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Units of History - The Varangian Guard


Apr 17, 2009

In this animated history documentary, we explore one of the most famous units of history: the Varangian Guard. The video begins with a brief history of the Rise of the Byzantine Empire which followed the fall of Rome. We focus specifically on the dynamics of the eastern Roman Empire which interacted quite heavily with the lands of Scandinavia and the Kievan Rus by way of the river routes which linked the Baltic Sea with the Black Sea. The documentary discusses the history of the Byzantine conflicts with the Kievan Rus which gave rise to the eventual mercenary service of Varangians in the Byzantine army.

We then lay the groundwork for this discussion by looking at the organization of the Byzantine Army and its mercenary corps known as the "Hetairai". Starting around the end of the 9th century, the first warbands of Varangians would make their way into its ranks. However it would be in 989 AD when they came in full force, 6,000 Varangians sailing south to assist Emperor Basil II.

We discuss how future Varangians would make their way into Byzantine Service and the sorts of ways they would be used by the Emperors. This covers both civil and military service. Next, we cover the equipment of the Varangian Guard as well as the tactics of the Varangians in battle. Finally, we conclude with a service history of the Varangian Guard over the Rise and fall of the Byzantine Empire. They fought many foes such as the Seljuks, the Bulgars, the Normans, the Pechenegs, and more. This includes key battles such as the Battle of Manzikert and the Siege of Constantinople during the 4th Crusade.


Aug 2, 2021
"The envoys were conducted to the gate, and the gate was opened to them, and they dismounted from their horses. The Greeks had set Englishmen and Danes, with their axes, at the gate and right up to the palace of Blachernae. Thus were the envoys conducted to the great palace. There they found the Emperor Isaac, so richly clad that you would seek in vain throughout the world for a man more richly apparelled than he, and by his side the empress, his wife, a most fair lady, the sister of the King of Hungary; and of great men and great ladies there were so many, that you could not St' ir foot for the press, and the ladies were so richly adomed that richer adornment might not be. And all those who, the day before, had been against the emperor were, on that day, subject in everything to his good pleasure."
- Godfrey Villehardouin​

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