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Last minute costume ideas from the vaults of history, ’12 edition

Last year’s last minute costume ideas went over pretty well, so I thought I’d revisit it: soooo, whatcha gonna wear for Halloween, tonight?  Here is my top 5 list of last minute history-inspired costumes for 2012:

1. Templar knight

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What you need: An old white top sheet; grey sweats (top–with hood!–and bottoms); belt; boots; sword or lance; additional white sheet (optional).

What to do:  Take your white sheet and cut a hole in the middle large enough to fit over your head, and again on either side to create a narrow scapular–shoulder-width, touching your boots in the front and back, and belt this over top your grey sweat suit (make sure the hood is out).  You should paint a red cross on the chest and back of the white sheet.  If you have the additional sheet, it is your cloak.  Wear it around you and paint additional red crosses on it where it meets in the chest.

What to say when someone asks who you are:  “Beau Seant!”  It is hypothesized by one scholar that this may have been the Templar battle cry, meaning in the medieval French something akin to “Be noble!” or “Be Glorious!” (The author in question, John J. Robinson, is loosely a scholar, and should be regarded warily, but this is for Halloween not your dissertation, so we’ll go along with it for now.)

Historical accuracies: 1) While a knight would have worn chain mail and not sweats, the basic design of the “uniform” is the same. 2) Medieval French–it’s what many Templars would have spoken, and their banner was certainly called a Beauseant.

2. American soldier, War of 1812

What you need:  Blue shirt or jacket; white or khaki pants; black boots; with gaiters (can be made with black duct tape or construction paper); gold construction paper for trim (optional); musket (could be improvised with a broom stick spray-painted silver and a wooden or cardboard stock); leather shoulder bag for cartridges.

What to do:  If you want to be an authentic soldier at the outset of the war, your going to need the gold frippery, but it wasn’t long before the U.S. government couldn’t afford to provide all the extras on the uniforms and began issuing them without the extras.  So, you could basically pull it off with navy blue shirt and blue or grey pants, if you can’t scare up a pair of khaki cargo pants (after all, it isn’t the ’90s anymore).  If you like the frippery–which is nifty, certainly–then cut up some gold construction paper in the pattern you see above.  If you smudge some “dirt” on your face you can claim you lost your hat in battle and forgo that step–though, the government will take the cost of the hat out of your already-months-late pay.  Sling the cartridge bag over your shoulder and keep your musket close at hand!

What to say when someone asks who you are:  “Remember the Raisin!

Historical accuracies:  1) I already explained the historic changes in the uniform.  2)  Yep, that’s right, the Raisin:  A river in Michigan, and the sight of the bloody defeat of American forces.  If you live in the Chesapeake Bay area, you may just want to holler, “Remember the capital!”  I just don’t know if that is as fun as remembering the Raisin. 3) While we had a rifle contingent at this time, the bulk of the army went to war with muskets.

3. Phillis Wheatley

What you need:  A dress–long-sleeved and floor length, a bonnet, a shawl (optional), an apron, a Bible or book of classical Greek or Roman literature–i.e. Homer, Ovid’s Metamorphoses, or Horace (optional).

What to do:  Get dressed, apron goes on the outside.  Carry the book with you wherever you go.

What to say when someone asks who you are:  “Remember, Christians, Negroes, black as Cain,/May be refin’d and join th’ angelic train.” (“On Being brought from Africa to America,” by Phillis Wheatley)

Historical accuracies:  1) Phillis Wheatley was a colonial era slave and poet, extensively educated by the family who owned her and wrote complicated poetry about America’s slavery institution, full of literary allusions from the Bible and  classical  Rome and Greece.  2) She was well-read particularly of the Bible and Greek and Roman classics.  3) She was a successful poet, though many doubted a slave capable of her poetic production.

4. Viking

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What you need:  A grey sweat suit; a long, large grey t-shirt–hanging to mid-thigh or knees; a belt; a grey ball cap or skull cap; axe, sword, or spear; large round disc–either card board spray-painted grey/silver, or similar; a large sack full of books, gold, jewels, or any other stuffing to make it look full of loot (optional)

What to do:  Put on the sweat suit, then the over-sized t-shirt, after you’ve removed the sleeves, and belt it.  If you have a grey ball-cap cut the bill off of it or simply wear the skull cap.  Make your shield and carry it along with your weapon.

What to say when someone asks who you are:  “Valhalla!

Historical accuracies:  1) Vikings wore chain-mail–if you have a kilt or animal skin that you can wear like a kilt, this would probably be more accurate, but maybe it’s cold outside, tonight.  2) Vikings would not have worn horns on their helms.  So, unless you are going as an opera viking or a Minnesotan viking, forgo the horns.  3) Vikings carried a simple round wooden shield–if they carried one at all.  You may forgo the shield to carry the sack–remember, the vikings were robbers and marauders from the sea (or, from Scandinavia  by way of the most convenient waterway).  4)  Valhalla was the sacred mead hall of heaven reserved for warriors who died gloriously.

5. Rosie the Riveter

From the Rosie the Riveter Trust; http://www.rosietheriveter.org

What you need:  Blue button-down, collared, long-sleeve shirt; blue work pants; red hankerchief.

What to do:  Put your clothes on.  Roll your sleeves up and tie the red bandanna on your head, with the bow on the top.

What to say when someone asks who you are:  “We can do it!”  (And, show your guns off while you say it!)

Historical accuracies:  1) This is obviously the image from the famous WWII propaganda poster highlighting the blue-collar work of women on the homefront during the war.  2) Blue collar variations could include tools or welding helmets, etc. as women worked in various “manly” positions so “our boys could go off and fight the war.”

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The Viking: A history twist on your exercise routine!

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NOTE: I AM NOT A PROFESSIONAL TRAINER!  This workout presupposes that you have some knowledge of working out and of your own body.  Do not do this without consulting a professional trainer and your doctor!!  I am not responsible for injuries that occur!  This is a fun, geeky post!!

My family has a gym membership and a personal trainer.  Recently, we were introduced to something called “The Viking”!  The routine was called “The Viking” because it began with a 1000-meter row (from the ships), a 1/2 mile run (up the beach), and then a series of exercises that were completed before “running back down the beach,” and “rowing back to the ships.”  This tickles me!  And, in my earnest geekdom I have decided to create a “historically authentic” set of the Viking exercise that combines strength, whole body, endurance, and speed training!  Yes, I’m just that silly.

859. The Danish pirates having made a long sea-voyage (for they had sailed between Spain and Africa) entered the Rhone, where they pillaged many cities and monasteries and established themselves on the island called Camargue. . . . They devastated everything before them as far as the city of Valence. Then, after ravaging all these regions, they returned to the island where they had fixed their habitation. Thence they went on toward Italy, capturing and plundering Pisa and other cities.

~  The Annals of St. Bertin

The Vikings came from the Scandinavian countries and were skilled seafarers.  Their seacraft were well-designed so that they could travel seas along coastlines and travel deeply into eastern and western Europe via rivers.  They were violent, pagan, and adept at instilling fear and taking what they wanted (i.e. raping and pillaging).  The Vikings also had impeccable timing, arriving on the European scene during the decline of the Carolingians.  Essentially, they were land-raiding pirate-merchants.  We have a number of sources for the Vikings, some detailing the horror of their attacks, others observing their cultural traits, and a few that detail their stories, religion and myths (to see some of these and other Viking resources click on this link to the Fordham Internet History Sourcebook, from which all primary source excerpts in this post come).

885 AD. The Northmen came to Paris with 700 sailing ships, not counting those of smaller size which are commonly called barques. At one stretch the Seine was lined with the vessels for more than two leagues, so that one might ask in astonishment in what cavern the river had been swallowed up, since it was not to be seen. The second day after the fleet of the Northmen arrived under the walls of the city, Siegfried, who was then king only in name but who was in command of the expedition, came to the dwelling of the illustrious bishop. He bowed his head and said: “Gauzelin, have compassion on yourself and on your flock. We beseech you to listen to us, in order that you may escape death. Allow us only the freedom of the city. We will do no harm and we will see to it that whatever belongs either to you or to Odo shall be strictly respected.” Count Odo, who later became king, was then the defender of the city. The bishop replied to Siegfried, “Paris has been entrusted to us by the Emperor Charles, who, after God, king and lord of the powerful, rules over almost all the world. He has put it in our care, not at all that the kingdom may be ruined by our misconduct, but that he may keep it and be assured of its peace. If, like us, you had been given the duty of defending these walls, and if you should have done that which you ask us to do, what treatment do you think you would deserve?” Siegfried replied. “I should deserve that my head be cut off and thrown to the dogs. Nevertheless, if you do not listen to my demand, on the morrow our war machines will destroy you with poisoned arrows. You will be the prey of famine and of pestilence and these evils will renew themselves perpetually every year.” So saying, he departed and gathered together his comrades.

In the morning the Northmen, boarding their ships, approached the tower and attacked it [the tower blocked access to the city by the so-called “Great Bridge,” which connected the right bank of the Seine with the island on which the city was built. The tower stood on the present site of the Châtelet]. They shook it with their engines and stormed it with arrows. The city resounded with clamor, the people were aroused, the bridges trembled. All came together to defend the tower. There Odo, his brother Robert, and the Count Ragenar distinguished themselves for bravery; likewise the courageous Abbot Ebolus, the nephew of the bishop. A keen arrow wounded the prelate, while at his side the young warrior Frederick was struck by a sword. Frederick died, but the old man, thanks to God, survived.

~  From Abbo’s Wars of Count Odo in the Reign of Charles the Fat

Eventually, many decided that life lived by the mercies of the sea and the winters of their homeland was too unappealing compared with settling in fertile lands amongst a cowed populace.  (Thus, the Normans founded their foothold in northern France, before Viking Rollo’s bastard grandson, William the Conqueror, spread their control to England.  William’s great grandson, Henry II, married Eleanor of Aquitane, while other family members conquerored land from the Byzantine Empire, first in Italy and then in the Levant through the First Crusade.  As settled conquerors, they were incredibly successful.)

The king had at first wished to give to Rollo the province of Flanders, but the Norman rejected it as being too marshy. Rollo refused to kiss the foot of Charles when he received from him the duchy of Normandy. “He who receives such a gift,” said the bishops to him, “ought to kiss the foot of the king.” “Never,” replied he, “will I bend the knee to anyone, or kiss anybody’s foot.” Nevertheless, impelled by the entreaties of the Franks, he ordered one of his warriors to perform the act in his stead. This man seized the foot of the king and lifted it to his lips, kissing it without bending and so causing the king to tumble over backwards.  At that there was a loud burst of laughter and a great commotion in the crowd of onlookers.  King Charles, Robert, Duke of the Franks, the counts and magnates, and the bishops and abbots, bound themselves by the oath of the Catholic faith to Rollo, swearing by their lives and their bodies and by the honor of all the kingdom, that he might hold the land and transmit it to his heirs from generation to generation throughout all time to come. When these things had been satisfactorily performed, the king returned in good spirits into his dominion, and Rollo with Duke Robert set out for Rouen.

In the year of our Lord 912 Rollo was baptized in holy water in the name of the sacred Trinity by Franco, archbishop of Rouen. Duke Robert, who was his godfather, gave to him his name. Rollo devotedly honored God and the Holy Church with his gifts. . . . The pagans, seeing that their chieftain had become a Christian, abandoned their idols, received the name of Christ, and with one accord desired to be baptized. Meanwhile, the Norman duke made ready for a splendid wedding and married the daughter of the king [Gisela] according to Christian rites.

Rollo gave assurance of security to all those who wished to dwell in his country. The land he divided among his followers, and, as it had been a long time unused, he improved it by the construction of new buildings. It was peopled by the Norman warriors and by immigrants from outside regions.

The Chronicle of St. Denis Based on Dudo and William of Jumièges

So, below are two sets of exercises: Beginner/Easy in the gym or without (body exercises) and Advanced/Hard in the gym or without it.  Enjoy!

Beginner/Easy (With gym equipment)

  1. Row to shore: 500 meters on the row machine
  2. Run up the beach: run a half-mile on the treadmill
  3. Scale the rocks: step-up onto step blocks or similiar, balancing on one foot 10x each foot (hold weights and/or increase height of step to amp the workout up)
  4. Attack!: Indian Clubs exercises; or, weighted bar exercises
  5. Loot!: Medicine ball exercises–pick 5 and do 10x according to target areas or workout goals
  6. Return over the rocks: plyometrics with step blocks or platforms two-footed jump up and back down (1 rep) 10x
  7. Back down the beach: run 1/2 mile on treadmill
  8. Row back to the boats: 500 meters on the rowing machine

Beginner/Easy (Without gym equipment–body gym exercises)

(The majority of these are taken or adapted from Mark Lauren’s You are Your Own Gym book and website.)

  1. Row to shore: Let-me-ins (wrap a towel around both sides of the door knob, with the door’s edge clasped between your feet–or hold onto each door knob–sit back with bent knees and pull yourself back up to standing) 10-15x
  2. Run up the beach: mountain climbers (start in a push-up position and bring knees to chest one at a time) 20x each leg
  3. Scale the rocks: step-up on stairs or similiar balancing on each foot 10x each foot (hold weights and/or increase height to amp up workout)
  4. Attack!: Indian Clubs exercises (in lieu of Indian Clubs, a sturdy small poster-mailer filled with sand at one end and newspaper at the other, or steel piping can be substituted); or, weighted bar exercises (a broom or large poster-mailer filled with sand can be substituted)
  5. Loot!: Medicine ball exercises–pick 5 and do 10x according to target areas or workout goals (a small packed box or bag can be substituted)
  6. Return over the rocks: plyometrics with step or made platforms/old coffee table/etc. two-footed jump up and back down (1 rep) 10x
  7. Back down the beach: mountain climbers 20x each leg
  8. Row back to the boats: Let-me-ins 10-15x

By building up towards the Advanced/Hard, adding to the above workouts, you can create an appropritate Intermediate workout.

Advanced/Hard (With gym equipment)

  1. Row to shore: 1500 meters on the row machine
  2. Run up the beach: run a mile on the treadmill
  3. Scale the rocks: step-up onto step blocks or similiar, similiar balancing on one foot and pumping other knee up to chest 15x each foot, holding weights and increasing height of step to amp the workout up
  4. Attack!: Indian Clubs exercises, choosing 5x exercises targeting your needs; or, TRX Rip-training exercises, choosing 5x exercises targeting your needs
  5. Loot!: Medicine ball exercises–pick 5 and do 15-20x, choosing exercises targeting your needs
  6. Return over the rocks: plyometrics with step blocks or platforms two-footed jump up and back down (1 rep) 20-30x
  7. Back down the beach: run 1 mile on treadmill
  8. Row back to the boats: 1500 meters on the rowing machine

Advanced/Hard (Without gym equipment–body gyme exercises)

(The majority of these are taken or adapted from Mark Lauren’s You are Your Own Gym book and website.)

  1. Row to shore: Let-me-ins (wrap a towel around both sides of the door knob, with the door’s edge clasped between your feet–or hold onto each door knob–sit back with straight legs and pull yourself back up to standing) 25-35x (optional: add back pack)
  2. Run up the beach: mountain climbers (start in a push-up position and bring knees to chest one at a time) 40x each leg
  3. Scale the rocks: step-up on stairs or similiar balancing on one foot and pumping other knee up to chest, 15x each foot, holding weights (packed box or bag) and increasing height of step to amp the workout up
  4. Attack!: Indian Clubs exercises (in lieu of Indian Clubs, a sturdy small poster-mailer filled with sand at one end and newspaper at the other, or steel piping can be substituted), choosing 5x exercises targeting your needs; or, TRX Rip-training exercises (a broom with a resistance band or large poster-mailer filled with sand can be substituted), choosing 5x exercises targeting your needs
  5. Loot!: Medicine ball exercises–pick 5 and do 15-20x according to target areas or workout goals (a small packed box or bag can be substituted)
  6. Return over the rocks: plyometrics with step or made platforms/old coffee table/etc. two-footed jump up and back down (1 rep) 20-30x
  7. Back down the beach: mountain climbers 40x each leg
  8. Row back to the boats: 25-35x (optional: add back pack)

If you find there are days when you just aren’t going to “make it back to the boat,” don’t worry!  There were days the Vikings didn’t either!  Sometimes they spent the winter in a warmer climate (France, Spain, Italy), and sometimes they hung around to enjoy the fat of the land at the expense of the residents:

843 A.D. Pirates of the Northmen’s race came to Nantes, killed the bishop and many of the clergy and laymen, both men and women, and pillaged the city. Thence they set out to plunder the lands of lower Aquitaine. At length they arrived at a certain island [the isle of Rhé, near La Rochelle, north of the mouth of the Garonne], and carried materials thither from the mainland to build themselves houses; and they settled there for the winter, as if that were to be their permanent dwelling-place.

~ The Annals of St. Bertin 

Just be aware that this was a gamble!  It was always possible that the king or a powerful lord or bishop would show up with an army and smack the Vikings around.  (Of course, sometimes they showed up and just paid the Vikings off!)

845. Then the other, came without meeting any resistance to Paris. Charles [the Bald] resolved to hold out against them; but seeing the impossibility of gaining a victory, he made with them a certain agreement and by a gift of 7,000 livres he bought them off from advancing farther and persuaded them to return. Euric, king of the Northmen, advanced, with six hundred vessels, along the course of the River Elbe to attack Louis of Germany. The Saxons prepared to meet him, gave battle, and with the aid of our Lord Jesus Christ won the victory. The Northmen returned down the Seine and coming to the ocean pillaged, destroyed, and burned all the regions along the coast.

~ The Annals of St. Bertin

For the most part, the Vikings were so devastingly effective because they arrived out of thin air with stealth and took what they wanted with speed and ferocity–put some of that in your workout!

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