THE SAGA OF PRINCE ERIK ‘BRAGI’ RAGNARSON Has Been Added to The Site Under the New Heading The VARANGIANS / UKRAINIANS Book Series – The True History of ‘The Great Viking Manifestation of Medieval Europe’© and the below Post Covers CHAPTER TWENTY FIVE:


Khazar Fortress of Sarkel Excavations on the Don River


A Novel By Brian Howard Seibert

© Copyright by Brian Howard Seibert


25.0  THE BUILDING OF SARKEL  (Circa 836 AD)

“We nine winters were playmates together,

Mighty of stature, ‘neath the earth’s surface,

The maids had part in mighty works:

    Ourselves we moved mighty rocks from their place.”

            Bragi the Old (?);  Skaldskaparmal

(836 AD)  Several years of peace and prosperity attended to the growth of Gardar.  But, while a benevolent emperor, Michael II, ruled in Constantinople at the start of this period, his successor, the Emperor Theophilos bore the people of both Gardar and Gardariki nothing but ill will.  It was said he had a trace of Khazar blood.  And he despised the Rhos circumvention of Roman territory in their trade with the Arabs.  Worse, Theophilos was another Iconoclast, with his political base in Asia Minor, and, religiously, he abhorred the fact that the Rhos were even trading with the Moslems, and he became determined to re-establish the status quo prior to the coming of the Varangians.  To this end, he offered Roman assistance when the Khazars proposed to build a fortress on the Don River to control all trade in the area.  He procured their building materials and provided them Greek craftsmen, and he granted them gold.  Soon ships carrying Constantine masons and Corsican stone were wending their way up the Don, protected by Roman triremes armed with the Helm of Fear, Greek Fire, and the flame throwing tubes that spewed the venomous liquor, and there was naught that the Rhos navy could do to arrest them.  Likewise, the troops of King Frodi were checked by a vast movement of Turkoi, specifically Magyars, into the area through the machinations of the Huns.

“They call the fortress Sarkel, and it’s nearly complete,” Brother Gregory told Erik, on his return to Gardariki from Sugedea in the Crimea.  “It is being constructed to control river and land traffic on the Don Heath.”

“And the Turkoi?” Erik asked.

“Countless thousands,” the cleric answered.  “Were they not in alliance with the Khazars and the Khazars in alliance with the Greeks, Constantinople, itself, would feel threatened by the multitude.”

On hearing this and other disturbing reports about the activities of the Khazars, Erik decided to forgo one season’s trading and sail up the Don River to have a first-hand look at the efforts of the Huns.  With Fair Faxi and thirty of his Centuriata, he bid farewell to Princess Gunwar and sailed north upon the Sea of Azov.  Had he only the one mission in mind, the expedition would have taken only a month or two to complete, but Ahmad Ibn-Yakut’s account of his meeting with Erik’s mother in Bulgar had continued to play upon his mind over the years, and Erik became determined to meet again one man that might have the answers to who his mother had been…..Arthor, that tall pole of a man who ran Hawknista, the man who had seen Ragnar with his mother, Boddi.

A week up the Don brought Erik and his men into contact with the Magyars, skilled horsemen of the Asian steppe.  They peppered Fair Faxi with short arrows from their powerful horn composite bows, but it was more nuisance fire than anything else.  Erik knew from reports that Sarkel would be another day up the river, so he had his men row day and night without respite so that they might beat any Magyar messenger to the fortress.  By gauging their progress and getting full benefit of their sail as only a born mariner could, Erik managed to have their passing of the Khazar fortress coincide with the dawn’s breaking.  Sarkel was on the western bank of the Don River, with the Roman fleet anchored on that shore.  As the orient orb broke above the eastern hills of the Don Heath, Erik had his men silently row Fair Faxi, mast unfooted, along the shadows of the Don’s eastern shore.  Erik surveyed the size and strength of the Khazar fortress by the cold light of dawn.

Sarkel was not a steppe fort in the ancient Roman style, as King Frodi had built so many years before in Liere.  Sarkel was a stone walled fortress of the latest European design with mid-wall bastions, corner towers and portcullis equipped gates.  Erik could see the Roman influence in it, the Emperor’s stamp upon it.  The fortress would not be taken by storm; it would require a siege.  A most difficult effort on the Asian steppe.

While Erik was surveying the defences of the fortress, one of his men spotted a huge Greek trireme casting off from the dock that ran out into the river, along the east wall of Sarkel.  It was a fireship, and it was after Fair Faxi.  “They’ve come to welcome their guests!” Erik shouted.  “Let’s row, men!  Put your backs into it, or that dragonship will be breathing fire down all our necks.”  Erik then had one of his men assist him in re-footing the mast, while his first officer, Ask, harangued the rowers for greater effort.  The Bragning prince knew there was no way the longship, Fair Faxi, could outrace a trireme with its three tiers of rowing benches.  His Centuriata knew that, too.  They had raced with one on the Black Sea.  Erik could feel the wind coming out of the southeast, and he knew that tacking would be required to make full use of it.  Now, tacking in a square-rigged ship is difficult enough out upon the open sea, but tacking up a river with a fire spewing Roman trireme in pursuit was a challenge of enormous proportions that Erik would have passed on, had not his alternative been live cremation.  Fair Faxi was up to full speed by the time the Greek trireme first dipped its oars in earnest in the middle of the Don, but, as both ships proceeded upriver, the superior rowing speed of the trireme became apparent as the distance between the two ships closed.  Once Fair Faxi cleared a northerly bend in the river, her sail caught up some wind and the distance between the two ships stabilized.  By tacking towards the left riverbank, Erik managed to gain a bit of distance, and the full sail gave the men of his Centuriata some respite from rowing.  When Fair Faxi began to close on the riverbank, Erik turned the steering board, and the longship pulled away from the shore as the rowers got back to work, doubling their efforts to take the ship towards the right riverbank.  In this manner, Erik managed to eke out some distance between Fair Faxi and the pursuing fireship.  Then the river took a turn eastwards, and it was the Greek trireme’s turn to gain ground, and the sail of Fair Faxi flapped ineffectively in a crosswind.  As the fireship closed, its captain came out to the fore stem and surveyed their progress against the Rhos.  They were closing fast, he judged, for he had the flame throwing tube readied at the bow of the ship, and he had the slaves they called prisoners below deck hard at work pumping the bellows.  Just as Fair Faxi was almost within firing range the river took a turn to the north, and the flapping sails filled and the Nor’Way ship surged out of danger.  The Varangians could see the Greek captain cursing angrily, throwing his plumed bronze helmet to the deck of his ship.

Several times this cat and mouse game occurred, with the Greek trireme getting almost within firing range when the river ran eastwards and Fair Faxi just surging out of danger when the river turned north.  Then the river turned west and the full force of the north-westerly wind sped Fair Faxi well out of range of the trireme, and the Varangian rowers rested and ate boiled meats while the wind did their work for them.  Soon, Erik spotted the mouth of the Khopel River, a tributary of the Don that ran straight north towards the Sura and Volga Rivers, and ordered Lieutenant Ask to steer for it.

“But Erik, with the Don running west now, it offers us our best chance of escaping,” Ask protested.  He glanced back at the Greek trireme, a mile or so downriver.  “To head north and lose the full effect of the wind shall only give them a second chance to catch us.”

“The Don River remains a major waterway for very many miles, but the Khopel shall quickly diminish in size and soon become un-navigable for a ship the size of that Roman brigand following us.  Besides, the Khopel River shall take us where we want to go, for I’ve a mind to visit the Nor’Way,” Erik shouted, and those of his crew who had made the crossing with him, Ask included, let out a great shout.

“Hraaee!” they cried out in unison, and then Ask shouted at the Greeks from the stern, “And let’s see you follow us through the Nor’Way crossing!”

There was another reason Erik wanted to branch off up the Khopel.  He did not trust the fickle wind, preferring to put his faith in the predictable graduations of the land.  When Fair Faxi was turned up the tributary, she lost much of the wind from her sails, and the Greek trireme followed her up the river and gained perceptibly on her.  Soon, the wind died altogether, and the Varangians were thankful they had not continued up the Don, but were again rowing for their lives.  Erik had a man at the bow taking soundings, and the river grew shallower and narrower as the Greek trireme drew closer.  The Greeks, too, took soundings of the river, and their rowers redoubled their efforts as the river bottom closed in on the vessel’s draft.  When the Roman ship was almost within firing range of Fair Faxi, the Greek captain, once again, had the flame spewing tube at the bow of the ship readied.  Erik, in turn, had his men stretch out the ox hide coverings he had brought along for the Nor’Way crossing.

The Roman incendiary officers could be seen at the bow, wearing their specially insulated scale armour shirts and shaggy breaches, preparing the Greek fire for launching.  They hauled sealed skin bags of phosphorous naphtha from below deck and carefully poured the combustible liquid down the open throat of the bronze flame spewing tube.  Small fires would erupt when the liquid came in contact with air, but the men, wore green hide gloves while handling the mixture, and, once it was down the metal tube, only a small sparkling flame danced about the throat of the tube.  Below deck, prisoners were busy working bellows that pumped air into huge weighted skin air sacks.  When they were within range, the captain of the Greek trireme directed his incendiary officers in the aiming of the flame tube, then he released a spring-loaded valve that sent the pressurized air into the bottom of the tube and the phosphorous naphtha liquid flying out the top in a great roaring ‘Hraaaeee’ of flaming liquid toward Fair Faxi.  The Greek fire surged in a high arc, out and across the waters, landing beside the Nor’Way ship in a frothing, foaming inferno.  Erik leaped onto the top strakes at the aft stem of Fair Faxi and shouted “Hraaee” in return and his men followed in unison.

The Greek captain cursed his own poor aim, again hurling his bronze helmet to the deck, while his men reloaded the tube with more of the volatile fluid.  The distance between the ships had closed, somewhat, when the captain had his men re-aim the tube, and, when he released the valve again, the Greek fire arced gracefully above Fair Faxi and landed on top of the ox hide awning, setting the sail ablaze and scorching the Nor’Way ship from mast to stern.  Just then, the trireme ran out of river and grounded.  The huge ship shuddered under the force of the sudden stop, and the oarsmen below deck were thrown about like rag dolls as their oars lashed out against them.  The officers on deck were thrown forward; the captain clutched at the forestem of the ship and just caught himself from going overboard, as the flaming Varangian ship disappeared around a bend in the river.

Erik ordered some of his men to keep rowing, while others helped him peel back the ox hide awnings, and yet others bailed bilge water over the flaming liquid that seeped through the burning coverings and onto the deck.  The Greek fire burned right through a section of the awning and poured down upon two men at a rowing bench.  Flames engulfed the men as they screamed in horror, and they ran, burning, to the bow of the ship and they dove over the top strake into the river.  Even in the waters, the flames continued to burn about them, and they both disappeared below the waves.  Panic spread through the files of the rowers but Ask kept his composure at the rudder and steered the ship around a bend in the river.  Fair Faxi’s momentum took her around the bend, and, by the time Erik and his crew had cast off the flaming awnings, the men were back at their task, rowing.  Only the mast and the yard yet blazed aboard the Nor’Way ship, and Erik, himself, with inhuman effort, unfooted the mast and heaved it overboard.

The bodies and debris floated downriver, and clouds of smoke rose above the trees from around the bend in the river, and the Greeks let out a great cheer, sure that they had destroyed their prey.  Erik and his men heard the commotion but kept their silence and rowed.

Fair Faxi continued up the Khopel River tributary to its source and was portaged a short distance across land to the Sura River, a tributary of the Volga.  Sailing down the Sura and then the Volga Rivers, the Varangians rowed up a tributary feeder on the left, the Kama River.  A month of river travel past Sarkel, and one more portage to the source of the Northern Dvina brought Erik and his Centuriata to Hawknista, the eastern base of Ragnar’s Nor’Way.  Much to Erik’s relief, Arthor was still alive and running the place, though it was apparent by the shabbiness of the buildings that business had not been all that good.

Chapter 26: THE NOR’WAY REVISITED or RETURN TO GLASSY PLAINS  (Circa 837 AD) of BOOK 2: THE SAGA OF PRINCE ERIK ‘BRAGI’ RAGNARSON shall follow on next Post or may be found under Heading of The VARANGIANS / UKRAINIANS Book Series – The True History of ‘The Great Viking Manifestation of The Middle Ages’© in Book Two: The Saga of Prince Erik ‘Bragi’ Ragnarson.

Note: This website is about Vikings and Varangians and the way they lived over a thousand years ago. The content is as explicit as Vikings of that time were and scenes of violence and sexuality are depicted without reservation or apology. Reader discretion is advised.

The VARANGIANS / UKRAINIANS or The Nine Books of Saxo’s Danish History Per Brian Howard Seibert

BOOK ONE:  The Saga of King Ragnar ‘Lothbrok’ Sigurdson

King Ragnar ‘Lothbrok’ Sigurdson’s third wife, Princess Aslaug, was a young survivor of the Saga of the Volsungs and was a daughter of King Sigurd ‘the Dragon-Slayer’ Fafnirsbane, so this is where Ragnar’s story begins in almost all the ancient tales (except Saxo’s).  In our series, we explore this tail end of the Volsungs Saga because King Sigurd appears to be the first ‘Dragon-Slayer’ and King Ragnar ‘Lothbrok’ would seem to be the second so, it is a good opportunity to postulate the origins of Fire Breathing Dragons and how they were slain.  King Ragnar would lose his Zealand Denmark to the Anglish Danes of Jutland, who spoke Anglish, as did the majority of Vikings who attacked England, which spoke both Anglish and Saxon languages, sometimes mistakenly called a common Anglo-Saxon language.  The Angles and Saxons of England never really did get along, as shall be demonstrated in the following books.  King Ragnar assuaged the loss of Zealand by taking York or Jorvik, the City of the Boar, in Angleland and Stavanger Fjord in Thule from which he established his Nor’Way trade route into Scythia.

BOOK TWO:  The Saga of Prince Erik ‘Bragi’ Ragnarson

Book Two of the Nine Book The Varangians / Ukrainians Series places The Saga of Prince Erik ‘Bragi’ Ragnarson from Book Five of The First Nine Books of the Danish History of Saxo Grammaticus (c. 1200 AD) about King Frodi ‘the Peaceful’ into its proper chronological location in history.  In 1984, when I first started work on the book, I placed Prince Erik’s birth at circa 800 CE, but it has since been revised to 810 CE to better reflect the timelines of the following books in the series.  Saxo had originally placed the saga at the time of Christ’s birth and later experts have placed the story at about 400 CE to correspond with the arrival of the Huns on the European scene but, when Attila was driven back to Asia, the Huns didn’t just disappear, they joined the Khazar Empire, just north of the Caspian Sea, and helped the Khazars control the western end of the famous Silk Road Trade Route.  Princes Erik and Roller, both sons of Ragnar ‘Lothbrok’, sail off to Zealand to avenge their father’s loss, but Erik falls in love with Princess Gunwar, the sister of the Anglish King Frodi of Jutland and, after his successful Battle Upon the Ice, wherein he destroys the House of Westmar, Erik marries Gunwar and both brothers become King Frodi’s foremost men instead, and the story moves on to the founding of Hraes’ and Gardar Ukraine.

BOOK THREE:  The Saga of Prince Helgi ‘Arrow Odd’ Erikson

Book Three, The Saga of Prince Helgi ‘Arrow Odd’ Erikson, recreates Arrow Odd’s Saga of circa 1200 AD to illustrate how Arrow Odd was Prince Helgi (Oleg in Slavic) Erikson of Kiev, by showing that their identical deaths from the bite of a snake was more than just coincidence. The book investigates the true death of Ragnar ‘Lothbrok’ by poisoned blood-snakes in York or Jorvik, the ‘City of the Boar’, and how his curse of ‘calling his young porkers to avenge the old boar’ sets up a death spiral between swine and snake that lasts for generations.  The book then illustrates the famous Battle of the Berserks on Samso, where Helgi ‘Arrow Odd’ and Hjalmar ‘the Brave’ slay the twelve berserk grandsons of King Frodi on the Danish Island of Samso, setting up a death struggle that takes the Great Pagan Army of the Danes from Denmark to ravage Norway and then England and on to Helluland in Saint Brendan’s Newfoundland.  A surprise cycle of vengeance manifests itself in the ‘death by snakebite’ of Helgi ‘Arrow Odd’.

BOOK FOUR:  The Saga of Prince Ivar ‘the Boneless’ Erikson

Book Four, The Saga of Prince Ivar ‘the Boneless’ Erikson, reveals how Ivar ‘the Boneless’ Ragnarson was actually Prince Eyfur or Ivar (Igor in Slavic) Erikson of Kiev and then King Harde Knute ‘the First’ of Denmark.  By comparing a twenty year lacuna in the reign of Prince Igor in The Hraes’ Primary Chronicle with a coinciding twenty year appearance of a King Harde Knute (Hard Knot) of Denmark in European Chronicles, Prince Igor’s punishment by sprung trees, which reportedly tore him apart, may have rather just left him a boneless and very angry young king.  Loyal Danes claimed, “It was a hard knot indeed that sprung those trees,” but his conquered English subjects, not being quite as polite, called him, Ivar ‘the Boneless’.  The book expands on the death curse of Ragnar ‘Lothbrok’ and the calling of ‘his young porkers to avenge the old boar’ when Ivar leaves his first son, King Gorm (Snake) ‘the Old’, to rule in Denmark and his last son, Prince Svein (Swine) ‘the Old’ to rule in Hraes’, further setting up the death spiral between the swine and snake of the ‘Lothbrok’ curse.

BOOK FIVE:  The Saga of Prince Svein ‘the Old’ Ivarson

Book Five, The Saga of Prince Svein ‘the Old’ Ivarson, demonstrates how Prince Sveinald (Sviatoslav in Slavic) ‘the Brave’ of Kiev was really Prince Svein ‘the Old’ Ivarson of Kiev, who later moved to Norway and fought to become King Sweyn ‘Forkbeard’ of Denmark and England.  But before being forced out of Russia, the Swine Prince sated his battle lust by crushing the Khazars and then attacking the great great grandfather of Vlad the Impaler in a bloody campaign into the ‘Heart of Darkness’ of Wallachia that seemed to herald the coming of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse and included the famed 666 Salute of the Army of the Impalers.  The campaign was so mortifying that the fifteen thousand pounds of gold that the Emperor of Constantinople paid him to attack the Army of the Impalers seemed not nearly enough, so Prince Svein attacked the Eastern Roman Empire itself.  He came close to defeating the greatest empire in the world, but lost and was forced to leave Hraes’ to his three sons.  He returned to the Nor’Way and spent twelve years rebuilding Ragnar’s old trade route there.

BOOK SIX:  The Saga of Grand Prince Valdamar ‘the Great’ Sveinson

Book Six, The Saga of Grand Prince Valdamar ‘the Great’ Sveinson, establishes how Grand Prince Valdamar (Vladimir in Slavic) ‘the Great’ of Kiev, expanded the Hraes’ Empire and his own family Hamingja by marrying 700 wives that he pampered in estates in and around Kiev.  Unlike his father, Svein, he came to the aid of a Roman Emperor, leading six thousand picked Varangian cataphracts against Anatolian rebels, and was rewarded with the hand of Princess Anna Porphyrogennetos of Constantinople, a true Roman Princess born of the purple who could trace her bloodline back to Julius and Augustus Caesar.  She was called ‘Czarina’, and after her, all Hraes’ Grand Princes were called ‘Czars’ and their offspring were earnestly sought after, matrimonially, by European royalty.

BOOK SEVEN:  The Saga of King Sweyn ‘Forkbeard’ Ivarson

In The Saga of King Sweyn ‘Forkbeard’ Ivarson, Prince Svein anonymously takes the name of Sweyn ‘Forkbeard’ in Norway and befriends the Jarls of Lade in Trondheim Fjord in Norway as he expands the Nor’Way trade route of his grandfather, Ragnar ‘Lothbrok’.  He had come close to defeating the Eastern Roman Empire, and still felt that he was due at least a shared throne in Constantinople.  He used the gold from the Nor’Way trade to rebuild his legions and his Hraes’ cataphracts and though his brother, King Gorm ‘the Old’, was dead, his son, Sweyn’s nephew, King Harald ‘Bluetooth’ Gormson had usurped the throne of Denmark and had hired the famed Jomsvikings to attack Prince Sweyn in Norway, setting up the famous Battle of Hjorungavagr in a fjord south of Lade.  King Sweyn ‘Forkbeard’ would emerge from that confrontation and then he would defeat King Olaf Tryggvason of Norway in the Battle of Svolder in 1000 AD, in an engagement precipitated over the hand of Queen Sigrid ‘the Haughty’ of Sweden.  Later he attacked England in revenge for the following St. Brice’s Day Massacre of Danes in 1002 AD and he fought a protracted war with the Saxon King Aethelred ‘the Unready’ that could only be described as the harvesting of the English for sale as slaves in Baghdad and Constantinople.  With the help of his son, Prince Valdamar of Kiev, and the legions and cataphracts of Hraes’, he conquered England on Christmas Day of 1013, but victory was not kind to him.

BOOK EIGHT:  The Saga of King Canute ‘the Great’ Sweynson

Prince Valdamar ‘the Great’ Sveinson of Kiev, who had supported his father, King Sweyn ‘Forkbeard’ of Denmark in attacks upon England left his ‘Czar’ sons in charge of Hraes’ and took over as King Valdamar of England, but the Latin Christian English revolted against his eastern name and Orthodox Christian religion and brought King Aethelred back from exile in Normandy and Valdamar had to return to Hraes’ and gather up the legions he had already sent back after his father’s victory.  His half brother was ruling in Denmark and his sons were ruling in Hraes’ so, in 1015 AD Grand Prince Valdamar ‘the Great’ of Kiev was written out of Hraes’ history and in 1016 the Latin Christian Prince Canute ‘the Great’ returned to England to reclaim his throne.  He defeated Aethelred’s son, King Edmund ‘Ironside’ of England, at the Battle of Assandun to become King Canute ‘the Great’ of England and later King Knute ‘the Great’ of Denmark and Norway as well.  But that is just the start of his story and later Danish Christian Kings would call his saga, and the sagas of his forefathers, The Lying Sagas of Denmark, and would set out to destroy them, claiming that, “true Christians will never read these Sagas”.

BOOK NINE:  The Saga of King William ‘the Conqueror’ Robertson

The Third Danish Conquest of Angleland was seen to herald the end of the Great Viking Manifestation of the Middle Ages, but this, of course, was contested by the Vikings who were still in control of it all.  Danish Varangians still ruled in Kiev and Danes still ruled the Northern Empire of Canute ‘the Great’, for the Normans were but Danish Vikings that had taken up the French language, and even Greenland and the Newfoundland were under Danish control in a Hraes’ Empire that ran from the Silk Road of Cathay in the east to the Mayan Road of Yucatan in the west.  “We are all the children of Ragnar ‘Lothbrok’,” Queen Emma of Normandy often said.  Out of sheer spite the Saxons of England took over the Varangian Guard of Constantinople and would continue their fight against the Normans in Southern Italy as mercenaries of the Byzantine Roman Empire.  They would lose there as well, when in the Fourth Crusade of 1204, the Norman Danes would sack the City of Constantinople and hold it long enough to stop the Mongol hoards that would crush the City of Kiev.  It would be Emperor Baldwin ‘the First’ of Flanders and Constantinople who would defeat the Mongol Mongke Khan in Thrace.  But the Mongols would hold Hraes’ for three hundred years and this heralded the end of the Great Viking Manifestation.  The Silk Road was dead awaiting Marco Polo for its revival.  But the western Mayan Road would continue to operate for another hundred years until another unforeseen disaster struck.  Its repercussions would be witnessed by the Spanish conquerors who followed Christopher Columbus a hundred and fifty years later in the Valley of the Mound Builders.


By recreating the lives of four generations of Hraes’ Ukrainian Princes and exhibiting how each generation, in succession, later ascended to their inherited thrones in Denmark, the author proves the parallels of the dual rules of Hraes’ Ukrainian Princes and Danish Kings to be cumulatively more than just coincidence.  And the author proves that the Danish Kings Harde Knute I, Gorm ‘the Old’ and Harald ‘Bluetooth’ Gormson/Sweyn ‘Forkbeard’ were not Stranger Kings, but were Danes of the Old Jelling Skioldung Fridlief/Frodi line of kings who only began their princely careers in Hraes’ and returned to their kingly duties in Denmark with a lot of Byzantine Roman ideas and heavy cavalry and cataphracts.

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