Dec 092012

Shepard (2008: 496, 497, 503) on a storied title:

The Khazars’ power could hardly have failed to make an impression on those from the Nordic world who joined with indigenous populations of the eastern lands in a common quest for silver, and in fact the head of their first recorded polity to the east of the Baltic sported the same title as that of the Khazar ruler, chaganus or kagan. The Khazars probably supplied the inspiration for authority-symbols and customs, including that of setting a more or less sacral figurehead at the polity’s head. As with the Khazars, this totem-like overlord (reportedly residing on an immense bed-cum-throne) acted in tandem with a military commander who handled earthly affairs in the later ninth and early tenth centuries (Lewicki 1985: 75-6; Montgomery 2000: 21-2; Golden 1982: 45-50, 52-3; Golden 2006).

[...] Later in the [ninth] century, the well-informed Abbasid director of posts and intelligence Ibn Khurradadhbeh noted that northern traders brought furs and swords down to the Black Sea coast and paid customs duties to the Byzantines, probably at Cherson in the Crimea (Lewicki 1956: 76-7). He terms them ‘Rūs’, and in fact persons ‘stating that they, that is their people (gens), were called Rhōs’ were already at the Byzantine emperor’s court by 838. Reportedly, their ‘king called chaganus’ had sent them ‘for the sake of friendship’.

[...] [Sviatoslav] also sought conspicuously to align himself with the peoples of the steppes. A Byzantine eyewitness account and the Rus Primary Chronicle agree that Sviatoslav took on the hair- and lifestyle of a Eurasian steppe chieftain: his scalp was shaven save for one long strand of hair, denoting nobility of birth, and a ring was in one ear; life in the saddle was his delight, ‘making many wars’ and sleeping beneath the open sky.

Mikkelsen (2008: 543-544) on Norse Muslims in Volga Bulgaria and the challenges of Islamic orthopraxis in the far north:

The most famous Arabic source concerning the descriptions of the Vikings is Ibn Fadlan who wrote an account of a journey from Baghdad to the Volga Bulgars in 921-2. His main task was to spread the Muslim faith to this people (Wikander 1978). He tells that he saw among these people 5,000 men and women, who had all converted to Islam. They were called al-baringâr, which is interpreted as an Arabic rendering of the Old Norse name vœringar, another name for Vikings (Lewicki 1972: 12; Wikander 1978: 21). Ibn Fadlan built a mosque of wood for them to perform Islamic service and he taught them to pray. There are some difficulties in interpreting this part of the Arabic source (ibid.). It is, however, interesting if Vikings really were converted to Islam in Volga Bulgar, although the number of converted is probably highly overstated.

[...] Amin Râzi, describing Rûs among the Volga Bulgars, says that they highly valued pork. Even those who had converted to Islam aspired to it and were very fond of pork (Wikander 1978: 73). [...] The Spanish Arab Abu Hamid who visited Bulgar in the twelfth century complained that it was very cold and there were only four-hour days during winter and twenty-hour days in summer. When he visited Bulgar, Ramadan — the Muslim’s month of fasting — came in summer. As the fasting is set to last all day when the sun is shining, Abu Hamid admitted he had to abstain from fasting (Wikander 1978: 78-9).

Works Cited:

Mikkelsen, E. (2008). The Vikings and Islam. In Brink, S., & Price, N. (Eds.). The Viking World, 543-549. Routledge: Abingdon and New York.

Shepard, J. (2008). The Viking Rus and Byzantium. In Brink, S., & Price, N. (Eds.). The Viking World, 496-516. Routledge: Abingdon and New York.

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