7.08 Varangian Guard

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The
Varangians and the Varangian Guard were an elite unit of the Byzantine Army which served as personal bodyguards for Byzantine Emperors from 337 AD until the fall of the Roman Empire. According to John Kinnamos, a Byzantine soldier and historian, these "axe-bearers" which guarded the Emperor had "been in service to the Romans' Emperors from a long time back". Varangians, which were in essence Special Forces, routinely engaged in “trade, piracy, and mercenary activities” while working in the service of the Byzantine Empire, formerly known as the Roman Empire. Aside from these extracurricular activities, the Varangian Guard also participated in many wars, often playing a decisive role as they would be used at the critical moments of a given battle. This suggests that they were operating with the best intelligence that the Roman Empire had to offer, knowing exactly when and where to attack. According to modern historical sources, the term “Varangians” was a name which was allegedly “given by the Greeks and East Slavs to Vikings” between the 9th and 11th centuries. This notion suggests that the Vikings and the Varangians were one and the same entity, only given different names by the Roman Empire in order to confuse historians. Acronymically speaking, term “Varangian” (B/V+R+N+G+N) likely translates to “Babylon Rome North Greenland Kill” or Bear North Greenland Kill” as the letter “V” is equates to the letter “B” in the Roman Score (i.e., the Roman alphabet). In other words, the Varangians were the Imperial Guard of Greenland for they protected the Imperial Cult, the ruling class of the Greco-Roman Empire, from any and all threats developing in the underworld.

Giants from Greenland
According to
Anna Komnene (1083–1153), a Greek princess, scholar, physician, the Varangian Guard were "axe-bearing barbarians" who originated "from Thule”, which is coincidentally located in Greenland. Also, axe-wielding Easterlings, the generic terms for Men who live in Middle-earth (i.e., Greenland) were also known as Variags as depicted in the novel “Return of the King” (1955) by famed author J.R.R. Tolkien. When the Varangians fought in the partial reconquest of Sicily in 1038 under the allegedly Byzantine Greek general George Maniakes, it was said that he was extremely tall, well built, and almost a giant. This was likely because the Romans interbred with the native giants of Greenland after the Trojan War, spawning an unrivaled army of giants which in time became known as the Vikings and Varangians. Consequently, said giants were able to wield weapons too heavy for a normal man, cover great distances with ease, and literally defeat any foe. Byzantine writers noted that the "Scandinavians [Varangians] were frightening both in appearance and in equipment, they attacked with reckless rage and neither cared about losing blood nor their wounds". This was likely because the wounds they suffered from enemy arrows, spears and swords were largely superficial in nature due to their sheer size and heavy armor. Similar to the Vikings, the Varangians relied on a long axe as their primary weapon, although they were skilled swordsmen and archers as well.
Varangian Guard in Popular Culture
Tributes to both
Varangians and the Varangian Guard are found throughout popular culture, including but not limited to: Books:Blood Feud” (1976), a novel by Rosemary Sutcliff which depicts the formation of the Varangian Guard by Basil II; “Byzantium (1989), a book by Michael Ennis which includes a fictionalized version of the life of Harald Hardrada and his time in the Varangian Guard; "Living Souls" (2012), a novel by Dmitry Bykov which depicts a civil war between the Varangians and Khazars over the control of Russia; “Northlanders” (2008-2012), an American comic book series published by DC Comics in which the character Sven of Orkney is a member of the Varangian Guard; “Paladin of Shadows” (2005-2013), a series of books by John Ringo which feature a long-forgotten enclave of the Varangian Guard in the mountains of Georgia; “Return of the King” (1955), a novel by J.R.R. Tolkien which depicts bearded axe-wielding Easterlings known as Variags; “The Bulpington of Blup” (1933), a book by H.G. Wells which includes the passage: "a History of the Varangians that was to outshine Doughty"; and the “Viking Trilogy”, a series of books by Henry Treece that recounts the adventures of Harald Sigurdson, including his service in the Varangian Guard. They include, Viking's Dawn” (1955), “The Road to Miklagard” (1957) and “Viking's Sunset” (1960); Music:The Varangian Way” (2007), an album by Turisas which tells the story of a group of Scandinavians (Varangians) travelling the river routes of medieval Russia down to the Byzantine Empire; “Stand Up and Fight” (2011), an album by Turisas which describes the history of the Varangian Guard's service to the Byzantine Empire; and “Twilight of the Thunder God” (2008), an album by Amon Amarth which contains a song (track 5) entitled “Varyags of Miklagaard”; Places: Varanger Peninsula, Norway; Science: Sturtian-Varangian, an alleged glacial episode approximately 700 million years ago; Terminology: Varangians, the term for Norse Vikings who were active in Eastern Europe; and Varangians, a member of the Varangian Guard; and Video Games:Assassin's Creed: Revelations” (2011), the Varangian Guards appears even the game is set in 1511-1512; “Crusader Kings II” (2012), Varangian Guards can be hired as mercenaries but only by the Byzantine Emperor; “Dark Souls 2” (2014), Varangians are depicted as pirates pressed into service of the King of Drangleic; “Knights of Honor” (2004), a player can recruit an elite unit called "Varangian Guards", but only if he controls Constantinople; “Medieval: Total War” (2002), the Varangian Guard is an axe-wielding elite infantry unit of the Byzantine Empire; “Medieval II: Total War” (2006), the Varangian Guard is an axe-wielding elite infantry unit of the Byzantine Empire; “Mount & Blade” (2008), a game in which the name and location of the Vaegirs is used to represent this group of people. The unique unit for this race is called the Guard; and “The Old Gods” (2013), an expansion of “Crusader Kings II” (2012) in which a Norse character's sons can opt to leave court to join the Varangian Guard, potentially then gaining one of a number of "Byzantine" traits, or alternatively dying in battle.