Filed Under Butler Outdoors

The Pennsic War

Medieval Warfare in Western Pennsylvania

In 1966 in Berkeley, California, history buffs and science fiction fans dressed in medieval armor and battled at a huge party in order to “defend in single combat the title of ‘fairest’ for their ladies”. Everyone enjoyed it so much that they decided that it had to happen again the next year, and at this point the Society for Creative Anachronism, or SCA, was created. Slowly the organization began to grow as interest increased, and by the third year a second “Eastern Kingdom” was created on the East Coast. The society continued to expand as interest in the SCA grew via friends and science-fiction fandoms, and with it many different kingdoms across the globe were created to account for all the new SCA members. Since 1966, over 19 kingdoms have been made and around 60,000 people are a part of the organization.

This movement didn’t come out of nowhere, however. The 1960’s was a time of social movements aimed at issues like women’s rights, human sexuality, and general government authority. This pushed people to live life as they pleased, which naturally allowed people with a history or science fiction passion to thrive. Earlier in the 20th century, museums and historic sites in America like Williamsburg began to fund the and building of structures in the area to help recreate the past, along with starting to use actors and actresses dressed in traditional colonial garb. This trend continued for a few decades after Williamsburg became a “living museum”. Books and movies like Lord of the Rings and The Chronicles of Narnia also became extremely popular among college age students in the 1960’s and 70’s, creating huge fandoms that loved mystical worlds and characters. With these movements, more and more people got involved in historic recreation and fantasy, which created the perfect cultural environment for the SCA to thrive.

Seven years after the creation of the SCA, the West and East Kingdoms met for the first Pennsic War. The word pennsic is a combination of the words “Punic” and “Pennsylvania” as a play on the Punic War between Rome and Carthage. The first Pennsic War happened in 1972 at Newton’s campground in Waterford, Pennsylvania. From this point on the Pennsic War continued to attract more and more people. By the sixth Pennsic War, the SCA moved the battle to Cooper’s Lake Campgrounds in order to accommodate the 650 people that came that year. Since that year the numbers have grown steadily and in 2017, over 10,000 people from around the world came to the Pennsic War. For Butler County, the Pennsic War is a significant economic boost for all kinds of businesses in the area.

Most of the Pennsic War involves some form of combat. Currently, the events offered include armored battles, rapier battles, archery, combat archery, throw weapons, and youth fencing/combat. Other activities include parties, musical performances, dancing, shopping at the Artisans' Row, clan gatherings, and other unique events. Special classes and workshops often include metalsmithing, leather working, wood working, instrument working, apothecary, and scribal arts. At the Artisans’ Row, around 200 merchants sell anything from armor to weapons to jewelry.

At the end of the two-week event, all the points are tallied up and the kingdom with the most points is declared winner of the Pennsic War, and gains the prize of "owning" Pittsburgh. Then everyone packs up and eagerly awaits the next Pennsic War, practicing combat or their craft every day until the next year.

Images

Battle scene from Pennsic War, 2010 Participants construct their own elaborate and often extensively-researched armor and weaponry for the battles Source: Pennsic Battles via Flickr, used under Creative Commons license.
Campsite Photo of classic canvas tent. Larger clans or families at Pennsic will bring and install showers with water tanks for the two weeks along with conditioned tents and other modern day amenities. Source: Image retrieved from Eastern Kingdom Wiki, found at https://wiki.eastkingdom.org/index.php?title=Main_Page
Date: June 5th, 2012
Horse Riding Elaborate garb for horse riding. Typical dress for horse riding at SCA events can be next to anything, as long as a helmet is worn. These modern day helmets are often covered up in fabric to help with recreation. Source: Image retrieved from Eastern Kingdom Wiki, found at https://wiki.eastkingdom.org/index.php?title=Main_Page Date: March 29th, 2015
Knight Practicing Knight practicing combat. Heavy armor combat is very popular at SCA events, and even more so at the Pennsic War. Weapons are made from Rattan for the safety of the fighters, and often weapon weight requirements must be met to participate. Source: Image retrieved from Eastern Kingdom Wiki, found at https://wiki.eastkingdom.org/index.php?title=Main_Page
Date: July 18th, 2018.
Pennoncell, newsletter of the East Kingdom, 1969. The SCA's East Kingdom, headquartered in Staten Island, NY, began publishing a quarterly newsletter by 1968. The first page of this 1969 issue demonstrates the small and relatively informal nature of the group, as well as challenges it faced in organizing tournament locations. Source: From East Kingdom Wiki

Location

Metadata

http://www.pennsicwar.org
Erik Warmbein, “The Pennsic War,” Butler County Historical, accessed April 12, 2024, https://butlerhistorical.org/items/show/76.