{short description of image}  



Sigfus Blondal


An aspect of Byzantine military history translated, revised and rewritten by Bernedikt S. Benedikz, Cambridge Univ. Press, Cambridge. Professor Benedikz notes in his introduction that Dr. Blondal died before completing the editing of his major book and Benedikz was asked to bring it into publication.


Preface -
This describes the life-long background and work of Sigfus Blondal in the study and teaching of Icelandic and Danish. Among many other efforts he wrote Varfingja saga a book about the Varangians and Byzantium, but it was very incomplete at his death. His widow asked Dr Benedikz to revise and complete this important study, which he has done by completely revising it. Dr. Benedikz takes pains to identify what parts of the new work accord with Dr. Blondal's original and what parts have been added by himself.


Chapter 1 - Varangians and their origins
This is a history and analysis of the components of the Byzantine armed forces which were called Varangians, that is those who originated in the Scandinavian and Anglo-Saxon races. The initial chapter is focused on the nomenclature, the origins of the terms, Varangian and Rus and related words. It is a work of considerable scholarship itself, drawing on mentions of these terms in many languages and from many different societies. This includes discussion of the ethnic groups who bore these names, such as the Norse who went east and south along the Volga and Dnieper Rivers. It describes their activties including mercantile and warlike adventures.


Chapter 2 - The army and navy of the High Byzantine Empire
This chapter provides a general outline and description of the many and varied components of the Byzantine armed forces, their origins and their developments over the several hundred years, especially from circa 800 A.D. onward. The land forces consisted mainly of cavalry and infantry units. The naval forces were separate. The land forces included both regular, standing, elements and temporary militia type units. The text names and describes a large number of these elements such as Akrites, drougnos, Excubitores, Arithmos, Hikanatoi, Scholae, Vigla, Hetairiai, and others. Besides analysis of the composition, strengths and weaknesses of the various components, the author assesses some of the significant features of the Byzantine army as a whole.
"From the known evidence it is clear that the Byzantines had brought military science to a fine art in the time of High Byzantium, certainly to a far more advanced degree than any other European state of that period. Their particular strength lay both in their science, their discipline and in their constant and large choice of exceptionally able generals and other higher officers."
The author also describes such specifics as Byzantine pay and recruiting.
He treats the naval forces separately.


Chapter 3 - Norse and Russian forces in the Byzantine army to the death of Romanos III
"The earliest records that can be said to give fairly certain clue as to the presence of soldiers from the Russian-Norse territories are from the reign of Theophilus (829-41)."
These came from various bands of Norse origin who had crossed through 'Russia' to the Black Sea to threaten Cheroson. Archival records mention that some of these 'gentlemen' then traveled via Byzantium back through Germany to Scandinavia. In 843 Constantinople was attacked by sea by a 'Rhosi' fleet led by 'Askold and Dir'. Names that the author identifies as Hoskuldr and Dyri. Soon thereafter specific treaties were signed in which 'Rhosi' soldiers were to enter Byzantine service. The next specific mention is that 700 Rhosi warriors were in Byzantine service in a campaign against Crete in 902 A.D. A campaign by Oleg (Helgi) of Kiev against Constantinople was recorded for 907 A. D.
Even more evidence of Norse activity was recorded during the reign of Emperor Constantine VII during which period they even reached Azerbaizhan on the Caspian south of the Caucasus. And records indicate that Igor attacked Constantinople in 941 The author notes that already some Kievans were Christians. For instance Igor's widow, Olga (Helga) was a Christian when she visited Constantinople in 957. In 949 Russia vessels were in service in the Adriatic and 629 Russians particpated in the Byzantine campaign to Crete in 949. But Constantine expected more Russians and complained to Olga. There were Russians in Bardas Phocas' forces in 954 in Syria. Dr. Benedikz describes more such campaigns in detail. One was to Sicily in 964-5. Varangians (Rus) also served as guards in the city. Emperor Nicvephorus took Varangians on his campaign in 967 in Bulgaria. At that time Prince Svyatoslav from Kiev was also campaigning against the Bulgars.
Nicephorus II was murdered in 969. His successor, Emperor John Tzimisces, also employed Varangians. He died in 976 and was succeeded by a son of Romanos II, Basil II.
He became the founder of the permanent Varangian Guard Regiment. The event was the contingency of the needs of Kievan Grand Prince St. Vladimir and Byzantine Emperor Basil, the former's to get rid of a large detachment of Varangian warriors and the latter's need for excellent and loyal troops to fight his rivals. Vladimir has recruited some 6,000 Norsemen for his campaign to Overthrow Yaropolk in 980, but having accomplished this found these warriors dangerous and expensive to maintain. Meanwhile Basil II was defeated by Bulgarian Tsar Samuel II and then faced revolt by Bardas Skleros and Bardas Phocas. He appealed for assistance to Vladimir. This because linked also to Vladimir's marriage to Basil's sister, Anna, and conversion to Christianity. In 988 he sent these stalwart Varangians on to Constantinople. They quickly proved their worth against Delphinas, Bardas Phocas' general, at Scitar in 989 and again at Abydos the same year. These victories secured Basil on his thrown from internal and external enemies. Basil knew what a 'treasure' he now had and created the special Varangian personal guard. From then on the Varangians went with Basil II on his many campaigns. Blondal-Benedikz describes all this in detail. There were many campaigns beginning with one in Syria in 999. There were more, into Armenia and Georgia, throughout Palestine, and the Balkans. In 1009 - 1011 and again in 1018 Basil sent Varangians to suppress trouble in Italy. In 1016 he returned the Kievan favor by sending a fleet to support Vladimir's son, Yaroslav Vladimirovich, against the Khazars.
The authors consider Basil II's reign as the high point of early medieval Byzantine military prowess. The great emperor died in 1025 on the eve of a projected campaign in Sicily. They write; "With Basil II's death we come to a watershed in the affairs of the Byzantine Empire. H is two immediate successors, Constantine VIII and Romanos III, had neither his genius as a ruler nor as a general, and the remaining evidences for Varangian activities before the arrival of Haraldr Sigurdarson are few and uncertain." But it is likely that they continued to serve as a nucleas at critical points from Armenia to Syria to Egypt to Italy. Romanos III died in 1054, the same year that Haraldr arrived in Constantinople with his personal contingent of Norse warriors.


Chapter 4 - Haraldr Sigurdarson and his period as a Varangian in Constantinople, 1034-1043
No doubt the most famous Norse warrior to serve in the Byzantine armed forces was Harald Sigurdarson (King Harald III, Hardrada) of Norway. He is eualigized in the famous Heimskrfingla and other sagas. They recount Harald's service in the Kievan service of Grand Prince Yaroslav in 1031. From there Haraldr entered the service of Emperor Michael IV Katallakos.
There are many records of Haraldr's exploits in Icelandic, Norwegian, Danish, Greek and English sources, but these may be questionable in details. In fact the authors describe many folk tales that have entered Haraldr's epics. This chapter contains many quotations, extracts, from Norse texts in the original, (fortunately with translations). The authors begin with discussion of the controversial issues surrounding Haraldr's service in Kyiv prior to his move on to Constantinople.


Chapter 5 - The Varangians between 1042 and 1081


Chapter 6 - Varangians during the period 1081 - 1204


Chapter 7 - The ghost of the regiment: Varangian evidences 1204 - 1453


Chapter 8 - The Emperor, his Court, and his guards and his city


Chapter 9 - Some individual Norse and English Varangians and travelers to Byzantium


Chapter 10 - Runic inscriptions concerning Varangians


Return to Xenophon. Return to Ruscity. Return to Rushistory. Return to Ukraine.