara Litavicci filia translates as Julia Litumara, daughter of Litaviccus. (Patronymics take the father’s name in the genitive case.) Litaviccus was an Aeduan name  from the present day French regions of Saône-et-Loire, Côte-d’Or and Nièvre. One prominent leader of that name served in the Gallic Wars – the Aedui had initially supported Caesar against Vercingetorix, but switched sides as the war progressed. Litaviccus inflamed his countrymen’s anger against Rome by spreading rumors that the Romans were massacring the Aedui they captured. Caesar settled the affair by parading captured Aeduan nobles, proving they were still alive, and the Aeduan soldiers surrendered. Litaviccus escaped. I like the story, and the sound of the name, so Litaviccus is as good a patronymic as any. It’s a little early (the war leader dates from 50BC, and the CIL inscription appears to be undated) but I will give it a shot.

So my final result is this: Iulia Agricola Litavicci filia – Julia Agricola, daughter of Litaviccus. It’s a name that reflects a person living with one foot in Rome and the other in Gaul – Roman enough to have a gens affiliation and to be giving children Roman names, but still Gaulish enough to include the father’s name at the end… and an obviously Gaulish one at that!


Cuff, David B. The auxilia in Roman Britain and the Two Germanies from Augustus to Caracalla: Family, Religion and “Romanization.” PhD Thesis, University of Toronto, 2010.

Evans, D. Ellis. Gaulish Personal Names: a Study of some Continental Celtic Formations. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1967

Whatmough, Joshua. The dialects of ancient Gaul: prolegomena and records of the dialects. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1970.

Stüber, Karin. “Effects of language contact on Roman and Gaulish personal names,” in: Tristram, Hildegard L. C. (ed.), The Celtic languages in contact: papers from the workshop within the framework of the XIII International Congress of Celtic Studies, Bonn, 26-27 July 2007, Online: Universitätsverlag Potsdam, 2007. 81—92.



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Glass fusing with mixed results

Last summer, I bartered with somebody for a cardboard box of glass shards from a stained glass studio. It’s a great variety of colors and sizes, and was labelled COE 96. (All glasses have a specific coefficient of expansion. That refers to how much they expand and contract when heated. You can’t mix different COEs or the project cracks. This will become relevant later on.) It’s been staring at me reproachfully ever since and begging to be used. I don’t know how to do stained glass (yet) but I do have a kiln capable of doing small glass projects. I usually use it for annealing beads, but it is a pretty flexible model. With all this free compatible glass laying around, I decided to try some fusing projects in hopes of working up to slumped and/or cast items.

My ancient Paragon Q11A.

My ancient Paragon Q11A. It stands on a heatproof surface when in use; this pic was taken when it was cooled off and just on the floor out of the way.

What the Paragon website says a Paragon Q11A looks like.

What the Paragon website says a Paragon Q11A looks like.

The problem is that my kiln is a little… unorthodox. I inherited it from a friend. Its serial number plate says it’s a Paragon Q11A. I think it’s either a very early model or one that’s seen a lot of things in its life, because it’s nowhere near the spiff and sleek blue beauty on the Paragon website. It stands freely on its little legs, without the protective skirts of the newer models. Its controller is attached to the side like an afterthought, and the heat gauge is even sketchier. It consists of a thermocouple literally poked through a hole in the top. That said, it’s worked like a champ for all the years I’ve been lampworking. I’ve never had a problem using it to batch anneal glass beads.

Last night, I decided to try my hand at glass fusing for the very first time. I’ve seen it done a few times and read a bit about the technical aspects. With a box of free glass taking up space in my shop, it was time to give it a shot. I assembled a handful of small projects, a larger thin thing I hoped would make a nifty suncatcher, and half a dozen beads that had cracked on me (glow glass is very unforgiving) and were gonna be thrown out anyways. I dug up a suggested firing schedule for COE 96 glass and got going. My old beauty doesn’t have a programmable controller, so any firing schedule requires constant attention. My usual strategy is to take a dry-erase marker and put a dot of paint on the temperature I’m shooting for, so I can look up from whatever I’m doing every few minutes and check it without walking over.

Finished projects. Lots of problems.

Finished projects. Lots of problems.

These are the small fusing projects. I don’t have any glass cutting equipment yet, so these were made by selecting glass that happened to be the right sizes. I knew they’d be a bit lumpy. A few came out great; the majority were disappointing. I swear to you that top bar had a layer of clear glass when it went into the kiln. I don’t know if it turned opaque from devitrification or just was a mystery glass that was supposed to do that, but it makes me sad.

What was supposed to be the back side.

What was supposed to be the back side. The base layer was swirly clear and white.

Pendants with glow glass powder. One spread out more than expected and swallowed its wire bail. Both seem to have cooked their glow powder, 'cause they don't glow.

Pendants with glow glass powder.

Clockwise, two pendants of clear with glow powder between the layers. I can’t use the glow powder well in lampworking because it tends to burn while being encased. That stuff is very temperamental – it’s hard to use because it makes the glass brittle and very thermal shocky. It also loses its glow ability if heated over a certain temperature (direct flame, for instance). One spread out more than expected and swallowed its wire bail. I used a bit of pure copper wire between the layers of glass. One was bent into a swooping spiral; the other plain. Both seem to have cooked their glow powder, ’cause they don’t glow. I really like the looks of that one on the right in particular, though, even without any glow in the dark capability, so it’s not a complete loss.

Front side. Serious incompatibility with light blue.

Front side. Serious incompatibility with light blue.

At the 7 o’clock position is a layer of white glass with shards of color and a bumpy top clear piece. I was really hoping this would be cool. As I said, I don’t have glass cutting gear, so I knew there’d be some overlap with that slightly too large clear top piece and I hoped it would look good anyways. For some reason this one didn’t heat enough and failed to slump all the way. Turns out to be a moot point, since the light blue chip inside it is clearly a different COE than the rest of it and has cracked all around.

Back side. Note the precise cracking around the light blue shard.

Back side.

This is the back side of that piece with the bumpy top. You can clearly see where that light blue adhered to the glass above and below it, but then when it cooled it proved to be more flexible (or less so) than those two layers, and so there are stress crack lines around it where something had to give. This can’t be saved. It’s probably going to crack completely eventually. Even remelting it won’t fix this. Sigh. At least the glass was free! Unfortunately, knowing now that there are mixed COEs in this box, I can’t comfortably use it for any more hot work since this problem could happen again at any project. Next skill to conquer: stained glass!

At 9 o’clock is a yellow base with some color and a clear top. It devitrified and looks hazy. Not a complete fail, but not what I was going for. I tried to flash vent the kiln to drop it quickly from the slumping temperature (~1400*F) down to a slightly cooler range, since sometimes glass will develop a crystalline structure if allowed to cool slowly. DSC09349 I’ve heard that most glass manufacturers have tweaked their recipes to avoid that problem, but clearly not the maker of this batch. I flash vented by turning off the heating element and cracking open the kiln, but it just didn’t drop fast enough. I think the fire brick holds a lot of heat. Even with the kiln off and the door open a few inches, it took long enough for the thermometer to drop just from 1400* to 1100* that I was starting to worry about cracking something and shut the door again. I don’t know if I wussed out or if that’s an actual issue with this kiln.  I’m happiest with the center piece: some iridescent clear over a strip of teal and two dichroic(?) or iridized black chips. That came out perfect.

Suncatcher idea. Not enough glass made it get very sharp & pointy.

Not enough glass made it get very sharp & pointy.

The largest project was this random assortment of stacked shards. It wasn’t a failure, technically speaking, but not what I was hoping for. And at least this time, the error was purely mine. I didn’t stack enough glass layers (only one in most places) to avoid the ends from getting sharp as the glass relaxed and drew towards the center. I deliberately left holes between the shards so I could string wire and hang it in the sunlight. As I said – not a complete failure; it just doesn’t look like the image I had had in my head when I was putting it together. That’s an inexperience issue, not a technical problem. It’s still pretty and none of the glass cracked or devitrified, so that puts it ahead of the rest of the class. ;)

Last but not least, the arrangement of disposable cracked beads I put in there mostly out of curiosity. The bottom ones were glow in the dark Laurel medallions that had cracked before I figured out the appropriate annealing cycle for that material. I’d tried to slump them a little bit to heal their cracks but with no luck. So I put a loop of copper wire through their holes and decided to just flatten them out and see what happened. The wire is so I can still string it on something if I’d liked the effect.

Cracked beads.

Cracked beads.

That… was a mixed success. On the top left one, it worked okay. The bottom two spread out farther than their wire loops, and swallowed them into the glass. The top right one rejected the loop completely and spat it to the surface. Ha. The red ones were two beads containing Pennsic dust that had cracked, so I split them. The wire on the top right one can be removed, leaving it still an oddly shaped bead. The center is a perfect cabochon. Yay! Left side was a layer of encasing clear that had cracked off but still contained dust, so I slumped it anyways. It too made a neat cabochon.

So, verdict? The kiln worked more or less okay. My inexperience with the process led to at least one problem, probably more. But the real kicker is that random COE shard of blue. If there’s one non-COE96 piece in there, there’s probably more. So that rules out this entire box for hotworking projects. I can still use it for stained glass, but melting two different colors in contact with each other is asking for failure. Back to the project board!

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Wondrous Tidings

If you follow me on Facebook or were attending the recent Market Day at Birka (SCA) event, you’ve probably already heard: I was elevated to the Order of the Laurel for my glass beadmaking and research skills. This is the highest award the SCA has to offer for excellence in the arts and sciences. It was a very long and hectic day, and if I fail to mention any kindness you offered me during the event please understand it’s due to the fact everything was all a happy blur.

Vigil space.

Vigil space.

I was called into morning court on Saturday along with Ro Honig von Sommerfeldt, and the two of us were each sent off to our respective vigils. I was whisked off to a curtained off area near my merchanting booth. My Laurel, Mistress Bess Darnley, had coordinated my apprentice siblings and household members into various tasks. My former apprentice sibling (elevated before me) Master D’Unstable and current siblings Lady Pypa Ravenild,  Lady Mergriet Van Wijenhorst and Lord Díarmait Ó Bríain had set up a vigil space near my booth so I could both attend my vigil and also keep an eye on my shop. They outdid themselves. It was an elegantly appointed chamber under a skylight. Comfortable Roman-style chairs and pillar candles were around the room, as well as sprays of laurel in a brass pot. My apprentice sister Lady Mergriet had made strands of beads out of sugar paste and left them as a subtlety. She also made a wonderful selection of Roman dishes and served samples in little boxes. (The event site did not allow food to be openly served, but box lunches were okay.)

My partner Master Ekkehardt of Oakenwode and I pose in the vigil space.

My partner Master Ekkehardt of Oakenwode and I.

I had a constant stream of visitors for the first few hours. Some were people I knew; others were unknown to me. The advice ranged from brief expressions of congratulations to anecdotes and some deep philosophical conversations. I took advantage of the wonderfully pure clear light coming from the skylight to take a bunch of pictures during the quieter moments. The green and gold curtains made an elegant backdrop, and my household had created a number of heraldic banners to hang on the outside.

Gifts and regalia.

Gifts and regalia.

My Laureling was the very last item in the royal court docket, so my housemates and apprentice family had time to assemble at the back of the room. My friend Tiberivs Ivlivs Rvfvs had made a lovely silk banner with my heraldry, and my mistress’ son led the procession with it. My partner Master Ekkehardt of Oakenwode walked up with me, and behind us walked Mistress Bess Darnley and her husband Syr Yesungge Altan. Following them marched the co-leaders of my household, each holding parts of my regalia. The diadem was made by Lady Cornelia vandenBrugge, veil pins and earrings by Lady Konstantia Kaloethina, cloak by Mistress Bess Darnley, and fibulae by my own Master Ekkehardt.

DSC09027 My Laurelling medallion has a legacy behind it – it is the same one given to my Laurel upon her elevation, and it’s strung on a chain of beads made by glassworking friends and students I have taught. There are a few non-glass ones in there – one is made of ceramic (made at a ceramics class and donated when she couldn’t find the glass bead she’d meant to offer) and another is a good luck charm of ivory. They’re all separated with little brass beads.

Syr Yesungge Altan spoke for me as a member of the Chivalry. Mistress Mirabel Belchere, who had been helping out all day covering my shop while I was in vigil, spoke for me as a Laurel. Mistress Aine Callaghan spoke movingly as a member of the Order of the Pelican. She was the one who taught me to use a glassworking torch years ago while I was in college and she was my closest SCAdian neighbor. We tried our hands at all sorts of projects from brass etching to wild-harvesting grapes and elderberries for jelly together. When she finished her speech, I think half the folks on the dais and more than a few members of the crowd were quietly sniffling. And I’d been holding it together up until then! ;) Hlafdig Arastorm the Golden testified on behalf of the Ladies of the Rose afterwards, and her humor gave me a boost to get ahold of myself so I wouldn’t cry through the rest of the ceremony.

When Their Majesties asked if a member of the populace would speak, there was a moment’s silence – the gentleman who had been going to speak had been called out for a last minute errand! I had to laugh at the awkward pause. Another friend later came up to me and said that he didn’t know what the etiquette was for that situation, but that if anyone had been allowed to speak at that moment he would have vouched that anyone who could teach his wife to play with molten glass without burning down the building around herself was clearly doing it right. And I think that’s an awesome testimonial.

Scroll made by Mistress Caterina, text by my apprentice brother Diarmaid, and translated to Latin by Master Andrixos.

Scroll made by Mistress Caterina, text by my apprentice brother Diarmaid, and translated to Latin by Master Andrixos.

My scroll is simple and elegant – a lovely illuminated capital that shines with gold in the sunlight, and two classically-dressed women as supporters holding a Laurel wreath over my heraldry. The text was written in English by Díarmait, translated into Latin by Master Andrixos Seljukroctonis of Calontir, and put to paper by Mistress Caterina (whose last name I didn’t catch).

The ceremony was given one last happy touch when King Kenric asked my partner Master Ekkehardt to pause a moment before escorting me back down the hall. His Majesty spoke of Ekk’s long service to the Crown and to the armies of the East, and presented him with half a dozen silver coins as payment for his service. The coins were struck with Kenric’s likeness and are very nifty. Ekk is planning to get back into armor again after a hiatus of several years’ duration from a back injury, so this was a meaningful gift.

My Roman bling. ;)

My Roman bling. ;)

After my Laureling, it was right back to work as I now had to go take down my merchanting booth so the hall cleanup could begin. That didn’t stop me from getting this picture taken during a break in the work. Even in the terrible fluorescent lighting of the merchant area, it came out great. Once the booth was all broken down and back in the car, I discovered my household had made arrangements for an afterparty in the rooms we had booked. They had made marzipan leaves and decorated a cake, as well as a platter of beads made of marzipan. The room was packed.

Once the party started to wind down, I decided that as the newest Laurel of the East I was gonna go see what trouble my new medallion could get me into. Since this wasn’t a camping event where the parties are a lot more obvious, this proved harder than expected and I ended up in the big suite at the top of the hotel with a lot of nobles higher up on the food chain than myself. I chatted with a few of the folks there that I knew, but by then the excitement of the day was catching up with me and it was time for bed.

My deepest gratitude for all the friends who came together to make this day go so smoothly. I am overwhelmed by your generosity of time and talent.

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Murrini challenges

I play around a lot with mosaic cane. One of last year’s projects on the murrini/mosaic cane front was an attempt to recreate the Northern Army’s badge in glass. I pulled a decent cane for it, but I just never could get it to apply right. My guess is that the black I used isn’t opaque enough (it runs to a very deep clear-ish purple) and that the nippers I’m using to cut slices off the cane are not cutting it flat enough, so the face runs and distorts, even with a clear encasing. Sigh. I need to try this with “Intense Black” glass which is designed not to bleed out to dark clear purple.

I find making cane to be pretty challenging – not only do you have to think in the standard dimensions, but add the extra dimensions of time/heat balance and glass sag. To top it off, you’re doing it blind (the design gets covered as you make it) and sideways (you’re going to be pulling it like taffy and cutting off slices).

Three beads made with slices from that cane show the flaws in the pattern and different application tricks you can use for varying effects. The first one (the orange bead) is done traditionally, just applying the murrini slice to the surface of the molten bead and letting it melt flat. The downside to this is that you usually lose the detail of the design’s center, as seen. It’s recognizable, but the star is supposed to be the center charge and the white lines are just supposed to be embattlements. What happens is that the center pattern shrinks down into the bead as the base expands out while melting. This technique is period, and it’s used to make what’s referred to as the Viking “sunburst” murrini pattern. (Think the Imperial Japanese rising sun flag from World War II – a red core covered with red and white stripes will expand into this design when melted flat onto a bead. You can see other examples of sunburst murrini that I pulled for this bead strand.) It’s a flop when you’re trying to draw attention to the center of the murrini slice.

A modern glassworker’s trick to prevent this loss of center detail is to cap the slice with a dot of clear glass right after you stick it to the bead. This dot of clear glass melts in and protects the slice’s face, and also has the added benefit of serving as a lens to magnify the center design. Unfortunately, if the murrini slice is already starting to melt, or wasn’t cut straight enough, the face design warps. As seen here.

Northern and Boreal Army beads.

Northern and Boreal Army beads.

So yeah, I haven’t perfected the Northern Army badge murrini yet, but I feel confident I’ll get there. In the mean time, I’ve gotten around this temporary stumbling block by making Northern Army and Boreal Army beads that use a finely twisted stringer to recreate the embattlements along the border. I originally tried to make the embattlements with masked dots, but found that way too time consuming for not enough results. The star is applied white glass that is dragged out with a sharp tool to create the points. They aren’t heraldically perfect, but at least everyone who looks at them can tell what they’re supposed to be!

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1st century Roman lady’s hair piece

I have this thing where I cut my hair off pretty much like clockwork every 5 years or so. I usually make that call right around the time when it’s 85*F, humid, and my hair’s tangling itself miraculously in the middle of the night. It grows really fast, so that means I usually have hair down to my hips by the time I am so sick of it I just need it all gone right now. That means, however, that I’m then stuck with anachronistically short hair for the next couple of years while it grows out. For my Elizabethan portrayal, that wasn’t an issue as I just wore forehead cloths under my coifs. No hair is supposed to be visible, ergo no problem if it’s buzzed short or dyed a funky color.

Three views of a Flavian lady.

Three views of a Flavian lady.

With Roman, though, I’ve got a problem. Roman women’s hair in the first century is elaborately coiffed and piled on top of the head, and only slightly covered by a veil. This style, called the orbis comarum by hair historian Janet Stephens, features a wreath of braids at the back of the head and a high fringe of curls at the front. The wreath could be a false hairpiece pinned over the wearer’s original hair. My hair is currently just below my ears in length. Fortunately, I’ve saved my long hair the last few times I’ve cut it short, so I’ve got several 12″+ long braids to work with. I followed Janet Stephens’ tutorial video on this hairstyle to make my false hairpiece.

Top: half of the hair from one haircut. Bottom: 6 smaller braids made from the other large one.

Top: half of the hair from one haircut. Bottom: 6 smaller braids made from the other large one.

My hair is very thick (a ponytail tends to be about the diameter of my wrist) and so when I cut it a few years ago I divided it into two braids. For this project, each braid was then divided into six smaller braids giving me a total of twelve braids to work with, each about a foot long. The ends are stitched together with a needle and thread. To minimize frizz, I ran a small amount of Bag Balm (a lanolin salve) through the hair while I braided it. Once the ends were firmly secured, I then cut off the extra inch or so that was left outside the stitching.

Ends all stitched together before shaping.

Ends all stitched together before shaping. Displayed on a classy, classy recycled cafeteria tray.

With 12 small braids completed, I layered them in 4 rows of 3 braids and staggered the ends to taper the finished product. Each braid was stitched to its neighbors. When all 12 were firmly attached to each other, I sewed the whole thing together repeatedly with anchoring stitches just to minimize the chances of it shifting around while being worn. I loosely twisted them into a circle shape and used the longest of the braids to wrap over the spot where the wreath joined. I put a handful of catch stitches throughout the wreath to keep the braids together once it’s being worn.

Finished wreath.

Finished wreath.

The finished wreath isn’t quite as tear-drop shaped as it appears in this picture. To finish off the look, the short real hair forward of my ears will be teased into rag curls. Hair behind the ears will be French braided and pulled together to be hidden under the wreath pinned in place on the back of my head. The final project to make this ready for wear is to get some hairpins done. I’ve seen a few really neat ones (such as these lovely poppy Roman hair ornaments). My goal is to have this hairstyle for Birka, a large SCA event in New Hampshire in January. I think I can do it. This has been a nifty challenge.

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A&S Documentation: The Hadleigh Road Necklace

A selection of Anglo-Saxon beads from Hadleigh Road cemetery, Ipswich, UK.

Lady Elinor Strangewayes, OM. Shire of Mountain Freehold.
Materials: Glass beads, wire.
Date: 2nd – 7th century AD. One grave in the cemetery contained a Roman coin of Marcus Aurelius dating to 161 AD. The majority of these beads date between the 5th and 7th centuries.

Beads from Hadleigh Road cemetery, Ipswich. Image from Layard, N.F. 1909. “Anglo-Saxon Cemetery, Hadleigh Road, Ipswich,” Proceedings of the Suffolk Institute of Archaeology, Volume 13, pt 1, 1-20.

Beads from Hadleigh Road cemetery, Ipswich. Image from Layard, N.F. 1909. “Anglo-Saxon Cemetery, Hadleigh Road, Ipswich,” Proceedings of the Suffolk Institute of Archaeology, Volume 13, pt 1, 1-20.

My copy of the longest of the Hadleigh Road necklaces.

My copy of the longest of the Hadleigh Road necklaces.

The cemetery in which these beads were found was excavated in 1906-07.1 Unfortunately, the excavation was fairly haphazard (the leader of the expedition, Nina Layard, mentions that a large group of unemployed locals were set loose in one part of the field with shovels and told to find “relics” of interest) and so much of the beads’ provenance and context is missing. This strand is not especially accurate because it was assembled to 20th century aesthetics. Dr. Layard further notes that the beads’ original position on the strands was not recorded, that the artist chose to assemble the strands in such a way as to feature every bead pattern found, and that many amber beads were not included in the reconstruction. Original Anglo-Saxon necklaces are not symmetrical with one large center piece and bilateral symmetry up the strand. They tend to be more randomly strung, sometimes with one or two beads hung like charms from loops of wire.

I chose to recreate the longest of the strands presented by the Layard expedition artist because it is a good sample of a variety of bead patterns. My beads were made out of modern Effetre glass on a propane-fueled HotHead torch. In period, these would have been made over charcoal or wood fired beehive-shaped furnaces powered with bellows. I purchase my glass in rods produced in Italy. The beadmakers of the early Middle Ages also used a lot of Italian (Roman) origin glass, which was frequently of superior quality to locally produced material. When the Roman legions withdrew, European glassmakers had had to make do with the components on hand. One important ingredient in early glass was potash made from burnt Mediterranean seaweed. Once that was no longer available, the northern glasshouses began using potash made from burnt ferns which was significantly less pure.2 Anglo-Saxon and Norse beads are frequently unstable and prone to deterioration over time as the glass breaks down. That can be seen clearly in some of the original beads where the colored waves proved softer than the original glass and decomposed out.DSC09780

The majority of these bead patterns have been documented by bead scholars Birte Brugmann, Johan Callmer, and Margaret Guido in their works on Anglo-Saxon and Continental bead trade.3 The original recreated necklace had 4 amber beads and one of rock crystal or rose quartz, which I have recreated with glass. Clear or amber-colored glass beads are not unknown in the historical record. Red beads with white or yellow crossed waves are Guido classification 8xiv. The pattern was produced in multiple glasshouses in mainland Europe and came into England via Kent and the Thames estuary in the 6th and 7th centuries.4 White beads with blue waves were popular in the Rhineland, Netherlands, and northern France circa 550 – 650AD.5 Margaret Guido suggests that they were a bead style of limited popularity. In her classification tables, Guido labels the type 3iiia A glasshouse near Leiden in the Netherlands is known to have produced beads like this. In England, they are most often found in the southern counties though some have been discovered as far north as Yorkshire. White beads with red lines may represent a local variation on 3iiia possibly produced in Norfolk and Suffolk.

Center beads.

Center beads.

Of the large beads in the center, the white beads with red lines or blue lines are simply variants of the patterns discussed above. The white beads with crossed blue lines and red dots was popular in the Rhineland, northern France, and the Netherlands. The style came from glassworks near Leiden around 600AD. Many were imported into England, concentrated in the southern counties and as far north as Yorkshire. Margaret Guido calls this style type 3iiic.6 Other contemporary examples I’ve seen include a bead in a necklace found at Gotland and currently at the Swedish Historical Museum (artifact #454255. SHM 4689); also a 6th century Frankish necklace at the Metropolitan Museum, NY, accession number 17.193.45. The white beads with blue dots are uncommon, which is surprising given the simplicity of their pattern. A few have been found in Germany, possibly of Frankish origin. Margaret Guido’s opinion is that they are rare enough to make it difficult for an accurate date, but her theory is that they are of Rhineland origin and were imported into England between 500 and 650 AD.7 The large white beads with double crossed blue lines, a center blue line, and red dots on the intersections are new to me. The challenge in going with artistic representations versus primary sources is the uncertainty of the accuracy of the drawings. I have never seen this exact pattern before, but it doesn’t look jarringly out of place in an Anglo-Saxon context. They might be a variation on Guido type 3iiic (white beads with crossed blue lines and red dots), but I cannot find any other examples. The large bead in the center is of rose-colored Effetre glass, but the original was probably rock crystal or rose quartz.

My biggest challenge in this project was deliberately lowering the quality of my stringer work.8 The lines on the original beads are erratic and imprecise. Thanks to modern flame control technology and thousands of hours at the torch, my beads can be pretty precise replicas of each other. I had to carefully choose to make the stringer sloppy to capture the look of the originals. The other challenge was the size of the beads. It’s hard to tell the exact size of the originals since there was no scale on the drawings. I like to work on a fairly small scale, and some of these beads appear to be nutmeg-sized. I strung the beads on fine wire. In period wire or linen thread would have been appropriate. No trace of the original stringing medium was found in any of the graves excavated.

Overall, I had fun with this project. It’s the first time I’ve set out to copy a specific strand, and I think it came out pretty well.


1Layard, N.F. 1909. “Anglo-Saxon Cemetery, Hadleigh Road, Ipswich,” Proceedings of the Suffolk Institute of Archaeology, Volume 13, pt 1, 1-20.

2Kidd, Kenneth E. 1979. Glass Bead-Making from the Middle Aegs to the Early 19th Century. Parks Canada: Ottawa, ON.

3Brugmann, Birte. Glass Beads from Early Anglo-Saxon Graves: A Study of the Provenance and Chronology of Glass Beads from Early Anglo-Saxon Graves, Based on Visual Examination. Oxford: Oxbow Books, 2004; Callmer, Johan. 1977. Trade Beads and Bead Trade in Scandinavia ca. 800 – 1000 AD. Acta Archaeologica Lundensia 4th Series, No. 11. Lund: Munksgaard; Guido, Margaret. 1978. The Glass Beads of the Prehistoric and Roman Periods in Britain and Ireland, Rep. Res. Comm. Soc. Antiq. Lond. 35, (London).

4Guido, Margaret. 1999. The Glass Beads of Anglo-Saxon England c. AD 400-700 (ed. Welch, M.) Rep. Res. Comm. Soc. Antiq. Lond. 56, (London). Page 63.

5Guido 1999: 32

6Guido 1999:32-33

7Guido 1999: 34

8Stringer is fine strands of glass used to make decorations or patterns on the beads in the flame.

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Changes in the wind

Gulf Wars, 2011

Gulf Wars, 2011

Last summer, I started noticing that when the thermometer got over 75*F or so, I was having a hard time functioning. Brain fog, fatigue, getting confused easily – and it was even worse when I was wearing my full Elizabethan clothing. This isn’t to say that the clothing itself was intolerably hot by default (I’ve been wearing it for years and thousands of others did so their entire lives) but that I was suddenly having problems with the heat where no such problems had existed before. I realized that the culprit was a medication I have to take every day. It’s not something I am willing to stop taking, so I decided I had to minimize my heat exposure during warm weather. That, sadly, meant giving up my beloved working class clothing of the late 16th century.

I agonized over this decision for a very long time, not the least of which was because I had no idea what time period to do next if the 16th century was out and all others had to be eyed suspiciously for heat index. None of the other SCA-period centuries really appealed to me. I do like the dorky hats of the Burgundians, but I’ve been less than impressed with how the rest of that era’s clothing looks on me. I look like a potato sack in Viking, and besides, the culture doesn’t resonate with me. I like the material culture of the Vikings – beads, obviously, but also the personal items and weaponry and the ships – but I’ve never made it through a saga without falling asleep. The culture just doesn’t feel like “home” to me.

My new Roman kit, Pennsic 2013.

My new Roman kit, Pennsic 2013.

Finally, I decided to become a citizen of Rome. Some of the people I really respect in the SCA have been doing kick-ass Roman impressions for years, and they make it look good. The clothing is dead simple to make, cool and comfortable, and still looks elegant if draped correctly on any size or shape of body. I took Latin in college and studied a bit of Roman history there. A lot of the things I like most about my research in the 16th century still translate to this culture and period – there’s a heady mix of cultures swirling around across oceans, with all the fascinating pushback and compromising and appropriating that intrigues me.

The big stumbling block for me was finding the human faces out of those centuries of anonymous crowds. I have a hard time really feeling interested in a given culture or time period unless I can feel like I know its residents and have a sense of their daily life. It’s why I’m not that interested in prehistoric stuff all that much – there’s just too wide a gulf in what we know to be able to get the sense that they were everyday normal people. For me in the 16th century, I found that easily through the vast body of primary source material and all the Elizabethan-themed movies, books, TV shows it inspired. I really liked being able to read the firsthand words of some fishwife being called into court for slandering her neighbor, or hear a joke told 400 years ago and still find it funny. Most of my experience with Rome was of the sonorously formal “Gallia est omnis divisa in partes tres” type from Latin class and the stoic old white dudes in toga statues you see everywhere with pretensions to neoclassical culture.

It took two TV series, one fiction and one nonfiction, for me to dip my toes into the water and finally see living, vibrant Rome. I started by watching the HBO series Rome, which was a fun show. It was full of historical inaccuracies, but it made average Romans seem real and alive. I followed that up with Mary Beard’s Meet the Romans series on YouTube. It’s a wonderful romp through the graffiti and realities of everyday common Roman life. I highly recommend it. With those two series under my belt, I’d seen the faces in the crowd. Now I’ve moved on to primary source sculptures, frescoes, and paintings. I am excited to have a whole new world of research opportunities!

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