Names of Scandinavians in the Byzantine Varangian Guard and in Russia

by Gunnvôr silfrahárr (Christie L. Ward)

© 2004 Christie L. Ward; all rights reserved

Sometime after 850 AD, Scandinavians -- mostly from Sweden and Denmark -- began launching exploration, warfare, and trade eastwards into Russia. This movement eastwards extended along the major rivers, with Scandinavians eventually travelling all the way south to Byzantium. Here we will examine some of the names recorded for a few of these men.

Note that the names listed in this article are presented in their normalized Old West Norse forms (OW.Norse, the language used in Norway, Iceland, and other parts of western Scandinavia), which is the standard scholarly way of presenting Old Norse names. However, the greatest number of Scandinavians who travelled eastwards into Russia or east and south towards Byzantium originated in eastern Scandinavia or its colonies. East Scandinavia, including Sweden, Denmark, and Scandinavian colonies in Russia and the Baltic, used a slightly different dialect than did the western Scandinavians. From the beginning of the Viking Age, there were enough differences between the Old Norse spoken in western Scandinavia to differentiate the western dialect from that of eastern Scandinavia. The differences in Old West Norse and Old East Norse (OE.Norse, the language used in Sweden, Denmark, and other parts of eastern Scandinavia) increased noticably after 1000.

The original runic inscriptions show some of these dialectical differences in the names presented below. This is not to say that eastern Scandinavians were the only east-farers -- several famous Icelanders, and even the reknowned Norwegian king Haraldr harđráđi served in the Varangian Guard in Byzantium -- but most of the people of Scandinavian antecedents in Russia and Byzantium would have been men from Sweden, Denmark, Kiev, and other East Scandinavian settlements.

Acknowledgements

Thanks to Arval Benicoeur and Talan Gwynek for their helpful feedback on this article.


Norse Names from Treaties between Byzantium and the Rus

In the Russian Primary Chronicle, early contacts between the Byzantines and the Swedish Rus are recorded in the form of trade treaties, one in 907 and the other in 911. These treaties preserve in Russian the names of northern men which clearly are Scandinavian in origin.

907 Treaty1
Normalized OW.Norse Form Russian Form
Farulfr Farlof
Karl or Karli Karl
Hróđleifr Rulav
Steinviđr Stemid
Vermundr Velmud

911 Treaty2
Normalized OW.Norse Form Russian Form
Farleifr Farlo
Fréleifr Frelav
Gyđi Goudy
Hróaldr Rouad
Hróaldr3 Roal
Hrśrekr Rurik
Hrolleifr Rulav
Ingjaldr Inegeld
Kári Kari
Karl Karly
Vermóđr Veremoud
1 The 907 treaty names are taken from: Ellis-Davidson, Hilda Roderick. The Viking Road to Byzantium. London: George Allen & Unwin. 1976. p. 90

2 The 911 treaty names are taken from: Sigfús Blöndal. The Varangians of Byzantium. London: Cambridge. 1978. p. 36.

3 This same person appears in another MS. as Hróarr (Ruar, )

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Norse Names from Runic Inscriptions for Men Who Went To Byzantium

There are nearly 30 runic inscriptions that specifically mention Greece (ON Grikkland, GrikkaR, GrikkinaR "Greek-land"), meaning the powerful Byzantine Empire and the great city of Byzantium. The following table contains names of Swedish men named in runic inscriptions as (usually) having died in Greece, been in service or a unit leader in Greece, or having travelled to Greece. While undoubtedly some of those who went to Greece were traders, a number would have travelled there to become members of the prestigious Varangian Guard, a special unit in the Byzantine Army charged with the duty of protecting the Emperor.

Normalized OW.Norse Name Location4 Date Signum5 Runic Form6 Notes
Áki Uppland, Sweden Viking Age, ca. 1020-1050 U1016$ aki (nom)  
Ásbjôrn Kolbeins sonr7 Västergötland, Sweden Viking Age, ca. 1010-1040 Vg178 isbiurn (acc)  
Ásmundr Östergötland, Sweden Viking Age ca. 900's Ög81 asmutr (nom)  
Báulfr Södermanland, Sweden Viking Age, ca. 990-1010 Sö170 baulf (acc)  
Eysteinn Uppland, Sweden Viking Age, ca. 1020-1050 U136 austain (gen)  
Folkbjôrn Uppland, Sweden Viking Age, ca. 990-1010 U358 fulkbiarn (acc) Christian inscription.
Freygeirr Uppland, Sweden Viking Age, ca. 990-1010 U518 frikiR (acc) Christian inscription.
Freysteinn Södermanland, Sweden Viking Age, ca. 1010-1050 Sö82 fraitRn (acc)  
Geir-... Södermanland, Sweden Viking Age Sö345$A kai(r)... The second half of the name cannot be read from the inscription.
Gerđarr Uppland, Sweden Viking Age, after ca. 1050 U73 kiaţar (nom)  
Gunnarr Uppland, Sweden Viking Age, ca. 1020-1050 U431 kunor (acc) Christian inscription.
Halfdan Östergötland, Sweden Viking Age ca. 900's Ög81 halftan (nom)  
Heđinn Södermanland, Sweden Viking Age, ca. 990-1010 Sö165 hiţin (acc) Christian inscription.
Ingifastr Uppland, Sweden Viking Age ca. 1070-1100 U922$ ikifast (acc)  
Kári Östergötland, Sweden Viking Age ca. 900's Ög81 kari (nom)  
Óleifr Södermanland, Sweden Viking Age, ca. 1010-1050 Sö163 ulaifr (nom) This runic inscription may instead represent the name Gulleifr.
Ótryggr Uppland, Sweden Viking Age, ca. 1060-1100 U1087+ utirik (acc)  
Oddlaugr Östergötland, Sweden Viking Age, ca. 1010-1040 Ög94$ u-auk (acc)  
Ormgeirr Uppland, Sweden Viking Age, ca. 990-1010 U518 urmiR (acc) Christian inscription.
Ormika Gotland, Sweden Viking Age, ca. 1050-1100 G216 ormiga (nom)  
Ormulfr Uppland, Sweden Viking Age, ca. 990-1010 U518 urmulf (acc) Christian inscription.
Ragnvaldr Uppland, Sweden Viking Age ca. 1060-1100 U112B rahnualtr (nom) This is almost certainly a member of the Varangian Guard. The inscription says, "(he) was in Greece, was commander of the retinue."
Sveinn Smĺland, Sweden Viking Age, ca. 990-1010 Sm46+ suin (acc)  
Sveinn Uppland, Sweden Viking Age, ca. 1070-1100 U104 suin (acc)  
Tóki Uppland, Sweden Viking Age, ca. 1010-1040 U201 tuka (acc) Christian inscription.
Ulfhvatr(?) Gotland, Sweden Viking Age, ca. 1050-1100 G216 ulfua-r (nom) This reading is not certain. The name could instead be Ulfhvatr or Ulfvaldr.
Ţórir Uppland, Sweden Viking Age, ca. 1070-1100 U104 ţori (acc)  
Ôzurr Östergötland, Sweden Viking Age ca. 900's Ög81 asur (nom)  
4 The location indicated is the place where the runic inscription was located, usually near the home of the person being named, or the home of their surviving family.

5 The signum is a code used by scholars to identify each runic inscription.

6 The runic forms shown here are transliterations. The actual incription would have been written in runes, not Roman characters. For the actual form of the runes, see Arild Hauge's The Development of the Swedish Runes.

7 Throughout this article, o-circumflex (ô) is used to represent the character o-ogonek ), which is not available as an ASCII character. This is the same convention used in the Samnordisk Runtext Databas.

Names from runic data, as well as locations, normalizations, and dating, come from:

Samnordisk Runtext Databas
http://home6.swipnet.se/~w-61277/rundata/pc.htm.

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Norse Names from Runic Inscriptions for Men Who Went Eastwards

Normalized OW.Norse Name Location4 Date Signum5 Runic Form6 Notes

"died in the east"
Ásbjôrn Västergötland, Sweden Viking Age, ca. 1010-1050 Vg184 esburn (acc)  
Áskell Södermanland, Sweden Viking Age, ca. 1020 to after ca. 1050 Sö126 eskil (acc)  
Ásmundr(?) Västergötland, Sweden Viking Age, ca. 990-1010 Vg135# nosmu (acc) The reading of the name in this inscription is not certain.
Eyvindr Östergötland, Sweden Viking Age, ca. 990-1010 Ög8$ auint (acc)  
Eyvísl(?) Östergötland, Sweden Viking Age, ca. 990-1010 Ög8$ aiuisli (dat) The reading of the name in this inscription is not certain.
Geirbjôrn Uppland, Sweden Viking Age, ca. 1050 or after U154 (k)aiRbiarn (acc)  
Gunnarr Uppland, Sweden Viking Age, ca. 1050 or after U153 kunar (acc)  
Halfdan Uppland, Sweden Viking Age, ca. 1050 or after U153 hlftan (acc)  
Ingimundr Uppland, Sweden Viking Age, ca. 1070-1100 U898 ikimunt (acc)  
Ingvarr Östergötland, Sweden Viking Age, ca. 1010-1050 Ög30 ikuar (acc)  
Juli Västergötland, Sweden Viking Age, ca. 1010-1050 Vg184 iula (acc)  
Styrbjôrn Södermanland, Sweden Viking Age Sö34$ sturbiarn (nom)  
Tófi Denmark ca. 1000-1050 DR108 tufa (acc)  
Ţorkell Södermanland, Sweden Viking Age Sö34$ ţurkil (nom)  
... sonr Gísmundar Uppland, Sweden Viking Age, ca. 1050 or after U283# sun × kismuntaR (gen) "son of Gísmundr". The first part of this name is not legible in the runic inscription.

"were in the east, travelled to the east"
Ingifastr Södermanland, Sweden Viking Age, ca. 1070-1100 Sö308 (in)kifast (acc)  
Grímmundr Västmanland, Sweden Viking Age, ca. 1010-1050 VS FV1988;36$ kri(m)ut  

"met his end in the east at the Assembly"
Gulleifr Södermanland, Sweden Viking Age, ca. 1010-1050 Sö33 kulaif (acc)  

"died/travelled/etc. in the east in Garđir"
Arnfast Uppland, Sweden Viking Age, ca. 1010-1050 U636 arfast (acc)  
Farulfr Södermanland, Sweden Viking Age Sö148 farulf (acc)  
Slagvé Västmanland, Sweden Viking Age, ca. 1010-1040 Vs1 slakua (acc)  
Ţorsteinn Södermanland, Sweden Viking Age Sö338 ţourstain (acc)  
Ţorsteinn Uppland, Sweden Viking Age, ca. 1060-1100 U209$ ţurtsain (nom)  

"He was in the west and in the east"
Ásgautr Uppland, Sweden Viking Age, ca. 990-1010 U504 askut (acc) Christian inscription.

"died in the south in Serkland8"
Haraldr brođur Ingvarrs Södermanland, Sweden Viking Age, ca. 1010-1050 Sö179 haralt (acc) "Haraldr, brother of Ingvarr"

"travelled to the east with Ingvarr9; died in Serkland"
Skarđi Södermanland, Sweden Viking Age, ca. 1042 Sö131 skarţa (acc)  

"steered a ship east with Ingvarr to Ćistaland(?)/Sćrkland[i](?)."
Sćbjôrn Uppland, Sweden Viking Age, ca. 1042 U439# [sabi] (acc)  

"died in the east with Ingvarr"
Hróđgeirr Södermanland, Sweden Viking Age, ca. 1042 Sö173$ hr(u)ţkaiR (acc)  
Gunnleifr Uppland, Sweden Viking Age, ca. 1042 U644$ kunlaif (acc)  
Ţorsteinn Uppland, Sweden Viking Age, ca. 1042 U FV1992;157 ţurst... (acc)  
Ônundr Uppland, Sweden Viking Age, ca. 1042 U661 onutar (gen) Christian inscription.

"He was in the east with Ingvarr"
Bjórsteinn son Lífeyjar Södermanland, Sweden Viking Age, ca. 1042 Sö320 byrst(a)in (acc)  
Ormr Västmanland, Sweden Viking Age, ca. 1042 Vs19 horm (acc)  
Ósníkin Södermanland, Sweden Viking Age, ca. 1042 Sö335$ u:snikin (acc)  
Banki or Baggi Uppland, Sweden Viking Age, ca. 1042 U778 baka (gen) Christian inscription. This name may represent either Banki or Baggi - the name cannot be precisely determined from the inscription.
4 The location indicated is the place where the runic inscription was located, usually near the home of the person being named, or the home of their surviving family.

5 The signum is a code used by scholars to identify each runic inscription.

6 The runic forms shown here are transliterations. The actual incription would have been written in runes, not Roman characters. For the actual form of the runes, see Arild Hauge's The Development of the Swedish Runes.

8 During the Viking Age, "Serkland" was usually the southern area beyond the Caspian Sea, but was later used for the area occupied by Muslims east of Garđar in Russia (Ellis-Davidson, p. 167).

9 The runestones referring to Ingvarr's expedition are mostly from the area around Lake Mälar in Sweden, with a few from north Uppland, Västmanland, and north-east Östergötland. Ingvarr and his men probably died in 1042. It is thought that this is the same Swedish prince who is the hero of the Icelandic Yngvars saga Viđforla, an account written in the early 13th century and based on a now-lost Latin Vita Yngvari that must have been composed ca. 1180, fairly soon after the doomed expedition. (Ellis-Davidson, p. 167. Hermann Pálsson and Paul Edwards, eds. Vikings in Russia: Yngvar's Saga and Eymund's Saga. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press. 1989. p. 2.)

Names from runic data, as well as locations, normalizations, and dating, come from:

Samnordisk Runtext Databas
http://home6.swipnet.se/~w-61277/rundata/pc.htm.

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Men Mentioned in the Sagas who Served in the Varangian Guard of Byzantium

The Varangian Guard existed from around 911, when the Scandinavian Rus signed a treaty with Byzantium establishing relations for trade and military service. Men from Scandinavia continued to serve in the Varangian Guard until 1204, when the unit virtually disappeared after Crusaders sacked the city of Byzantium.

The Icelanders, who are responsible for preserving much of the surviving Old Norse literature, were extremely proud of the tradition in which certain Icelandic men made the long journey to enter the service of the Byzantine Emperor, and tales of such men had a big impact on the saga literature of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. The vast majority of Varangians, of course, were from Russia, Kiev, or eastern Scandinavia. It was the rarity of Icelanders who served there that made them worth mentioning in the sagas. Several sagas record the names of men who had served in the famous Varangian Guard:

Normalized OW.Norse Name Source Date of Service in the Varangian Guard Notes
Eilífr Ţorgíls son sprakaleggs Jómsvíkinga saga early 11th c. A man from Denmark. This name is "Eilífr, son of Ţorgíl sprakalegg".
Eindriđi ungi Orkneyingasaga before 1148 A man from Norway. The byname ungi is "the younger".
Eyvindr Bjarnar son Hráfnkels saga before 950 Icelander. This example is dubious. Hráfnkels saga is fiction.
Gríss Sćmings son Hallfređar saga ca. 970-980 Icelander.
Halldórr Snorra son Haralds saga harđráđa ca. 1030s-1040s Norwegian.
Haraldr harđráđi Haralds saga harđráđa 1034-1042 Norwegian. Joined the Varangian Guard under the alias Nordbrikt. Became King of Norway after leaving the Varangians.
Kolskeggr Hámundar son Njáls saga late 900s Icelander.
Már Húnrřđar son Morkinskinna ca. 1035 Icelander.
Ulfr Óspaks son Haralds saga harđráđa ca. 1030s-1040s Norwegian.
Víga-Barđi Guđmundar son Heiđarvíga saga d. 1025 in Byzantium Icelander.
Ţorbjôrn ôngull Ţórđar son Grettis saga after 1031 Icelander.
Ţorgestr or Gestr Ţórhallz son   c. 1007 Icelander.
Ţorkell leppr Ţjóstars son Hráfnkels saga before 950 Icelander. This example is dubious. Hráfnkels saga is fiction.
Ţormođr Eindriđa son or Ásgeirs son From both Morkinskinna and Ljósvetninga saga ca. 1061 Icelander.
Ţorsteinn drómundr Ásmundar son Grettis saga ca. 1030s Icelander. A drómundr was a kind of large ship used in the Mediterranean.
Ţorir helsingr Norwegian poem Geisli 12th c. The byname helsingr suggests that this character was from Helsingjaland in Sweden.

These names are taken from:

Ellis-Davidson, Hilda Roderick. The Viking Road to Byzantium. London: George Allen & Unwin. 1976.

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Resources for Old Norse Names and Name-Creation


Resources for Learning More About the Varangians

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