English Refugees in the Byzantine Armed Forces: The Varangian Guard and Anglo-Saxon Ethnic Consciousness

English Refugees in the Byzantine Armed Forces: The Varangian Guard and Anglo-Saxon Ethnic Consciousness

By Nicholas C.J. Pappas

Published Online (2003)

Varangian Guardsmen, an illumination from the Chronicle of John Skylitzes.

Introduction: One of the most interesting episodes in Byzantine military history and in medieval English history is the Anglo-Saxon participation and service in the Varangian Guards regiment from the late 11th to the early 13th century. In the 11th century, as a result of crises suffered by the Byzantine state (feudalization of the armed forces, civil-military conflict in the government, the loss of Asia Minor to the Seljuk Turks, the loss of Southern Italy to the Normans, etc.) the Byzantine army became increasingly dependent upon mercenary forces.

Among the troops recruited into service of the Byzantine Emperor were Anglo-Saxons, who eventually made up the main component of the traditional foreign mercenary force that guarded the person of the Emperor. The crisis in Anglo-Saxon state and society brought on by the Norman Conquest created an Anglo-Saxon emigration, part of which found refuge and employment in Byzantium. Up until the Norman conquest of England, the Varangian guards consisted chiefly of Scandinavian and Kievan Rus’ warriors. Important work has been done on the development of the Varangian guard during its others. There are a number of problems that this paper will address.

This paper will attempt to investigate the influx of English mercenaries into the Byzantine Army in the wake of the Norman Conquest of 1066. In particular it will study the changes in the elite Varangian Guards Regiment that came about by the entry of troops from England. Since the regiment up until that time consisted of Scandinavian and Kievan Rus’ troops, there is also a question as to whether there was a Norse and Russian connection to the Anglo-Saxon initiation into Byzantine service. The paper will also look into any evidence of ethnic or national consciousness among those English émigrés serving the Emperor in Constantinople from 1066 to 1204.

Click here to read this article from De Re Miltiari


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