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Were Vikings the founders of Russia??

King Harald III of Norway who served in the Varangian Guard in the Eastern Roman Empire and is known as “The Last Viking”

For much of the English-speaking world, the “Viking Age” ostensibly got its start with the infamous raid on Lindisfarne in A.D. 793. But did you know by that time there was already a half century of Viking activity in the East in what is now the Baltic States and all the way south to Ukraine?

And did you also know that they may even have laid the foundation for what is now Russia?

In this episode we wanted to learn a bit more about those eastern Vikings — known there as the Rus, and an elite subset of them known as Varangians who served as “special forces” soldiers in Constantinople — so, we turned to Icelandic scholar and professor of medieval history Sverrir Jakobsson.

Sverrir has researched and written extensively on the medieval and Viking Age history of Iceland, but he has particular interest in the Rus and Varangians who are the subject of his book The Varangians: In God’s Holy Fire.

We learned from him who they were, how we know that from surviving sources such as the Annals of St. Bertin, and how they compared to Vikings in the West. Turns out they started out as the ultimate “others” seen as terrifying forces of nature and, for some at least, ended up becoming honored members of elite society.

A case in point: Sverrir writes about King Harald III of Norway — nicknamed hardrada, or “hard ruler” — who embodies this progression from Viking to mercenary to royalty. His article “Araltes: The Evolution of a Varangian Stereotype” is well worth the read, as is his book, for anyone interested in the fascinating history of the Scandinavians who helped to shape the East and who are so often overlooked.

Click the book image to buy. We have no affiliate relationship and make no money from its sale. But we do encourage reading good history.

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Vikingology Podcast
Vikingology Podcast
Terri and C.J. are first and foremost educators passionate about the Viking Age and Viking history. Theirs was a meeting foretold in the myths of old. Both are historians of Viking history, both live in Oregon in the U.S., and both share the same birthday. It seemed only natural they team up for something epic. The Norns have woven this fate.