Lighting in 10th Century Byzantium

Revisiting the Dumbarton Oaks Museum and the Byzantine & Christian Museum of Athens, today we shall take a look at methods of lighting which would be typical for the 10th century in Byzantium or Eastern Rome.

In the Dumbarton Oaks collection there is a 10th century glass hanging lamp. It would have needed a wick holder, which would likely have been of brass, to hold the wick, it would have been filled with olive oil, and was common enough that it shows up in an icon of St. Luke. The chain is attached by eye-bolts set into holes through the glass. The Dumbarton Oaks, lamp is the only one of its kind still intact. The book LIGHTING IN EARLY BYZANTIUM published by Dumbarton Oaks has excellent images.

Over in the collections of the Byzantine & Christian Museum there are several clay lamps which, from the sheer numbers that have been found, and the common motifs carried by so many, were likely used by nearly everyone, even if they also had the wealth to own lamps made of metals.  Of particular interest are the hanging fish lamps, and the smaller table lamp with fish decoration.

This metal version (image from Wikimedia Commons) with the Chi Rho would have been very common in clay and this shape was common with all sorts of Christian motifs; the chains indicate that it could be hung as well as set on a table:

Oil Lamp Christian Symbol.jpg
Oil Lamp Christian Symbol“. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 fr via Wikimedia Commons.

Another Favorite Museum: Byzantine & Christian Museum of Athens

I have a new FAVORITE museum: The Byzantine and Christian Museum of Athens Greece. Not reading Greek, I am limited to exploring images or sticking to the English language page. Still, for exploring the culture of my persona and characters, this is a thrill to find on-line.

I found this lovely museum page thanks to this image:
2141 - Byzantine Museum, Athens - Byzantine ceramic ware - Photo by Giovanni Dall'Orto, Nov 12 2009              By G.dallorto (Own work) [Attribution], via Wikimedia Commons


The pottery, in the pictures is listed as 9th-13th century. I could use this, and mug with the two small finger loops (seen in another image), as the basis for feast gear for an SCA: Society for Creative Anachronism event.

Lighting could be via a lamp like THIS. LOVELY! I like the two fish on a line.

Or THIS lamp. Note the loops for hanging the lamp and the fish coming out of the fish’s mouth to hold the wick.

HERE is a pretty gold buckle I would not mind using on a belt!

All in all a delightful museum!

The City: Constantinople in 1200

Have you ever wondered what it might be like to actually WALK THROUGH CONSTANTINOPLE?  This wonderful web site is a re-creation based on archeological records and the knowledge of great scholars merged with a wonderful geeky computer person.  Go see what they have done! It is WONDERFUL!

APPROACHING BY SEA the traveler could have seen these sea walls and marveled at the size and scope of the defenses! They would see the Hagia Sophia in the distance on a rise– imagine approaching at night during Easter with the entire place lit up?

I can just imagine sitting in these seats (scroll down a bit) and watching the races. I love horse races! Scroll a bit further down and imagine driving your horses through the arch onto the track and the cheering of the crowds.

The Monastery of St John the Baptist was of great influence in the 9th century and very likely in my focus on the 10th century. The architecture dates back into the mid to late 400’s. It is very beautiful and the original funding was by a senator Stoudios.

Home to Basil II in the 10th century: the Boukoleon Palace.

Of course I had to visit the page for the Hagia Sophia. I read a book on Liturgy for my period and region of the world. It talked about where the Divine Liturgy began and from which point it moved. Quite the complicated liturgical pattern!  Now I can “see” the building and imagine each part of the Divine Liturgy.

Of course, this wonderful site has a page of links to similar sites that cover places like ROME and BABYLON.  Go look, the work is so awesome and amazing!

Oh the joy I feel when perusing these pages!

I am very much hoping that this marvelous web site eventually will become a full color table top book with a CD– that is what I want. I would happily spend for a book and CD like that– and might even give a copy as a gift if I knew of a family member who would appreciate it enough!

Or maybe a wonderful app for the IPad where you could walk through and click on the map and read about each place.  I would download that to my iPad in a heartbeat, and again to my kid’s iPad!  I’d buy such an app!

So, go visit this wonderful site and enjoy. Wish they had a go-fund-me so they can do even more of this sort of work.  I love archeology recreated so we can better understand what the places were like in the past.

Two Favorite Museums: Dumbarton Oaks and Getty Museums

These two museums are wonderful examples. The first for their diligent efforts to further scholarship and the second as an example of how user friendly a museum can be.


First, Dumbarton Oaks Museum is so much more than a museum. I love using their web site. Of their Byzantine Collection they say,

The Dumbarton Oaks Byzantine Collection is one of the finest collections of artifacts from the Byzantine Empire. Spanning the imperial, ecclesiastical, and secular realms, the collection comprises more than twelve hundred objects from the fourth to the fifteenth centuries.

I would add that their publications are of great value to anyone who wishes to delve into the thinking of scholars of Byzantine and related studies. Be sure to explore their coin and seal collection.

Dumarton Oaks also offers manuscripts in digital form. Of the Manuscripts in the Byzantine Collection they say,

Illustrated manuscripts are not simply texts. Neither are they simply a series of images. They are objects which combine text and image into a visual and verbal tool with particular uses and behaviors. We experience books sequentially by turning the pages. We can only experience a real book as openings, and then only one opening at a time. These animated manuscripts allow you to page back and forth through these books as they were intended to be used, and as they were used for hundreds of years before arriving at the museum.

The Dumbarton Oaks search page for the collections is easy to use. Simply choosing from the icons or heading leads to this early Byzantine pendant or this one.


The J Paul Getty Museum is a delightful museum with a wonderful, easy to use search pattern. J Paul Getty Museum-Byzantine search and the example:Bead 9-10 century. I would love to see more museum web pages this easy to use.

Byzantine Tents

I love the idea of a vardo-type conveyance, but so many events relegate them to an area away from the tents, which puts me off a bit as I am incredibly introverted and prefer to attend events with my local group.  So, I reverted to looking at tents.

There is clear evidence that the Romans used large round tents with a center pole, and, some say spokes radiating out from the center pole. This is speculation because while the scholars say round yes, they note a lack in the written or pictorial record for the inside of the tent roofs.
Assedio di Messina 1040              By John Skylitzes (Madrid Skylitzes) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

That said, there is abundant pictorial evidence of the round tent from exterior views and many internet friendly places to explore them. For example, Levantia, the blog of Dr. Timothy Dawson re-creator of history and academic, has a wonderful page on tents. On Facebook I frequent several Byzantine oriented pages: SCA Byzanteam where we had a long discussion of tent styles suitable for an SCA persona who is 10th Century and Byzantine and Byzantine Army where the scholarship is delightfully good, and participants give evidence (and sharing images) to support their positions.
Alusian appears before Peter Delyan and the Bulgarian camp              By John Skylitzes (Madrid Skylitzes) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The favored images from the historical record brought up in each discussion and on Dr. Dawson’s web page, are similar if not the same.  Looking on my own via “googling” turned up pretty much the same images. Being that I am not planning on becoming a scholar specializing in research on tent usages in the 10th century, I decided to count the fact that I am interacting with persons far better educated in the field than myself, that it is safe to say the round pavilion with a center pole is an excellent choice.

Panther Primitives Round Pavilion

In modern tent makers there are several who produce suitable tents. I am drooling over the Panther Primitives version. Midwest Tent has a less expensive and serviceable version. Both companies have happy customers. I like the options available with Panther Primitives. (A nice modern option is from Canvas Camp. The entry is low, but it visually fits into a crowd of period tents.)

White is the basic color of the canvas, and some persons use paint to decorate the walls–like the image from Panther Primitives. This has lots of FUN ideas bouncing around my head.

The next nagging question is: Which dagging option for around the top of the tent walls do I want? Which is more likely to have happened in period?

According to my reading (and if I could find the book I would give you the title), tents of the wealthy were heavily decorated, another version of the flashy use of color and design to signify position in society. I will update when I find the book…

Wheeled Conveyances in Eastern Rome

Methods of travel have been on my mind a good bit lately for the 10th Century. I have seen documentation for vardos for very late in the SCA period and after, but long have wondered if something similar existed for my period and for the Eastern Romans.

A kind person sent me to a webpage that gives links to documents that show wagons of various sorts. Many examples from illuminations and carvings of wagons during the medieval period but not from my 10th century Byzantine. Still, it is a start and there ARE examples of wagons from before the 10th century. From that page of many links, the one link that caused me to get very excited is this one: Roman Traction Systems. Go look, it is an information dense page!

So, the Romans were not restricted to two wheeled conveyances only! There is a tiny bit of evidence that they had quite a good design for a comfortable wagon to carry people. This means there is the possibility of something period and similar to the later Vardo.

I am glad to see that research is moving in this direction because it simply never made sense to me that the people who could build the aquaducts, bathhouses, public buildings, temples and later Cathedrals, were actually unable to make a 4 wheeled conveyance with a pivoting front axel!

What this means for me is that I could build something to tow to SCA events that could be period, and comfortable, and hide away the modern medical items and the battery bank for running them at night, and even hide a modern RV style tank system, so I could be comfortable at events and not have to be able to set up my own tent. Drive up, drop the wagon, unload what isn’t in the wagon already, and go park the car and become my persona for the weekend.

Oh yes, this would take some doing, but it would be so much fun to have!


What I Do For Fun.. Society for Creative Anachronism: King’s College 2015

It is HOT, so I am heading off to the INDOOR summer Society for Creative Anachronism events here in Ansteorra, the premier of which is KINGS COLLEGE.  Why am I excited to attend this event? Well, try out the CLASS SCHEDULE. For how little it costs me, an event like this packs a huge punch; *details at the bottom of the article.

Now, what is your interest?

There is an entire day of classes about ARCHERY.

There are TWO tracks (or more if you count the class on playing music for dancing) for DANCE.  There is an entire track on CORALE for Renaissance music too. Carnatic Music from southern India gives a completely different experience.

FIBER ARTS: There are classes on embroidery, patterning a Persian coat, Barding for your dog (what does a well dressed dog wear in the middle ages?), hand sewing, Viking and early Medieval stitch types and the problem of finishing edges, seams and necklines, setting up an Inkle loom, simple T-tunics, How to make a St. Birgitta’s Cap, Skirt pleating for Renaissance skirts, and an introduction to Smocking.

GAMERS: there is a class about making and playing period games! Viking games anyone?

Calligraphy and Illumination: entire all day tracks of classes in this most lovely of arts.  Classes cover historical ideals of colors, for they combined colors differently than do we today.

HISTORY: punishments and methods of execution during the period covered by the SCA.

FOOD: 14th century England: foods eaten by both royalty and the common people. Middle Eastern: hummus; spices used in Middle Eastern Cooking, storing fruit and some recipes for Ottoman cuisine.

FENCING: the art of the rapier, several classes to develop your skills.

HEAVY FIGHTING: you know, knights in armor with heavy weapons and helmets.

And this does NOT include everything.


I am eagerly awaiting the day. Next Year I shall teach a class!

*CONSIDERING ATTENDING? You will need a basic pre-16th century garment to wear; a basic T-tunic works and if you check out your local SCA group, the Gold Key, Hospitaler or Chatelain will have loaner tunics.

There is a gate fee, and a $5 add on if you are not a member of the SCA, but once that is paid to the troll at the gate, you are welcome to select classes at will. SOME classes have fees to cover the hand outs or material costs, but others have no charge at all. Arrive Early to sign up for the most popular classes before they fill up. Carry one and five dollar bills in your money pouch to cover those class fees. Most classes have no fee at all.



Pearls are a major component in really fancy Byzantine clothing. The wealthier you were, the more bling– more pearls, more gold, more brocades.  An outer tunic to wear to be seen might begin with a silk brocade, then be embellished with gold thread, embroidery to add dimension and details to the already incredible brocade and then finally pearls would be sewn onto the clothing to make it really pop!

Add jewelry of gold with enameling and colorful stones and more pearls, and WOW!

Also, a civil servant might be paid in fabric, by the pound.  So while the homes of the wealthy were hardly fancier than the smaller homes of the less wealthy, the real difference was found in the clothing worn.

What you wore really did tell everyone who you were, and dictated how you were treated.

And I just purchased a hundred strands of tiny pearls. D grade, white, and roughly 3mm.  It was a good sale and as cheap as they could be had.  D grade is fairly poor quality, but still better than plastic!

So, I need to get on the ball and turn that brocade into a tunic so I can start embellishing as soon as it arrives.  I have some nice metallic gold thread to use too.  My goal is one tunic that is heavy as all get out, blinged out to the max, to be worn only in cool places where it will not get dirty, LOL!

Bit by bit the stuff comes together, now must make time to do the work– that will take a LONG time.

Have GOT to do pictures.

Meanwhile, this has nothing at all to do with pearls…


Coriander Seed in Sauerkraut

OH WOW!  This is an eye opener, indeed.  I put coriander seed in a fermentation of cabbage and this morning the resulting excess brine was added to breakfast.  This is a one bowl sort of meal, with the steamed veggies and cut up meat mixed together with whatever interesting flavor is available. Today, it was coriander seed brine and cinnamon.   Coriander with cinnamon produces a pungent odor, almost like the smell of a really strong cheese. I enjoyed the flavor to a surprising degree.

So my breakfast, in addition to the lovely probiotics found in the brine after fermentation, was amazingly flavorful.

As this is a fermentation process that was common in the 10th century, and the coriander seed was a common seasoning in that period, and human beings love to eat what tastes really good, and the Byzantines loved strong smells (just research their take on perfumes!), I suspect I just ate a breakfast that would not have been out of place on the table of my SCA persona. FUN!

I apologize for scarfing it down before I thought to take a photo for the blog. MUST improve on my habits!

Update on Fermentation Preserved Vegetable Project

The carrot ferment was delicious! The stick cut carrots and diakon radish turned out still crisp but nicely tangy. The sliced version had more tangy flavor but went soft so was less satisfying.  We opened up one of the large crocks of fermenting cabbage and it is good. This time we got a stronger fermentation and the cabbage was softer yet still with enough texture and a lot of depth of flavor. Can say that garlic can certainly over-whelm a ferment, but ginger doesn’t.  Am not certain what I think of the coriander seeds since that is a strong flavor and while interesting I am unable to decide if I like it or if I am neutral.  I certainly do not dislike it!


This post really does need a picture of a nice bowl of carrot sticks and sauerkraut.

There remain two large crocks of cabbage which will ferment longer.

There is a smaller container that is a mix of leftover items from the other preparation and absolutely NO garlic. Will broach that one next.

If anyone wishes to try this process themselves, I recommend the facebook pages Wild Fermentation and Fermentor’s Kitchen.