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News from a wargamer with a special interest in the military history of the Balkans. It mainly covers my current reading and wargaming projects. For more detail you can visit the web sites I edit - Balkan Military History and Glasgow & District Wargaming Society. Or follow me on Twitter @Balkan_Dave
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Saturday 7 December 2019

Eastern odyssey of the Anglo-Saxons

In this month's BBC History Magazine, Caitlin Green tells an interesting story of a journey made by post-Norman Conquest Anglo-Saxon exiles.

For Anglo-Saxon nobles, after the conquest, there were two options. Make peace with the Normans or go into exile. The story of how the exiles sailed to Constantinople and became part of the Varangian Guard is fairly well known. They set sail for the Mediterranean raiding and looting, with modern Ceuta, Majorca and Minorca amongst the targets. They arrived in Constantinople around 1075 when the Emperor took them into his personal bodyguard. One of the exiles, Hardigt, is credited with becoming commander of the imperial fleet.

So far so good, but Caitlin Green says that they then asked the Emperor for lands of their own. He offered them former Byzantine territories in the Crimea if they could conquer them. The Jatvaroar Saga says that a force led by Earl Siward did just that and called it England, with the main towns called London and York.

Many historians have dismissed this story as fanciful, but there is evidence that the Byzantines did regain control of the region around 1100. Place names in 14th-16th-century coastal charts refer to a 'Varangolimen' in the Crimea, as well as 'Londina' and 'Susaco'. Franciscan friars who passed through the region in 1246-47 say that Christian 'Saxi' defended themselves against the Tartars.

The Varangian Guard continued until at least 1204, and it has been suggested that these Crimean settlements, 'Nova Anglia', provided replacements. They weren't the only source of manpower as the guard recruited fairly widely after the initial Viking recruits.

There is no firm evidence as to how long the colony survived. However, there are references in the official records as late as the mid-14th century. The De Officiis record states that they wished the Emperor good health at Christmas, in English. That would be 300 years after their ancestors left England.

Possibly not a large enough colony to justify an army list under big battle rules, but a skirmish or two using Lion Rampant might be justified. We have little idea of how they developed over 300 years, but they would have been aware of military developments and probably allied with local tribes. The Greeks had colonies in this area in ancient times, so the concept is not that outrageous. Either way, it's a good story!

Varangian Guardsmen from my collection.


  1. interesting. I've never heard about this

  2. Fabulous. So Vlad invaded English territory in 2014!

    1. I fear the Tratars got there first, but there must be a few descendants. Send in a task force! Well we might manage a gunboat these days after defence cuts!

    2. Have we got any 'planes for that carrier yet, or are we still borrowing the neighbour's on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays?