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The Varangians of Byzantium 1st Edition
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Top Customer Reviews
The book's viewpoint is refreshing. Rather than adopting a typical Romanocentric viewpoint, Blondal looks at what the Norsemen were doing in the Empire, rather than what the Norsemen were doing for the Empire. The core of the book is an exquisitely detailed history of Harald Hardrada, the famous mercenary and king who was eventually killed at Stamford Bridge just before the Battle of Hastings.
Blondal uses a wide variety of source materials, including Arabic, Russian, Greek, western European and Scandinavian chronicles. While all of this adds to the authority of the work, it is where I find my one of my two faults with this book. Blondal spends almost half of the allotted page space discussing the linguistic difficulties associated with the use of such varied sources, and the difficulties in translating Old Norse, Old Icelandic and Old Slavonic. Thus, one moment the book is a military history, but in the next moment it is a philological discussion. These discussions break up the book, and would have been better suited to be in the footnotes.
My other fault is that this book is completely unforgiving to those who do not have a background in Norse mythology and literature. While this is a book for scholars, I would suspect that many Byzantine scholars would be using this work who simply don't have the required background.Read more ›
From their early days as the personal bodyguard of germanic warriors, loyal only to the Roman Emperors, the national component may have changed, but the reason for their existence remained. Despite the exotic, almost romantic air that surrounded them, they were the Emperors Life Guards and executioners of his dirty work: from naval squadrons to elite military units to mutilations and killings.
A variety of linguistic sources are cited, from Old Norse, Russian, English and French to explain the root, which seems to come from a West German prototype `wareganga', meaning ` a foreigner who has taken service with a new lord by a treaty of fealty', akin to foederati. This adapted or evolved through the great Scandinavian kingdoms and lordships that occupied huge swathes of Russia (another story crying to be told) to Væringjar, `companion'. One who by oath, treaty or contract, gives security, accepts responsibility for his companions, as they accept responsibility for him.
The book then gives a regimental biography noting the ethnic eddies and flows in its composition, from the Roman Goth and German personal bodyguard, to the Russian Norse mercenaries to Basil II (the Bulgar-Slayer) regularising them as an Imperial regiment and his complex psychological relationship with them.Read more ›
I stumbled across Henry Treece’s Viking Trilogy in my junior high and high school year in of all places, Sri Lanka. I had also read an excellent novel of the life of Harald Hardrada, who title escapes me. Needless to say, that I have had a long fascination with the Varangians.
This is an excellent book for several reasons. First of all stands the scholarship. Every source is carefully documented, and there are several passages Greek, Russian, and Icelandic. The author describes the foundation of Varangian and Russian cultures. He describes the structure of the Byzantine army and navy, and how the Varangians fit in. Next an entire chapter is devoted to the life of Harald Hardrada, the exiled Norwegian prince turned Viking mercenary who almost conquered England. It then follows the Varangians from essentially 1000 AD forward. An interesting note was that after the Normans conquered England that many of the Saxon nobility and huscarls ( household warriors ) joined the Varangian guard, changing the composition from Scandinavian to more English. Lastly, the ceremonial duties are described, and it ends with the lives of individual Varangians.
Overall an excellent book.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
This was an excellent study of the Verangian guard that served the Byzantine emperors for many centuries. Read morePublished on September 9, 2013 by The Old Viking
First posted on Amazon.co.uk on 9 February 2012
As the previous reviewer mentioned, the amount of work underlying this book is quite astonishing, especially when one... Read more