Varangian Guard

Definition

The mercenary Varangian Guard was an elite Byzantine army corps and the personal bodyguard of emperors beginning with Basil II in c. 988 CE. The Viking unit was famous for the stature of its members and their blood-thirsty conduct in battle, where they used their fearsome double-bladed battle-axes to devastating effect. Celebrated recruits include Harald Hardrada, who went on to become the king of Norway, and the Icelandic hero Bolli Bollason. Later, after the 1066 CE Battle of Hastings in England, especially, they became a largely Anglo-Saxon unit. By the beginning of the 14th century CE they had outlasted their usefulness but, for a few centuries at least, the Varangians were probably as shocking a sight to Byzantine enemies as tanks would have been to WWI infantry.

More about: Varangian Guard

Timeline

  • c. 988
    Byzantine emperor Basil II uses a force of Varangians for the first time.
  • 1404
    Last historical mention of the Byzantine Varangian Guard.
Membership