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February 15, 2016 | Author: admin
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The Vikings, who in the Middle Ages terrified the coastal countries of Europe, did not bypass the more distant areas like the Caspian Sea. According to the medieval historian Al-Tabari, Vikings appeared in Caspian in the 7th century. Other medieval authors don't confirm it and show other dates: between the 9th and 10th centuries. Al-Masudi describes a Northmen invasion in Shirvan (eastern part of the present-day Republic of Azerbaijan) in 912-913.

The battle between the Northmen and the Shirvan fleet was described in a poem by Khagani Shirvani (1121-1199), a court poet of shirvanshah Akhsitan.

The vikings invaded Caspian were named “Rus”. They were early medieval ethnic group which gave its name to the present-day Russia and Belarus. Most of modern scholars consider them a Scandinavian people who moved southward capturing waste territories inhabited by Slavic tribes.

The principal invasion of the Rus is related with the name of Rurik, the ruler of Novgorod, and his relative Oleg (Helgi) - the great prince (konung) of Varangians, who captured Kiev founding the Kievan Rus state ruled by the Scandinavian Rurik dynasty in 882 AD. They were the same Rus who started to attack the shores of Caspian in the 9th AD.

The first significant invasion of the Rus occurred in 880 A.D. when they attacked the Abeskun Island which is situated on the Southern shores of Caspian nearby in the Astarabad Gulf. However, they were defeated in the battle with the local ruler Hasan ibn Zeyd.

In 909, they again attacked Abeskun Island with 16 ships. Then, in 910, the Rus undertook a new invasion, but were overwhelmed by the fleet of shirvanshah Ali Ibn Khaisam, the ruler (shah) of the Shirvan state which existed in 9th-16th AD on the territory of the present-day Republic of Azerbaijan.

The greatest attack of the Rus in this period occurred in 913-914. According to medieval chronicles their fleet consisted of 500 ships having 100 warriors each. As we already noted above, this information is absolutely unreal, fantastic exaggeration. In fact, there might be only a few thousands warriors. During this expedition, the Rus made a raid on the Southern coast of the Caspian and continued to undertake rivers along the Shirvan coast and, perhaps, landed on the Boyuk Zira Island. Shirvanshah Ali Ibn Haysam along with his army approached these islands nearby Baku. However, the Rus who had more sophisticated vessels could overwhelm the Shirvan troops and killed and drowned thousands of them.

The next great voyage was of the Vikings to the Caspian which occurred in 943-944 and was described in such sources as “The Book of Examining of the People”, “Geographical Dictionary” by Yakut Hamavi, “Chronography” by Abu Faraj,“History” by Abu al-Fada, “The Chronicle” by Ibn al-Asir, as well as by the poet Nizami Ganjavi.

The Rus reached the delta of the Kur River and anchored their ships along the river. Soon, they approached the Mubaraki village near the city of Barda and established a base for their ships here. However, the Rus could not stay in Barda. After several bloody battles with Marzuban Ibn Muhammad of the Salarid Dynasty, at which time, the Rus lost many warriors and after epidemia in their camp, the Rus left Barda in haste. The next attempt was made by the Rus in 958, when they arrived in 18 vessels in the Kur delta. As a result of strong resistance by the local people, the Rus could not stay here for a long time.

After several decades, the Rus again came to the Caspian. In 38 ships they undertook a raid on Shirvan. Shirvanshah Manuchehr (1027-1034) met them with his army near Baku. As a result of severe battle, the Shirvan army lost many soldiers and the Rus sailed up the Kur River and reached the Araz River. The shirvanshah tried to stop the movement of the Rus by closing off Araz by special dam, but it didn’t work. Nevertheless, the resistance of Shirvanis prevented the Ruses from moving along the Araz. However, the ruler of Ganja, Musa Ibn Fadl Shaddadid hired the Rus and used them to stop the uprising in the city of Beylagan. After this, the Rus left the territory of Aran and went to Byzantium and then returned to their native land.

In 1031, the Rus again appeared near Baku, but this time they were defeated by the ruler of Aran Abulfat Musa ibn Fadl and most of them were killed. In 1032, the united military forces of the Rus, Savirs and Alans attacked Shirvan, but while returning back they were attacked by Mansur, the ruler of the Darband city. Only a small detachment of Alans were able to escape.

Especially great was the victory of the Shirvan navy in 1175 AD when the Shirvan fleet overwhelmed the fleet of the Rus nearby the Sara Island in the vicinity of Baku. Most of the Rus were killed and their vessels sunk. The poet Khagani Shirvani describes the victory of the shirvanshah Akhsitan I with such words:

"Your victory on the troops of Ruses opened a new era,

For those who are high like Heavens (i.e., kings),

One of your arrows like an arrow of the prophet Khidr,

Completely overwhelmed the 73 enemy ships".

It was the last documented raid of the Rus to Caspian and they never tried to attack Southern Caucasus again.

As to the Rus attacking shores of Caspian, there are various theories about their origin in modern historiography. However, we know precisely who the Ruses in Kiev were in the 9th AD. Undoubtedly, they were Norsemen under the rule of the Scandinavian Ruruk dynasty. The signatories of the Rus chiefs of this period have indoubtably a Scandinavian name – “We, who are of the Rus origin: Karl, Ingelot, Farlav, Veremid, Rulav, Gudi, Raul, Karn, Flelav, Ruar, Aktutruyan, Lidulfost, Stemid”. Therefore in this period the Rus in Kiev were Scandinavians.

So, the early invasions in the Caspian (880, 913- 914 AD) were undertaken by the Scandinavian warriors, the Vikings. However, during companies of 943-944 and 1031, the Rus military forces had a multiethnic composition. Their army included the Scandinavian and Slavic warriors and the Turkic cavalry (Kipchaks, Khazars and Savirs).

Over time, the Scandinavians in Kiev were completely assimilated by Slavs. The Slavic warriors adopted the Scandinavian self-naming “Rus” and continued to use Viking helmets, shields, battle axes and chain arms. However, they were Slavs and spoke Slavic. These Slavic Rus (the ancestors of Russians and Ukrainians) together with the Nomadic Turkic tribes and war-like peoples of the North Caucasus undertook the military companies to the shores of Caspian in 1175 AD. Therefore, we must distinguish between:

(1) the early Rus - Scandinavians (the 9th-10th AD);

(2) the middle Rus - the united military forces of Vikings, Slavs and Turks (the 10th-11th AD)

(3) and the late Rus - the Slavic people in Kievan Rus (the 12th AD).

Existence of the Rus as a separate Scandinavian community in Kiev did not continue past 1050 at the latest. Vikings or “Variags” (i.e. Varangians) as they were called in Slavic, merged with the local Slavic population. Chieftains married daughters of nobles, while "druzhyna" (footmen, small army in Slavic) blended with freemen, so that by beginning of 1000s, only names remained as reminders of Variags presence.

Farid Alakbarli. On Presence of Vikings in Caspian.