Visual material evidence of Viking presence in the Balkans
By Konstantin Kolev Jr.
Hiperboreea Journal, Vol.2:1 (2015)
Abstract: The Swedish and Norwegian Vikings were present in the Balkans including in Bulgaria. The archaeological and visual materials found on the Romanian, Bulgarian and Turkish territory support this statement. The majority of the objects constitute parts of weapons and tools related to the Scandinavian warfare. Most of these artifacts were discovered in North East of Bulgaria close to the Romanian border. They can be attributed to the Rus princes (father and son): Igor I (912-945) and Svyatoslav I Igorevich (942-972) who passed by the Bulgarian lands in the 10-th century and the Norwegian prince Harald who supported the Byzantine Empire to cause the downfall of the First Bulgarian kingdom at the beginning of the next century. Despite this sorrowful reputation, though, the Viking material culture in Bulgaria, Romania and Istanbul gives evidence to the multicultural mosaic of our region. It also enriches the Balkan history and culture. Therefore, the purpose of this article is to outline the Viking objects discovered in the Balkans.
Introduction: The Swedish Vikings, who are known as “Varangians” mostly in Byzantine sources, were present in the Balkans. They first carried out their military and trading campaigns from Scandinavia to the territories of European Russia, Ukraine and reached the Balkans. A party of Norwegian Vikings called normen led by the Norwegian prince Sverkel directly interfered in the Bulgarian history by helping the Byzantine Empire defeat the Bulgarian troops and put an end to the First Bulgarian Kingdom at the beginning of the tenth century. Scandinavian warriors took part in the Crusades in the 11-th and 12-th centuries.
The contacts of the Scandinavians with the Eastern Europe and more specifically with the Balkans are abundantly investigated in the Russian and Swedish historiography. However, their availability is quite vague and scanty in Bulgarian research. Few discussions have been carried out by Bulgarian scholars on the presence of Vikings in the Balkans. What is known about the Scandinavian presence in the Balkans is as follows. Firstly, Scandinavians led by the aforementioned Rus Princes Igor I and Sviatoslav invaded the Bulgarian lands through Danube in the end of the first half and the the second half of the 10-th century. Secondly, they contributed to the collapse of the First Bulgarian kingdom supporting the Byzantine emperor Basil II (the Slayer of Bulgarians) (958-1025). Thirdly, they crashed all attempts of Bulgarian rebellions against the Byzantine rule (11-13 century) such as the one organized by Peter Delyan in 1040-1041. Finally, they took part in the Crusades.
However, the other hand, the cultural and historical relations between Scandinavians and the Balkans in the Middle Ages are not reflected solely on historical narrative. They remain available in material-visual artifacts found mostly in North East Bulgaria.