9/21/09 - vikings in constantinople

In today's excerpt - the Vikings reach Constantinople (modern day Istanbul). In spite of their more colorful reputation for invasions of England and the early discovery of the New World, the greater activity of the Vikings in the ninth and tenth centuries was in trading with early inhabitants of what is now Russia and other commercial centers as far away Constantinople. It was Scandinavians, a people that included the Vikings, that were among the the ancestors of today's 'European' Russians:

"The Vikings, despite their popular reputation as warriors, are now known to have been primarily traders and they moved into the more southerly, civilized states mainly to trade. Although they are famous, or infamous, for their military actions in the British Isles and Francia via the North Sea, and settled permanently in parts of those countries, their eastern movement ultimately had greater import. They sailed the Baltic eastward into the Finnic areas and southeastward down the rivers to the lands of the Slavs, west of the Khazar Kaghanate.

"In the early ninth century, the Vikings had become intensely involved in commerce with the Islamic lands of the Near East via the Russian rivers. This trade route had first been developed by the Khazars, Jews, and Muslims, and only then came under the domination of the Vikings. Three Viking chiefs, led by Rurik, founded the Rus (Russian from the word for 'rowers') Kaghanatell in the area of Novgorod around 862, and around 882 Rurik's successor Oleg conquered Kiev and established the Rus Kaghanate as an imperial state stretching from the Baltic Sea to the Black Sea. Sailing west on the Black Sea, the Rus reached the Byzantine commonwealth of Orthodox states, including the Slavicized kingdom of Bulgaria, and the imperial capital of Constantinople itself. The Byzantine emperors, who had earlier acquired a comitatus of Ferghanians and Khazars, immediately saw the usefulness of the Vikings and hired them as mercenaries, thus constituting the famous Varangian Guard.

"Via the Volga, the Vikings reached the Caspian Sea and the Islamic lands across it, but they ran into conflict with the Khazars who controlled the lower Volga basin."


Christopher I. Beckwith


Empires of the Silk Road: A History of Central Eurasia from the Bronze Age to the present


Princeton University Press


Copyright 2009 by University Press


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