War as Village

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Written by Baroness Éowyn Amberdrake in March, 1997

Observation 1: The SCA's Society is unique: if we like our neighbors, we will go to war with them. If we’re having problems with our neighbors, then we refuse to go to war with them.

Oservation 2: There was been more on-line talk after the first Great Western War (GWW) about the map and the roads, songs, boats built, and arts than about the fighting.

Theory: The SCA’s “wars” are more analogous to an historical village than to any historical war. I will expand on this thesis.

A village has roads, and everyone knows where everyone else lives (we need a map for SCA wars because we must learn locations quickly, not over a lifetime). A village generally has a central raison d’etre. An historic village might be a farming community, a mining town, a fishing village, etc. In the SCA, our village’s raison d’etre is to support war games. Most groups in the historic and SCA village have at least one person directly involved in the central village activity, but not everyone is doing that. That is why the village is located where it is, even though not everyone participates in that central activity.

Historical villages had a market place. So do we. How many times have you heard (or said), “I go to war for the shopping.” It makes sense to go to a bigger town for a better selection of merchants and merchandise.

A village might (but not always) have a school -- we often, but not always, offer classes in various topics relevant to the medieval/renaissance eras. In a village, one might have local contests, or displays of artwork. We regularly have such at SCA wars. I’ve never hear of such at historical wars.

Having a dance on Saturday night is almost a cliché of the small town. They are not a feature of historical wars, but often occur at SCA wars. In the pre-electronic age, people found their evening’s entertainment much as we do in our war-villages-- socializing with friends, singing around the fire, visiting the pub, dancing, etc.

Some towns had walls around them, with a gate. Our toll or troll gate serves much the same function. At tournaments and at wars, SCA folk recreate bits of domestic life that would not actually have been done historically while watching a tournament or during a battle. Things like weaving (inkle looms may not be authentic, but they are a very portable means of doing an historical activity), spinning, embroidery, would all have been done either at home or communally in a village. They would not be featured at an historical war.

Of course, inviting the Known World to the Great Western Village, Pennsic Village, Estrella Village, Village of the Lilies, etc., does not have the allure that the same names do with “War” in them. But my theory is that the great attraction of SCA wars is the community, as much as or more than the combat. And I think that is why we in the SCA only go to war (form a village) with friends.

After I wrote this essay, and posted it to the net, I got a message from an old friend, a teacher of medieval history in Canada - Duke Finvarr de Taahe. He pointed out that the closest analog in the Middle Ages to our instant villages, were the villages that sprang up around the Grand Tournaments, such as the Field of the Cloth of Gold, which was a one week long set of war-games.