Member Episode 5 - Varangians

The traders and adventurers who settled down and became the Rus were not the only Scandinavians in Rus. From the 10th century, new waves arrived of warriors who were not looking to stay forever, but were happy to take service with local lords, to fight in their campaigns, protect their towns, and collect their taxes.

They helped expand the trade with Byzantium along the dangerous routes across the steppe, and helped ambitious nobles like Vladimir the Great and Yaroslav the Wise rise to power.

Nikolai Roerich. Slaves portaging Varangian ships on the Dnieper.

Some of them were nobles themselves. As civil wars and rebellions broke out across the Scandinavian world, it was nothing unusual to find a Jarl of Orkney or claimant to the throne of Norway spending a few years in Varangian exile. 

These men were often accompanied by skalds who created oral histories - or sometimes they wrote their own - that would later serve as the basis for the great Icelandic sagas. 

You can read some of these tales in the Heimskringla - the chronicle of the kings of Norway, the Morkinskinna, or Orkneyinga saga.

Nikolai Roerich. The Varangian Sea (the Baltic).

From Rus, Varangians entered service across the region, working for Bulgars, Khazars, Poles, and Magyars. The Varangian Guard of Byzantium became their most famous contingent. 

In this episode, we look at how the Varangians appeared, what they did, and follow the lives of some of the most significant Varangians. What was their significance, and what can they tell us about medieval Rus’ place in the world?

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