The reconstruction of a historical artefact is typically a project, that is easily affected by our modern cultural norms and standards. Standards, that we are often blisfully unaware of. Sadly, having such standards and norms makes us easily blind to the wider world and makes us less than objective about reality.

As my example I have chosen a silly little mistake, that I see all too often and probably (hopefully) I am the only person (or one among a very small minority) who is even irritated by such. I guess, there are far more people who get irritated even by my calling this out as a mistake and I would first like to appologize to people who might get offended by me revealing their misunderstanding. In my experience people are more likely to get agitated by their mistakes being pointed out, than they are happy, that they get a chance to repair any such mistakes they might have otherwise overlooked. Why is that?

Anyway, the waistline, especially the concept of male waistline has changed according to fashion lately, but long enough time ago for us to have become unaware of this radical change. It shows us, how what we may easily percieve as conservative, may actually be quite modern and how often we are blind to the changes in our culture. One of the most radical changes on thinking on what is proper attire for men has happened after the industrial clothing markets have totally taken over with their ready made garments. That change has really pulled the pants down for men. Up until the mid 20th century male waistline was typically considered to be at the level of the navel. At the point where the human body twists the most – largely because of this and because that is where a healthy human individual (healthy enough to do close combat with spear and shield, at least) is the most narrow, so it is only natural to tighten the belt there. Yes, men just like women are at their narrowest at the navel, not at the hips, where the waistline in western culture today is percieved and where fashionable pants today reach. But I am actually pulling far back in time when the westerners did not even use pants yet.

I have seen several attempts to recreate medieval armour and (as in my example) armour from antiquity, in wich the modern reconstructionist makes ridiculously large chest piece, to fit the armour to reach all the way down to the modern low waistline. This causes the armour to not turn with the body easily, along the shoulder line, but causes an irritating at best, restricting at worst twist because it now both hangs from the shoulders, but also rests on the hip. One person who had made this mistake, described it themselves as “chafing on their nipples”, or something to that effect.

I could post several pictures, that people themselves have published, in wich they wear a ludicurously tall chest piece, but because my point is not to shame any individual who has made a common (as is my case) mistake, I shall not. If you are interrested, and do not recognize what I am talking about, I recommend you make a search for this and I promise you shall find plenty of examples of both reconstructions fitting the mistake I call out here, and of very good reconstructions, that have not made this error.

In any case, even if my example was hypothetical and nobody had made the particular mistake I present as an example, I hope you get my meaning. Further more, I do not believe in presenting the wrong example, but presenting the right example and especially in historical research a good source material of the orginal, as the better pedagogical example.

The picture below is from a Greek vase from the antiquity and it shows us how the so called linothorax armour plate is worn. Now, one could make the mistake to think that the waistline of this armour is lower than the navel, because of how it is painted here, and that is part of the problem. Our sources are not always accurate, or so obvious to us, that they would set us straight from our own cultural assumptions and biases. Yet, if we examine the picture closely, we see that the crotch of the man in the picture is just a bit lower than where the pteruges (the flaps hanging from the edge of his chest armour) even reach. If we compare them to the width of his hand, we are perfectly justified in thinking that the pteruges must be at least two widths of hand long. Even given the fact, that the hand width is not an accurate measurement, this leaves very little for us to assume otherwise, than that the lower edge of his chest piece is at the level of his navel and it is certainly not resting on his hip. This will not only allow a greater freedom of movement and wearer comfortability. It also explains why there are only two connection points to close the armour (not only in this particular picture, but uniformly nearly all pictures of such an armour), as if the chest piece was any taller, the twisting motion at the level of the navel would open it when the wearer made any radical movements. That would hardly be very convinient in a battle?

Kuvahaun tulos haulle pteruges

Once more, this is just an example of how easily we jump to conclusions about cultural concepts foreign to us, even in seemingly trivial things. In this case the false notion of historical concept of waistline based on modern fashion, makes the armour reconstruction next to unusable and certainly paints a picture of the ancient people having been idiots for using such clumsy military gear for generations after generations. Think about how a more taboo concept may make us see a foreign culture, we come to contact today, in a completely false and twisted light. This is the very same point, where our ignorance, preassumptions and biases makes some of us see all Muslims as potential terrorists.

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Have you ever watched a movie with expensive cars in it, or a very plausible space ship interior? Ever wondered what it cost to the film makers to have the expensive car in the film being driven around, abused and even wrecked, or the space ship interior being build? Have you ever seen a movie set in the middle ages with an even remotely plausible set of armour in it? I am not talking about Game of Thrones, or the Lord of the Rings as accurate descriptions of medieval history. But movies set on some particular date from actual history. I have seen some, that could pass, if one was not very knowledged in medieval armour and with the understandable suspense of disbelief in any movies. But most seem to have these terrible pieces of armour bought from the sale at the cheapest costume shop in the internet, and all the medieval people including the armoured knights and men-at-arms seem like they woke up in a dump, wearing rags and scrap metal attached to leather around their bodies. Why? Are the production values for medieval movies lesser than any other sort of movies?

Here is a short film, about the mobility of armour, with a couple of very good reproductions of accurately brightly polished 15th century armour and a couple of the most simple of historical techniques actually found in contemporary sources. Notice also how they demonstrate the fact, that hitting the armour with a sword is a wasted effort:

Any number of sports cars in movies are a lot more expensive than a good quality reproduction of a suit of armour is – that one can find from the markets these days. Why is it then, that movie makers do not invest in this, even when they are making a movie about medieval times with seemingly big budget? Because the audience does not know what an armour should look like? Because the movie makers and the audience expect medieval times to be dark, damp, ragged and dirty? I have no idea what the interior of a future space ship should look like. Do you? But it is obvious, that when the movie makers want the audience to have that particular suspense of disbelief to set in instinctively, they put a lot of effort and money into making the set seem plausible, and not just something they found from a garbage dump.

Perhaps, the problem is, that people do expect certain things from a sports car, space ship interior, and alas an armour in a movie. That previous movies have set the example, that forms much more so, than the actual reality, what to expect. Like the fact, that in movies a car is supposed to explode when it plunges from the road? Or a space ship interior is supposed to have the captain’s seat in the middle of the room? Armour of the bad guys is supposed to be made out of riveted black leather?

The other reason might – just might – be, that the film makers, directors, art directors, costumers and all, have no clue as to what armour really looked like and any remotely sword shaped piece of scrap metal, passes as an actual sword. It seems also, that they have no real interrest to even bother to find out. But why not? Would not a film about fast cars be more applauded, if it did not have the typical movie mistakes, like bursting into flame when all the wheels are off ground? Or a space ship interior presented as no-one had seen one before, for example the captain’s seat in the roof upside down, or something? After all, in space there is no gravity to hold the crew on some common floor and digital graphics can work wonders. What about a totally new concept of making a medieval movie and finding out what the alledged period really looked like and investing in better quality of armour, weapons, and fight coreographs who actually know something about medieval fencing? Why would that be too hard? These items and people are around. If you ever need any and do not know how to find them, contact me.

I do realize that the purpose of films is to satisfy the public at large, who do not know how easily a motorcar explodes. Who expect a space ship interior to be just so as in Star Trek and countless films after it first appeared. Who think they “know”, that the medieval armour is clumsy, bulky and dull, and fights look exactly like the mad hacking, or kung fu jumps in their video games. However, would it not serve the movie, as a piece of art work to stand out from the mass, to promote it widely in the eyes of people who are actually interrested in the subject, be it cars, space ships, or medieval times, that the enthusiasts of the subject would notice the effort to quality? Especially these days, when word gets around in the social media and as such it can serve as advertisment and promote the sale of tickets. Would it not ultimately even serve the egoes of the directors and others responsible, that they actually achieved quality?

I for one am quite sure, that if the general public would even once see a medieval movie, with some high quality reproduction armour and nifty fencing moves taken straigth from the actual medieval fencing manuals, even the most ignorant of the audience would be impressed. It might go against some of their pre-set biases, but seeing is believing, and it might be a box office hit as well. Well, if the film was any good otherwise, anyway…

Do you have an example of a good medieval movie in wich the armour and/or fighting was plausible?

People seem obsessed about success. Fame and fortune drives people to do the most strange and heinous things. An artist is said to be motivated by creative passion. Same may aply to a scientist, who is traditionally thought to be driven by the thirst for knowledge. An engineer or designer may be pushed by these same motives. But a businessman is driven by the need to success. He measures success by the amount of zeros in his bank account and by childish toys like sportscars in his carage.

Success in making riches or fame is something the general public does not actually want. Most people do like their privacy, even though they would not mind being richer, or rather they would enjoy a situation where one does not have to worry about money. But rich people worry about money. Not because they would be afraid of not being able to pay their bills, but because they never seem to have enough. There are also those commoners who are ready to do anything for success. They count success by being famous. Shortest way of becoming a famous person is to kill a famous person. But is fame success?

If you are not capable of creating anything especially wonderfull, other than maybe your kids, why measure success by fame? It does not need anything special to shoot someone, who is not expecting to be shot at, even though it certainly brings a lot of fame. Or rather infamy. If one succeeds in such an attempt, one has proven only that, he/she was totally inpotent in doing something constructive. If you are not going to be the most succesfull artist, scientist, engineer or even designer in the nation, be that among your former schoolmates. If you can not manage that,  it is absolutely OK. There are better ways of becoming succesfull. Be successfull in doing good to your fellow man. It is important to be succesfull in doing your job well. It is even more important to be succesfull in contributing to your family. Be succesfull in helping yougsters, oldfolk and anyone in need of help. Be succesfull in doing the right thing. Those are the real ways to measure success. The worlds most famous artist is not more succesfull than a good neighbour. They have simply both succeeded in contributing to humanity.

I do realize that some people have a wery strong need to compete. I do not know what childhood traumas make a person feel good only when he has succeeded in winning a nother person. But does the victory taste like you were actually better, if you cheated. Remember, it is cheating if you break the rules. It is also cheating, when you find your way to wriggle through a loophole in the rules. If you need to compete, compete with honour. Otherwise you gain no honour by winning.

Money does not equal success. Money is a means to pay the bills. A businessman who earns millions by any means he sees necessary to trample his competitors and workers is by no means successfull. He is a wreak of a human being. He has a sore conscience or he has hardened his heart to a point of no conscience at all.  An empty shell. Let not him define the meaning of success to you.