Hi folks! It is that time of year again, where Jenn and I show how I can go totally overboard in pursuit of the epic Halloween costume. You can see more of those costumes in this article, and one of our most fun costumes on this article. This year, the theme at Ed’s Annual Awesome Halloween Bash was “historical people”. And, well, if you’ve spent any time on this site, you can guess who we chose.
Covid cancelled the Bash for 2020, but it gave us time to get this done right. This is the most elaborate costume we’ve done, mostly because I wanted to be able to use the pieces for future talks and appearances about Arthur, and I wanted to make the items as true to the time period as possible, with some stylistic modifications that would be possible in the 5th century, but also give an Arthurian feel. And we have a couple nods to the best Arthurian movie made, as well. So without further ado, we hope you enjoy some pics from this project.
My costume is based solidly on what 5th century Romano-British elite would have worn. Jenn’s is a little more whimsical, portraying Gwenhwyfar in a later fashion, because, well, Late Roman women’s fashion was not all that elegant, and we wanted to have some fun. Jenn’s outfit for the King Richard’s Faire was more historical.
Arthur’s famous sword, at it’s earliest known as Caledfwlch (Hard-Breach), then Caliburnus and finally Excalibur, would not look anything like the later medieval swords portrayed in movies and art. Arthur would most likely have wielded a Migration Period sword, which evolved from the Roman Spatha, adapted by Roman cavalry from the swords used by the Celts. Sword’s in Arthur’s era would have had a double-edged blade about 30 inches or so long, with a short grip and very little hilt.
I also have a helmet, based on a Late Roman cavalry helmet, but with some additional decoration that is intended to portray the symbol of Arthur’s father, Uther Pendragon. Pendragon means “Head Dragon” and was a nickname, not a last name. It signified Uther as a leader of warriors. I portray Uther’s helmet as passing on to Arthur, but Arthur was never called Pendragon.
I could have gone with chainmail, but in The Retreat to Avalon, I portray Arthur and his “knights” as wearing scale armor, called “lorica squamata” by the Romans. This would have been an expensive and unusual but very distinctive and effective armor for cavalry soldiers in Arthur’s era.
The exact methods of making the scale armor is not known, so I designed my armor based on what is known, as well as some experience with wearing heavy body armor in the military, as well as some trial and error. In the end, it fit remarkably well, with the weight balanced and carried as much on the hips as the shoulders.
Some sharp-eyed history buffs may have noticed that my pteruges (strips of leather or cloth used for protecting the upper arms and thighs) don’t look quite right, and I am missing them from my shoulders. You got me. We didn’t finish that part in time. I had considered going with layered linen strips, which are surprisingly strong, as we know from the Greek linothorax. However, it would have been a lot of sewing work, and I had some extra leather left over from the other projects, so I decided to go with leather pteruges. I had a shoemaker sew the leather strips to canvas loops to save time, and still just barely got them in time to wear for the party. I ended up stringing them on a pair of cords and trying to space them out around my waist. Not quite up to my desired level of quality, but it’ll do.
I did not do all of this myself. I had some help from friends for various parts. Ebenezer Akakpo does fantastic design work and did the metalwork for the scabbard. Most noticeably, the helmet and sword hilt designs are the work of Bryan Custance of B.C. Ironworks. Bryan nearly won episode 3 of season 8 of Forged in Fire, and is an amazing craftsman.
At some point I will get the pteruges right. I also have plans to add on to the Arthurian panoply. Probably a spear and Arthur’s draco standard. It should all look pretty good on a stand in the living room. Assuming Jenn doesn’t mind…