The Varangian Guard (Greek: Τάγμα τῶν Βαράγγων, Tágma tōn Varángōn) was an elite unit of the Byzantine Army, from the 10th to the 14th centuries, whose members served as personal bodyguards to the Byzantine Emperors.
They are known for being primarily composed of Germanic peoples, specifically Norsemen (the Guard was formed approximately 200 years into the Viking Age) and Anglo-Saxons (after the Norman Conquest of England created an Anglo-Saxon diaspora, part of which found employment in Constantinople).
The Rus’ (Norsemen descended from Sweden living in what is now Ukraine and Belarus) provided the earliest members of the Varangian Guard. They were in Byzantine service from as early as 874. The Guard was first formally constituted under Emperor Basil II in 988, following the Christianization of Kievan Rus’ by Vladimir I of Kiev. Vladimir, who had recently usurped power in Kiev with an army of Varangian warriors, sent 6,000 men to Basil as part of a military assistance agreement. Basil’s distrust of the native Byzantine guardsmen, whose loyalties often shifted, with fatal consequences, as well as the proven loyalty of the Varangians, many of whom had previously served in Byzantium, led the Emperor to employ them as his personal guardsmen.
Immigrants from Sweden, Denmark, Norway and Iceland kept a predominantly Norse cast to the organization until the late 11th century. It is known that most of the Varangians were from what is today Sweden due to the majority of Runestones left there.
According to the late Swedish historian Alf Henriksson in his book Svensk Historia (History of Sweden), the Scandinavian Varangian guardsmen were recognized by long hair, a red ruby set in the left ear and ornamented dragons sewn on their chainmail shirts. In these years, Scandinavian men left to enlist in the Byzantine Varangian Guard in such numbers that a medieval Swedish law, Västergötlagen, from Västergötland declared no one could inherit while staying in “Greece”—the then Scandinavian term for the Byzantine Empire—to stop the emigration, especially as two other European courts simultaneously also recruited Scandinavians: Kievan Rus’ c. 980–1060 and London 1018–1066 (the Þingalið).
Composed primarily of Norsemen and Rus for the first 100 years, the Guard began to see increased numbers of Anglo-Saxons after the Norman conquest of England. By the time of the Emperor Alexios Komnenos in the late 11th century, the Varangian Guard was largely recruited from Anglo-Saxons and “others who had suffered at the hands of the Vikings and their cousins the Normans”.
The Anglo-Saxons and other Germanic peoples shared with the Vikings a tradition of faithful (to death if necessary) oath-bound service, and the Norman invasion of England resulted in many fighting men who had lost their lands and former masters and were looking for positions elsewhere.
The Varangian Guard not only provided security for the Byzantine emperors, but also participated in many wars, often playing a decisive role, since they were usually deployed at critical moments of a battle. By the late 13th century, Varangians were mostly ethnically assimilated by the Byzantine Greeks, though the Guard remained in existence until at least mid-14th century. In 1400, there were still some people identifying themselves as “Varangians” in Constantinople.
Buckler, Georgina. Anna Komnena: A Study. Oxford: University Press, 1929.
Blondal, Sigfus. Varangians of Byzantium: An Aspect of Byzantine Military History. Trans. by Benedikt S. Benedikz, Cambridge: 1978. ISBN0-521-21745-8.
D’Amato, Raffaele. The Varangian Guard 988-1453. Osprey Publishing, 2010. ISBN1849081794.
The Normans (Norman: Normaunds; French: Normands; Latin: Normanni) were the people who, in the 10th and 11th centuries, gave their name to Normandy, a region in France.
They were descended from Norse (“Norman” comes from “Norseman”) Vikings (Old English wicingas—”pirates”) from Denmark, Iceland and Norway who, under their leader Rollo, agreed to swear fealty to King Charles III of West Francia. Through generations of mixing with the native Frankish and Gallo-Roman populations, their descendants gradually became assimilated into the Carolingian-based cultures of West Francia. The distinct cultural and ethnic identity of the Normans emerged initially in the first half of the 10th century, and it continued to evolve over the succeeding centuries.
The Norman dynasty had a major political, cultural and military impact on medieval Europe and the Near East. The Normans were famed for their martial spirit and eventually for their Catholic piety, becoming exponents of the Catholic orthodoxy into which they assimilated. They adopted the Gallo-Romance language of the Frankish land they settled, their dialect becoming known as Norman, Normaund or Norman French, an important literary language. The Duchy of Normandy, which they formed by treaty with the French crown, was a great fief of medieval France, and under Richard I of Normandy was forged into a cohesive and formidable principality in feudal tenure.
The Normans are noted both for their culture, such as their unique Romanesque architecture and musical traditions, and for their significant military accomplishments and innovations. Norman adventurers founded the Kingdom of Sicily under Roger II after conquering southern Italy and Malta from the Saracens and Byzantines, and an expedition on behalf of their duke, William the Conqueror, led to the Norman conquest of England at the Battle of Hastings in 1066. Norman cultural and military influence spread from these new European centres to the Crusader states of the Near East, where their prince Bohemond I founded the Principality of Antioch in the Levant, to Scotland and Wales in Great Britain, to Ireland, and to the coasts of north Africa and the Canary Islands.
The legacy of the Normans persists today through the regional languages and dialects of France, England, and Sicily, as well as the various cultural, judicial and political arrangements they introduced in their conquered territories.
The English name “Normans” comes from the French words Normans/Normanz, plural of Normant, modern French normand, which is itself borrowed from Old Low Franconian Nortmann “Northman” or directly from Old Norse Norðmaðr, Latinized variously as Nortmannus, Normannus, or Nordmannus (recorded in Medieval Latin, 9th century) to mean “Norseman, Viking”.
The 11th century Benedictine monk and historian, Goffredo Malaterra, characterised the Normans thus:
Specially marked by cunning, despising their own inheritance in the hope of winning a greater, eager after both gain and dominion, given to imitation of all kinds, holding a certain mean between lavishness and greediness, that is, perhaps uniting, as they certainly did, these two seemingly opposite qualities. Their chief men were specially lavish through their desire of good report. They were, moreover, a race skillful in flattery, given to the study of eloquence, so that the very boys were orators, a race altogether unbridled unless held firmly down by the yoke of justice. They were enduring of toil, hunger, and cold whenever fortune laid it on them, given to hunting and hawking, delighting in the pleasure of horses, and of all the weapons and garb of war.
In the course of the 10th century, the initially destructive incursions of Norse war bands into the rivers of France evolved into more permanent encampments that included local women and personal property. The Duchy of Normandy, which began in 911 as a fiefdom, was established by the treaty of Saint-Clair-sur-Epte between King Charles III of West Francia and the famed Viking ruler Rollo, and was situated in the former Frankish kingdom of Neustria.
King Rollo’s Viking fleet en-route to the Frankish Kingdom.
The treaty offered Rollo and his men the French lands between the river Epte and the Atlantic coast in exchange for their protection against further Viking incursions. As well as granting to protect the area of Rouen from Viking invasion, Rollo had to swear not to invade further Frankish lands himself, accept baptism and conversion to the Christian faith and swear fealty to King Charles III.
The area corresponded to the northern part of present-day Upper Normandy down to the river Seine, but the Duchy would eventually extend west beyond the Seine. The territory was roughly equivalent to the old province of Rouen, and reproduced the Roman administrative structure of Gallia Lugdunensis II (part of the former Gallia Lugdunensis).
Before Rollo’s arrival, its populations did not differ from Picardy or the Île-de-France, which were considered “Frankish”. Earlier Viking settlers had begun arriving in the 880s, but were divided between colonies in the east (Roumois and Pays de Caux) around the low Seine valley and in the west in the Cotentin Peninsula, and were separated by traditional pagii, where the population remained about the same with almost no foreign settlers. Rollo’s contingents who raided and ultimately settled Normandy and parts of the Atlantic coast included Danes, Norwegians, Norse–Gaels, Orkney Vikings, possibly Swedes, and Anglo-Danes from the English Danelaw under Norse control.
The descendants of Rollo’s Vikings and their Frankish wives would replace the Norse religion and Old Norse language with Catholicism (Christianity) and the Gallo-Romance language of the local people, blending their maternal Frankish heritage with Old Norse traditions and customs to synthesize a unique “Norman” culture in the north of France. The Norman language was forged by the adoption of the indigenous langue d’oïl branch of Romance by a Norse-speaking ruling class, and it developed into the regional language that survives today.
The Normans thereafter adopted the growing feudal doctrines of the rest of France, and worked them into a functional hierarchical system in both Normandy and in England. The new Norman rulers were culturally and ethnically distinct from the old French aristocracy, most of whom traced their lineage to Franks of the Carolingian dynasty. Most Norman knights remained poor and land-hungry, and by 1066 Normandy had been exporting fighting horsemen for more than a generation.
Many Normans of Italy, France and England eventually served as avid Crusaders under the Italo-Norman prince Bohemund I and the Anglo-Norman king Richard the Lion-Heart.
Opportunistic bands of Normans successfully established a foothold in southern Italy. Probably as the result of returning pilgrims’ stories, the Normans entered southern Italy as warriors in 1017 at the latest. In 999, according to Amatus of Montecassino, Norman pilgrims returning from Jerusalem called in at the port of Salerno when a Saracen attack occurred. The Normans fought so valiantly that Prince Guaimar III begged them to stay, but they refused and instead offered to tell others back home of the Prince’s request. William of Apulia tells that, in 1016, Norman pilgrims to the shrine of the Archangel Michael at Monte Gargano were met by Melus of Bari, a Lombard nobleman and rebel, who persuaded them to return with more warriors to help throw off the Byzantine rule, which they did.
The two most prominent Norman families to arrive in the Mediterranean were descendants of Tancred of Hauteville and the Drengot family. A group of Normans with at least five brothers from the Drengot family fought the Byzantines in Apulia under the command of Melo di Bari.
Between 1016 and 1024, in a fragmented political context, the County of Ariano was founded by another group of Norman knights headed by Gilbert Buatère and hired by Melo di Bari. Defeated at Canne, Melo di Bari escaped to Bamberg, Germany, where he died in 1022. The County, which replaced the pre-existing chamberlainship, was considered to be the first political body established by the Normans in the South of Italy. Then Rainulf Drengot, from the same family, received the county of Aversa from Duke Sergius IV of Naples in 1030.
The Hauteville family achieved princely rank by proclaiming Prince Guaimar IV of Salerno “Duke of Apulia and Calabria”. He promptly awarded their elected leader, William Iron Arm, with the title of count in his capital of Melfi. The Drengot family thereafter attained the principality of Capua, and Emperor Henry III legally ennobled the Hauteville leader, Drogo, as “dux et magister Italiae comesque Normannorum totius Apuliae et Calabriae” (“Duke and Master of Italy and Count of the Normans of all Apulia and Calabria“) in 1047.
From these bases, the Normans eventually captured Sicily and Malta from the Saracens, under the leadership of the famous Robert Guiscard, a Hauteville, and his younger brother Roger the Great Count. Roger’s son, Roger II of Sicily, was crowned king in 1130 (exactly one century after Rainulf was “crowned” count) by Antipope Anacletus II. The Kingdom of Sicily lasted until 1194, when it was transferred to the House of Hohenstaufen through marriage. The Normans left their legacy in many castles, such as William Iron Arm‘s citadel at Squillace, and cathedrals, such as Roger II’s Cappella Palatina at Palermo, which dot the landscape and give a distinct architectural flavor to accompany its unique history.
Institutionally, the Normans combined the administrative machinery of the Byzantines, Arabs, and Lombards with their own conceptions of feudal law and order to forge a unique government. Under this state, there was great religious freedom, and alongside the Norman nobles existed a meritocratic bureaucracy of Jews, Muslims and Christians, both Catholic and Eastern Orthodox.
The Kingdom of Sicily thus became characterized by Norman, Byzantine, Greek, Arab, Lombard and “native” Sicilian populations living in harmony, and its Norman rulers fostered plans of establishing an empire that would have encompassed Fatimid Egypt as well as the crusader states in the Levant.
One of the great geographical treatises of the Middle Ages, the “Tabula Rogeriana“, was written by the Andalusian al-Idrisi for King Roger II of Sicily, and entitled “Kitab Rudjdjar” (“The Book of Roger“).
Soon after the Normans began to enter Italy, they entered the Byzantine Empire and then Armenia, fighting against the Pechenegs, the Bulgars, and especially the Seljuk Turks. Norman mercenaries were first encouraged to come to the south by the Lombards to act against the Byzantines, but they soon fought in Byzantine service in Sicily. They were prominent alongside Varangian and Lombard contingents in the Sicilian campaign of George Maniaces in 1038–40.
There is debate whether the Normans in Greek service actually were from Norman Italy, and it now seems likely only a few came from there. It is also unknown how many of the “Franks”, as the Byzantines called them, were Normans and not other Frenchmen.
One of the first Norman mercenaries to serve as a Byzantine general was Hervé in the 1050s. By then, however, there were already Norman mercenaries serving as far away as Trebizond and Georgia. They were based at Malatya and Edessa, under the Byzantine duke of Antioch, Isaac Komnenos. In the 1060s, Robert Crispin led the Normans of Edessa against the Turks. Roussel de Bailleul even tried to carve out an independent state in Asia Minor with support from the local population, but he was stopped by the Byzantine general Alexius Komnenos.
Some Normans joined Turkish forces to aid in the destruction of the Armenian vassal-states of Sassoun and Taron in far eastern Anatolia. Later, many took up service with the Armenian state further south in Cilicia and the Taurus Mountains. A Norman named Oursel led a force of “Franks” into the upper Euphrates valley in northern Syria. From 1073 to 1074, 8,000 of the 20,000 troops of the Armenian general Philaretus Brachamius were Normans—formerly of Oursel—led by Raimbaud. They even lent their ethnicity to the name of their castle: Afranji, meaning “Franks”. The known trade between Amalfi and Antioch and between Bari and Tarsus may be related to the presence of Italo-Normans in those cities while Amalfi and Bari were under Norman rule in Italy.
Several families of Byzantine Greece were of Norman mercenary origin during the period of the Comnenian Restoration, when Byzantine emperors were seeking out western European warriors. The Raoulii were descended from an Italo-Norman named Raoul, the Petraliphae were descended from a Pierre d’Aulps, and that group of Albanian clans known as the Maniakates were descended from Normans who served under George Maniaces in the Sicilian expedition of 1038.
Robert Guiscard, another Norman adventurer previously elevated to the dignity of count of Apulia as the result of his military successes, ultimately drove the Byzantines out of southern Italy. Having obtained the consent of pope Gregory VII and acting as his vassal, Robert continued his campaign conquering the Balkan peninsula as a foothold for western feudal lords and the Catholic Church.
After allying himself with Croatia and the Catholic cities of Dalmatia, in 1081 he led an army of 30,000 men in 300 ships landing on the southern shores of Albania, capturing Valona, Kanina, Jericho (Orikumi), and reaching Butrint after numerous pillages. They joined the fleet that had previously conquered Corfu and attacked Dyrrachium from land and sea, devastating everything along the way.
Under these harsh circumstances, the locals accepted the call of Emperor Alexius I Comnenus to join forces with the Byzantines against the Normans. The Albanian forces could not take part in the ensuing battle because it had started before their arrival. Immediately before the battle, the Venetian fleet had secured a victory in the coast surrounding the city. Forced to retreat, Alexius ceded the city of Dyrrachium to the Count of the Tent (or Byzantine provincial administrators) mobilizing from Arbanon (i.e., ἐξ Ἀρβάνων ὁρμωμένω Κομισκόρτη; the term Κομισκόρτη is short for κόμης της κόρτης meaning “Count of the Tent”).
The city’s garrison resisted until February 1082, when Dyrrachium was betrayed to the Normans by the Venetian and Amalfitan merchants who had settled there. The Normans were now free to penetrate into the hinterland; they took Ioannina and some minor cities in southwestern Macedonia and Thessaly before appearing at the gates of Thessalonica. Dissension among the high ranks coerced the Normans to retreat to Italy. They lost Dyrrachium, Valona, and Butrint in 1085, after the death of Robert.
A few years after the First Crusade, in 1107, the Normans under the command of Bohemond, Robert’s son, landed in Valona and besieged Dyrrachium using the most sophisticated military equipment of the time, but to no avail. Meanwhile, they occupied Petrela, the citadel of Mili at the banks of the river Deabolis, Gllavenica (Ballsh), Kanina and Jericho. This time, the Albanians sided with the Normans, dissatisfied by the heavy taxes the Byzantines had imposed upon them. With their help, the Normans secured the Arbanon passes and opened their way to Dibra. The lack of supplies, disease and Byzantine resistance forced Bohemond to retreat from his campaign and sign a peace treaty with the Byzantines in the city of Deabolis.
The further decline of Byzantine state-of-affairs paved the road to a third attack in 1185, when a large Norman army invaded Dyrrachium, owing to the betrayal of high Byzantine officials. Some time later, Dyrrachium—one of the most important naval bases of the Adriatic—fell again to Byzantine hands.
The Normans were in contact with England from an early date. Not only were their original Viking brethren still ravaging the English coasts, they occupied most of the important ports opposite England across the English Channel. This relationship eventually produced closer ties of blood through the marriage of Emma, sister of Duke Richard II of Normandy, and King Ethelred II of England. Because of this, Ethelred fled to Normandy in 1013, when he was forced from his kingdom by Sweyn Forkbeard. His stay in Normandy (until 1016) influenced him and his sons by Emma, who stayed in Normandy after Cnut the Great‘s conquest of the isle.
When Edward the Confessor finally returned from his father’s refuge in 1041, at the invitation of his half-brother Harthacnut, he brought with him a Norman-educated mind. He also brought many Norman counsellors and fighters, some of whom established an English cavalry force.
On 14 October 1066, William the Conqueror gained a decisive victory at the Battle of Hastings, which led to the conquest of England three years later; this can be seen on the Bayeux tapestry (a linen, embroidered cloth).
The invading Normans and their descendants replaced the Anglo-Saxons as the ruling class of England. The nobility of England were part of a single Norman culture and many had lands on both sides of the channel. Early Norman kings of England, as Dukes of Normandy, owed homage to the King of France for their land on the continent. They considered England to be their most important holding (it brought with it the title of King—an important status symbol).
Eventually, the Normans merged with the natives, combining languages and traditions, so much so that Marjorie Chibnall says “writers still referred to Normans and English; but the terms no longer meant the same as in the immediate aftermath of 1066.” In the course of the Hundred Years’ War, the Norman aristocracy often identified themselves as English.
The Anglo-Norman language became distinct from the Latin language, something that was the subject of some humour by Geoffrey Chaucer. The Anglo-Norman language was eventually absorbed into the Anglo-Saxon language of their subjects (see Old English) and influenced it, helping (along with the Norse language of the earlier Anglo-Norse settlers and the Latin used by the church) in the development of Middle English. It in turn evolved into Modern English.
The Normans had a profound effect on Irish culture and history after their invasion at Bannow Bay in 1169. Initially, the Normans maintained a distinct culture and ethnicity.
Yet, with time, they came to be subsumed into Irish culture to the point that it has been said that they became “more Irish than the Irish themselves”.
The Normans settled mostly in an area in the east of Ireland, later known as the Pale, and also built many fine castles and settlements, including Trim Castle and Dublin Castle. Both cultures intermixed, borrowing from each other’s language, culture and outlook. Norman descendants today can be recognised by their surnames.
Names such as French, (De) Roche, Devereux, D’Arcy, Treacy and Lacy are particularly common in the southeast of Ireland, especially in the southern part of County Wexford, where the first Norman settlements were established. Other Norman names, such as Furlong, predominate there. Another common Norman-Irish name was Morell (Murrell), derived from the French Norman name Morel.
Names beginning with Fitz (from the Norman for son) indicate Norman ancestry. These included Fitzgerald, FitzGibbons (Gibbons) dynasty, Fitzmaurice. Families bearing such surnames as Barry (de Barra) and De Búrca (Burke) are also of Norman extraction.
William invaded Scotland in 1072, riding as far as Abernethy where he met up with his fleet of ships. Malcolm submitted, paid homage to William and surrendered his son Duncan as a hostage, beginning a series of arguments as to whether the Scottish Crown owed allegiance to the King of England.
Normans went into Scotland, building castles and founding noble families that would provide some future kings, such as Robert the Bruce, as well as founding a considerable number of the Scottish clans. King David I of Scotland, whose elder brother Alexander I had married Sybilla of Normandy, was instrumental in introducing Normans and Norman culture to Scotland, part of the process some scholars call the “Davidian Revolution”.
The process was continued under David’s successors, most intensely of all under William the Lion. The Norman-derived feudal system was applied in varying degrees to most of Scotland. Scottish families of the names Bruce, Gray, Ramsay, Fraser, Ogilvie, Montgomery, Sinclair, Pollock, Burnard, Douglas and Gordon to name but a few, and including the later royal House of Stewart, can all be traced back to Norman ancestry.
Even before the Norman Conquest of England, the Normans had come into contact with Wales. Edward the Confessor had set up the aforementioned Ralph as earl of Hereford and charged him with defending the Marches and warring with the Welsh. In these original ventures, the Normans failed to make any headway into Wales.
Subsequent to the Conquest, however, the Marches came completely under the dominance of William’s most trusted Norman barons, including Bernard de Neufmarché, Roger of Montgomery in Shropshire and Hugh Lupus in Cheshire. These Normans began a long period of slow conquest during which almost all of Wales was at some point subject to Norman interference. Norman words, such as baron (barwn), first entered Welsh at that time.
The legendary religious zeal of the Normans was exercised in religious wars long before the First Crusade carved out a Norman principality in Antioch. They were major foreign participants in the Reconquista in Iberia. In 1018, Roger de Tosny travelled to the Iberian Peninsula to carve out a state for himself from Moorish lands, but failed. In 1064, during the War of Barbastro, William of Montreuil led the papal army and took a huge booty.
In 1096, Crusaders passing by the siege of Amalfi were joined by Bohemond of Taranto and his nephew Tancred with an army of Italo-Normans. Bohemond was the de facto leader of the Crusade during its passage through Asia Minor. After the successful Siege of Antioch in 1097, Bohemond began carving out an independent principality around that city. Tancred was instrumental in the conquest of Jerusalem and he worked for the expansion of the Crusader kingdom in Transjordan and the region of Galilee.
Anglo-Norman conquest of Cyprus
The conquest of Cyprus by the Anglo-Norman forces of the Third Crusade opened a new chapter in the history of the island, which would be under Western European domination for the following 380 years. Although not part of a planned operation, the conquest had much more permanent results than initially expected.
In April 1191, Richard the Lion-hearted left Messina with a large fleet in order to reach Acre. But a storm dispersed the fleet. After some searching, it was discovered that the boat carrying his sister and his fiancée Berengaria was anchored on the south coast of Cyprus, together with the wrecks of several other ships, including the treasure ship. Survivors of the wrecks had been taken prisoner by the island’s despot Isaac Komnenos.
On 1 May 1191, Richard’s fleet arrived in the port of Limassol on Cyprus. He ordered Isaac to release the prisoners and the treasure. Isaac refused, so Richard landed his troops and took Limassol.
Various princes of the Holy Land arrived in Limassol at the same time, in particular Guy de Lusignan. All declared their support for Richard provided that he support Guy against his rival Conrad of Montferrat. The local barons abandoned Isaac, who considered making peace with Richard, joining him on the crusade, and offering his daughter in marriage to the person named by Richard.
But Isaac changed his mind and tried to escape. Richard then proceeded to conquer the whole island, his troops being led by Guy de Lusignan. Isaac surrendered and was confined with silver chains, because Richard had promised that he would not place him in irons.
By 1 June, Richard had conquered the whole island. His exploit was well publicized and contributed to his reputation; he also derived significant financial gains from the conquest of the island.
While in Limassol, Richard the Lion-Heart married Berengaria of Navarre, first-born daughter of King Sancho VI of Navarre. The wedding was held on 12 May 1191 at the Chapel of St. George and it was attended by Richard’s sister Joan, whom he had brought from Sicily.
The marriage was celebrated with great pomp and splendor. Among other grand ceremonies was a double coronation: Richard caused himself to be crowned King of Cyprus, and Berengaria Queen of England and Queen of Cyprus as well.
The rapid Anglo-Norman conquest proved more important than it seemed. The island occupied a key strategic position on the maritime lanes to the Holy Land, whose occupation by the Christians could not continue without support from the sea.
Shortly after the conquest, Cyprus was sold to the Knights Templar and it was subsequently acquired, in 1192, by Guy de Lusignan and became a stable feudal kingdom. It was only in 1489 that the Venetians acquired full control of the island, which remained a Christian stronghold until the fall of Famagusta in 1571.
Between 1402 and 1405, the expedition led by the Norman noble Jean de Bethencourt and the PoitevineGadifer de la Salle conquered the Canarian islands of Lanzarote, Fuerteventura and El Hierro off the Atlantic coast of Africa. Their troops were gathered in Normandy, Gascony and were later reinforced by Castilian colonists.
The customary law of Normandy was developed between the 10th and 13th centuries and survives today through the legal systems of Jersey and Guernsey in the Channel Islands. Norman customary law was transcribed in two customaries in Latin by two judges for use by them and their colleagues: These are the Très ancien coutumier (Very ancient customary), authored between 1200 and 1245; and the Grand coutumier de Normandie (Great customary of Normandy, originally Summa de legibus Normanniae in curia laïcali), authored between 1235 and 1245.
Norman architecture typically stands out as a new stage in the architectural history of the regions they subdued. They spread a unique Romanesque idiom to England, Italy and Ireland, and the encastellation of these regions with keeps in their north French style fundamentally altered the military landscape. Their style was characterised by rounded arches, particularly over windows and doorways, and massive proportions.
In England, the period of Norman architecture immediately succeeds that of the Anglo-Saxon and precedes the Early Gothic. In southern Italy, the Normans incorporated elements of Islamic, Lombard, and Byzantine building techniques into their own, initiating a unique style known as Norman-Arab architecture within the Kingdom of Sicily.
In the visual arts, the Normans did not have the rich and distinctive traditions of the cultures they conquered. However, in the early 11th century the dukes began a programme of church reform, encouraging the Cluniac reform of monasteries and patronising intellectual pursuits, especially the proliferation of scriptoria and the reconstitution of a compilation of lost illuminated manuscripts.
The church was utilised by the dukes as a unifying force for their disparate duchy. The chief monasteries taking part in this “renaissance” of Norman art and scholarship were Mont-Saint-Michel, Fécamp, Jumièges, Bec, Saint-Ouen, Saint-Evroul, and Saint-Wandrille. These centres were in contact with the so-called “Winchester school”, which channeled a pure Carolingian artistic tradition to Normandy.
In the final decade of the 11th and first of the 12th century, Normandy experienced a golden age of illustrated manuscripts, but it was brief and the major scriptoria of Normandy ceased to function after the midpoint of the century.
The French Wars of Religion in the 16th century and the French Revolution in the 18th successively destroyed much of what existed in the way of the architectural and artistic remnant of this Norman creativity. The former, with their violence, caused the wanton destruction of many Norman edifices; the latter, with its assault on religion, caused the purposeful destruction of religious objects of any type, and its destabilisation of society resulted in rampant pillaging.
By far the most famous work of Norman art is the Bayeux Tapestry, which is not a tapestry but a work of embroidery. It was commissioned by Odo, the Bishop of Bayeux and first Earl of Kent, employing natives from Kent who were learned in the Nordic traditions imported in the previous half century by the Danish Vikings.
In Britain, Norman art primarily survives as stonework or metalwork, such as capitals and baptismal fonts. In southern Italy, however, Norman artwork survives plentifully in forms strongly influenced by its Greek, Lombard, and Arab forebears. Of the royal regalia preserved in Palermo, the crown is Byzantine in style and the coronation cloak is of Arab craftsmanship with Arabic inscriptions.
Many churches preserve sculptured fonts, capitals, and more importantly mosaics, which were common in Norman Italy and drew heavily on the Greek heritage. Lombard Salerno was a centre of ivorywork in the 11th century and this continued under Norman domination.
Finally should be noted the intercourse between French Crusaders traveling to the Holy Land who brought with them French artefacts with which to gift the churches at which they stopped in southern Italy amongst their Norman cousins. For this reason many south Italian churches preserve works from France alongside their native pieces.
The Viking Age sword (also Viking sword) or Carolingian sword is the type of sword prevalent in Western and Northern Europe during the Early Middle Ages.
The Viking Age or Carolingian-era developed in the 8th century from the Merovingian sword (more specifically, the Frankish production of swords in the 6th to 7th century, itself derived from the Roman spatha) and during the 11th to 12th century in turn gave rise to the knightly sword of the Romanesque period.
Although popularly called “Viking sword”, this type of sword was produced in the Frankish Empire during the Carolingian era. The association of the name “Viking” with these swords is due to the disappearance of grave goods in Christian Francia in the 8th century, due to which the bulk of sword blades of Frankish manufacture of this period were found in pagan burials of Viking Age Scandinavia, imported by trade, ransom payment or looting, while continental European finds are mostly limited to stray finds in riverbeds.
Swords of the 8th to 10th centuries are also termed “Carolingian swords”, while swords of the late Viking Age and the beginning High Middle Ages (late 10th to early 12th centuries) blend into the category of Norman swords or the early development of the knightly sword.
During the reign of Charlemagne, the price of a sword (a spata, or longsword) with scabbard was set at seven solidi (totaling about 1.3k USD) (Lex Ribuaria). Swords were still comparatively costly weapons, although not as exclusive as during the Merovingian period, and in Charlemagne’s capitularies, only members of the cavalry, who could afford to own and maintain a warhorse, were required to be equipped with swords. Regino’s Chronicle suggests that by the end of the 9th century, the sword was seen as the principal weapon of the cavalry.
The sword gradually replaced the sax during the late 8th to early 9th century. Because grave goods were no longer deposited in Francia in the 8th century, continental finds are mostly limited to stray finds in riverbeds (where anaerobic conditions favoured the preservation of the steel), and most extant examples of Carolingian swords are from graves from northern or eastern cultures where pagan burial customs were still in effect.
Pattern welding fell out of use in the 9th century, as higher quality steel became available. Better steel also allowed the production of narrower blades, and the swords of the 9th century have more pronounced tapering than their 8th-century predecessors, shifting the point of balance towards the hilt. Coupland (1990) proposes that this development may have accelerated the disappearance of the sax, as the sword was now available for swift striking, while the migration-period spatha was mostly used to deliver heavy blows aimed at damaging shields or armour. The improved morphology combined maneuverability and weight in a single weapon, rendering the sax redundant.
The Frankish swords often had pommels shaped in a series of three or five rounded lobes. This was a native Frankish development which did not exist prior to the 8th century, and the design is frequently represented in the pictorial art of the period, e.g. in the Stuttgart Psalter, Utrecht Psalter, Lothar Gospels and Bern Psychomachia manuscripts, as well as in the wall frescoes in the church in Mals, South Tyrol. Likewise, the custom of inlaid inscriptions in the blades is Frankish innovation dating to the reign of Charlemagne, notably in the Ulfberht group of blades, but continued into the high medieval period and peaking in popularity in the 12th century. While blade inscriptions become more common over the Viking Age, the custom of hilt decorations in precious metals, inherited from the Merovingian sword and widespread during the 8th and 9th centuries, is in decline over the course of the 10th century. Most swords made in the later 10th century in what was now the Holy Roman Empire, while still conforming to the “Viking sword” type morphologically, have plain steel hilts.
There are very few references to Carolingian-era sword production, apart from a reference to emundatores vel politores present in the workshops of the Abbey of Saint Gall. Two men sharpening swords, one using a grindstone the other a file, are shown in the Utrecht Psalter (fol. 35v).
The distribution of Frankish blades throughout Scandinavia and as far east as Volga Bulgaria attest to the considerable importance of Frankish arms exports, even though Carolingian kings attempted to prevent the export of weapons to potential enemies; in 864, Charles the Bald set the death penalty on selling weapons to the Vikings. Ibn Fadlan in the 10th century notes explicitly that the Volga Vikings carried Frankish swords. The Saracens raiding Camargue in 869 demanded 150 swords as ransom for archbishop Rotland of Arles.
Carolingian scabbards were made of wood and leather. Scabbard decorations are depicted in several manuscripts (Stuttgart Psalter, Utrecht Psalter, Vivian Bible). A number of miniatures also show the system of suspension of the sword by means of the sword-belt. While the scabbards and belts themselves are almost never preserved, their metal mounts have been found in Scandinavian silver hoards and in Croatian graves. A complete set seems to have included two to three oval or half-oval mounts, one large strap-end, a belt buckle and a trefoil mount. Their arrangement on the sword-belt has been reconstructed by Menghin (1973).
The seminal study of the topic is due to Jan Petersen (De Norske Vikingsverd, 1919).
Petersen introduced a morphological typology, mostly based on hilt shape. Petersen’s types are identified by capital letters A–Z. Petersen listed a total of 110 specimens found in Norway. Of these, 40 were double-edged, 67 were single-edged and 3 indeterminate.
R. E. M. Wheeler in 1927 introduced a typology combining Petersen’s hilt typology with a blade typology, in nine types labelled I to IX.
Geibig (1991) introduced an additional typology based on blade morphology (types 1–14) and a typology of pommel shapes (types 1–17, with subtypes), focussing on swords of the 8th to 12th centuries found within the boundaries of East Francia (as such including the transitional types between the “Viking” and the “knightly” sword).
type I: hilt types F, G, M, P, Q, Æ; mid 9th to early 11th centuries; light pommels without lobes
type II: hilt types A, B, C, H, I. Norwegian, mid 9th to mid 10th centuries (Norwegian?); heavy, triangular pommels of the type inherited from the Merovingian sword.
type III: hilt types D, E, R, S, T, U, V, early 9th to mid 10th centuries (Danish?); various forms of three-lobed pommels.
type IV: hilt types K, O, late 8th to mid 10th centuries (Frankish?); pommels with five or seven lobes.
type V, hilt type L, mid 9th to late 10th centuries (English); rare “Wallingford Type” pommel, likely a native Anglo-Saxon development.
type VI, hilt type L, early 10th to mid 11th centuries (Danish); a derived design with three lobes, likely of Danish origin.
type VII: hilt types N, W, X; mid 9th to late 11th centuries; the semi-circular pommel shape typical of the Ottonian period and continued as the “mushroom” pommel in high medieval swords.
types VIII and IX, 10th to 13th centuries, development of the high medieval “brazil-nut” or “tea-cosy” pommel types.
The Oakeshott typology is a continuation of Wheeler’s typology to include high medieval swords.
Artilength, fuller length, blade width and degree of taper.
Type 1 of the late migration period and early Viking Age (8th century) has blade lengths of 70 to 80 cm, with a taper to about 80% of maximum width over 60 cm. The fuller is shallow or absent entirely; these blades are mostly pattern welded, with four or five bands visible on each blade face.
Type 2 spans the mid 8th to mid 10th centuries. Slightly longer than type 1, at 74 to 83 cm, the defining characteristic is the more pronounced taper.
Type 3 is contemporary with type 2, and of similar length (74 to 85 cm) but has wider blades (52 to 57 mm at the hilt).
Type 4 dates to the later Viking Age (mid 10th to mid 11th centuries). They represent a trend towards shorter blades at
the time, at 63 to 76 cm.
Type 5 originates in the mid 10th century, and is transitional to the knightly sword of the 11th to 12th centuries. The longest blades of the Viking Age fall into this type, at lengths of 84 to 91 cm. These blades also introduce the 12th-century fashion of sword blade inscriptions of the ME FECIT and IN NOMINE DOMINI type.
An important aspect in the development of the European sword between the early and high medieval periods is the availability of high-quality steel. Migration period as well as early medieval sword blades were primarily produced by the technique of pattern welding, also known as “false Damascus” steel. Blooms of high-quality steel large enough to produce an entire sword blade were only rarely available in Europe at the time, mostly via import from Central Asia, where a crucible steel industry began to establish itself from c. the 8th century. Higher quality swords made after AD 1000 are increasingly likely to have crucible steel blades. The group of Ulfberht swords includes a wide spectrum of steel and production method. One example from a 10th-century grave in Nemilany, Moravia, has a pattern-welded core with welded-on hardened cutting edges. Another example appears to have been made from high-quality hypoeutectoid steel possibly imported from Central Asia.
The Sæbø sword, a 9th-century type C sword found in 1825 in a barrow at Sæbø, Vikøyri, in Norway’s Sogn region. The sword is notable for its blade inscription, which has been interpreted as runic by George Stephens (1867), which would be very exceptional; while Viking Age sword hilts were sometimes incised with runes, inlaid blade inscriptions are, with this possible exception, invariably in the Latin alphabet.
One of the heaviest and longest extant swords of the Viking Age is dated to the 9th century and was found in Flå, now kept at Museum of Cultural History, Oslo, at a total length of 102.4 cm and a mass of 1.9 kg.
Sword of Saint Stephen: A 10th-century sword of Petersen type T with a walrus-tooth hilt with carved Mammen style ornaments. On display as the coronation sword of Hungarian king Saint Stephen in the Treasury of St. Vitus Cathedral, Prague.
Lincoln sword (River Witham sword): A sword dated to the 10th century, with a blade of German/Ottonian manufacture classified as a Petersen type L variant (Evison’s “Wallingford Bridge” type) and hilt fittings added by an Anglo-Saxon craftsman, was recovered from the River Witham opposite Monks Abbey, Lincoln in 1848. Peirce (1990) makes special mention of this sword as “breath-taking”, “one of the most splendid Viking swords extant”. The Lincoln sword is also remarkable for being one of only two known bearing the blade inscription Leutfrit (+ LEUTFRIT), the other being a find from Tatarstan (at the time Volga Bulgaria, now kept in the Historical Museum of Kazan). On the reverse side, the blade is inlaid with a double scroll pattern.
The Sword of Essen is a 10th-century sword preserved at Essen Abbey, decorated with gold plating at the close of the 10th century.
The Cawood sword, and the closely related Korsoygaden sword, are notable in the context of delineating “Viking Age swords” from derived high medieval types; these swords fit neatly into the “Viking sword” typology, but Oakeshott (1991) considers them derived types dating to the 12th century.
Alfred Geibig, Beiträge zur morphologischen Entwicklung des Schwertes im Mittelalter (1991).
P. Paulsen, Schwertortbänder der Wikingerzeit (1953).
Ian G. Peirce, Swords of the Viking Age, 2002.
Jan Petersen, De Norske Vikingsverd, 1919 (archive.org).