Varangian Guard. Viking Chiefs 5th Century.

Original Viking Costume of the Varangian Guard. Viking Chiefs armor and weapons. 5th Century.

Varangian Guard. Byzantine Empire.

The Varangian Guard

At the end of the tenth century the Varangian Guard, an Imperial bodyguard, were a conspicuous, picturesque, and useful adjunct to the Byzantine Court. They were recruited from the most perfect specimens of manhood found in Scandinavia.

Previous to this date (980), they were serving the chief of their kinsmen, the Ruotsl (Slav: Rüs = Russians), but this chief or prince of the Russians, Vladimir the Great (980-1015), finding them somewhat self-assertive, suggested his neighbour Basil II. that they should be taken into his employ — a proposal which he adopted. The Varangian Guard were bound by oath (“vár” = Scandinavian for “oath “) to the emperor’s service, and were in constant personal attendance on all occasions, ceremonial or domestic. They remained loyal to the reigning emperor, and upheld the Byzantine throne to the bitter end.

Viking of the Varangian Guard (and for Viking Chiefs from the Fifth Century onwards).

His outfit consists of a tunic called the “kyrtil,” of the same shape as the colobium. Over this is probably a shorter one of skin called a “hjup,” and on top the coat of mail, “brynja,” made of leather and covered with metal plates or iron rings sewn close together. Over this again several metal ornaments are placed, and the sword-belt is slung over the right shoulder. A large skin hangs from the shoulders. The legs are covered with bracco (Scandinavian: “braekr”) cross-gartered all the way up the leg, and shoes of leather of primitive make are worn on the feet. The helmet, “hjalm”, is of iron, with very large bull’s horns — a decoration much affected by Teutonic peoples — attached to it, and flanges on each side of the face. The most important men had helmets of gold. Long fair hair fell from under this helmet, and long beards and moustaches were worn. The shield was sometimes round, and sometimes as shown in the illustration, made of wood covered with leather, braced with a rim, and furnished with a boss of iron or bronze. It was decorated in a fantastic manner. Weapons carried were: (i.) The spear, the iron head often being richly ornamented, and inlaid with gold and silver. The shaft, made of ash, was eleven feet long and rarely exceeded one inch in diameter, (ii.) The axe, a very formidable weapon with a heavy double-bladed head, was slung from the belt or carried in the hand, (iii.) A sword of iron, with an elaborate hilt of iron, bronze or gold, inlaid with stones or ivory, and richly engraved, was carried in a scabbard of wood covered with skin, and bound with leather and metal studs.

Related:
(Military, Roman, Byzantine, Levante fashion history)




  1. Assyrian and Babylonian culture and fashion.
  2. Egyptian costume history.
  3. Minoan costume history.
  4. The Amazons.
  5. Ancient Roman costume history. B.C. 53 to A.D. 450..
  6. Ancient Costumes of the Persians and other Asiatics.
  7. Ancient Costume History of Egyptian, Greek, Roman and others.
  8. The Roman Tunica or Greek Chiton.
  9. The Roman Paenula. The cowl or hood.
  10. The Toga and the manner of wearing it.
  11. The Gallic and Gallo-Roman costume period.
  12. The shields of the Gauls. Clans in the Roman Empire.
  13. The Barbarian Invasions. The Migration Period in Europe, 395-527 A. D.
  14. Roman legionary in full armor.
  15. Roman Britain. Maps, Places, Tribes. Historical atlas.
  16. Celt and Roman. History of England 43 BC to 440 AD.
  17. Gallic and Gallo-Roman helmets of Celtic warriors.
  18. The Roman Paenula. The cowl or hood.
  19. Roman, Greece and Egypt. The Corset and the Crinolin fashion history.
  20. Frankish Merovingian costume history. 4th and 5th century.
  21. Byzantine costume history. 5th to 6th century.
  22. The Carolingian fashion period 752-987. Reign of Charlemagne.
  23. The Carolingian Fashion Period 987 to 1270.
  24. Europe in the time of Charles the Great 768 – 814. Maps and Places.
  25. Alfred the Great. The first English king.
  26. King Harold II. Last Anglo-Saxon king of England.
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