History of the Vikings
not occur until long after the closing of the trade-routes due to the Polovtzi invasion. In Novgorod Scandinavian settlers remained and there at Gutagard the merchants of Gotland had an emporium and a guild-house in the twelfth century. But this trade across the Baltic lasted only until the fourteenth century when the Hansa League made it impossible for an independent Scandinavian settlement to survive in a foreign town. Then was the place named Novgorod and an end came to the long centuries wherein trader-Swedes had made their home in Russia. (1)
One reason for the decline in power of the Swedish aristocrats who ruled Russia was the everlasting sapping of their strength by Constantinople. For the Queen of Cities, rich beyond comparison and luxurious beyond description, was always the goal of the viking's dearest and most adventurous ambitions and one that tantalized him into the supreme enterprise of seeking his fortune not in the dim trading-booths of the Russian rivers or in the barbarian wildernesses of northern Europe but within the golden gates of the fairest city in Christendom. To Mikligard or Tsarigrad, as the Northmen and the Russians called the Byzantine capital, the Swedish merchants had found their way long before the control of the Russian waterways passed into their keeping, and the safety of the Russian travellers thither, and their status when arrived, was the chief concern of the first viking princes of Kiev, the object of their demonstrations against the Greeks, and the main content of the diplomatic conversations between the two peoples. But it was not so much the advantages of trade within the walls of Constantinople that enticed the Swedish lords of Russia to take leave of their city-states, it was the opportunity of embarking upon a career wherein honour and wealth might be won nobly by sword and axe in a gallant company whose headquarters was the royal palace itself. This corps was the emperor's Varangian Guard.
Even in the early days of the Swedish supremacy in Russia there had been Scandinavian mercenaries in the Greek forces in addition to the many other foreigners who were bought into the armies of Byzantium. (2) In 911 as many as 700 Russians had been
1. For the survival of Swedish sagas in Russian folk-tales (bylins), see S. Roznieski , Varaegiske Minder i den russsiske Heltedigtning, Copenhagen, 1914.
2. Miss Katherine M. Buck has reminded me that there is some evidence for the appearance of northerners in Constantinople long before the Viking Period and it is therefore possible that the Varangian Guard has a history that goes much further back than is commonly supposed (see her "Wayland-Dietrich Saga", nos. 91-96, p. 156, n. 3 and Index vol. to Pt. 1, p. 173, n. iv).
enlisted in a Greek expedition under the admiral Himerius against Crete, (1) and in the '30s, during the reign of Romanus Lecapenus, over 400 of them in seven ships took part in a Greek invasion of southern Italy; (2) indeed, the proper treatment of such Russian auxiliaries and the supply of them had been regulated in the treaties with Byzantium made by the princes Oleg and Igor of Kiev. In 949 another Greek force collected for an attack upon Crete was strengthened by nine boats containing over 600 Russians, while seven more Russian boats patrolled the coasts of Dalmatia, (3) and in 956 there were Christian Russians at the emperor's court on the occasion of the reception of the Caliph's ambassadors. There had been Russians in the Byzantine armies during the Mesopotamian wars against the Caliphate in the late '40s and '50s, and in 986 the Italian Liudprand noticed two Russian ships included in the imperial fleet. (4) The Greeks, therefore, had had throughout the tenth century a full opportunity of recognizing the worth and prowess of these hardy giants from the north and their Slavonic followers, and no one better appreciated their value than the emperor himself.
The establishment of a large and permanent Russian company in the regiments of the imperial guard was probably the work of the Emperor Basil II Bulgaroctonos, who had enlisted the services of 6,000 men sent to him by Vladimir of Kiev in 988 (p. 164). For a considerable time before this the guard had included a corps of foreigners made up of detachments of Russians, Khazars, and others, but this Varangian druzhina, or brigade, of Vladimir's, consisting no doubt mainly of Swedish volunteers, was assuredly the nucleus of that special company of Scandinavians that became the Varangian Guard of history. (5)
The worth of these northerners for the emperor lay not so much in their unquestionable valour and fighting-skill as in their
1. Constantine Porphyrogenitus, De Cerem., II, 44 ( C.S.H.B., p. 651, and cf. pp. 654-5).
2. Ib. p. 660.
3. Ib. ( II, 45), p. 664. There were 584 Russians and with them 42 others, boys and servants.
4. Legatio, ed. Pertz, 1839, p. 198.
5. The most detailed study on this subject, including a full account of the Norse material and Harald Hardradi's adventures, is a long essay (in Russian) by V. G. Vasilievsky entitled "'The Varangian-Russian and the Varangian-English corps at Constantinople in the eleventh and twelfth centuries'" (J.M.N.P., 1874, Pt. 176, p. 105; 1875, Pt. 177, p. 394, and Pt. 178, p. 76) ; this is reprinted in the Works, St. P., 1908, I, p. 176, where it is accompanied by another paper on the same subject, p. 378 . Cf. also a paper (in Danish) by G. Storm "'Harald Hardradi and the Varangians'", Hist. Tidshrift, 2 R. IV (1884), p. 354.
disinterested zeal for the fulfilment of their duty. Moreover, because they were not sprung of races living close upon the borders of the eastern empire their presence in the palace and their attachment to the person of the emperor occasioned none of the heart-burnings and jealousies that resulted from favours shown to Armenians, Bulgars, Arabs, Turks, and Georgians, and because the land of their birth lay thus far away the chances of disloyalty among them, should they be called upon to fight against their own countrymen, were minimized. (1) In addition to this, they had yet one other recommendation to the imperial favour, for the Varangians knew little or no Greek and were therefore not likely to be corrupted by court intrigues or to become disaffected during those dangerous periods when sedition was rife among the Greek-speaking regiments of the line. It was for these reasons that the Scandinavian detachment was preferred to the other companies of foreign mercenaries and entrusted with the honour of being the sovereign's personal guard.
The Icelandic saga-writers of the early Middle Ages believed that two of their countrymen had served in this guard as early as the middle of the tenth century, (2) and they also tell how a third Icelander had won fame in this body at about the same time of its first appearance in Byzantine history. (3) But the value of their evidence is in this instance but slight, and there is no good reason for thinking that a special Scandinavian company of the palace-guard was in existence before the beginning of the eleventh century. In fact, in Greek history they are not heard of until Cedrenus describes the events connected with the accession of Michael IV the Paphlagonian in 1034, (4) but it is clear from the nature of his allusion to them that they must have been a recognized body in the brigade of guards during the reign of Michael's predecessor Romanus II (1020-1034). The Varangians are mentioned on the occasion of the dismissal of some of them, probably those who were serving in the army of George
1. But that they should be required to do so was not out of the question, for there were Scandinavians in other armies than the Greek, particularly in the Norman hosts. Thus Bohemund of Antioch, son of Robert Guiscard, had 'men of the island of Thule' in his train in 1107 when he invaded Albania and was besieged by Alexius Comnenus. Note that Anna Comnena says of these men that they were accustomed to fight for the Greeks (Alexiad, C.H.S.B., 25, ii, p. 172), for some take this to mean that these men of Thule were deserters from the Varangian Guard; but this is very unlikely.
2. Hrafnkelssaga, ed. Hannaas, 1907, pp. 10 , 28 .
3. Laxdaelasaga, ed. Kaalund (AN. S.B. 4), LXIII. But this reference to Bolli Bollason is almost entirely apocryphal.
4. Cedrenus, Syn. Hist., C.S.H.B., 24, ii, p. 508.
Maniaces in Asia Minor, into winter-quarters, this suggesting that they were then only ordinary mercenaries; but the historian afterwards uses the expression 'Greek and Varangian palaceguards', adding that the Varangians were of 'Celtic' stock. (1)
One of the most famous personages who served in this guard, and one who is sometimes said to have been its founder, was the royal Norwegian Harald Sigurdsson Hardradi (p. 126). The prince was born in 1015 and while still a boy had fought for his half-brother St. Olaf at Stiklestad (1030), where he was wounded; after Olaf's fall he fled first to Sweden and then to Russia, where he entered the service of Yaroslav, as has been related, and became in a very short time a trusted and redoubtable captain in the Russian army. But when he was only twenty years old he embarked upon the supreme adventure of a visit to Constantinople and there he arrived with 500 men in his train in 1034, the very year when the Varangian corps is first mentioned in Byzantine history. The Greeks hailed him as the 'King of Varangia', (2) but the emperor Michael IV the Paphlagonian (1035-1041) and the Empress Zoe, after welcoming him, at once gave him the opportunity of proving his prowess in the field by inviting him to take part in the Arab wars in Asia Minor. Harald and his men proceeded to the theatre of war where the brilliant young general George Maniaces commanded, and here the ardent Norwegian prince soon covered himself with glory. The campaign took him in 1035 east to the Euphrates and it is said (3) of him that he captured 80 strongholds of the Arabs and then turned south to threaten Jerusalem, harrying on both sides of Jordan as he approached the town. But after the capture of Edessa by Maniaces in 1031 the emperor had begun negotiations with the Caliph, and in 1036 a treaty was made with the Muslims whereby the Christians secured access to its holy places without waiting for Harald's attack upon Jerusalem.
The Norwegian prince returned to Constantinople, but his sojourn there was a short one, for his next adventure was a
1. Cedrenus, ib., p. 613.
2. See an anonymous Book of Advice edited with the Strategicon of Cecaumenos by V. G. Vasilievsky and V. Jernstedt, St. P., 1896, p. 99. Harald is referred to as 'Ar£lthj basilwj baragg aj.
3. Heimskringla H. harðrði, III-XV, contains the Norse version of Harald's adventures in the Greek service. As the account was derived from his comrade and countryman Halldor Snorrason it might be expected to have considerable historical value, but the saga-writer's ignorance of eastern geography and of Byzantine affairs has reduced Halldor's story to a muddled rigmarole of dubious worth. It is chiefly interesting for the account of the rivalry between Harald and Maniaces that culminated in Harald acting independently of his commander-in-chief in Sicily.
share in the Greek attempt in 1038 to win back Sicily from the Arabs, and again George Maniaces was his commander-in-chief. The new campaign, in which a number of Norman soldiers also took part, opened with a series of fine victories and it was not long before Messina and Syracuse, with all the eastern part of Sicily between them, fell into the hands of the Greeks. But Maniaces in this hour of triumph was rewarded only by the jealousy and suspicion of his imperial master and was recalled to the Byzantine court, there to languish in disgrace; then the Norman auxiliaries departed after a quarrel about their pay and Harald's Scandinavians likewise became discontented. Subsequently all the newly conquered territory, except for the town of Messina, was recovered by the Saracens and in 1041 the Greek general who had supplanted the too-successful Maniaces removed the Greek army to southern Italy to fight against the Normans. Harald took part in this short Italian campaign and then went back in the middle of this same year to Constantinople. The sick and troubled emperor loaded him with honours, making him manglavite, a high official of the imperial entourage, and with Michael Harald and the Varangians shortly afterwards set off to take a part in the Bulgar war that was fought in the late autumn. On the return he was promoted to the rank of spatharocandidate, the third highest grade of officials in attendance upon the emperor, and his position at the palace seemed to be one of enviable preeminence and security; but at the end of this fateful year Michael died. He was succeeded by Michael V Calaphates, a stranger to the Macedonian dynasty, and at once the court was in a turmoil of intrigue and revolt. Four months later, after the upstart's senseless persecution of Harald's aged friend the Empress Zoe, there was a revolution. The infuriated mob flung themselves upon the palace walls and after two days and two nights of fierce and bloody battling the people burst their way into the imperial apartments. The emperor and his hated uncle had fled, but the mob discovered their whereabouts and surged angrily after them, eventually to batter their way into the Stadion Church where they had taken refuge. It was Harald Hardradi, captain of the guard, who, when the fugitives were dragged to the Sigma, upon the prefect's bidding gouged out their eyes.
After these terrible days of carnage in April of 1042 Harald did not remain long in Constantinople, and in the days of Constantine IX Monomarchus he decided to return to his own country where his nephew Magnus was now king. It is said that he was refused permission to leave the Greek capital and that he was cast in prison, perhaps under the suspicion of having connived