Vikings… in Georgia?
19 February, 2015
Vikings… in Georgia?
When people hear the word “Viking” nowadays, the first association that springs to their minds is that of burly, bearded, helmeted, axe-wielding men leaping down from dragon-bowed ships and proceeding to chop everything into mincemeat. This is an image of Vikings created by popular culture – and just like everything else that goes through pop culture’s paws, it is only partially true. Indeed, Vikings were fierce warriors. However, people forget that they also were expert blacksmiths, craftsmen, seafarers, traders and,
most importantly, explorers. From the coast of North America to the Byzantine Empire, Viking merchants and mercenary bands went far and wide, looking for profit or fights.


Scriptures and rune stones left by their leader, Ingvar Vittfarne (the Far-Travelled) contain descriptions of encounters with trolls, dragons, giants and other mythical creatures.

The arrival of Vikings in Georgia, while a well-documented event, is obfuscated by their own exaggerations. Scriptures and rune stones left by their leader, Ingvar Vittfarne (the Far-Travelled) contain descriptions of encounters with trolls, dragons, giants and other mythical creatures, which make defining what actually happened in their journey quite difficult. According to Ingvar himself, he and his 3,000 men set out from Sweden through Gardariki (Kievan Rus) to Serkland. It is still not established precisely what “Serkland” stood for: some historians think that it meant Persia – a land where people wear sarks (robes), others argue that the name came from Russian “sorok” (forty) and Serkland meant “the land of forty furs,” signifying its riches. Some think that it was a bastardization of “Sakartvelo,” Georgia’s self-designation, although it is unclear how a Georgian word could have ended up so far north. geotv.ge

Upon reaching Kiev, they procured ships and continued their journey southward along the Dnepr River towards the Black Sea, reaching the city of Tmutarakan, continuing along the Georgian coast and finally reaching the heartland via the Rioni River in 1042.

Nevertheless, the Viking war band’s route is quite clear: Upon reaching Kiev, they procured ships and continued their journey southward along the Dnepr River towards the Black Sea, reaching the city of Tmutarakan, continuing along the Georgian coast and finally reaching the heartland via the Rioni River in 1042.
According to the Georgian chronicle “Kartlis Tskhovreba,” the Vikings arrived at a very tumultuous time. Back then the southeastern part of Georgia was under Arab occupation, with Emir Ali ibn-Jafar residing in Tbilisi. King of Georgia Bagrat IV, along with a powerful duke Liparit Baghvashi, conspired to attack the city and topple the emir, but much to Liparit’s dismay, his supposed ally suddenly made a peace deal with the Arab ruler. The outraged duke revolted, but his insurrection against the king ended in failure. Seething at the defeat, Liparit started preparing another revolt, this time aimed to rid Georgia of both the Arabs and the traitorous king. He was assisted in this endeavor by Byzantine Empire, which sent a sizeable force to assist him. It was approximately at this time when Ingvar arrived with his men. Lacking knowledge about the political situation in the country and tempted by Bagrat IV’s promises of a generous reward, he declared allegiance to him.

geotv.geLiparit decided to hand the surviving Vikings scythes and sickles and, as punishment for fighting against him, made them hew fields in the regions of Georgia he held sway over.

The fierce clash between royal troops and insurgents took place near the village of Sasireti, close to the modern town of Kaspi. Despite the Vikings adding their fearsome might to the king’s forces, Liparit’s insurrection proved successful, sending the royal army into full retreat and wresting power over most of the country from Bagrat IV. Many Vikings fell in the battle, but many more were captured. Liparit could not figure out what to do with them. They were clueless about the situation in the country and were essentially mercenaries, so he couldn’t persecute them for their allegiance. Enslaving or executing them also weren’t viable options, since slavery as a concept was completely alien to Georgia and executing helpless prisoners would bring massive disgrace to Liparit.

Eventually, he decided to hand the surviving Vikings scythes and sickles and, as punishment for fighting against him, made them hew fields in the regions of Georgia he held sway over. After that, they would be free to go wherever they wanted. The Vikings, surprised by the humane treatment, carried out their task in earnest. However, Ingvar died from an unknown illness, which caused his war band to split. Some headed towards Constantinople, while others headed back to Sweden.
So ended the daring journey of Vikings to Georgia. Despite their arrival failing to leave any significant mark on the country’s history, that they came as far as they did is a testament to their legendary tenacity.

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Author: Zura Amiranashvili
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