Varangian Guard

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Varangian Guardsmen, an illumination from the Skylitzis Chronicle Skylitzis Chronicle VARANGIAN GUARD.jpg
Varangian Guardsmen, an illumination from the Skylitzis Chronicle

The Varangian Guard (Greek : Τάγμα τῶν Βαράγγων, Tágma tōn Varángōn) was an elite unit of the Byzantine Army from the tenth to the fourteenth century, whose members served as personal bodyguards to the Byzantine Emperors. The Varangian Guard was known for being primarily composed of recruits from northern Europe, including Norsemen from Scandinavia and Anglo-Saxons from England. [1] The recruitment of distant foreigners from outside Byzantium to serve as the emperor's personal guard was pursued as a deliberate policy, as they lacked local political loyalties and could be counted upon to suppress revolts by disloyal Byzantine factions. [2]

Greek language Language spoken in Greece, Cyprus and Southern Albania

Greek is an independent branch of the Indo-European family of languages, native to Greece, Cyprus and other parts of the Eastern Mediterranean and the Black Sea. It has the longest documented history of any living Indo-European language, spanning more than 3000 years of written records. Its writing system has been the Greek alphabet for the major part of its history; other systems, such as Linear B and the Cypriot syllabary, were used previously. The alphabet arose from the Phoenician script and was in turn the basis of the Latin, Cyrillic, Armenian, Coptic, Gothic, and many other writing systems.

Norsemen historical ethnolinguistic group of people originating in Scandinavia

The Norsemen were a group of Germanic people who inhabited Scandinavia between c. 800 and 1300 AD and spoke what is now called the Old Norse language. The language belongs to the North Germanic branch of the Indo-European languages and is the predecessor of the modern Germanic languages of Scandinavia. During the late eighth century, Norsemen embarked on a large-scale expansion in all directions, giving rise to the Viking Age.

England Country in north-west Europe, part of the United Kingdom

England is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. It shares land borders with Wales to the west and Scotland to the north. The Irish Sea lies west of England and the Celtic Sea to the southwest. England is separated from continental Europe by the North Sea to the east and the English Channel to the south. The country covers five-eighths of the island of Great Britain, which lies in the North Atlantic, and includes over 100 smaller islands, such as the Isles of Scilly and the Isle of Wight.

Contents

The Rus' provided the earliest members of the Varangian Guard. They were in Byzantine service from as early as 874. The Guard was first formally constituted under Emperor Basil II in 988, following the Christianization of Kievan Rus' by Vladimir I of Kiev. Vladimir, who had recently usurped power in Kiev with an army of Varangian warriors, sent 6,000 men to Basil as part of a military assistance agreement. [3] [4] [5] Basil's distrust of the native Byzantine guardsmen, whose loyalties often shifted, with fatal consequences, as well as the proven loyalty of the Varangians, many of whom had previously served in Byzantium, led the Emperor to employ them as his personal guardsmen.

Rus people ethnic group

The Rus' people are generally understood in English-language scholarship as ethnically or ancestrally Scandinavian people trading and raiding on the river-routes between the Baltic and the Black Seas from around the eighth to eleventh centuries AD. Thus they are often referred to in English-language research as "Viking Rus'". The scholarly consensus is that Rus' people originated in what is currently coastal Middle Sweden around the eighth century and that their name has the same origin as Roslagen in Sweden.

Basil II Byzantine Emperor from the Macedonian dynasty

Basil II, nicknamed the Bulgar Slayer, was senior Byzantine Emperor for almost 50 years, having been a junior colleague to other emperors since 960. He and his brother Constantine were named as co-rulers before their father Romanos II died in 963. The throne went to two generals, Nikephoros Phokas then John Tzimiskes, before Basil became senior emperor. His influential great-uncle Basil Lekapenos was the de facto ruler of the Byzantine Empire until 985. Basil II then held power for forty years.

Christianization of Kievan Rus

The Christianization of Kievan Rus' took place in several stages. In early 867, Patriarch Photius of Constantinople announced to other Orthodox patriarchs that the Rus', baptised by his bishop, took to Christianity with particular enthusiasm. Photius's attempts at Christianizing the country seem to have entailed no lasting consequences, since the Primary Chronicle and other Slavonic sources describe the tenth-century Rus' as firmly entrenched in paganism. Following the Primary Chronicle, the definitive Christianization of Kievan Rus' dates from the year 988, when Vladimir the Great was baptized in Chersonesus and proceeded to baptize his family and people in Kiev. The latter events are traditionally referred to as baptism of Rus' in Russian and Ukrainian literature.

Immigrants from Denmark, Norway, Iceland and Sweden kept a predominantly Norse cast to the organization until the late 11th century. According to the late Swedish historian Alf Henrikson in his book Svensk Historia (History of Sweden), the Scandinavian Varangian guardsmen were recognized by long hair, a red ruby set in the left ear and ornamented dragons sewn on their chainmail shirts. In these years, Scandinavian men left to enlist in the Byzantine Varangian Guard in such numbers that a medieval Swedish law, Västergötlagen, from Västergötland declared no one could inherit while staying in "Greece"—the then Scandinavian term for the Byzantine Empire—to stop the emigration, [6] especially as two other European courts simultaneously also recruited Scandinavians: [7] Kievan Rus' c. 980–1060 and London 1018–1066 (the Þingalið). [7]

Denmark Constitutional monarchy in Europe

Denmark, officially the Kingdom of Denmark, is a Nordic country. Denmark proper, which is the southernmost of the Scandinavian countries, consists of a peninsula, Jutland, and an archipelago of 443 named islands, with the largest being Zealand, Funen and the North Jutlandic Island. The islands are characterised by flat, arable land and sandy coasts, low elevation and a temperate climate. The southernmost of the Scandinavian nations, Denmark lies southwest of Sweden and south of Norway, and is bordered to the south by Germany. The Kingdom of Denmark also includes two autonomous constituent countries in the North Atlantic Ocean: the Faroe Islands and Greenland. Denmark has a total area of 42,924 km2 (16,573 sq mi), land area of 42,394 km2 (16,368 sq mi), and the total area including Greenland and the Faroe Islands is 2,210,579 km2 (853,509 sq mi), and a population of 5.8 million.

Norway Country in Northern Europe

Norway, officially the Kingdom of Norway, is a Nordic country in Northern Europe whose territory comprises the western and northernmost portion of the Scandinavian Peninsula; the remote island of Jan Mayen and the archipelago of Svalbard are also part of the Kingdom of Norway. The Antarctic Peter I Island and the sub-Antarctic Bouvet Island are dependent territories and thus not considered part of the kingdom. Norway also lays claim to a section of Antarctica known as Queen Maud Land.

Iceland Island republic in Northern Europe

Iceland is a Nordic island country in the North Atlantic, with a population of 360,390 and an area of 103,000 km2 (40,000 sq mi), making it the most sparsely populated country in Europe. The capital and largest city is Reykjavík, with Reykjavík and the surrounding areas in the southwest of the country being home to over two-thirds of the population. Iceland is volcanically and geologically active. The interior consists of a plateau characterised by sand and lava fields, mountains, and glaciers, and many glacial rivers flow to the sea through the lowlands. Iceland is warmed by the Gulf Stream and has a temperate climate, despite a high latitude almost entirely outside the Arctic Circle. Its high latitude and marine influence keep summers chilly, with most of the archipelago having a tundra climate.

Composed primarily of Norsemen and Rus for the first 100 years, the Guard began to see increased numbers of Anglo-Saxons after the Norman conquest of England. By the time of the Emperor Alexios Komnenos in the late 11th century, the Varangian Guard was largely recruited from Anglo-Saxons and "others who had suffered at the hands of the Vikings and their cousins the Normans".[ This quote needs a citation ] The Anglo-Saxons and other Germanic peoples shared with the Vikings a tradition of faithful (to death if necessary) oath-bound service, and the Norman invasion of England resulted in many fighting men who had lost their lands and former masters and were looking for positions elsewhere.

Alexios I Komnenos 12th-century Byzantine emperor

Alexios I Komnenos, Latinized Alexius I Comnenus, was Byzantine emperor from 1081 to 1118. Although he was not the founder of the Komnenian dynasty, it was during his reign that the Komnenos family came to full power. Inheriting a collapsing empire and faced with constant warfare during his reign against both the Seljuq Turks in Asia Minor and the Normans in the western Balkans, Alexios was able to curb the Byzantine decline and begin the military, financial, and territorial recovery known as the Komnenian restoration. The basis for this recovery were various reforms initiated by Alexios. His appeals to Western Europe for help against the Turks were also the catalyst that likely contributed to the convoking of the Crusades.

Vikings Norse explorers, warriors, merchants, and pirates

Vikings were Norsemen who, from the late 8th to late 11th centuries, raided and traded from their Northern European homelands across wide areas of Europe, and explored westwards to Iceland, Greenland, and Vinland. The term is also commonly extended in modern English and other vernaculars to include the inhabitants of Norse home communities during what has become known as the Viking Age, 798–1066 AD. This period of Nordic military, mercantile and demographic expansion constitutes an important element in the early medieval history of Scandinavia, Estonia, the British Isles, France, Kievan Rus' and Sicily.

Normans European ethnic group emerging in the 10th and 11th century in France

The Normans were an ethnic group that arose in Normandy, a northern region of France, from contact between indigenous Franks, Gallo-Romans, and Norse Viking settlers. The settlements followed a series of raids on the French coast from Denmark, Norway, and Iceland, and they gained political legitimacy when the Viking leader Rollo agreed to swear fealty to King Charles III of West Francia. The distinct cultural and ethnic identity of the Normans emerged initially in the first half of the 10th century, and it continued to evolve over the succeeding centuries.

The Varangian Guard not only provided security for the Byzantine emperors, but also participated in many wars, often playing a decisive role, since they were usually deployed at critical moments of a battle. By the late 13th century, Varangians were mostly ethnically assimilated by the Byzantine Greeks, though the Guard remained in existence until at least mid-14th century. In 1400, there were still some people identifying themselves as "Varangians" in Constantinople.

Byzantine Greeks Greek-speaking Christian Romans of the Byzantine Empire

The Byzantine Greeks were the Greek-speaking Christian Romans of Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages. They were the main inhabitants of the lands of the Byzantine Empire, of Constantinople and Asia Minor, the Greek islands, Cyprus, and portions of the southern Balkans, and formed large minorities, or pluralities, in the coastal urban centres of the Levant and northern Egypt. Throughout their history, the Byzantine Greeks self-identified as Romans, but are referred to as "Byzantine Greeks" in modern historiography.

Constantinople capital city of the Eastern Roman or Byzantine Empire, the Latin and the Ottoman Empire

Constantinople was the capital city of the Roman Empire (330–395), of the Eastern Roman (Byzantine) Empire, of the brief Crusader state known as the Latin Empire (1204–1261) and of the Ottoman Empire (1453–1923). In 1923 the capital of Turkey, the successor state of the Ottoman Empire, was moved to Ankara and the name Constantinople was officially changed to Istanbul. The city is located in what is now the European side and the core of modern Istanbul. The city is still referred to as Constantinople in Greek-speaking sources.

History

An illumination of a scene from the Skylitzes Chronicle, depicting a Thracesian woman killing a Varangian who tried to rape her, whereupon his comrades praised her and gave her his possessions A Thracesian woman kills a Varangian.jpg
An illumination of a scene from the Skylitzes Chronicle , depicting a Thracesian woman killing a Varangian who tried to rape her, whereupon his comrades praised her and gave her his possessions

The earliest members of the Varangian guard came from Kievan Rus'. A treaty between Rus' and the Byzantine empire under Basil I was agreed in 874 after a period of hostilities. A clause in the treaty obliged Rus' to provide men for Byzantine service. Renewed hostilities between 907 and 911 ended with a new treaty under which any Rus' who chose could serve Byzantium as a right. [9]

Kievan Rus Former federation of East Slavic and Finnic tribes

Kievan Rus' was a loose federation of East Slavic and Finnic peoples in Europe from the late 9th to the mid-13th century, under the reign of the Varangian Rurik dynasty. The modern nations of Belarus, Russia, and Ukraine all claim Kievan Rus' as their cultural ancestors, with Belarus and Russia deriving their names from it.

As early as 911, Varangians are mentioned as fighting as mercenaries for the Byzantines. About 700 Varangians served along with Dalmatians as marines in Byzantine naval expeditions against the Emirate of Crete in 902 and a force of 629 returned to Crete under Constantine Porphyrogenitus in 949. A unit of 415 Varangians was involved in the Italian expedition of 936. It is also recorded that there were Varangian contingents among the forces that fought the Arabs in Syria in 955. During this period, the Varangian mercenaries were included in the Great Companions (Gr. Μεγάλη Εταιρεία).

In 988, Basil II requested military assistance from Vladimir I of Kiev to help defend his throne. In compliance with the treaty made by his father after the Siege of Dorostolon (971), Vladimir sent 6,000 men to Basil. Vladimir took the opportunity to rid himself of his most unruly warriors which in any case he was unable to pay. [10] This is the presumptive date for the formal, permanent institution of an elite guard. [11] In exchange for the warriors, Vladimir was given Basil's sister, Anna, in marriage. Vladimir also agreed to convert to Christianity and to bring his people into the Christian faith.

In 989, these Varangians, led by Basil II himself, landed at Chrysopolis to defeat the rebel general Bardas Phokas. On the field of battle, Phokas died of a stroke in full view of his opponent; upon the death of their leader, Phokas' troops turned and fled. The brutality of the Varangians was noted when they pursued the fleeing army and "cheerfully hacked them to pieces".

These men formed the nucleus of the Varangian Guard, which saw extensive service in southern Italy in the eleventh century, as the Normans and Lombards worked to extinguish Byzantine authority there. In 1018, Basil II received a request from his catepan of Italy, Basil Boioannes, for reinforcements to put down the Lombard revolt of Melus of Bari. A detachment of the Varangian Guard was sent and in the Battle of Cannae, the Byzantines achieved a decisive victory.

The Varangians also participated in the partial reconquest of Sicily from the Arabs under George Maniakes in 1038. Here, they fought alongside Normans recently arrived in Italy seeking adventure and Lombards from Byzantine-held Apulia. A prominent member of the Guard at this time was Harald Hardrada, later King of Norway as Harald III (1046 to 1066). However, when Maniakes ostracised the Lombards by publicly humiliating their leader, Arduin, the Lombards deserted and the Normans and Varangians followed them.

Not long after, the catepan Michael Doukeianos had a force of Varangians stationed at Bari. On 16 March 1041, they were called up to fight the Normans near Venosa; many drowned in the subsequent retreat across the Ofanto. In September, Exaugustus Boioannes was sent to Italy with only a small contingent of Varangians to replace the disgraced Doukeianos. On 3 September 1041, they were defeated in battle by the Normans.

Many of the last catepans were sent from Constantinople with Varangian units. In 1047, John Raphael was sent to Bari with a contingent of Varangians, but the Bariots refused to receive his troops and he spent his term at Otranto. Twenty years later, in 1067, the last Byzantine catepan in southern Italy, Mabrica, arrived with Varangian auxiliaries and took Brindisi and Taranto. At the disastrous Battle of Manzikert in 1071, virtually all the Emperor's Guards fell around him. [12]

Viking expeditions: depicting the immense breadth of their voyages through most of Europe, the Mediterranean Sea, Northern Africa, Asia Minor, the Arctic and North America WikingerKarte.jpg
Viking expeditions: depicting the immense breadth of their voyages through most of Europe, the Mediterranean Sea, Northern Africa, Asia Minor, the Arctic and North America

Composed primarily of Scandinavians for the first 100 years, the guard began to see increasing numbers of Anglo-Saxons after the successful invasion of England by the Normans. In 1088, a large number of Anglo-Saxons and Danes emigrated to the Byzantine Empire by way of the Mediterranean. [13] One source has more than 5,000 of them arriving in 235 ships. Those who did not enter imperial service settled on the Black Sea coast, building and garrisoning the town of Civetot for Alexios I. [14] Those who did became so vital to the Varangians that the Guard was commonly called the Englinbarrangoi (Anglo-Varangians) from that point. In this capacity, they fought in Sicily against the Normans under Robert Guiscard, who unsuccessfully sought to invade the lower Balkans as well.

Writing about the unit as it was in 1080, the chronicler and princess Anna Komnene refers to these "axe-bearing barbarians" as being "from Thule", likely a reference to the British Isles or Scandinavia. [15] Likewise, the Byzantine civil-servant, soldier and historian John Kinnamos calls these "axe-bearers" that guarded the Emperor "the British nation, which has been in service to the Romans' Emperors from a long time back". [16] Kinnamos was writing in the later 12th century, indicating perhaps that the more Dane and Saxon composition of the guard continued to the point of the Fourth Crusade.

The Varangians relied on the broad-bladed Dane axe as their main weapon, although they were often also skilled swordsmen or archers. In some sources, such as Anna Komnene's The Alexiad , they are described as mounted; both Vikings and elite Anglo-Saxon warriors routinely used horses for strategic mobility even though they normally fought on foot. The guard was stationed primarily around Constantinople, and may have been barracked in the Bucoleon palace complex. The guard also accompanied armies into the field, and Byzantine chroniclers (as well as several notable Western European and Arab chroniclers) often note their battlefield prowess, especially in comparison to the local barbarian peoples. They were vital to the Byzantine victory under the emperor John II Komnenos at the Battle of Beroia in 1122. The Varangians hacked their way through the enemy's circle of Pecheneg wagons, collapsing the Pecheneg position and causing a general rout in their camp. [16]

The Varangians were described by 11th-century Byzantine historian Michael Psellus as thus: “The whole group carry shields and brandish on their shoulders a certain single-edged, heavy-iron weapon", which is understood to have been the daneaxe [17] (many Byzantine writers referred to them as "axe-bearing barbarians", pelekyphoroi barbaroi, rather than as Varangians). [13] However, a mistranslation of the Greek text has led some to refer to the weapon as a rhomphaia , [18] which most likely occurred as a product of Atticism in Byzantine literature. [17]

They were prominent in the defence of Constantinople during the Fourth Crusade. Of the role of the guard, it is said that "the fighting was very violent and there was hand to hand fight with axes and swords, the assailants mounted the walls and prisoners were taken on both sides". [13] The latest mention of the Varangian guard is in the Greek version of the Chronicle of the Morea , which states that this unit escorted the Prince of Achaia away to prison after the Battle of Pelagonia in 1259; historian D. J. Geanakoplos suggests they were reconstituted by Theodore I Laskaris to strengthen his claim as the rightful Emperor. [19] People identified as Varangians were to be found in Constantinople around 1400. [20]

Function

Seal of Michael, Grand Interpreter (megas diermeneutes) of the Guard SealOfGrandInterpreter.jpg
Seal of Michael, Grand Interpreter (megas diermeneutes) of the Guard

The duties and purpose of the Varangian Guard were similar—if not identical—to the services provided by the Kievan druzhina , the Norwegian hird , and the Scandinavian and Anglo-Saxon housecarls . The Varangians served as the personal bodyguard [21] of the emperor, swearing an oath of loyalty to him; they had ceremonial duties as retainers and acclaimers and performed some police duties, especially in cases of treason and conspiracy. They were headed by a separate officer, the akolouthos , who was usually a native Byzantine.

The Varangian Guard was only used in battle during critical moments, or where the battle was most fierce. [22] Contemporary Byzantine chroniclers note with a mix of terror and fascination that the "Scandinavians were frightening both in appearance and in equipment, they attacked with reckless rage and neither cared about losing blood nor their wounds". [22] The description probably refers to berserkers, since this state of trance is said to have given them superhuman strength and no sense of pain from their wounds. [22] When the Byzantine Emperor died, the Varangians had the unique right of running to the imperial treasury and taking as much gold and as many gems as they could carry, a procedure known in Old Norse as polutasvarf ("palace pillaging"). [22] This privilege enabled many Varangians to return home as wealthy men, which encouraged even more Scandinavians to enlist in the Guard in Miklagarðr (Swedish = Miklagård = 'The Great City', i.e. Constantinople). [22]

The loyalty of the Varangians became a trope of Byzantine writers. Writing about her father Alexius's seizing of the Imperial throne in 1081, Anna Komnene notes that he was advised not to attack the Varangians who still guarded the Emperor Nikephoros for the Varangians "regard loyalty to the emperors and the protection of their persons as a family tradition, a kind of sacred trust". This allegiance, she noted, "they preserve inviolate, and will never brook the slighted hint of betrayal". [23] Unlike the native Byzantine guards so mistrusted by Basil II, the Varangian guards' loyalties lay with the position of Emperor, not the man that sat on the throne. This was made clear in 969 when the guards failed to avenge the death by assassination of Emperor Nikephoros II. A servant had managed to call for the guards while the Emperor was being attacked, but when they arrived he was dead. They immediately knelt before John Tzimiskes, Nikephoros' murderer and hailed him as Emperor. "Alive they would have defended him to the last breath: dead there was no point in avenging him. They had a new master now." [24]

This reputation exceeds the truth in at least two recorded instances. In 1071, after Emperor Romanos IV Diogenes was defeated by Sultan Alp Arslan, a palace coup was staged before he could return to Constantinople. Caesar John Doukas used the Varangian guard to depose the absent emperor, arrest Empress Eudoxia, and proclaim his nephew, stepson of Diogenes Michael VII, as emperor. Thus, instead of defending their absent emperor, the Varangians were used by the usurpers—proving their loyalty to the throne, if not always the current occupier of that throne. In a more sinister episode, the historian Joannes Zonaras reports the guard revolting against Nikephoros III Botaneiates after the blinding of the general Nikephoros Bryennios in 1078, "planning to kill him" but being suppressed by loyal troops. They subsequently asked for and received a pardon. [25]

Runestones

Map of geographic distribution of Varangian Runestones Varangian Runestones.png
Map of geographic distribution of Varangian Runestones
The Byzantine cross, on U 161, a cross which is today the coat of arms of the municipality of Taby Runestonecross.jpg
The Byzantine cross, on U 161, a cross which is today the coat of arms of the municipality of Täby
One of the runic inscriptions in Hagia Sophia, probably carved by members of the Varangian Guard Hagia-sofia-viking.jpg
One of the runic inscriptions in Hagia Sophia, probably carved by members of the Varangian Guard

There are a number of raised stone memorials called runestones throughout Scandinavia. Many date to the Viking age, and there are many associated with the Varangian Guards. These Varangian runestones commemorate various fallen warriors through carved runes, and mention voyages to the East (Austr) or the Eastern route (Austrvegr), or to more specific eastern locations such as Garðaríki (what is today Russia and Ukraine). The losses that the Varangian Guard suffered are reflected by the largest group of runestones that talk of foreign voyages, such as those termed the Greece Runestones. [26] These were raised by former members of the Varangian Guard, or in their memory. A smaller group consists of the four Italy Runestones which were raised in memory of members of the Varangian Guard who died in southern Italy.

The oldest of the Greece runestones are six stones in the style RAK, a style which is dated to the period before 1015 AD. [27] The group consists of Skepptuna runestone U 358, Västra Ledinge runestone U 518, Nälberga runestone Sö 170 and Eriksstad runestone Sm 46. [28]

One of the more notable of the later runestones in the style Pr4 is Ed runestone U 112, a large boulder at the western shore of the lake of Ed. It tells that Ragnvaldr, the captain of the Varangian Guard, had returned home where he had the inscriptions made in memory of his dead mother. [28]

The youngest runestones, in the style Pr5, such as Ed runestone U 104 (presently in the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford), are dated to the period 1080–1130, after which runestones became unfashionable. [28]

The Varangians did not return home without being imprinted by Byzantine culture in one way or another, as exemplified by the Byzantine cross carved on the early eleventh century Risbyle runestone U 161, and which today is the coat-of-arms of Täby, a trimunicipal locality and the seat of Täby Municipality in Stockholm County, Sweden. [29] The runes were made by the Viking Ulf of Borresta, see Orkesta runestone U 344, in memory of another Ulf, in Skålhamra, and at the request of the latter's father. [29]

Norse sagas

According to the sagas, the West Norse entered the service of the Guard considerably later than the East Norse. The Laxdœla saga, informs that the Icelander Bolli Bollason, born c. 1006, was the first known Icelander or Norwegian in the Varangian Guard. [30] Travelling to Constantinople via Denmark, he spent many years in the Varangian Guard; "and was thought to be the most valiant in all deeds that try a man, and always went next to those in the forefront." [31] The saga also records the finery his followers received from the Emperor, and the influence he held after his return to Iceland:

Bolli rode from the ship with twelve men, and all his followers were dressed in scarlet, and rode on gilt saddles, and all were they a trusty band, though Bolli was peerless among them. He had on the clothes of fur which the Garth-king had given him, he had over all a scarlet cape; and he had Footbiter girt on him, the hilt of which was dight with gold, and the grip woven with gold, he had a gilded helmet on his head, and a red shield on his flank, with a knight painted on it in gold. He had a dagger in his hand, as is the custom in foreign lands; and whenever they took quarters the women paid heed to nothing but gazing at Bolli and his grandeur, and that of his followers. [32]

The Varangian Guard is mentioned also in Njal's Saga in reference to Kolskegg—an Icelander said to have come first to Holmgard (Novgorod) and then on to Miklagard (Constantinople), where he entered the Emperor's service. "The last that was heard of him was, that he had wedded a wife there, and was captain over the Varangians, and stayed there till his death day." [33]

One of the members of the Varangian Guard was the future king Harald Sigurdsson III of Norway, known as Harald Hardråde ("Hard-ruler"). [34] Having fled his homeland, Harald went first to Gardariki and then on to Constantinople, where he arrived in 1035. He participated in eighteen battles and during his service fought against Arabs in Anatolia and Sicily under General George Maniakes, as well as in southern Italy and Bulgaria. An extensive account of Harald Sigurdsson's journeys is found in Harald Sigurdsson's Saga.

During his time in the Varangian Guard Harald earned the titles of manglavites and spatharokandidatos . But his service ended with his imprisonment for misappropriation of imperial plunder taken during his command. He was released upon the dethronement of the Emperor Michael V, and saga sources suggest he was the one sent to blind the Emperor when he and his uncle fled to the church of Studion Monastery and clung to the altar.

Harald then sought to leave his post, but was denied this. He eventually escaped and returned home in 1043, becoming King of Norway before eventually dying at the Battle of Stamford Bridge while invading England in 1066.

The Varangian Guard regained some of its old Scandinavian flavour when Harald Hardråde's grandson, Sigurd I of Norway, went on the Norwegian Crusade to the Holy land. After fighting battles against the Muslims, King Sigurd in 1110 let the rest of his force, who originally numbered 6000 men, join the Varangian Guard. King Sigurd returned home with less than a hundred of his personal Guard.

Most of the Old Norse narratives which deals with Norwegians or Icelanders in the Varangian Guard are from the 13th century, and bear witness to a continued interest and generally positive views towards Byzantium within the West Norse cultural area. [35]

See also

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The Immortals were one of the elite tagmata military units of the Byzantine Empire, first raised during the late 10th century. The name derives from a- ("without") + thanatos ("death").

Byzantine Empire under the Macedonian dynasty

The medieval Byzantine Empire underwent a revival during the reign of the Macedonian emperors of the late 9th, 10th, and early 11th centuries, when it gained control over the Adriatic Sea, Southern Italy, and all of the territory of the Tsar Samuil of Bulgaria.

The Thingmen was a standing army in the service of the Kings of England during the period 1013-51, financed by direct taxation which had its origins in the tribute known as Danegeld. It consisted mostly of men of Scandinavian descent and it had an initial strength of 3,000 housecarls and a fleet of 40 ships, which was subsequently reduced. Its last remnant was disbanded by Edward the Confessor in 1051.

Viking expansion

Viking expansion is the process by which Norse explorers, traders and warriors, the latter known in modern scholarship as Vikings, sailed most of the North Atlantic, reaching south to North Africa and east to Russia, Constantinople and the Middle East as looters, traders, colonists and mercenaries. Vikings under Leif Erikson, the heir to Erik the Red, reached North America and set up a short-lived settlement in present-day L'Anse aux Meadows, Newfoundland, Canada. Longer lasting and more established settlements were formed in Greenland, Iceland, the Faroe Islands, Great Britain, Ireland and Normandy.

Kylfings

The Kylfings were a people of uncertain origin active in Northern Europe during the Viking Age, roughly from the late ninth century to the early twelfth century. They could be found in areas of Lapland, Russia, and the Byzantine Empire that were frequented by Scandinavian traders, raiders and mercenaries. Scholars differ on whether the Kylfings were ethnically Finnic or Norse. Also disputed is their geographic origin, with Denmark, Sweden and the Eastern Baltic all put forward as candidates. Whether the name Kylfing denotes a particular tribal, socio-political, or economic grouping is also a matter of much debate.

Varangians Slavic and Greek designation of Vikings

The Varangians was the name given by Greeks, Rus' people, and others to Vikings, who between the 9th and 11th centuries, ruled the medieval state of Kievan Rus', settled among many territories of modern Belarus, Russia, and Ukraine, and formed the Byzantine Varangian Guard. According to the 12th century Kievan Primary Chronicle, a group of Varangians known as the Rus' settled in Novgorod in 862 under the leadership of Rurik. Before Rurik, the Rus' might have ruled an earlier hypothetical polity. Rurik's relative Oleg conquered Kiev in 882 and established the state of Kievan Rus', which was later ruled by Rurik's descendants.

New England was a colony allegedly founded in the late 11th century by English refugees fleeing William the Conqueror. Its existence is only attested in two much later sources, dating from the 13th and 14th centuries, the French Chronicon Universale Anonymi Laudunensis and the Icelandic Játvarðar Saga. They tell the story of a journey from England through the Mediterranean Sea that led to Constantinople, where the English refugees fought off a siege by heathens and were rewarded by the Byzantine Emperor Alexius I Comnenus. A group of them were given land to the north-east of the Black Sea, reconquering it and renaming their territory "New England". This theory is often described as fantastical.

North Germanic peoples

North Germanic peoples, sometimes called Scandinavians, Nordic peoples and in a medieval context Norsemen, are a Germanic ethnolinguistic group of the Nordic countries. They are identified by their cultural similarities, common ancestry and common use of the Proto-Norse language from around 200 AD, a language that around 800 AD became the Old Norse language, which in turn later became the North Germanic languages of today.

Varangian runestones class of runestones

The Varangian runestones are runestones in Scandinavia that talk of eastward voyages such as the Gardarike runestones, Greece Runestones, Italy Runestones, and inscriptions left by the Varangian Guard. Other runestones that deal with Varangian expeditions include the Serkland Runestones and the Ingvar Runestones. There is also a separate article for the Baltic expeditions runestones.

References

  1. Alvarez, Sandra (2014-06-23), "English Refugees in the Byzantine Armed Forces: The Varangian Guard and Anglo-Saxon Ethnic Consciousness", De Re Militari, The Society for Medieval Military History, retrieved 2018-11-22
  2. Maggio, Edward (1997). Private Security in the 21st Century: Concepts and Applications. Sudbury, Massachusetts: Jones and Bartlett Publishers. pp. 4–5. ISBN   978-07637-5190-6.
  3. Raffaele D'Amato. The Varangian Guard 988-1453 . Retrieved 18 August 2011.
  4. Abbot Gleason. A companion to Russian history . Retrieved 18 August 2011.
  5. Thomas Craughwell. How the Barbarian Invasions Shaped the Modern World . Retrieved 18 August 2011.
  6. Jansson 1980:22
  7. 1 2 Pritsak 1981:386
  8. Wortley, John, ed. (2010), John Skylitzes: A Synopsis of Byzantine History, 811-1057, Cambridge, United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press, p. 372, ISBN   978-0-521-76705-7
  9. D'Amato, pp. 4, 6
  10. D'Amato, pp. 6-7
  11. D'Amato, p.4
  12. Stephen Lowe, Battle Honours of the Varangian Guard
  13. 1 2 3 Stephen Turnbull, The Walls of Constantinople, AD 324–1453, pages 35-36, Osprey Publishing, ISBN   1-84176-759-X.
  14. Buckler, p. 366.
  15. Anna Comnena, The Alexiad (London: Penguin, 2003), p. 95.
  16. 1 2 John Kinnamos, "The Deeds of John and Manuel Comnenos" (Charles M. Brand, trans). New York, Columbia University Press, 1976, p. 16.
  17. 1 2 Timothy Dawson (May 1992). "The Varangian Rhomphaia: a Cautionary tale". Varangian Voice. 22: 24–26.
  18. Ian Heath and Angus McBride, Byzantine Armies 886–1118, 1979, p. 38: "Psellus however claims that every Varangian without exception was armed with shield and 'Rhomphaia'...a mixture of Byzantine and Scandinavian gear was in use...",
  19. Deno J. Geanakoplos, Emperor Michael Palaeologus and the West (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1959), p. 43 and note
  20. Mark Bartusis, The Late Byzantine Army: Arms and Society 1204–1453 (Philadelphia 1992), pp. 272–275.
  21. It is neither unusual nor particularly Byzantine that a foreign unit would gain such access and prestige. Augustus himself had a personal guard of Germans, the collegium custodum corporis or Germani corporis custodes , to protect himself from the native Praetorians. This guard was revived by Tiberius and continued until Nero.
  22. 1 2 3 4 5 Enoksen, Lars Magnar. (1998). Runor : historia, tydning, tolkning. Historiska Media, Falun. ISBN   91-88930-32-7 p. 135
  23. Anna Comnena, The Alexiad (London: Penguin, 2003), p. 97.
  24. Norwich, John J. (1997). A Short History of Byzantium . Viking. ISBN   0-679-77269-3..
  25. Buckler, p. 367.
  26. Larsson, Mats G (2002). Götarnas Riken : Upptäcktsfärder Till Sveriges Enande. Bokförlaget Atlantis AB ISBN   978-91-7486-641-4 p. 143–144.
  27. Runriket Täby-Vallentuna – en handledning, by Rune Edberg Archived 2007-09-28 at the Wayback Machine gives the start date 985, but the Rundata project includes also Iron Age and earlier Viking Age runestones in the style RAK.
  28. 1 2 3 The dating is provided by the Rundata project in a freely downloadable database.
  29. 1 2 The article 5. Runriket - Risbyle Archived 2009-03-13 at the Wayback Machine on the website of the Stockholm County Museum, retrieved July 7, 2007.
  30. Sagas of the Icelanders , Penguin Group
  31. The Laxdaela Saga: Chapter 73
  32. The Laxdaela Saga: Chapter 77
  33. The Story of Burnt Njal
  34. Philip Dixon, Barbarian Europe, Salem House Publishing (October 1976), 978-0525701606
  35. Jakobsson, Sverrir (2008). "The Schism that never was: Old Norse views on Byzantium and Russia". Byzantinoslavica. Slovanský ústav Akademie věd ČR, v. v. i. and Euroslavica. pp. 173–88.

Bibliography

Primary sources

Secondary sources