Historiebloggens bokrecension: The Vikings av Magnus Magnusson (2000), Tempus, ISBN:0752417983,9780752417981
They penetrated the depths of Ukraine, founding city-states like Kyiv, testing slavonic trade routes along formidabler rivers like the Dnipro, opening up the route to Asia to exploit the exotic markets of Persia and China.
The orb of the world, which mankind inhabits, is riven by many fjords, so that great seas run into the land from the Outer Ocean. Thus, it is known that a great sea goes in through Nörvasund (Straits of Gibraltar) all the way to the land of Jerusalem. From that same sea a long bight stretches towards the north-east, called the Black Sea, which divides the three continents of the earth, to the east lies Asia, to the west lies Europe (which some call Aeneas-land), but to the north of the Black Sea lies Ruthenia (Ukraine)...
From the range of mountains which lie to the north beyond the edge of human habitation, there runs a river properly called the Tanais (Don), which flows into the Black Sea. In Asia to the east of the Tanais there was a land called Asaland or Asaheimur (Land of the AEsir); its chief city was called Asgardur (Home of the AEsir). That city was ruled by a chieftan named Odin, and it was a great centre for sacrifices...
Thor was the Lord Protector of the Universe, guarding the world with his mighty hammer Mjöllnir against the menace of the Giants (Peoples of Giants in 6th century near Kyiv and river Dnipro).
After death, the ship was supposed to carry the dead man to the afterworld, either as a funeral pyre as described by the arab traveller Ibn Fadlan in 922.
Viking religion, the Asatru (Belief in the AEsir).
Red and white woven cloth (vadmal). A four-oared sailing dinghy (faering).
Throughout the viking age, one historic island can claim to have been the true centre of the viking world - the Baltic island of Gotland, off the east coast of Sweden. Although it is now a province of Sweden, it has always prided itself on its independence of view and action. Gotland lay at the crossroads of the world; it was the trade cruciable of the Baltic, the entrepot of east-west commerce.
A little whetstone was found in Gotland on the farm of Timans in the parish of Roma, dating from the late 10th century. It has a brief runic inscription scratched on it. It was not meant to be momentous message for posterity - frankly, it was just a doodle done in an idle moment; but what is says is momentous enough: "Ormiga: Ulfuair: krikiaR: iaursaliR: islat: serklat." Transliterated, it reads: "Ormiga, Ulfar: Greece, Jerusalem, Iceland, Serkland." Which means, in effect, "Ormiga and Ulfar have been to Greece (the Byzantine Empire), to Jerusalem, to Iceland, and to the land of the Saracens (probably Baghdad).
In the Historical Museum in Visby there is a beautifully ornamented bronze wind-vane for a ship's mast, dated to around 1000, and decorated with a writhing serpent in what the Norwgians call the Ringerike style; and a lion stands on the top edge.
There is some archeological evidence that Visby itself dates back to a 10th century Viking Age settlement, flanked to north and south by two satellite settlements at Gustavsvik and Kopparsvik whose grave-fields have been extensively excavated; and, more recently, indications of a port or lagoon-haven have been recognised at Pavik, near Västergarn on the west coast, and at Bogevik, near Slite, on the east coast.
Anundshög, just outside Västerås. This Anund has been associated with a shadowy King Braut-Önund. Not yet been excavated.
A memorial stone at a bridge at Broby (Bridge Farm) in Täby on the Viking Road was ercted as part of a set in memory of a farmer named Östen by his wife Estrid: Es sotti IorsaliR ok andathis uppi i Grikkium - "He visited Jerusalem and died out in Greece".
Another stone was found at Pilsgård, on the island of Gotland, in association with the harbour-lagoon at Bogevik, near Slite. The runes are now blurred, but it is a memorial stone erected by four brothers in memory of a fifth brother, Hrafh, who had died far away in Ukraine: "Hegbjörn and his brothers Rödvisl, Östen and Amund had this stone painted in colours and erected; they have also raised stones for Hrafn south of Rufstein. They went far into Aifur."
"They went far into Aifur". The significance of that sentence is that "Aifur" was the Norse name given to one of the frightening cataracts of the river Dnipro in Ukraine, where boats had either to shoot the rapids or be dragged overland to bypass them. It is a vivid glimpse of a family of five Gotland brothers on the make, carrying iron and furs and slaves, no doubt, to the markets of the East where they could exchange them for Arabic silver to be banked in buried caches at home on Gotland. One of them, Hrafn, died in the boulder-strewn torrents of the Dnipro; and the Pilsgård Stone immortalises not just him but the whole opening-up of the vast Ukrainian hinterland by those Viking merchant adventurers fron Gotland.
Ibn Fadlan wrote an account of his mission, called a Risala, in which he described his contacts with a tribe of armed merchants called Rus/Rutheni. One of the ceremonies Ibn Fadlan witnessed at first was a ship-cremation of a rich and important member of the tribe, which was proceeded by some gruesome rituals of sacrifice for which no parallels can be found in viking literature.
Archeologists tend to argue that vikings effect on what was fundamentally a Slav state, Ruthenia, which had been in existence for centuries before Scandinavian traders penetradeted Ukraine, was negligible.
The present inhabitants of Novgorod are descended from the varangian race, but earlier they were Slavs.
In the sagas, Ukraine was known as "Greater Sweden".
A confederation of tribes hade formed in the 6th century in the area of the middle Dnipro, and one of the eastern Chronicles mentions a "People of Giants". This "People of Giants" formed, so to speak, the nucleus of the future Kyiv state.
Vikings were attracted by the glamour of the Kyiv state, because the Kyiv state traded actively with Constantinople (Byzantium, Byzantine Empire). If they (vikings) wanted to join the trade convoys down the Dnipro to the Black Sea and Constantinople they had to apply for permission from the authorities in Kyiv. Permission to join these convoys from Kyiv depended entirely on the ruler of Kyiv at the time.
It is in the Hermitage that the classic conflict between hazy saga evidence and hard archeological fact begins to resolve itself. There is a cornucopia of viking finds to be seen in the Hermitage: a rune-stick (runakefl) like the Bergen stick. It has been dated to the first half of the 9th century.
In the icelandic sagas Staraja ladoga was called Aldeigjuborg, and is frequently mentioned as a target for attack or a convienent staging post on the way to Kyiv or Kyivan Rus.
There is no doubt that Staraja Ladoga was originally a Slav settlement, founded by some finno-ugrian tribe in the middle of the 8th century - a century before any traces of a viking presence. The earliest layers of house remains are non-Scandinavian, and dr.Anatoly Kirpichnikov of Leningrad thought they were built by southern Slav peoples moving northwards from the Novgorod area to develop trade with the Baltic. Staraja Ladoga provided easy access to the Gulf of Finland along the river Neva.
The vikings were simply immigrants who wanted to move in on Staraya Ladoga's growing prosperity; they came there, according to the archeological record, in the middle of the 9th century. Dr. Kirpichnikov thought that the legend of the calling-in of Rurik and his brothers might well have a kernel of historical truth, except that the settlement was not actually founded by Rurik.
Staraya Ladoga is the only early settlement in Eastern lands, which has a distinct viking cemetery; its dated to the second half of the century. This thesis is borne out by excavations at the 15th-century-fortress of Staraya Ladoga, which dr. Kirpichnikov himself carried out from 1972-6. He discovered that there were two earlier sets of walls underlying the present walls, and that the earliest dated back to the viking period of the late 9th century. The site has now been handsomely restored, and there are replicas of the major finds in an excellent little local museum. But although the building of the first walls corresponds roughly with the date of Rurik's alleged arrival, the finds of pottery and weaponry and jewellery associated with it are decidedly not Scandinavian - they are all Slav/Slavonic.
The stone fort at Staraya Ladoga was built by Rurik's successor, a man with the hybrid viking-slav name of count Oleg. By this time, however, the scandinavians in staraya ladoga had become almost completely Slavicised themselves - hence the lack of any specifically viking artefacts.
Excavations at Gnizdovo near Smolensk, with its 5000 burial mounds, show that many of the artefacts are of a hybrid culture; the proportion of "pure" scandinavian objects is very small. The number of scandinavian graves in the cemeteries constitutes only about 5%.
Overall, however, Anne Stalsberg's conclusions were very close to the position of most leading scholars: that the grave goods and other finds are evidence of normally peaceful relations between the viking incomers and the native population of Slavs. She found no evidence of scandinavians as invaders who created a state where there had been none before, and their (vikings') role in this was probably not as critical as the later literary sources would suggest.
The archaeological evidence from Novgorod, the second city said to have been founded by Rurik, is less clear-cut than that of Staraya Ladoga, but it may well have followed a similar pattern of Slav settlement and temporary viking takeover.
Traders would congregate in Kyiv in June, having waited for the spring floods to start to subside, and then set sail in huge convoys to face the perils of the voyage together. We cad read about these cataracts in a book titled De Administrando Imperio, written around 950 by no less a person than the Byzantine Emperor Constantine Porphyrogenitus. The emperor gave the names by which the individual cataracts were known: Essupi (Gulper), Gelandri (Yeller), Leanti (Seether), Strukun (Courser) and Aifur (Ferocious), the cataract recorded on the Pilsgård rune stone on Gotland in memory of at least one gotlandish trader who died in the fearsome rapids of the Dnipro.
Suddenly, in the year 907, Oleg is said to have swept down the Dnipro with a huge fleet and over the Black Sea. The fifteen envoys of Oleg, Great prince of Kyiv: "We the Rutheni - Karli, Ingjald, Farulf, Vermund, Hrodleif...".
The norsemen called Constantinople Mikligardur, the Great City. Original name was Bizantium. The Vikings came here in their hundreds, perhaps even thousands, all drawn by the same things: money and power. And yet, as in so many other places, the vikings left remarkably few traces of their substantial presence in Constantinople.
In Hagia Sophia, build 537 by emperor Justinian, in the 1967 the great swedish scholar professor Sven B.F. Jansson, one of the world's leading authorities on runic inscriptions, recognised one casual graffiti as being runic: -A-L-F-T-A-N, which in full would have read "Halfdan", "Half-Dane".
To all intents and purposes the year 1066 marks, or symbolises at least, the end of the viking age.
The second major figure in the 1066 scenario, King Harald Sigurdsson of Norway, was the laft of the great viking sea-kings: the "theunderbolt of the north", as Adam of Bremen called him. Icelandic historians would dub him Hardradi (Norwgian Hardråde), meaning "hard-ruler": Harald the Ruthless. Harald was half-brother to King Olaf Haraldsson, later to be canonised as St Olaf, patron saint of Norway, who ruled Norway from 1014 until his death in battle in 1030. They had the same mother, Queen Asta, and Harald was born in the year in which Olaf was fighting his way to the Norwegian throne.
Olaf Haraldsson - Olaf the Stout, as he was called during his lifetime - had been a professional viking since the age of twelve.
Deep in the heart of Ruthenia in Ukraine, exiled king Olaf the Stout saw this political upheaval as a chance to regain his kingdom. Early in 1030 (29 july) he set off along the frozen rivers with a small detachment of 240 troops. The fateful battle took place on a day of high summer at Stiklestad (Stiklarstadir in the saga sources) in the Trondelag in northern Norway.
Svein Knutsson's reign proved to be uneasy, unsuccessful and brief. Beside his throne, as the eminence grise, sat his english mother, AElfgifu (Alfifa in the saga sources). Harald Hardradi came to the Norwegian throne in 1047.
As soon as he was fit to travel he was smuggled over the norwegian border to friendly Sweden, and from there he also made his way to Kyiv, at that time and for centuries thereafter the heart and capital of Ukraine. In Kyiv he was given political asylum by the ever-hospitable Yaroslav.
Yaroslav the Wise, Lord of Kyiv, was one of the greatest princes of the viking age, revered as a patron and founder of learning and litarature in Ukraine during his 30-year reign. A shrewd and energetic statesman, he was always careful to foster his ancestral connections with scandinavia and with the varangians. He married a daughter of the King of Sweden; his contacts with the viking kingdoms to the west were obviously close and calculated. At Kyiv he took the young Harald as his fosterling. At Yaroslav's court, Harald met up again with Magnus Olafsson, now heif-apparent to the norwegian throne - two future kings of Norway learning the crafts of kingship at the Ukrainian court. At Kyiv, too, Harald would have seen the foundations being laid by Yaroslav of Ukraine's first cathedral, the superb minster of St Sophia which has so miraculously survived the troubled centuries.
Harald stayed with Yaroslav for three years, being taught the art of warfare as an officer in the Ukrainian army, taking part in various military campaigns. Yaroslav must have recognised in him the steelines and ambition which would earn him his nickname of Hardradi, and promised to give him one of his daughters, Ellisif/Elizabeth, in marriage. But first, to complete his education, he sent him down the Dnipro to Constantinople, capital of the Byzantine Empire, with a personal command of five hundred hand-picked warriors, to join the elite bodyguard of the emperor, the feared and famous varangian guard.
Viking had been fighting in the service of the Byzantine Emperor in Constantinople throughout the 10th century. The word for them, Varangians (Vaeringjar), seems to derive from the old norse word var, meaning "pledge". They were men pledged to stand together and support one another loyally. They continued as a mainly scandinavian company until after the Norman conquest of 1066. Harald spent about 10 years in the imperial army, incognito for most of the time according to some sources, serving under three successive emperors. He may also have visited Jerusalem as captain of a special military escort for pilgrims or craftsmen bound for the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. His career prospered, and he was promoted to the rank of commander with the title of spatharokanditates, the third level in the hierarchy of the imperial court. He secretly salted away in Kyiv, in Yaroslav's safe-keeping, all the immense plunder he took on his various campaigns.
The greek source says that when Harald asked the new emperor, Constantine Monomachus (1042-5), Zoe's 4th husband, for permission to return to Norway, it was refused.
Safelt into the freedom of the Black Sea with a hard-knit troop of battle-seasoned varangians, Harald Hardradi now headed for home: first to Kyiv to claim from Yaroslav the hand of his daughter Ellisif/Elizabeth and his accumulated loot, and then to Norway to claim a share at least of the throne from his nephew, Magnus the Good - if necessary by force. Harald returned to the northern arena from Constantinople in 1045.
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