An Early Medieval Tent based on Period Manuscript Illustrations.

This is our club pattern for a early medieval style of tent known as a 'Geteld', and is based on a commonly illustrated type in early medieval manuscripts from Europe and England between the 8th and 12th centuries. Such as these two from the Harley and Utretch psalters.

We find these suitable for reenactment as they are often illustrated in the context an army on campaign, which is probably as close as they came to our style of camping in the viking age. They are also easy to make, very fabric efficient and require only 3 poles to carry around that are no longer or bigger than most of our spear poles.


-10m of 200cm wide fabric (or 22m of 100 wide). A canvas weight linen would probably be the most suitable accurate material, or a lot of people use wool. The remains of what is thought to be a tent in the Gokstad ship burial are wool cloth with ropes sewn in. Most of our club ones were made from a modern canvas blend that is lightweight and watertight even in the loom state. Painters drop sheets are a cheap alternative that have been used successfully, but need waterproofing.
-Wooden upright poles. I used dowel about 1inch diameter, they need to be about 215cm long.
-Wooden ridge pole 4x4cm square pole, 2.2 -2.5m long. Put the holes for the uprights about 2m apart which should put the upright poles just near the ends of the tent body, and leave the ends sticking out the end of the ridge sock.

Tent pegs and loops

The illustrations show loops for tent pegs very regularly spaced with many pegs on each side. For structual purposes you only really need one at least every corner seam to hold the tent up. But as per the images it is best to space the loops about 50cm apart or closer, for a tent made to this pattern.

Utretch tent pegs illustration.

There is little evidence for tent pegs in the middle ages, and virtually none for dark age Europe. There are only a couple of decent illustrations showing pegs, some look like plain wooden stakes, others are clearly specially made and probably metal. There are several images showning metal spikes with the top bent or curled over at the top. We have used wooden stakes about a foot long or simple metal spikes.

Tent pegs shown in the OE Hexateuch and the Harley 603 MS.

There is lots of evidence for the Romans using metal tent pegs in their encampments, which have been found at numerous sites, such as the River Kupa in Croatia.


Roman tent pegs from the 2nd or 3rd century.

In Judges 4:21 Jael drives a tent peg into the temple of the Canaanite general Sisera. This verse is very commonly illustrated in medieval illuminations, though the tent peg is usually shown as a large iron spike.

Judges 4:21 depicted in the 13 the century Biblia Porta, folio 76v.


As there are no surviving gethelds or archaeological evidence, this pattern is based off the images in the psalters. It is designed to be fabric efficient, as per surviving early medieval garments. Using squares and triangles the body and gores are constructed with very little wastage.


click to enlarge


click to enlarge

The Gores are sewn together with the right angles together at the bottom, and sewn to each end of the tent body.
There is a gap of 30 cm between the peaks for the ridge sock, where the end flaps are sewn to.
Sew the ridge sock together along the top of the tent, make sure to leave a gap at the ends for the uprights to go through to the ridge pole.
Leave a gap between the gores at one end for the doorway as most seem to have been open at one end. Some of the later illustrations show doors opening at the side of the tent. Sewing the weather flap to the opening is optional. Tents with doors left open at both ends are shown in folio 22r of Leiden I Maccabees manuscript.

This is the dimensions of the floor if you wanted to create a floor for the tent as well or will be useful if you are planning to make a bed or other furniture for your tent. The dots are the rough position of the uprights.

Other options

Tents are shown dyed all different colours, as well as being striped or sewn with contrasting panels and strips. Vertical stripes are particularly common. Some also seem to have embroidery or patterning on the sides or along the top of the ridge.

The martyrdom of St. Boniface
Images from the Eadwine Psalter and the Fulda Sacramentary.

Patterned tents from the Old English Hexateuch.

And there is of course evidence for other styles of tent, including one with a central upright pole(shown below in the Harley Psalter and Above in the Eadwine psalter, and a very simple tent that looks like a simple oblong cloth pegged over a ridge pole is shown in the folio 142r of the 9th century Aurelii Prudentii Clementis manuscript below.

Tent from Harley Psalter 603 folio. 24v
Simple tent from Aurelii Prudentii Clementis

It will not affect the pattern if you shorten or lengthen the body of the tent if you wish to do so. The images seem to show tents a bit smaller in length compared to their height, however some are clearly not to scale. These tents are a comfortable size for two man camping and are within the range of sizes shown in the illustrations, they are very close in size to the tents shown in Harley psalter f.25.

Closure for the tent door can be made with ties, wooden toggles or can be left without fastening, and if necessary pinned closed.

A completed tent made to this pattern at a reenactment event.

Pattern by L Brodrick and J Pitman.

Some Good Tent Websites

Tentorium Historical tents;

Tents in the viking age;

Ravensgard Old Norse Tents;

The History of Tents by Sven Skildbiter;