Wednesday, 23 September 2015

The Colours of Early Medieval Warfare

I recently was in touch with an old pal who used to do a lot of Viking reenactment and has quite a lot of experience in the matter. I had asked him about the colours that an Anglo Danish army might have been wearing and he sent me the following (I thought that I'd share as it was a question posed on the LAF Forum and might well prove useful to others who are painting up similar armies):

"Dark Age Colours

There is much debate about the colours employed by the Vikings to dye their clothes, particularly as so little survives. What is clear from experimental archaeology however, is that the brightest and the most colourful dyes were usually the most expensive and thereby used by the more well to do Viking. In this category we also find Jet Black and Brilliant White. The former was a mixture of three of the most expensive dyes: cochineal - red, woad - blue, and a brilliant yellow probably weld. The latter was produced by the repetitive process of wetting then sun drying, or else bleaching the material white with wood ash. More mundane shades of grey and very dark brown were commonly worn by the populace, similarly shades of off white were common amongst the lower classes. Earthy shades of brown, pink, yellow, pale blue and brick red were also fairly common. Yellow occurs in many plants and can be quite bright, although some may eventually fade. Wool should always be washed in cool water, to prevent shrinkage, and in any case modern detergents contain optical brightening and bleaching agents, and should be used with care.

All these basic colours are fine for this guide but to help you further, a colour chart of naturally dyed wool using authentic dyes from Sweden is included. (See figure below.)


One final point is that Linen is fairly difficult to dye naturally, and so even a fairly advanced garment may be left undyed, particularly if it is an under garment; for example the Viborg shirt. In the same vein, the York socks were made from undyed wool but decorated at the top with red bands."


Bye for now.

16 comments:

  1. Very interesting. I'll have to repaint my entire Dark Age collection now???

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    1. Yep, get the old brushes pout Ray!! :>)

      Darrell.

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  2. I'll just paint mine to look like they're making a night attack!
    Black. Blackish. Blackish-ish. Black with a tiny hint of grey. Ooh, he's got a torch ... bit of OLS then.
    Roy @ http://nevermindthejankers.blogspot.co.uk/

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  3. Very, very interesting. I remember the Viking exhibition in Edinburgh Museum, after that I started using much more colorful palette for my Dark Age guys.

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    1. I think that was the year after I moved back to the NE (England) from Edinburgh Bartek so I missed it sadly.

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  4. Good but not 100%. Got a book (won in the easter egg comp run by Michael "Dalappror") - Medieval manner of Dress by Else Marie Gutarp, and on pages 52-53, she goes into what colours (with a similar colour wheel) were available..including dark violet and green, not on the one above. To get violet, Theyéd dye it red (using madder )- then dye it blue (using woad), to get green theéd "over dye", first blue then yellow (using saffflower - Carthamus tinctorius) Here it´s called Färberdistel = colour thistle and gives the colour red or yellow ..possible is also purple by use of alkaline = wee)
    Armenian cochineal was highly expensive and used for dying silk..wools were more likley to be dyed with madder or Kermes. Kermes, Kermes vermillo, a type of scale insect from the Mediterranean used to make red, that when dried look like small grains of sand..hence "dyed in the grain" ;-D

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    1. This article on natural dyes;
      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Natural_dye
      is pretty concise.
      and another pretty good source of possible colours (artistic licence aside) is from contemporary paintings. Mind you..if some People still can´t decide on what type of blue Napoleons old guard wore just 200 years ago..what Chance do us fans of medievals have ? :-D

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    2. Thanks Paul, Michael sent me a copy too- unfortunately it was in the Garage of Doom for a year and has only recently resurfaced.

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    3. The extract from original article was ok... - EQUIPMENT GUIDE #1 BASIC COSTUME by R. Scott- ( I thought I´d seen it before) Now I´ve had a quick re-read and the above about the colours fits...(early northern europe) more to do with the colours used by the "lower orders". ...though green was likely than not.

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    4. The Hurstwic bods are pretty good (and up to date) with thier early medieval stuff.
      http://www.hurstwic.org/history/text/history.htm#Daily_Living

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    5. PPS...the EQUIPMENT GUIDE #1 BASIC COSTUME by R. Scott is available (at least that´s where I got it from) as a PDF under;
      http://www.colanhomm.org/OriginalBasicKitGuide.pdf
      If the link don´t work then search under;
      The Vikings (NFPS) - Equipment Guide No. 1 Basic Costume

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  5. Replies
    1. Cheers Roger, it's always worth passing on these snippets.

      Darrell.

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  6. Hi Darrell,

    When I was digging for information on how to paint my post-roman figures, I found a number of interesting links on natural dyes. Two of the best are:-

    http://www.jennydean.co.uk/index.php/colours-of-the-romans/

    http://troubleatthemill.blogspot.co.uk/2012/08/la-musee-de-temps-barbare.html

    Cheers,
    Jim

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    1. Thanks Jim, I'll check both the links out.

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