Excerpt from =
History of Sweden
Chapter three = “The Viking Age”

The electronic source does not identify the author, but with the help of Professor Gant Gurley and student Don Stirewalt
we are able to say that this text is extracted from
Victor Alfred Nilsson's Sweden, chapter 3 (1899) [TXT]

SAC editor has modernized the spelling of certain key terms
boldface highlights text of greatest relevance to our course
hypertext links identify and expand on certain key references

Before turning to the 1899 text itself, it is important to clarify some potential terminological confusion. An established cornerstone of the modern mindset causes this confusion = the presumption that national identity is nearly eternal, place-rooted, stable and heroic.

Nilsson describes “Teutons”, and he has in mind a taxonomic category of the early medieval, pre-nation-state European population. This expression suggests a 12th-century Germanic military/monastic order generally called the Teutonic Knights [ID]. These Knights, however, come into view four centuries after the tale told here. It appears that the author uses the morpheme Teuton or Teutonic in a more generic sense and in places where most historians would use the terms “Goth” or “Gothic” [ID].

The English designation “Teuton” linguistically morphs into the contemporary German term “Deutsch” [German]. But in our time there are “German” people (EG=citizens of the nation-state Deutschland) and “Germanic” peoples (EG=citizens of the nation-state “Ostreich” [Austria], or of Norway, Denmark and Sweden).

Teuton or Teutonic here means something broader than registration in one nation-state. “Teuton” here carries the sense of “Germanic”. It can be said to have grouping relationship to certain distinguishable populations very much as “Slavic” has a grouping relationship to others. Germanic and Slavic are generalizing terms that collect together a variety of people whose languages (this the central identifying trait) bear some close proximity to one another. For example, Norwegian, Danish, Dutch, Swedish, English and, of course, German are “Germanic”, while Polish, Czech, Serbo-Croatian, Bulgarian, Ukrainian, Belarusian and Russian are “Slavic”.

Check this map of European language groups as of ca. 1800

In 1899, the year this text was published, two influential trans-nation-state concepts were linked with narrow, chauvinistic nation-statism to shape increasingly violence-prone European international relations = pan-Germanism and pan-Slavism. Generally, these two concepts suggested that “Germans” and “Slavs” should organize themselves (or be organized), maybe in one case under Deutschland and in the other under the Russian Empire. These pan-Germanistic and pan-Slavistic movements were a regional step above but closely linked to the taxonomic level of nation-statism, and they often showed very scant acknowledgment of minority peoples who might be drawn into such culturo-linguistic unities.

The northern-most “Germanic” peoples are Norwegians, Danes and Swedes. These are often grouped together at an intervening taxonomic level as “Scandinavians” or “Nordic” peoples, terms which grant a certain junior status to Finnish peoples and even snuggles up close to the Estonian, Latvian and Lithuanian peoples. None of the last four peoples can be called “Teutonic” or “Germanic”, yet the need is great in the post-tribal phase of human history, and especially in the era of nation-statism, to find effective grouping and dividing concepts. It is no surprise that this final, romping, late-19th-century period of European Imperialism was a strongly racist phase of European cultural history [EG].

The text that follows describes the “heroic” centuries in which all these “Germanic” folk came into identifiable existence in a boiling stewpot of wandering “tribal” peoples. Still, looking back at this era, the author feels a strong impulse to see his own taxonomic group not only as “heroic” but also eternal and immutable. Thus this author's use of the expression “Sweden” is anachronistic, more than 200 years premature [W].

And he uses the term “Sweden” in a very ambitious fashion. What an astonishing thing we Russian historians discover here = In the view of this 1899 text by Nilsson, what we call the earliest history of Russia is taken to be the early history of Sweden. Could it be that in the late-Imperialist, pre-WW1 phase of European history, this text might also have functioned as an expansionist vision of a Swedish future. Deal with it. How does Riasanovsky deal with what is called “The Norman Theory” of earliest Russian history? [More on Norman or Normanist Theory] Is it possible to “steal” someone’s history?

The text before us here presents the “Viking” era in a very grand historical context, a northern migration equal in impact to the powerful western (Visigothic) and eastern (Ostrogothic) migrations.



"IN the North there is a great ocean, and in this ocean there is a large island called Scandza, out of whose loins our race burst forth like a swarm of bees and spread over Europe." These were the words the Gothic historian Jordanes [ID] put on parchment, inspired by the popular traditions of a Teutonic migration from the North. Historic evidence is lacking to prove or disprove the truth of these words. But they may be applied to the phenomenon which has given its name to the Viking Age.

The Viking expeditions seem to stand in connection with the great Teutonic [IE=Gothic] migrations, at least to be related to them in nature. The Teutons of the North were not directly affected by the migrations [of Visigoths or Ostrogoths], but at the close of the eighth century the same restlessness and desire of expansion appear to have taken possession of the Northmen as in earlier times of their relatives [those Goths] in more southerly lands. And it was a timely move, for the energy and strength with which these [earlier Teutons] had in their time suffused Europe were dying out. Europe was in need of new blood and iron to wake her from her anæmia and to build up new institutions [ID phrase “blood and iron”]. The North was freed from a turbulent and lawless element and was brought in closer contact than ever before with the learning and culture of the world. For centuries the Northmen had through their southern kinsmen [NB!] been in contact with continental culture. But now they came out to see for themselves, to make themselves a place in a wider and richer world, or to bring home from there what they most desired of beauty, riches and culture. They were not delicate as to means. Violence was with them as natural as their freedom of individuality was indispensable. Yet they were to play a most important part in the cultural development of Europe, furnishing her with institutions of imperishable iron and changing the darkness of the Middle Ages into an era of chivalry in spirit and in deeds.

The Viking expeditions were always undertaken by free men, and were in the North, from remotest times, considered not only an honest but an honorable occupation. Slaves and freed men were excluded. The leaders -- often kings [kuningaz, which morphed into the Russian kniaz' and is best translated as “prince”] or their sons -- were always men of noble descent or of importance. As the Viking expeditions took on larger proportions, they became more and more organized; from random expeditions, undertaken by individuals, they developed into national undertakings, led by the king or his chieftains, not for a pastime, but in completion of a national policy. On account of this latest aspect, it is but just to divide the field in which the Northmen were active according to their respective nationalities. With such a division applied, the Viking expeditions to the West, to Britain, France, Portugal and Spain do not pertain to Swedish history, for they were planned and undertaken principally by Danes and Norwegians. It is true that there were many Swedish participants also in these expeditions, as the sagas and the memorial stones on Swedish soil tell us; also true that some of the later Swedish provinces, like Bohuslaen and Scania, sent out their large contingents of Vikings and sea-kings to the West, and that one of the oldest Swedish homes of culture, West Gothland, had an appropriate channel to the West, by way of the mighty Gotha River, through which without doubt many a Viking expedition was sent; yet the leaders were in a majority of cases Danish or Norwegian chieftains. For similar reasons the Vi-king expeditions to the East belong by right to Swedish history. In them the participants and chieftains were Swedes, to an overwhelming majority, and, from time immemorial, Swedish districts from which the expeditions were started.

To Russia the Swedes first went on marauding expeditions; but after the countries of the North had been shaped into three large monarchies, they came to Russia upon special invitation, in order to found there a realm of strong and consistent government. This becomes evident from the testimony of the Russian historian Nestor, a monk in Kiev, who lived in the latter part of the eleventh century [ID]. About the founding of the Russian empire by the Swedes [Variagi?] he has the following remarkable statements:

[GO SAC TXT for more acceptable translation of the Chronicle text cited in this place]

That the Variagi were of Swedish descent [IE=that Variagi emerged from a matrix of pre-existing Sweden], and that it was they who gave the name of Russia to the Slav countries, is proved beyond the possibility of a doubt. A most weighty argument is the large number of Swedish names in the list of Variag princes who reigned in Russia. It would not have been possible for Nestor to devise the more than one hundred leading names of Swedish origin which occur in his chronicle. Furthermore, it has been shown that there are fifteen Swedish loanwords in Russian. This is very much. Great and powerful nations have left behind a good deal less in modern languages, the Vandals three words, the Burgundians four or five, the Herulians one. Although the Swedes in Russia had no literature in their ancestral language, they have left behind more words than the majority of Teutonic tribes founding states and nations. The Old Swedish equivalents to some of the most important proper names which meet us in early Russian history are as follows : Rurik=Hroerekr, Sineus=Signjôtr, Truvor=Tryggve, Oleg=Helge, Olga=Helga, Igor= Inge, Ingvar.

For two hundred years after Rurik [maybe just one hundred, CF=912:945], all the leading men in Russian history carry Swedish names, and all the tsars of Russia were the descendants of Rurik, up to the year 1598 [ID]. The emperor and historian Constantine Porphyrogenitus, speaking of Russia, makes the distinction between the Slavs and the Russians proper [ID]. In his description of the cataracts of the Dnepr, he gives to each the Russian and the Slav name, and these Russian names are nearly all understood by reference to old Swedish roots. Examples are Gellandri (Gellandi)=the Noisy, Eyfôrr=the Always Turbulent. Luitprand, the Italian chronicler, speaking of the Russians, says : "The Greeks call them Russians, we call them properly Northmen. The annals of St. Bertinus [ID] tell how Emperor Theophilus recommended some Russian envoys to Louis le Débonnaire, but how he, taking them for Norman spies, threw them into prison. The first Russian Code of Laws, compiled by Yaroslav [ID], presents a striking analogy to the Old Swedish laws.

[NB! the following paragraph seems somehow disordered and in a confused relationship to the rest of the argument here.] The Slavs must have originally borrowed the name Russian from the Finns, who, up to the present day, call the Swedes Ruotsi. The name is in Sweden connected with a part of the coast of Upland still called Roslagen. The etymology of the name is Old Swedish rodr (rudder) and rodsmenn (oarsmen). Roslagen means "associations of oarsmen." The district is famous for its large peculiar rowboats. By the term Russians, the Slavs originally meant people from Roslagen, later Sweden in general. But when these Russians had become the founders of a new empire, south of the Baltic, it became necessary to devise a new name for the inhabitants of Sweden. This name was found in Variagi. Only the Swedes seeking employment as sworn warriors in the service of the new Russian dynasty, or in the bodyguard of the Byzantine emperors [ID], were originally thus called. But when the name of the new nation of Swedes and Slavs became Russians, the Swedes, and the Scandinavians in general, became known as Variagi. The etymology of the word has been given as the Old Swedish var (sacramentum) and voeringar (sacrarnentarii, soldiers bound by oath). The same name applied to Swedes, or Northmen, occurs frequently in slightly altered forms in Greek and Arabic manuscripts.

While Rurik and his brothers were building towns, which probably means the fortifying of ancient villages, two other Variagi, Askold and Dir, who were not of the family of Rurik, went down to Kiev, and reigned over the Poliane. It was they who began the expeditions against Byzantium in 865 [ID]. In speaking of this, Nestor calls the Bosphorus Sud, an Old Swedish word meaning a sound. The Bosphorus is also called Sud on a Swedish memorial stone over a man who was killed in a similar expedition.

Oleg, the fourth brother of Rurik, was his successor, his son Igor being yet a minor. He was an energetic man and a great administrator [ID].

Smolensk, Liubech and Kiev were captured, and Askold and Dir put to death. Between the years 879-912, Oleg organized the Russian empire. For the sake of commerce, he tried to preserve peace with the Greeks, but when difficulties arose he called in new armies from Sweden and great expeditions started against Byzantium. But these Variagi were an unruly element, and, in order to satisfy their desire for war and booty, the Russian rulers always let a plundering expedition to the Caspian Sea follow every unsuccessful attack upon Byzantium; also when war with the Greeks was avoided through decrees of peace, expeditions to the Caspian Sea took place.

These expeditions against the Arabs, who inhabited the coasts of the Caspian Sea, were neither in any marked degree successful. Masudi is the first author among the Arabs who mentions the expeditions of the Swedes [ID]. They came down the river Volga in their ships. The Arabs describe the "Rûs" as blond and "tall as palm-trees." The burial of a Rûs is described by Ibn Fahdlan, who visited Bolgar lands in 921 [ID]. "The hero was burned in a ship with weapons, horses, dogs and a woman." In 965, the Israelite, Ibrahim Ibn Jakub, made a journey to Germany. He tells that the Arabs in his day with Rûs (Russians) meant partly the Swedes of Sweden, "who often came in ships from the West to plunder," partly the Swedes settled in Russia, "who speak the language of the Slavs, on account of admixture with them."

It was the destiny of the Swedes in Russia to exchange their language for that of the Slavs and finally to absorb Slav customs. Such might not have been the case if they had been greater in numbers, or if their coming had been deferred to a later, Christian period, when to a strong form of government would have been added a strong Church organization. Yet their influence was greater than that of the Vikings in any other country, for the Russian empire was entirely a Northern creation.

To follow further the Rurik dynasty would lead us away from Swedish into Russian history. But let us mention that Oleg was succeeded by Rurik's son Igor, who also was a great warlord, and undertook the third expedition of Russians and Variagi against Byzantium. His widow was the celebrated Olga, who was converted to Christianity and afterward canonized [ID]. She reigned during the minority of her son Sviatoslav, whose conversion she was never able to effect [ID]. Sviatoslav's son and grandson, Saint Vladimir [ID] and Yaroslav the Great [ID], were the Clovis and the Charlemagne [ID] of Russia.

[And might a Slavic chauvinist say that Clovis and Charlemagne were the Vladimir and Yaroslav of “The West”]

After the conquest of Kiev, Oleg commanded a tribute to be paid to the Variagi "for the preservation of peace." This tribute to the Swedes was paid up to the death of Yaroslav, who in 1019 gave assurance to the king of Upsala that it should be paid regularly, Vladimir having neglected to do so. This tribute could be nothing else than a scatt [tribute] paid to the king of Sweden by the rulers of Russia during the ninth and tenth centuries. Sweden possessed in those days a large territory south of the Baltic, which paid scatt to the king of Upsala. It was called Austria (Austerike), and reference to it under this name is often made in sagas, chronicles and inscriptions. Ynglinga Saga gives incidents of close Swedish connections to Finland and the Baltic provinces, and archæological finds point to Swedish settlements in Finland, already in the prehistoric period. Memories of conquests are preserved in statements by the Icelanders and by Saxo, the Danish historian, about the Austria of which the Swedish kings Ivar Vidfamne, Harald Hiidetand, "Sigurd" Ring and Ragnar "Lodbrok" were rulers.

Closest to an exact statement comes Snorre, who says that King Eric Edmundson of Sweden ruled over Finland, Kareliia, Estonia, Courland and "wide over all Austria." These countries belonged to Sweden until King Olof Skoetkonung "let all his scattlands [tribute-paying subordinates] get away from him." The chronicler Rimbert says that Courland, by which he means the Baltic provinces, in 850 belonged to Sweden. Shortly after this date fall, according to Nestor, those of the first Swedish contact with interior Russia (859) and of the founding of the Russian empire by Rurik (862). The Swedish dominion in the Baltic provinces, as well as the early Russian empire, must consequently have held a position similar to the one of Normandy to France and England [ID].

The old Swedish name for Russia was Gardarike, for Novgorod Holmgard and for Byzantium Miklagard, which mean "Country of towns," "Island town," and "Great town," respectively.

Vladimir of Russia, in 980, sent a number of Variagi to the emperor [ID]. But already the emperors had probably surrounded themselves with a small standing army of Variagi or Barangoi, as they were called by the Greeks. They were treated with a good deal of respect and consideration, and in the North it was considered a distinction to have served in Miklagard, which even the sons of kings eagerly sought for. Soon not only Swedes, but also Norwegians, Danes and Icelanders were attracted, and Icelandic sources have a good many, in part wildly exaggerated, accounts of the Variagi and their experiences in Miklagard. The Northmen were relied upon to support the tottering empire, and were dispatched to the points where the hardest combats were fought. They had officers of their own nationality, and the strictest discipline was maintained.

About the year 1050 a detachment of Variagi were accepted into the bodyguard of the emperor, surrounding his person on all great occasions and in public ; also keeping watch over the imperial palace. When the emperor died, they had, according to Snorre, the privilege of passing through his treasury, each taking along all he could carry off. Another privilege of theirs was that they were allowed to keep their heathen faith in the midst of the Christian surroundings.