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SÆXIA - Inclusive and Welcoming!

For the most part SÆXIA attempts to portray well equipped Fyrdsmen and other characters from the Early Medieval/Dark Ages period. We respect the work of archeologists and historians who study grave finds and ancient manuscripts in order to help build an authentic Living History impression of the world our forebears lived in. 

 That said, there is a growing trend amongst some reenactment groups to place the ideal of total authenticity over the value of the groups individual members and their wellbeing. An increasing number of reenactors have started to leave this hobby, for it remains that much in the reenactment world is from the voluntary contributions of time, effort, expense and manpower with only a small percentage of remuneration. It is common to all that when our energies are set on "generously give", and then that same venture or group we are building up then mistreats us, it doesn't take much to then feel we must throw in the towel and go find other activities that are more rewarding.

 In summary, individuals who enjoy the pursuit of historical reenactment, and who step up to join and support reenactment societies and events, should be welcomed and valued for the uncommon and precious contribution they bring. It is not everyday that people turn up who have the motivation and drive to, at their own expense, build up their own kit and give of their free time to make things happen.

 At SÆXIA we ensure the individual member comes first, authenticity can be developed and worked on second. Our standards remain high when certain events/educational services demand, however this is managed by the Witan and new members need not be concerned about obtaining a full set of fully authentic kit upon first joining.

 To further illustrate, the following article is from our Social Media Facebook page:

 

AUTHENTICITY

 

Confronting a contentious issue in the reenactment world: butted mail or rivetted mail?!

Butted mail, formed by making thousands of thick wire rings, cutting them down one side and closing them interlinked with other wire rings. The result is a mesh of steel "chainmail" (historically only referred to as "mail/maille", the "chain" part got added in the 20th century to differentiate between different forms of armour made from small links or plates of iron/steel).

Historically butted mail was used right up until the 19th century, in a few Asian regions.

However its use in early medieval reenactment is becoming increasingly frowned on as inauthentic.

There is some logic behind this attitude.

The few archeological fragments of mail that have been discovered from the early medieval period are rivetted, or the rings are welded closed during the forging process. However there are additional reasons for why rivetted mail was more frequently used in early medieval European history, and that is because predominantly blacksmiths were working with iron, not steel. Steel was a kind of "happy accident" for blacksmiths, who found that working with iron in charcoal fueled forges somehow increased the hardness and durability. However, for the most part, this was still a rather experimental time in the development of iron. There is a historical account of an iron sword bending after an impact in combat, with the combatant having to run off to one side, stamp on the blade to make the blade flat, and then rejoin the battle! To make mail in those times without rivetting was just asking for trouble: the iron rings would easily pull apart under the overall weight of a mail shirt. Rivetting the rings was the only option to stop this from happening. 

 However, we in the 21st century enjoy access to a wide range of factory forged steels of many grades and types. The tensile quality of the steel used to make butted mail today would have been a godsend to early medieval blacksmiths! Would they have gone to all the trouble of rivetting those thousands of links if they didn't need to? Of course not! 

 So this is another factor that needs to be considered when thinking about "authenticity". 

As most reenactment groups are doing the best they can to accurately portray the early medieval period, it makes sense that seasoned and knowledgeable reenactors would prefer to wear and see other members wearing rivetted mail as one more step towards better recreating the genuine kit and costume of early medieval people.

However, as far too many are finding, "authenticity" has become a very fickle and problematic aspect of reenactment in recent years.

Amongst the many issues which need addressing and resolving across the reenactment community, one of these is the insular nature of reenactment groups, and how understandings "on the inside" do not always accurately reflect public reactions or perceptions to encountering reenactors at events.

Public interface and education is certainly a key part of the work provided by reenactment groups. However another key element that these groups provide, and which importantly attracts (or doesn't!) public support and business, is the "acting" part of "reen-acting".

The show. The spectacle. The display. The FUN and enjoyment factor!

Public who pay to attend events are certainly interested in market stalls full of authentic replica clothing and other items. They are of course interested to be told that so-and-so is wearing authentically hand made shoes from Jorvik, an authentic tunic hand stitched from hand spun woollen fabric, and hand dyed with dyes made from totally authentic plants prepared in the authentic way and boiled over an authentic fire in an authentic cauldron using authentic wood that burns authentically and gives off the authentic type of smoke, while the water was collected using an authentic scooping method described in the sagas from an authentic stream nearby (that had to be redirected back to it's authentic 9th century course as it was following an inauthentic 21st century course it had eroded for itself over the last 1200 years or so ...

The above example, believe it or not, is not to mindlessly mock sincere attempts at authenticity. At SÆXIA, just as with other reenactment groups out there, we treasure the world our forebears knew, and each new archeological discovery that helps us understand them and the lives they lived is of great fascination to us.

Indeed, some of the first research and experimental archeology that we took on was research into the Anglo Saxon Seax, creating replicas of surviving examples in the British Museum, and putting them to work to better understand how these tools helped in Anglo Saxon construction, which was predominantly timber processing and the erection of timber framed homesteads, halls, and other structures.

However, as in the example above, it is possible to become so obsessed with "authenticity" that a kind of psychological elitist mentality develops.

Did we smelt the iron to make our reproduction seaxes?

Did we cut the timber to fashion the handles using authentic bearded hatchets?

Did we boil up our own glue from authentic sources to secure the handle to the tang?

Did we skin and tan an animal hide to make the sheath?

Answer to all the above: no, we did not.

Do some reenactors do all the above?

Yes. And credit to them. They have possibly more time and resources at their disposal to be able to do that, which of course is another very pertinent point that follows on from this topic.

The steps in authentically recreating items, costume, arms and armour, and onward to the very lifestyles of our early medieval forebears, need to be much more clearly scrutinised through the lens of common sense and understanding.

Example: a seasoned reenactor with a penchant for extreme authenticity and a disdain for inauthenticity may well rip our attempt at understanding the seax to pieces, based on our failure to have smelted our own iron, cured our own leather etc etc etc.

Did we somehow commit a cardinal sin of reenactment by using an angle grinder to copy the shape of a museum exhibit seax, cut it from a piece of rusty scrap carbon steel, sand it and heat treat said piece of steel to give it a little durability, and using some industrial strength loctite to attach the wood to the handle?

Given that the emphasis of our experiment was focussed on how a seax was used, rather than how it was constructed, I don't think we did.

Someone might comment that our experiment therefore remains inauthentic because the seax then was constructed in a modern way, and therefore however we used it from then on was not authentic.

To that I would have to say, not authentic; as in like guys dressed in fully rivetted mail bashing each other repeatedly with EN45 Spring Steel weapons while wearing 14gauge heavy steel helmets, using plywood shields, wearing modern MMA body armour, thick leather steel reinforced combat gloves, and claiming that that is reenactment early medieval combat, and is how our forebears fought and used their weaponry?

Again, at SÆXIA we actually have no issue with reenactment combat, and are training in most current forms, fully understanding and implementing the 21st century protocols used for reenactment combat, such as using EN45 spring steel weapons as these are designed and constructed for a harder useage than originals. The issue is that, for practical, Health & Safety based reasons, it suddenly becomes acceptable and encouraged, mandated even, to practise 21st century "reenactorisms" instead of practising 100% purist authenticity.

Which finally brings us back to the original issue: butted mail or rivetted mail?

The larger early medieval societies are actively discouraging butted mail, "phasing it out", as inauthentic.

Is this logically "correct"? Yes.

Is this logistically "correct"...?

Rivetted mail, at least mail worth purchasing (as there is some cheap rubbish out there which actually loses links faster than good quality butted!) is generally around 3 or 4 times what a coat of butted mail costs.

Do the public always notice whether a Saxon/Viking warrior is wearing butted or rivetted mail? And if they do notice, do they care enough that someone wearing butted mail ruins their whole experience?

The public are not always/often as intently into the specifics of authenticity in every detail in the way reenactors (or the odd visiting members of the public who happen to be history teachers) are.

Is a form of financial elitism creeping into the world or early medieval reenactment?

As many mature reenactors will tell you, it can take literally years and years to build up a fully authentic costume and set of equipment, and literally thousands of pounds are spent on what is still essentially a hobby.

With all the emphasis on authenticity, it does seem that a common sensicle approach has been forgotten when dealing with queries from the public: it is quite acceptable to simply explain that, for example, this mail isn't exactly accurate for what we're doing here today, as it's butted, not like him over there who has fully rivetted mail on. And the member of the public, who was actually just thinking "wow, cool, clothes made of metal", actually then has to be told there is are different types of mail in the first place.

Additionally, Mr fully-authentically-rivetted happens to be nearing retirement and has obviously enjoyed far too many banquets, and looks like he might need a paramedic if he actually tries exerting himself while wearing the fully authentic rivetted mail, whereas Mr I-only-could-afford-2nd-hand-butted is young, strong, and is fully able to run across the battlefield, hammer his foes with his EN45 spring steel weapons, and ask for seconds...

 Illustrating the point: reenactor on the left is wearing butted steel mail, reenactor on the right is wearing rivetted mail, however during this display of Early Medieval Spear Combat, the mail is not even the secondary focus: the public observing this display commented on the effective and dynamic combat style, the overall look of the kit and costume, and details and particulars such as the authentic material leg wraps, the shoes, and size and style of roundshield etc were not commented on

So, rivetted or butted mail?

At SÆXIA I think we'll remain flexible on that issue. Yes it's more authentic to have rivetted mail. If you are joining us and thinking about purchasing some mail, and you have the funds for rivetted, obviously go for it. We would prefer to be as authentic as possible.

However if you are already forking out on ordinary 21st century expenses like bills, groceries, utilities, and are struggling to get even a decent tunic together let alone a full warrior kit, then if you find some butted mail going for a bargain, it fits you, and you're wondering if we'll be ok with it, then the answers yes, it's fine.

If anyone at an event is looking closely over your kit, and you know you're fully authentic down to the last stitch, great! You're our walking talking gateway to the past! However, if you know/have been told of inauthentic components of your kit, just be honest about them if asked. Like, hey, this tunic? It should be linen but it's actually cotton. I have regular socks on under these leather turnshoes. If you want an example of a really authentic replica tunic, go see him over there... etc.

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