Category: medieval

The Varangian Guard — The Eastern Roman …

The Varangian Guard — The Eastern Roman Empire’s elite Viking soldiers

In the mid 8th century AD viking raiders from Sweden began raiding lands to the east in what is now Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus. After several decades these Norsemen began to conquer plots of land, form permanent settlements, and intermarry with the Slavic peoples in the region. In 882 Prince Oleg began to unite the various Slavic, Norse, and Finnic tribes into a federated state called the Kievan Rus. The Kievan Rus would grow to dominate much of Eastern Europe from the 10th century until the Mongol invasions in the 13th century.

After the founding of Kievan Rus it wasn’t long before they made contact with the Eastern Roman Empire, or as it is called by historians, “the Byzantine Empire”. In 988 the Byzantine Empire was facing tumultuous times, not only having to deal with foreign invaders but a large rebellion which threatened to fracture the empire. The Byzantine Emperor, Basil II, made a request from Vladimir I of Kiev for 6,000 soldiers in return for his sister’s hand in marriage. Vladimir accepted the offer and sent 6,000 hardy Norsemen to fight as mercenaries in the Byzantine Army. The Norsemen fought so well that he made them his elite shock troops as well as his personal bodyguard. The word “Varangian” itself comes from the Old Norse words “var” (to pledge or swear) and “gengi” (companions). With the Varangian Guard at the head of the Byzantine Army, Basil II was able to crush the rebels, drive back enemy invaders, and stabilize the empire. He made the Varangian Guard an official institution of the empire, much like the Praetorian Guard of ancient Rome, and sent out a call for men from all over Scandinavia to fill in his ranks and expand the guard. Armed with a sword, a large double handed axe called a Dane Axe, mail or lemellar armor, a shield, and a helmet, the Varangians would see combat all over the empire including in the Balkans, Greece, Italy, Turkey, and the Middle East. Rewards for service included large cash payments and land.

One of the most important Varangians in Medieval history was a Norwegian noble named Harold Sigurdsson. After losing a battle to his family rivals he was exiled to Kievan Rus in 1031. A few years later he joined the Byzantine Army, earning a reputation as a brave soldier and brilliant military leader, until eventually he was promoted as commander of the Varangian Guard. After a successful career as a Varangian, Harold returned to Norway and reclaimed his throne, taking the title King Harold III.  In 1066 he invaded England in an attempt to take the English throne, but was defeated and killed at the Battle of Stamford bridge by the army of Anglo Saxon King Harold Godwinson. History would forever remember him as Harold “Hardrada”, the stern ruler.

Speaking of 1066, after the defeat of Harold Hardrada in 1066, Godwinson and his army was forced to march south to do battle with another army, a Norman invasion led by William the Bastard, later known as William the Conqueror. Godwinson would be defeated by William the Conqueror resulting in the Norman conquest of England.  This would have profound effects on the Varangian Guard. By the mid 11th century Scandinavian peoples no longer sought to go-a-viking like their ancestors had done, preferring to settle down and become farmers and merchants. Harold Hardrada is often called “the last Viking”, and his death in 1066 is commonly used as a closing point of the Viking Age. As a result, fewer and fewer Norsemen volunteered for the Varangian Guard.  However, the Norman conquest resulted in many Anglo-Saxon refugees fleeing from England. Many of these English expats would join the Byzantine Army and fill in the empty ranks of the Varangian Guard until by the 12th century the guard was completely dominated by Anglo-Saxons.

Over time the Varangian Guard would decline along with the Byzantine Empire, slowly being ground down by invaders who attacked from all sides of the empire. By the late 13th century it is thought the Varangians were merely a simple palace guard that was a shadow of their former selves. The last mention of the guard occurs around 1400, and from there they disappeared into history.

Danish Viking sword, 9/10th century AD.

Danish Viking sword, 9/10th century AD.

Located at the Reichstadtmuseum Rothenburg, Germany

Viking battleaxe, 9th-12th century AD.

Viking battleaxe, 9th-12th century AD.

from Timeline Auctions

Rose Potpourri process after the first week. ….

Rose Potpourri process after the first week.
#roses #rugosa #potpourri #medieval #modernmedievalist #stonehouseartifacts (at Bellingham, Washington)

Did People Have Bad Teeth in Medieval Times?

Did People Have Bad Teeth in Medieval Times?

from Modern History TV

Viking battle axe, 9th-12th century AD.

Viking battle axe, 9th-12th century AD.

from Timeline Auctions

Viking sword with silver inlaid hilt, 9th-10th…

Viking sword with silver inlaid hilt, 9th-10th century AD.

from Timeline Auctions

victoriansword: A Mamluk Sword, Egypt or Syria…


A Mamluk Sword, Egypt or Syria, 13th-15th Century

The straight double-edged steel blade with engraved inscription on both sides, the hilt with rounded, ridged pommel, oval-shaped wood reserved in the centre, with a wrist-strap ring above and pierced quillon tips. 106 cm.

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Honey, don’t forget the milk

Honey, don’t forget the milk

In the year 1448 Robert Hungerford, Lord of Moleyns threatened the Paston family with his personal army, believing that the Paston estate in Norfolk, England belonged to him. The family head, Sir John Paston, was away on business in London, thus defense of the estate was left to his wife Margaret. In preparation for a siege, Margaret wrote the following letter to her husband,

Right worshipful husband,

I recommend me to you, and pray you to get some crossbows and wyndacs (used to cock a crossbow) 
to bind them with, and quarrels
(arrows or bolts), for your houses here
be so low that there may none man shoot out with no
long bow, though we had never so much need.

I suppose ye should have such things of Sir John
Fastolf if ye would send to him ; and also I would ye
should get two or three short poleaxes to keep within 
doors, and as many jackets,
 and ye may.

Partrich and his fellowship are sore afraid that ye
would enter again upon them and they have made
great ordinance within the house, and it is told me
they have made bars to bar the doors crosswise, and
they have made wickets on every quarter of the house
to shoot out at, both with bows and with hand-guns;
and the holes that be made for hand-guns, they be
scarce knee high from the plancher, and of such holes
be made five, there can none man shoot out at them
with no hand-bows.

I pray you that ye will vouchsafe to do buy for me
one pound of almonds and one pound of sugar, and
that ye will do buy some frieze
(fabric) to make of your
children’s gowns; ye shall have best cheap and best
choice of Hays’s wife, as it is told me. And that ye
will buy a yard of broad cloth of black for one hood
for me of 44d. or four shillings a yard, for there is
neither good cloth nor good frieze in this town. As
for the children’s gowns, and 1 have them 1 will do
them maken.

The Trinity have you in his keeping, and send you
good speed in all your matters.

Margaret Paston.


The Paston letters can be read for free at

Gold decorated sword pommel from the Bedale ho…

Gold decorated sword pommel from the Bedale hoard uncovered near Yorkshire, 9th – 10th century.