The Varangian Hraes’ Empire (Circa 828 to 1035 CE)
The Viking Period of the Middle Ages was powered by the immense wealth generated by the Hraes’ trade routes through the waterways of Kievan Hraes’ (Rus’). The exchange of furs and slaves for silks and spices via Ragnar Lothbrok’s Nor’Way and King Frodi’s Southern Way trade routes, ground gold for the Varangians (Eastern Vikings) of ninth century Russia. The Hraes’ Trading Company became so powerful that Ragnar sacked Paris in 845 and the Hraes’ attacked Constantinople in 860. When the trading empire collapsed following the failure of the attack on Byzantium, the Slavs of the area called back the Hraes’ to re-establish the lucrative trade network. With the assistance of his brother-in-law and lieutenant, Hraerik (Rurik) Hraegunarson, the Danish King Frodi re-established the trade routes and expanded his domain to extend from Kiev to Denmark and England in the north and to Tmutorokhan and the Crimea in the south.
The above history is freely adapted from Book Five of The First Nine Books of the Danish History of Saxo Grammaticus. William Shakespeare’s 1604 play Hamlet is based on Saxo Grammaticus’ circa 1200 tale of Amleth from Books Three and Four of his Danish History. Hamlet is even an anagram of Amleth. But, while this was a fictitious tale about Prince Amleth of Denmark, based on an old Roman story of Brutus feigning madness to defeat King Tarquin of Rome in order to establish the Republic, Book Five of the Danish History tells a saga of the sons of Ragnar Lothbrok and a tale of their efforts to help the Danish King Frodi establish a Southern Way trade route through what is now Russia to the medieval cities of Constantinople and Baghdad. By incorporating elements of several additional sagas, such as Arrow-Odd’s Saga and The Saga of King Heidrek the Wise, a further history may be deduced. My name is Brian Howard Seibert and I am a writer who first started working on a book series called “The VARANGIANS” during my final year of University in 1984, so the five books detailing Hraes’ (Rus’) History is an on-going work in progress and the series gives a pretty good idea of the extent of the Varangian Hraes’ Empire between circa 828 and 1035 CE. The history of the Varangian Hraes’ Empire is best summarized on a book by book basis, as they are written in chronological order as follows:
Book One, “The Saga of Hraerik ‘Bragi’ Hraegunarson”, based on Book Five of Saxo’s Danish History, explores the royal houses of King Ragnar Lothbrok of Norway and King Frodi of Denmark as well as both the northern way (Nor’way) and southern way (Danepar) trade routes through the Eastern Realm to Byzantium and Baghdad. The tale postulates the origin of the name Rus’sia, how fire breathing dragons are Byzantine Greek fire ships, the Alchemists’ Guild, the Rhine Gold treasure, a legendary sword called Tyrfingr and a fabled land called Tmutorokhan.
In 828 CE, following a meteorite strike, Hraegunar’s son, Hraerik, finds a glowing metal shard and with a dwarf named Dvalin, forges Tyrfingr, a powerful sword with magical properties. He is soon propelled into the world of the royal warrior-poet of ninth century Scandinavia.
He wins a ship called Fair Faxi from his Norwegian king and avenges the honour of his father, Hraegunar Lothbrok, by slaying the Sea-King Oddi in a masterful naval engagement. He then kills the twelve berserk champions of King Frodi of Denmark in a duel upon ice in which he traverses the (frozen?) waters on a bone (skates?). He boldly marries Princess Gunwar and befriends her brother, King Frodi, then works to establish the Southern Way, a trade route through the Eastern Realm to Baghdad and Byzantium. The Scandinavians beat the Sclavs of the Dvina River and then defeat King Olmar of the Poljane in Kiev on the Dnieper River. They then destroy a Khazar/Hun army in a battle of attrition that is plagued with Black Death. King Frodi establishes himself as the Great Kagan and Hraerik as Kagan-Bek of the Hraes’, a trading company that Hraerik names after his father, Hraegunar Lothbrok.
Hraerik then sets up trade treaties with the Byzantine Empire and the Caliphate of Baghdad before founding the trading centre of Gardariki in the mysterious land of Tmutorokhan. But with Byzantine help, the Khazars start building the fortress of Sarkel to isolate Gardariki from Kiev. When Hraerik raises an army to battle with the Khazars, he is beaten and his crushed army retreats to Gardariki, awaiting a final attack of the Huns. But it does not come. Hraerik tries to get help from King Frodi in Kiev, but he is cut off from the rest of Hraes’ by Pecheneg nomads so he decides to sail to Constantinople and make a deal with the Byzantines. But he is imprisoned by the Emperor and, through political machinations, becomes a prisoner of Louis the Pious of the Holy Roman Empire in Ingleheim, Germany in 839, while Prince Hlod of the Huns attacks Gardariki, slaying his aunt, Princess Gunwar, on the plains of Tmutorokhan, and the Khazar Empire unleashes a Hunnish Horde to regain control of the Southern Way. Prince Hraerik escapes and learns that his wife has been killed by the Huns, so he raises a great army in Sweden, Norway, Denmark and Frankia, along the way helping his father sack Paris in 845. His army sails down the Danepar to Kiev, in aid of King Frodi and the Hraes’, culminating in the infamous Battle of the Goths and the Huns. “Hraerik’s Saga” is an epic semi-fictional tale of the violent ninth century incursion of Vikings, Varangians, into Eastern Europe and of the founding of the Rus’ Principality of Prince Rurik of Novgorod.
Book Two, “The Saga of Helgi ‘Arrow Odd’ Hraerikson” carries on connecting Saxo’s saga with other Norse sagas such as Hervor’s Saga and Arrow Odd’s Saga in order to demonstrate how Arrow Odd may, in fact, have been Prince Helgi (Oleg) of Kievan Rus’ history.
In 845 a baby was brought from the east to Hrafnesta, the western jump off point for the Nor’Way crossing, by a mysterious Brother Gregory, a Goth from the land of Tmutorokhan with a message for Hraerik Hraegunarson. His wife, Princess Gunwar, was dead. She’d been killed by the Huns on the plains of Tmutorokhan. The mysterious baby was left with Hraerik’s Norwegian relatives and the Goth priest died in his return crossing. They called the baby Little Otter and he earned the byname Arrow Odd.
When Arrow Odd turned twelve he was given a Nor’Way ship that belonged to Prince Hraerik called Fair Faxi and was warned in a prophesy that he would die of a snake bite under the skull of Faxi. Challenging the prophesy, he led a crew of youths, a ship of boys, trailing the Norwegian fleet across the Mediterranean Sea to the Battle of Constantinople in 860, where he helped salvage a small victory out of a massive defeat for the Varangians of Kiev. The ship of boys returned to Norway as a dragonship of men, but the crushing destruction of the storm ravaged Hraes’ fleet caused King Frodi and his Danes to abandon Kiev and Novgorod. Prince Hraerik managed to hold on in Tmutorokhan, maintaining his family’s Nor’Way trade route. Finally, in 862, in an effort to bring back prosperity, the Slavs called back their Prince Hraerik (Rurik) to re-establish Southern Way trade in what Russian history refers to as the calling back of the Rus’.
As a teenaged captain back in Norway, Arrow Odd gained a reputation as a shrewd Nor’Way trader and a champion that would not back down from a challenge. Over time he managed to build up his own fleet of captured ships and, with allies, he even conquered minor kingdoms in Angleland and Ireland. But all his victories raised the ire of kings and soon Odd became increasingly challenged by Danish and Hraes’ sea-kings and learned that King Frodi had put a bounty on his head for all the damage he had been causing in Denmark. This culminated in the famous sword duel of the twelve berserker grandsons of King Frodi against Arrow Odd and his friend, Hjalmar. Arrow Odd was the sole survivor of the encounter. King Frodi raised a massive army and in circa 872 launched a great attack upon Arrow Odd’s small kingdom in Angleland. The Angles and Saxons called this the Great Heathen Army and the sons of Hraegunar used this event to avenge the death of their father at the hands of King Aella of Northumbria, but the prey of this army escaped by sea and headed west to Slabland (Baffin Island) in the western lands first discovered by Saint Brendan of Ireland. King Frodi’s army pursued Odd and his men down the coast of the new world but lost him in the interior and had to return north to catch prevailing winds back to Europe.
Prince Hraerik’s brother, King Hraelauger of Norway had developed a theory that Arrow Odd may have been his brother’s long lost son, born in Tmutorokhan before the city had fallen to the Huns. He hid his nephew in the Norman city of Rouen, but they were discovered and King Frodi attacked Paris in 885. Failing to take Paris, King Frodi returned to Kiev unsure of Odd’s whereabouts. But Odd followed Frodi back to Kiev and, catching him by surprise, killed him on the riverbank of the city. Arrow Odd then became the ruler of Kiev as Hraerik’s son, Helgi (Oleg). Circa 912 the prophesy of Arrow Odd is fulfilled.
Book Three, “The Saga of Ivar ‘the Boneless’ Hraerikson” carries on connecting Saxo’s saga with the Russian Primary Chronicle of Nestor to demonstrate that Prince Ivar (Igor) of Kievan Rus’ history may have been the grandson of Hraegunar Lothbrok, Ivar the Boneless. Prince Ivar may also have led a double life as King Harde Knute of Denmark, whose twenty year reign coincides with a twenty year lacuna in the history of the Russian prince. The book describes how he became the first of the Knute (Knot) Kings and the originator of the Knytling (Knotling) Saga name.
The Saga of Ivar the Boneless begins with the birth of Prince Ivar (Igor) by Princess Eyfura, the daughter of King Frodi, and her new husband, Prince Hraerik. Young Prince Ivar grows to adore his older half-brother, Prince Helgi (Oleg) even though he is the bane of twelve of Ivar’s half-brothers on his mother’s side. He sees Helgi as a hero attacking Constantinople and forcing the Byzantines to sign treaties favourable to the Hraes’. He is heartbroken when Helgi is killed under the forestem of his ship Fair Faxi in Tmutorokhan.
Prince Ivar meets the daughter of a Hraes’ post commander in Chernigov, a city of the Drevjane tribe north of Kiev, and marries Helga (Olga) soon afterward and they have a daughter. Following a nomadic Pecheneg attack on Kiev in 916, Prince Ivar, not wanting to limit his rule to the dangerous east, becomes determined to regain his rights over the Danish territory of his grandfather, King Frodi’s realm. To pay for this planned northern campaign, Prince Ivar attempts to double the tax on his Hraes’ provinces, but the Drevjane rebel and threaten him with death by sprung trees, but a knot fails and Ivar is maimed by the ploy and the bones are ripped from his legs. He survives solely because his older brother, Prince Helgi, had introduced proper medical training and medics into the Hraes’ army units. Legless but armed with his father’s famed blade Tyrfinger, he leads the Hraes’ forces north and recaptures the Danish throne from local usurpers and is crowned King Harde Knute (Hard Knot), becoming the first of a series of Knot Kings, also known as the Knytlings, who will rule Denmark from the east for several generations. He then attacks Angleland, being borne into battle upon a shield, and regains the Danelaw and Anglish territories his grandfather had captured with the Great Heathen Army nearly a century before, garnering the byname Ivar the Boneless to boot.
Prince Ivar seeks to further avenge the death of Hraegunar Lothbrok by kidnapping King Aella’s grand-daughter, Princess Blaeja of Northumbria and marrying her back in his Danish capital of Liere. He treats her very disparagingly and when she gives him a son he names him Gorm the Old, Gorm meaning worm or snake, to avenge Hraegunar’s death by blood-snakes and the Old, to indicate his ancient King Frodi Skjolding lineage. When Prince Ivar decides to return to Kiev, he makes Prince Gorm king of Denmark and Northumbria, setting the stage for future Knot King conflict.
Back in Kiev with his first love, Helga, Prince Ivar initiates a campaign against the Greeks with the Rus’-Byzantine War of 941 resulting in the Rus’-Byzantine Treaty of 945. In between, he manages to wrest a son out of his aging wife in 942 and they name him Sveinald, Swine as a natural enemy of snakes and, again, the Old, after his ancient Frodi Skjolding lineage.
Shortly after signing his treaty with Byzantium, Prince Ivar leads a campaign against Bardha’a in the east and is killed in battle there.
Book Four, “The Saga of Sveinald Ivarson” carries on connecting the Russian Primary Chronicle to the Knytling Saga to show how Grand Prince Svein the Old (Sviatoslav) of Kiev may have migrated into King Sweyn Forkbeard of Danish history, when the demise of the Rus’ Prince Svein in 972 is followed by the sudden appearance in 975 of the Dane Prince Sweyn in Liere.
The saga starts with the birth of Sveinald and the actions Princess Helga of Kiev took to get her husband, King Knute of Denmark back. Prince Svein is three years old when his father, Ivar the Boneless, a ferocious warrior with no legs, dies in battle, and, as Sveinald grows, he becomes determined to become a great warrior and die in battle so he can see his father in Valhalla. His mother has converted to the Christian religion and is in the process of converting the whole land of the Hraes’, so, when Prince Svein reaches the age of majority, he puts a halt to her efforts. He attacks the Khazars at Sarkel then is paid by the Byzantines to attack Bulgaria, which he does, then resumes his war on the Huns and destroys the Khazar Empire. He then decides to conquer the Bulgarians for himself, but the Byzantines fear his growing power and side with the Bulgars to stop him. He is defeated at Pereiaslavets and must lead his battered army back to Kiev, but Pecheneg nomads are waiting for him at the Ford of Vrar near the Dnieper cataracts. The Hraes’ forces fight their way through, but Prince Svein is reported to have been killed in the engagement and the Primary Chronicle adds that his skull is plated with gold and turned into a goblet for the Pecheneg hetman. Nice touch to add a bit more certainty to his death, but golden goblets were a Bulgar thing and nomads had very little use for them.
Back in Kiev, Prince Svein decides to follow the path of his father and reclaim Denmark and Angleland for the Hraes’. He divides his principality up among his three sons: to Hraeropolk he awards Kiev, to Helgi he gifts Chernigov and to young Valdamar he gives Novgorod. Tmutorokhan remains under the wise rule of his grandfather, Hraerik. In 975 Svein turns up as Prince Sweyn Forkbeard in the court of Christian King Harald Bluetooth of Denmark, the son of Gorm the Old, who seems to have passed on before his time. The Swine Prince has missed the Snake King, but soon targets his Christian nephew.
In 976 the Pagan Prince Svein flees Denmark to join fellow pagan Haakon Sigurdsson in Lade, Norway. Young Valdamar joins him in Norway, having fled Novgorod with the news that Hraeropolk has killed his brother Helgi and proclaimed himself ruler of all Hraes’. The Norwegians help Svein raise a Viking army to lead east and they meet Hraeropolk’s army outside of Kiev. In an effort to repatriate the brothers, Prince Sveinald holds a private meeting with Hraeropolk, but cannot sway him from his fratricidal ways so he kills his eldest son. Young Prince Valdamar becomes the Grand Prince of the Hraes’ and Svein returns to Norway.
Using his Hraes’ connections, Prince Svein develops the Nor’Way into a trade route that competes with the Southern Way. He expands the market for Jaederen trident swords on the Volga tributaries, adds walrus and narwhal ivory to Baghdad trade and delivers tonstone to his grandfather in Tmutorokhan. He amasses great wealth and takes over trade with Ireland, Scotland and Northumbria.
In 986 Prince Valdamar returns to Lade with a small army. He has learned from the Poles that King Harald Bluetooth has hired Jomsvikings to attack Sveinald and his pagan allies in Lade. Prince Svein raises a small Norse army to augment the Hraes’ forces and they set a trap for the Jomsvikings and defeat them in the Battle of Hjorungavagr. When Sveinald led his armies to Liere, King Harald Bluetooth had fled and soon died. Prince Svein was crowned King Sweyn Forkbeard of Denmark. Prince Valdamar took his army back to Kiev and King Sweyn rolled back the Christianizing of Denmark. King Sweyn was managing to keep the Christians out of Denmark but his allies in Norway were having trouble with Olaf Trygvason, a king who was Christianizing the Vik. In 1000, King Olaf and his fleet were returning from a Christian conference in Constantinople when King Sweyn and Prince Erik of Lade waylaid him on the Baltic Sea and took his life at the Battle of Svolder.
In 1002, the Saxon King Aethelred ordered the Saint Brice’s Day Massacre of Danes in the Danelaw of England. This led to reprisals from Sweyn, who spent a full decade attacking the Saxons and in 1013, his son, Valdamar, helped with the last push, a major assault upon England. On Christmas Day of 1013, King Sweyn Forkbeard was crowned King of England. But by February of 1014, Sveinald Ivarson was dead.
Book Five, “The Saga of Valdamar ‘the Great’ Sveinaldson” carries on connecting the Russian Primary Chronicle to the Knytling Saga to demonstrate how Grand Prince Valdamar ‘the Great’ Sveinson (Vladimir) of Kiev may have morphed into King Canute ‘the Great’ Sweynson of Danish history, when the demise of the Rus’ Prince Valdamar the Great in 1015 is quickly followed by the sudden appearance of the Danish Prince Canute the Great in England in 1016.
The Saga starts with the birth of Valdamar circa 962 by his mother, the royal housekeeper Malusha. It covers the younger years of the prince and how his father’s escape at the Ford of Vrar in 972 may have affected him. In 974, at a very young age, Valdamar is given Novgorod to rule with his mother, as his father has left Hraes’ to forward his claim to the throne of Denmark. Three years later he flees Novgorod to escape the fratricide of his eldest brother Hraeropolk, who has already taken the life of their middle brother Helgi, and he joins his father, Sweyn Forkbeard, in Norway. They raise an army and return to Hraes’ and Sweyn kills his eldest son. Prince Valdamar becomes the sole ruler of Hraes’. He fights a war with the Poles in 981 and puts down a rebellion of the Viatichi a year later. He conquers the Yatvingians in 983 and subdues the Radimichi, then the Volga Bulgars in the two years that follow. In 986, he learns from the Poles that King Harald Bluetooth of Denmark has hired the Jomsvikings to attack and kill his father in Norway. Valdamar gathers a small Hraes’ army and they secretly sail to Norway and aid Prince Sweyn in defeating the Jomsvikings at the Battle of Hjorungavagr. The combined Hraes’ and Norwegian army then sails to Liere only to find that King Harald has fled. The son of the snake king, Gorm the Old, soon dies in exile and Valdamar helps instil his father as King Sweyn Forkbeard of Denmark.
In 987 Prince Valdamar panics the Byzantines by inviting religious envoys from around the world to come to Hraes’ and promote their religions to his people. He does this to counter increasing pressure from Orthodox Christians within his realm, but the Emperor Basil offers the prince the hand of his sister, Princess Anna Porphyrogenita, if he converts to their Christianity and helps him put down a revolt in Anatolia. Valdamar accepts this offer and leads six thousand of his foremost Varangians to Constantinople to help the Emperor. He marries Princess Anna in 988 and helps the Cherson Greeks convert the Pecheneg nomads that had attempted to kill is father to Christianity. It was a fitting punishment for the free ranging Pechenegs he would later tell his father. But the infusion of this ‘born of the purple’ blood into the veins of his offspring would help set off the housekeeper blood that his father had introduced with Malusha. Interestingly, this infusion of Roman royal blood (possibly the blood of King Tarquin?) takes us back to the basis of Saxo’s Amleth tale, where Brutus feigns madness to escape and finally overthrow King Tarquin. The introduction of this Imperial blood into the rulers of the Varangian Hraes’ Empire is what allows us to officially call it an empire. The Byzantines did not recognize the Holy Roman Empire as an empire because its rulers were kings and did not carry the blood of a Roman Emperor within their veins. So, while the Hraes’ Tzars had the blood of Caesars flowing thru their veins and could be called Emperors, the German Kaisers did not and could not be called thus.
In 991 Prince Valdamar founded Belgorod and a year later he fought a war with the White Croatians. In 995 he began partitioning out Hraes’ amongst his young sons in the hope of avoiding the fratricidal behaviour he had been a victim of. He was constantly at war with newly invading Pecheneg tribes and would punish them by converting them to Christianity as he defeated each succeeding wave. He also punished his own people for their Christianity by taking the religion literally and refusing to enforce executive laws, refusing to execute capital criminals. He fed the poor from his palaces and provided all the sick with medical attention. Even the clergy complained. But capital punishment was banned and replaced by fines and servitude.
In the year 1000, the Byzantines held a millennial Christian conference in Constantinople and, when Prince Valdamar learned that King Olaf Trygvason of Norway would be attending, he told his father, King Sweyn, when he would be heading back through Hraes’ and his father waylaid Olaf on the Baltic and killed him at the Battle of Svolder. Sweyn’s pagan followers then apportioned out Olaf’s territories amongst themselves and converted them back to the worship of Odin.
As Prince Valdamar became increasingly occupied with helping his father in his attacks on England, he allowed his sons in Hraes’ more and more autonomy. When his father died soon after becoming King of England, Prince Valdamar was next in line as king there and he left Hraes’ for good to protect his interests in the west. In 1016, Prince Valdamar the Great was proclaimed King Canute the Great of England and by 1018 he was crowned king of Denmark as well. He married Princess Emma of Normandy and in 1028 he became King of Norway and as renowned a Christian leader in the west as he had been in the east. In 1035 King Canute the Great died and his sons in the west all died within a decade of his death, ending the Knot king domination over England. Roman royal blood would never enter the veins of English kings, but soon the sons of Hraelauger (Rollo) Hraegunarson would begin a new Norman domination over the Anglo-Saxon lands with the victory of William the Conqueror at the Battle of Hastings in 1066. For three hundred years following the conquest, Norman French was the official language of England and was commonly spoken there up to the time of William Shakespeare.
The above connections are original theories of the author and have never been demonstrated before, so there is a potential here for ground-breaking discoveries in the histories of both Denmark and Russia. The research seems to indicate that by 1028 CE the Varangian Hraes’ Empire extended from the gates of Constantinople in Byzantium, thru the Black Sea and Kievan Rus, past the Baltic Sea to Sweden, Denmark and Norway, across the North Sea to England and to some extent, Normandy in France, parts of Scotland and Ireland and perhaps even to trading posts in Spain and the Western Mediterranean.
If you are interested in exploring the Varangian founding of Russia, please feel free to review my 1984 manuscript “The Saga of Hraerik ‘Bragi’ Hraegunarson” on my website, http://www.seiberteck.com.
I look forward to hearing from you.
Brian Howard Seibert, B.A.
Author unknown. Arrow-Odd: A Medieval Novel. Iceland, c.1200. As translated by Paul Edwards and Hermann Palsson. New York, 1970.
Author unknown. The Saga of King Heidrek the Wise (Hervor’s Saga). Iceland, c.1200. As translated by Christopher Tolkien. Oxford, 1960.
Saxo Grammaticus. The First Nine Books of the Danish History of Saxo Grammaticus. Denmark, c.1200. As translated by Oliver Elton, B.A. London, 1893, with consideration toward the translation by Peter Fisher. Cambridge, 1979.
Vernadsky, George. Kievan Russia New Haven: Yale University Press, 1948.