Thursday, 7 September 2017

Varangian Guard Illustration

The Varangian Guard were the elite of the Byzantine forces, the personal bodyguard of the Emperor himself but they have an unusual background. They were actually Vikings originally, they came down the Volga river and attempted to attack Constantinople itself, twice I believe. They were not very successful in the attacking of the city and the reason is found in the Norse word they had themselves for Constantinople, Miklagard, meaning the great city. Constantinople was gigantic in comparison to what they had encountered in mainland Europe, if memory serves me correctly, places like Paris and London were around 10-20 thousand at the time, while cities in the east were numbering in the hundreds of thousands, some even reaching a million.

While the Vikings weren't successful at their attempt at taking the city, they did impress the emperor, so much so he hired some as an elite fighting guard. After a while of seeing how good they really were, the Emperor made them them his person guard. They were known for their heavy drinking, brawling but also as great fighters and impossible to bribe.

These Vikings mostly came from the land of the Rus, which was an area the Vikings had settled along the great rivers there as a trade route to the East and Byzantium. Eventually these Rus, as the eastern Swedish were called, mixed with the local slavs to disappearing into their gene pool, but the name endured and is the origin of the name of the country, Russia.

For most of their history the Varangian guard were Norse or their Slavic/Norse descendants in Russia but in the later period Anglo Saxons joined the ranks, mostly from nobility who had lost out after the battle of Hastings in 1066. 

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