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The Vikings in…Georgia?

Chasaren

No, the Vikings did not venture as far as the southern state of Georgia in the United States. Georgia in this case refers to the country of Georgia on the coast of the Black Sea, wedged between the countries of Russia and Azerbaijan. Still, when one thinks of this small country and its history, the Vikings are not the first historical theme to come to mind. Nevertheless, the Vikings had a great deal to do with the development of the nation-state that would become Georgia, as well as the political landscape of the entire Eastern Caucasus region, including the Caspian Sea.

Varangian_routes

Varangian trade routes Circa 9th Century. Click to expand.

As early as the mid 9th Century, Viking explorers known as the Rus (also known as the Varangians) sailed up the Volga and Dnieper rivers toward the East. They established numerous trade routes from Sweden to Byzantium (Turkey), and even to the Caliphates in the Middle East. One of their trade routes took them directly through lands situated in modern day Georgia. At first, these foreign explorers were well received for their lucrative trade goods, including furs, wax, tusks, amber, among other things, but this did not last long. Ambitious leaders of the Rus who required wealth to maintain legitimacy with their followers began to plunder the lands of the Slavs and the Khazars, rather than trade.

Georgia at this time was occupied by the large and influential empire, the Khazars, whose rapid expansion in the 7th and 8th centuries created friction with their neighbors, the Byzantines. The arrival of the Rus raiding expeditions initially unified the rulers of these two empires to repel them, but despite their early successes, their inability to see eye to eye created renewed conflicts, which allowed the Rus to sail unchallenged through most of the Khazar Empire. Because the Rus were so successful in raiding and plundering the lands of the Khazars, the empire began to lose integrity. Small kingdoms under their dominion rose up out of fear that their overlords were powerless to stop the Rus.

Chasaren

Khazar Empire up to 850 A.D. Click to expand.

To abate this loss of control, the leaders of the Khazars fragmented their empire and placed friendly monarchs on the thrones of each territory. Thus in 888 A.D., as the Vikings were sacking the capitals of Europe, a new monarchy emerged in Georgia: the Bagrationi Dynasty. The politically fragmented empire of the Khazars then came under attack from other nomadic peoples from the East, called the Seljiuks. The combined pressures of both fronts, against the Rus and the Seljiuk tribes, caused a complete collapse by the 11th Century. Once the empire of the Khazars effectively disappeared, the Bagrationi dynasty was able to establish autonomy from the Byzantines as well as the Seljiuk tribes for a two century period in what is considered a “Golden Age” for Georgia.

Unfortunately, a new menace led to the Bagrationi Dynasty’s demise. The Mongol invasions in the early 13th Century saw the utter obliteration of the kingdom.

Sources:

Montgomery-Massingberd, Hugh (1980). Burke’s Royal Families of the World: Volume II Africa & the Middle East.

Moss, Walter (2002). A History of Russia: To 1917. Anthem Russian and Slavonic studies. Anthem Press.

Noonan, Thomas S. (1999). European Russia c500-c1050. The New Cambridge Medieval History: Volume 3, C.900-c.1024. Cambridge University Press.

Shepard, Jonathan (2006). Closer Encounters with the Byzantine World: The Rus at the Straits of Kerch. Cambridge University Press.

Verlag, Otto Harrassowitz. Pre-modern Russia and its world: Essays in Honour of Thomas S. Noonan. Cambridge University Press.

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This Post Has 3 Comments
  1. […] The Balkans — The Rus travelled as far as Constantinople, and many stayed there to father children…lots and lots of children. There is a very slight genetic pool from Scandianvia in the Balkans today, but it is fairly limited. The Rus are also thought to have traveled as far as Baghdad and what is now Georgia. […]

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