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BYZANTINE BEAR BROOCH AND ARTIFACT GROUP
The artifact shown in IMAGES No. 1 is a Byzantine 11th to 12th C. AD inlaid bronze brooch. The style of the brooch is different from what is usually seen in Byzantine pieces, as it shows Celtic, Frankish French, Norman, Rus, Nordic and perhaps even Pictish influences. The style of this cross is somewhat similar to a couple of the 8th C. Pictish crosses seen at Aberlemno in the Angus region of Scotland. The brooch’s cross is shaped like a Greek cross, and is in the form of a monastery excavated at the site of St. George Mangana of Constantinople by the French archeologists M. E. Mamboury and M. R. Demangel in the 1920's. That is, a cross and square; a center dome with a small tower on each cross arm. There are four rings which resemble the four rings as seen on Melgorian denier coins from 1125 to 1215 from the Maguelonne Languedoc regions of Southern France. Those coins were discontinued in 1215 as a result of the Albigensian Crusade against the Cathars. The four rings also resemble the Frankish castle denier coins and Frankish Crusader States denier castle coins as seen on this Guy II de La Roche Duchy Of Athens denier in IMAGE No. 2 (Note that although the four circles were supposed to represent the front of a church, the people called them castles). These coins were in use from the 10th to 15th C. AD, while these particular rings on the brooch individually also resemble ancient Celtic ring money. The appliqué that is shown in IMAGE No. 3 is of a silvered bronze head with hair that appears as a torc, perhaps also symbolizing a pair of bowed arms flexing The four rings which are the circular eyes and circular torc (or hair) terminals could represent a Celtic earth goddess of the torc. This type of torc form with a head is similar in style to a gold Bendis pendant shown on the romanofficer.com website. The culture of origin of this piece is unclear as it could be from the Thracian, Roman, Migration, or even Viking periods. It is also unclear if the image was meant to be of a goddess, a god, or a hero. The entire outline of the brooch forms a bear's head. When turned sideways in either direction or upside down, it also shows smaller, wider bears’ heads (that appear more as bear cub heads) for a total of four bears’ heads. The cross was inlaid with red coral beginning from the top of the bear's snout. In the center there is a hole with a bronze ring which has what appears to be the residue of a pearl. Around the center hole there are four small round yellow coral inlays in the shape of a cross or diamond. On the three arms of the cross with the coral inlays there is a smaller circle appliqué and then a larger circle appliqué made of mother of pearl. On the two top bronze rings between the cross and the rings there are billet shaped inlays that alternate with obsidian and mother of pearl for a total of nine billets on each of the four semicircles. Some of the obsidian billets are missing or chipped. The two bottom bronze rings have billets totaling six each; both have under the billets a longer inlay type billet also in mother of pearl. The circle pommel on top of the cross has red coral inlay. The red coral on the cross has a total of ten circles including the yellow coral that are either inlays or appliqués. With the center hole for a pearl (?), that would make eleven circles on the cross itself. The top pommel shows a circle with red coral inlay; the left horizontal pommel may have the same type of red coral inlay; the right horizontal pommel appears to have perhaps once had the same type of coral inlay but appears to have been hammered. This hammering could have been intentional and may have been due to a ritual. The bottom pommel with bear's snout was left plain for effect.
The bear head with three bear cub heads motif could be reminiscent of an ancient Greek or Balkans Thraco Dacian bear motif but it is also very unique. The symbolism appears to be more specific; this particular bear head motif is not seen with any other Medieval art, or any other art that I am aware of. With the bear's head as a Christian symbol, there is no doubt that the brooch had been made to symbolize St. Ursula. Although the number three is a recurring number in the legend of St. Ursula, the three other smaller and wider bear heads may discreetly represent the human bear heroic figures of Medieval Icelandic Nordic folklore in Hrolf Kraki's Saga. First I will explore the obvious Christian version with the symbolism seen on this brooch.
The total number of 10 circles (yellow and white) and a pearl center should represent the 11 or 11,000 virgins of St. Ursula. St. Ursula is sometimes included with the 11 virgins or sometimes the 11 virgins are mentioned separately.
The four yellow coral circles in a cross shape on red is made to represent the Greek equal-armed cross.
The black and white billets shown as half circles without a doubt represent the typical border motif as seen on the Viking half circle banner. This very well could only have meant that this is of the Viking Varangian Guard. This can also be seen with each half circle individually as four quarter moons, as the quarter moon was a symbol of Constantinople. The total number of 30 black and white billets or 32 with the two bottom long type billets should be considered as possibly significant numbers.
The red coral inlay pommels could perhaps represent Viking or Saxon shields. (App. 1)
The cross complete (with bear snout) on the brooch shows where the cross of Toulouse, cross of Languedoc, or the supposed Cathar cross may have originated from during Medieval times. The cross with just the enamel may represent the three armed symbolism of the trinity. (Appx 2)
Beginning in the 9th to 10th Century, the Byzantines became highly involved with the belief that there were mystical associations with the architecture, locations, and the building of their churches. A Medieval Byzantine church's plan or layout and its location became associated with the harnessing of unseen forces both positive and negative. There is no doubt that ancient knowledge of the constellations had been a primary consideration. The style of a church layout which is called a square and cross was one of the most popular designs for their katholikons (churches); outer additions could also take on many different forms. An example of a very early semi-cross in the square layout is seen in IMAGE No. 4, which shows a German Celtic type bronze pendant of the 4th to 9th C. AD. The pendant has a Celtic styled sun wheel center circle and cross with four outer circles. The top loop with the two bottom circles that are closer together could prove to be a stylized circular bear's head and paws of the constellation/star Arcturus.
Another example is shown in IMAGE No. 5, which is a Byzantine 10th to 12th C. bronze with mother of pearl and paste inlay brooch with a cross in the center. This brooch may show the layout of the Church of the Monastery of the Virgin Peripleptos (all seeing or panoramic) or the layout of the Church of the Monastery Of the 10th C. Myrelaion (Place of Myrrh or Place of Anointing Oil) which was an imperial convent (now the Bodrum Mosque). Both churches were tripartite, which is the same design as the brooch shows.
THE CHRISTIAN SAINTS:
According to Christian legend St. Ursula (Latin for Bear) is a Christian virgin saint who is often referred to as St. Ursula and the 11,000 Virgins. Her dates are somewhere between the 3rd C AD and the 5th C. AD. She was the daughter of a Christian British King. A prince of pagan Amorica asked for her hand in marriage. Ursula wanted to remain a virgin so she put off the marriage for 3 years. She then asked her father the king for 11 ships and 10 virgins of noble birth to accompany her on her journey to meet her betrothed. This accomplished she sets sail with her charges and 10,990 low born virgins. During a gale they are carried away from England. They sail to Cologne, Basle, and then Rome where Ursula meets the Pope. They then go back to Cologne where a Hun Army has occupied the city. The Huns demand that Ursula and her companions give up their faith to be spared. They refuse and the 11,000 virgins are beheaded. The Hun King then asks Ursula to marry him and she refuses; so he shoots her with arrows. The execution by bow and arrow could be symbolic of St. Ursula as the Greek Artemis (Roman Diana). In Geoffrey of Monmouth's (Geoffrey wrote the first King Arthur story) version a Roman Emperor named Maximus (Emperor Maximian) seizes power and conquerors British Amorica. He then gives a British prince named Conanus the territory known in Gaul known as Amorica. Conanus has a group of 100,000 colonists and 30,000 soldiers sent from Britain to Amorica. Conanus then asks Dionotus the King of Cornwall for British women to marry the colonists and soldiers. Dionotus sends his daughter Ursula and 11,000 noble virgins plus 60,000 young women. The group once again gets blown off course during a storm, but this time they end up on German islands. On these islands they are found and slaughtered by Huns and Picts.
It is thought by some that the legend of St. Ursula prior to 900 AD had Ursula with 10 or 11 virgins and that the number of 11,000 was a misinterpretation of Latin abbreviations. At the Church Of St. Ursula at Cologne there is a stone inscription that has been deciphered as a dedication to a group of martyred Christian virgins from a 3rd or 4th C. Roman Senator that had been stationed in the East. The authenticity of this is debated. During the 12th C. a large amount of skeletons were found near the Church of St. Ursula in Cologne. These skeletons were mainly of women and children, but some were also of men. For the faithful this was verification of the legend but the obvious inaccuracies with the legend drew criticism from others. All this controversy led to many other legends about St. Ursula and the 11,000 virgins. The nun Helentrude of Heerse in her revelations (10th or 11th C.) has St. Ursula and her virgins prior to their departure doing "manly exercises" in front of a delighted public. This view of Helentrude may have led to a Medieval attitude that these innocent virgins were actually Christian Amazons. The Hun king becoming Attila was also a favorite later addition. The fact that St. Ursula is considered by many in modern times to have been a disguised Greek, Roman, Celtic, German, or Scandinavian bear goddess I think has merit. The red cross on a banner is one of St. Ursula's emblems, this is the same as the traditional red cross of St. George but Ursula's may have been earlier.
It should be noted that Geoffrey Of Monmouth's version of St. Ursula has a group of 11,000 virgins plus St. Ursula and 60,000 other young women going to Amorica. There is a striking similarity with certain aspects of this story and a 2nd C. AD event with a Roman Officer, Lucius Artorius Castus, who had been promoted from Centurion to General and commanded at least two legions of cavalry (according to some scholars but foremost the folklorist, film historian, and writer, Linda Malcor, the number was two legions) on his Amorican expedition from Roman Britain. It is well known since Roman Times that the standard Roman legion consisted of 5,500 and two legions is indeed 11,000. The 60,000 could easily have been a codex for the Legion VI Victrix. The fact that the legendary St. Ursula and the historical Lucius Artorius Castus both go on an expedition to Amorica is a coincidence as both have a name that means bear, Ursula in Latin and Artorius in Latinized Greek. The story could have been changed due to a British Celtic oral tradition that wanted a Christian female heroine vs a pagan Roman Officer. The story of this extraordinary historical event in which a Roman Praefectus (Prefect of a Camp, or Camp Commander) of Legion VI Victrix had been promoted to a dux (Special General) to lead a cavalry expedition to Amorica from Britain in the 2nd C. AD could have been held in awe for centuries. Geoffrey's source for his St. Ursula legend may have been an ancient book which he refers to but never names, or perhaps another source which he did not admit to at all. It is interesting to note that Lucius Artorius Castus is considered by some to have possibly been the historical figure who inspired the King Arthur legend.
If a single pearl had been on this brooch then this would also suggest that there may have been a cult of St. Margaret with the Varangians. Pearls were very popular with the Byzantines, however a single pearl with or on anything was not usually seen except as a symbol of St. Margaret. A center pearl on the brooch could therefore have symbolized St. Margaret. The members of the Varangian Guard do indeed appear to have had a cult of the virgin that seems rather similar to the cult of St. Margaret (App. 3). A certain group of "Scythian" Guards may or may not have influenced a Varangian cult of a virgin (App. 4). On the other hand, the single pearl could represent St. Ursula. The reason for the possible tie to St. Ursula, in addition to the bear theme, is that there are six white mother of pearl circles and four yellow coral circles on the brooch; the eleventh pearl circle in the center could have represented Ursula.
As mentioned above, St. Margaret of Antioch is another virgin saint but unlike St. Ursula, who was never a popular saint in Britain, St. Margaret was and still is a favorite saint with the British. St. Margaret's story is that she was born in 3rd or 4th C. AD Roman Anitoch and that her mother died while she was an infant. Her father who was a pagan priest disowned her and she was adopted by her Christian nurse. Margaret then became a Christian and took a vow of virginity. One day while she was tending sheep, a Roman Prefect saw her and decided he wanted her for his own. Margaret refused him and was put on trial as a Christian. She refused to renounce her faith so she was put in prison. While there the devil in the shape of a dragon swallowed her, but as she had a cross this irritated the dragon’s throat so he spit her out. Execution attempts were then made by fire and then by boiling water in a cauldron. These execution attempts having failed, Margaret was then beheaded. The cross that she is shown holding is usually the Greek cross with pommels representing pearls, sometimes a crown also is shown with pearl pommels. The name Margaret in Greek means pearl (Margarita or Marine) and a single pearl is also one of St. Margaret's symbols. Other depictions show this Saint riding a dragon or with a dragon on a leash. St. Margaret is one of the 14 Helpers and supposedly spoke to Joan of Arc. St. Margaret is sometimes seen in art holding a cross with a dragon at her feet, or by a vessel, or by a small cauldron. Sometimes St. Margaret is shown holding a cross topped staff vertically or horizontally on a dragon's throat (occasionally the cross has a spear tip butt). Another symbol of St. Margaret is a vertical sword (sometimes the sword's pommel is a cross) piercing a dragon's mouth or throat.
This particular sword motif may suggest a connection with a memory of an ancient Steppe people who had worshipped the sword on a mound, such as the Scythians or the Sarmatians. There were Roman Sarmatian cavalrymen who were stationed in Roman Britain who would have had a dragon standard and may have had a cult of the sword. This ancient Steppe/British connection may be why St. Margaret became immensely popular with the British around the 9 th C. St. Margaret is associated with protecting and helping pregnant women and those in childbirth. This could be associated with her being swallowed by a dragon and then being expulsed. Some of this saint's symbols also suggest an association with smiths, and St. Margaret may have had some hidden symbolism with an ancient smith god during the Late Roman era. There is also much with St. Margaret's iconography to suggest that St. Margaret either was or became a female version of St. George.
THE VARANGIAN GUARDS
Varangians or Rus (Eastern Vikings) had hired on as early as the 9th C. to be soldiers in the service of the Byzantine Emperors. The Varangians as a Guard became official in 988 when King Vladimir of Kiev (Vladimir The Great) exchanged 6,000 hand picked troops for the marriage of Basil II's sister, Anna. From that time on these foreign mercenaries were established as an elite guard in the Byzantine Army. Information on the Varangian Guard is sketchy but evidence suggests that initially they may have been formed as an outer guard for the Byzantine Emperors. What is well documented is that the Varangian Guard was well paid and was renowned for its loyalty. They were commanded by one of their own who may have been called an Akolythos (Commander) and it is thought that they had been mounted infantry. Their weapons were the long axe, the sword, the lance, and the bow and arrow. Although the Varangian ranks would come from the Rus at Kiev and the Vikings of all of Scandinavia, it appears that within a short amount of time the Danes had gained an elite status within the guard's ranks. The Varangian Guard did not stay Rus and Viking for long though, after the Anglo Saxon defeat at Hastings in 1066 it is thought that a steady flow of British Saxons along with Scots and even Normans began to fill the Varangian ranks. After the sack of Constantinople in 1204 during the 4th Crusade the Varangians were disbanded, but are thought to have resurfaced later as a small ceremonial bodyguard to the Byzantine Emperors. Another group of interesting foreigners that were briefly in the service of at least a couple of Byzantine Emperors were named only as Crimean Scythians.
THE NORDIC BEARS
First, I would like to thank Mike Weatherley of England for providing a lead that Bodvar of the Hrolf Kraki Saga possibly has an Arthurian connection. I had heard much of this saga from an Icelandic writer/military historian nearly 20 years ago but I had forgotten most of this until I read Mike’s post on the Artorius list. In the Hrolf Kraki Saga there are various intrigues, adventures, magic, battles, treasure, a powerful ring (the ring called Swiagris, which means “pig,” as in “the wealth of the Swedes”), and a semi-mystical sword named Skofnung that belongs to King Hrolf the Danish King. In the 4th section of the Hrolf Kraki Saga there is a human bear. This part of the story tells of a Norwegian Prince who was a werebear and consorted with a farmer's daughter named Bera (Old Nordic for female bear). She then had three sons from this encounter. The story had originally been written in prose by a 14th C. Icelandic author. It is thought to be a fantasy story based on a semi-historical Danish Warrior King (King Hrolf) of the 6th C. Part four tells of a widowed Norwegian King named Hring who married a much younger Lapp (Sami) girl named Hvig, who turned out to be a sorceress. During the Middle Ages and perhaps as early as the Migration Era (circa 250 to 700 AD) the most feared of all magic in Europe was that of the Sami of Lapland. The bear was the primary animal in Sami shamanism. King Hring had a fully grown son from his first wife who was named Bjorn, which means “brown,” but also means “bear.” While the king was away on campaign, Bjorn scorned the advances of his stepmother. Because of this she put a curse on him so that he became a werebear (this is the same concept as a werewolf). Bjorn, who then was human only at night, impregnated his lover who was a farmer’s daughter named Bera (Bear). After this, Bjorn told Bera that he was doomed and asked her to do certain tasks after he was dead; he also told her that she would have three sons and then gave her their names. The next day Bjorn in bear form was unknowingly hunted and killed by his father's hunting party. There was a ring recovery and witchcraft from Queen Hvig who made Bera eat some of the freshly killed bear meat. Bera ate a little but not all that had been demanded. Bera then had three sons (interestingly enough, real bears can have up to 3 cubs). They were Elk Frodi, Thorir, and Bodavar Bjarki (Little Battle Bear). Because Bera ate just a small amount of the bear meat, two of her sons were part animal; Elk Frodi was part elk and Thorir was part dog. Her third son Bodvar had only human features, although later it was seen that he had the spirit of a bear, as he sent his spirit forth into battle in the form of a powerful bear. When the brothers were in their teens, at different times they went to a cave with Bera who showed them their inheritance. This included three weapons embedded in a rock: a short sword, an axe, and a long sword (App. 5). Elk took the short sword which was unbreakable, but only after unsuccessfully trying to take the long sword. Thorir at another time did the same, and so took the axe. Later it was only Bodvar who could pull the long sword from the rock (App. 6). The sword proved to be somewhat mystical and Bodvar went on to avenge his father's death by killing the witch Queen Hvig. Bodvar then had some adventures and met with his brothers. Elk had become an undefeatable outlaw warrior of renown and Thorir had easily gained a kingdom. Bodvar then left his brothers and made a friend named Hott. He then enlisted as a warrior in the service of King Hrolf. Bodvar along with Hott killed a dragon for King Hrolf. The fact that Bodvar was a dragon slayer may suggest that the Varangian guardsmen had perceived a Nordic hero as having a connection to the Christian Byzantine dragon slayer St. George. Bodvar and Hott then joined King Hrolf's renowned champions in Denmark. King Hrolf and his 12 champions are the Nordic equivalent of King Arthur's knight's of the round table and also Emperor Charlemagne and his paladins.
In part five of the saga, there are various adventurers and skirmishes in which sorcery is used on both sides. King Hrolf and his champions fought in a final battle against the forces of Hrolf's half sister Skuld. A powerful sorceress, Skuld was descended from Elves (from a tribe of the Sami?) on her mother's side and was married to Hrolf's competitor King Adils of Sweden. Whereas Queen Skuld went forth with her army as King Adils’s champion (due to the fact that King Adils does not see a reason to fight), Bodvar who was King Hrolf's 12th warrior was also King Hrolf's first champion. The selection of Bodvar as first champion is actually in line with the story, as Bodvar proved to be the most heroic of the champions in defeating another witch queen. Nevertheless King Hrolf, most of his army, and all his champions perished in a quasi-magical battle. It is noted that in that battle the Danes have a bear (Bodvar) as a battle totem animal and the Swedes have a boar (Skuld). Later Bodvar's two brothers, with Elk in the lead, avenge their brother's death and kill Queen Sculd. The brothers then give the dead Queen Skuld's holdings to King Hrolf's sisters.
EDGAR ATHELING THE VARANGIAN?
The similarities to certain aspects of the Hrolf Kraki Saga and the Arthurian legend are obvious. The first story that was written that had detailed information on the King Arthur figure was written by Geoffrey of Monmouth (1100 - 1155) in his History Of the British Kings, circa 1136. This is also the first mention of a King Arthur type figure as a conqueror of Western Europe. Besides using the verified writings of earlier writers, Geoffrey also used an unverified source that he referred to as an ancient book written in the British language (Celtic or ?). When this Welsh Oxford writer/historian completed his History Of The British Kings he would have been approximately 36 years old. As a boy, Geoffrey would have been reared with tales of the successes of the 1st Crusade (1096 - 1098) and also with contemporary tales of the uncrowned Anglo Saxon King of Britain Edgar Atheling (1051 - circa 1126). Edgar had been born and spent his early years in Hungry (or Kiev) with his sister Margaret. What may be of some interest is that prior to the arrival of the Huns in the Roman province of Pannonia (Hungry) this had been the home of another invading Asiatic group, the Sarmatians. Edgar had the misfortune of being proclaimed King at age 13 (or 14) by his father the Anglo Saxon English King Harold II. This was just before William the Conquer would best Harold at Hastings. Edgar was not officially crowned and after leading a brief rebellion, his survival dictated that he quickly submit to the Norman conqueror. Edgar was treated well by William, but he nevertheless did not quit as he went on to have many adventures in attempts to regain his throne and he even fought for other causes. In one such adventure he supposedly enlisted in the service of the Byzantine Emperor Alexius III in 1098. Edgar purportedly joined the Vargarian Guard and commanded the Byzantine fleet that brought relief (including providing materials for building ballistica) to the Crusaders during the siege of Antioch. Another account has Edgar joining the Crusader Duke of Normandy, Robert II in 1099. Edgar's sister Margaret would marry Malcom King of Scotland (the same Malcom that is in Shakespeare's Macbeth). Queen Margaret lost her husband and a son who were fighting in the cause of her brother Edgar. Due to Queen Margaret's good deeds, after her death she was canonized as a Saint by the Catholic Church. Interestingly enough, in Geoffrey of Monmouth's King Arthur, the protagonist was in his early to mid teens when it was discovered that he was a rightful heir to a throne. Although the circumstances are different, this is still somewhat similar to Edgar Atheling being proclaimed king by his father. Geoffrey also claimed that King Arthur was buried at Glastonbury. Edgar Atheling's burial place was not known, but some traditions say that he was buried at Glastonbury. Although this is just speculation, it would be ironic if Geoffrey, who is thought to have had an anti Anglo Saxon and pro Welsh Celtic agenda, had been influenced in any way in his King Arthur tale by the real life stories about Edgar Atheling, the uncrowned (or outlaw) Saxon King Of England. All evidence suggests that Edgar was a devout Christian. App. 7
(1) One of the illustrations of the Skylitzes Chronicle (National Museum Madrid, Spain) manuscript is thought to be a depiction of some of the Varangian Guards. Most are shown with medium-sized red shields. There is one shield which has red with white decorations. This distinction appears to be with the shield of a commander. Red shields were standard for Viking or Germanic shields of the Dark Ages.
(2) The Toulouse cross was thought to have originated with Count Raymond (aka Ramon) IV of Toulouse during the 1st Crusade (although it is supposedly mentioned in 1080 with the Counts of Venasque). Raymond had married Emma Venasque the Marchioness of Provence and it is supposed that he may have incorporated this cross as his own. The first official use of this cross was on the seal of Count Raymond VI in 1211. According to one theory by Roger Camboulives, the Toulouse cross is similar to a pre-Christian cross called the Turfan cross, which is found in Eastern Turkestan. The theory also says that this cross may have been brought by the Eastern Goths of the Black Sea to the South of France. I think that this theory is very possible. Although it is not substantiated, the cross of Toulouse is also heavily associated with the heretical Cathars of Toulouse and Provence. The Cathars are thought to have originated in the Balkans but their beliefs were very much influenced by Manichaeism, which is of Central Asian origin. What is coincidental is that the brooch's black and white inlays appear to be of a Viking flag but also with the bear head motif could suggest that the artist may have heard of the great panda bear of Western China. According to modern tradition, the first great panda bear was viewed in the mid 19th C. by a French missionary. If there is any connection with the panda, it could suggest some influence from travelers from the East most likely via the Silk Road. This cross on the brooch has the color combination of red, white, and yellow which should be seen as a Byzantine Greek cross of unknown origin. However, the research of the cross of Toulouse suggests a pre-Christian Central Asian origin.
(3) In a translation of the Skylitzes Manuscript by S. Blondal and a further translation by B. Benedikz in his book The Varangians Of Byzantium, the authors state that a Varangian who was quartered in a residence in the city (in the "Thracian" theme) had attempted to rape a Byzantine woman who then killed her attacker with his sword. It goes on to say that the Varangian guards then honored this woman and gave the woman all the attempted rapist’s possessions; they then threw his body away without burial. With this translation there are two illustrations from the manuscript showing the supposed event. The first illustration shows a woman in a red head scarf thrusting a spear to her left in a downward motion, into a horizontally positioned bearded man. The bearded man is shown facing her wearing an orange or red shirt. This woman is standing with her right foot crossed over her left foot (crossed legs are the sign of a virgin). Her right foot is on both of his feet. The bearded man has both of his hands in front of his crotch. The other illustration shows a group of six bearded men in a formation (resembling a cross as in four in a line with one on each flank) with each of the men presenting the same woman with a garment that appears as a cloak. Each garment is of a different color and each of the six men is wearing a shirt of a different color. In my opinion this story and the illustrations represent a mixing of an actual event with Christian and pagan beliefs to form a cult of a warrior virgin (perhaps a type of Christian Valkryie) pitted against members of the Varangian Guard. It is most definite that the members of the Varangian Guards as Christians would have heard of the legend of the Lance of Longinus, as the Byzantines claimed this spear or lance head as one of their holy relics (as did other Christian sources). They would have also heard of the legend of the Cloak of Christ. So perhaps they had combined these Christian legends with a red-headed (red head scarf) Christian virgin Saint as a warrior goddess. The red head scarf is important as although this could signify a warrior, it also would signify the color of the head garment that a prostitute would wear. This may suggest a connection to Mary Magdalene. That said, the Saint that first comes to mind as a candidate for a virgin saint with a spear is St. Margaret. In St. Margaret's legend, the saint keeps her virginity and slays a dragon (which may be a metaphor for the lust of her pursuer); but unlike the Byzantine woman the saint does not survive. What is also similar with the Varangian Guard Byzantine woman's story and St. Margaret's story is that there is a sword which is mentioned, yet iconography depicting the story usually shows the woman with a spear or sometimes a staff with a cross (suggesting its use as a spear). The spear and the cloak is a time-honored symbol of guardsmen. This is with good reason, as until the advent of firearms the spear was the primary weapon of most guardsmen. Prior to the invention of the coat, the cloak is what a guardsman on duty would view as a symbol of comfort.
(4) The 11th C. Byzantine court historian Michael Psellus recorded that the Emperor Michael Kalaphates (Michael V) in 1057 bought a personnel bodyguard of Crimean Scythian slave eunuchs. There are many theories as to who these Scythian slave soldiers actually were. The ancient word Scythian could have been used by the Byzantines as to give an impression of sophistication, even so the origins of this group coming from the Crimea may be significant. The Crimea is one of the lands that the ancient Sarmatians had conquered and ruled for hundreds of years. These so called Scythians may have been a hold out group of Sarmatians or they may have been Alans. The Alans were related to the Sarmatians and are reported to have been in the service of the Byzantine army as mounted archers. This group of Scythian guards was mentioned as still existing under the next Emperor (Michael V only lasted 6 months).
(5) In the 13th C. Norse tale called Karlamagnus (Charlemagne's) Saga, there are three swords forged by the same smith. This theme may have originated from the 4th part of Hrolf's Saga, which tells about two swords and one axe. Charlemagne had acquired these three swords for a favor granted. These swords were named Kurt, Almacia, and Durendal (Dyrumdali). The names of these swords appear to be Turkish in origin, which would suggest an obvious Turkish Anatolian connection. Charlemagne's favorite sword was Durendal (Dyrandali, Durandana). He gave this sword to his champion paladin Roland. Durendal as Roland's sword is mentioned in the Chansons de Geste (Song Of Roland, estimated to have been written in the late 11th C.). The sword Durendal was supposed to have three holy relics in its gold hilt: a tooth of St. Peter, a lock Mary Magdalene’s hair, and a sample of blood from St. Blasius, the 4th C. Christian Bishop of Sebaste in Armenia who was also a physician. St. Peter is always associated in iconography with a sword. Mary Magdalene is not associated with weapons in Christian tradition, but if the illustration on the Skylitzes manuscript shows a type of Mary Magdalene as a warrior, then the Norse and/or the Franks may have had another idea on that. The fact that an Armenian Bishop is mentioned in connection with the first two biblical figures suggests something more with this saint. This may show a Byzantine/Nordic connection such as the Varangian Guards. It should also be noted that one of St. Blasius's symbols is a cave surrounded by wild animals. The legend was that St. Blasius hid in a cave when he fled during the persecutions of Emperor Licinius (circa 316 AD). He was eventually found with a trail of sick animals outside the cave (the animals were waiting to be healed) by a party of hunters sent by the Roman Governor. Supposedly the hunters had seen the animals outside the cave and went to find out why they were gathering there. The fact that St. Blasius was found in a cave by hunters and that there was a bear hunt going on, has similarities to Hrolf's Saga. Both stories also have a Medieval connection to swords, although with St. Blasius the sword connection may be much older. The mountain where St. Blasius hid was Mount Argaeus. This mountain and the mysterious caves of Derinkuyu (Turkish for “deep well”) in Cappadocia (Hittite for “the land of beautiful horses”) are thought to have been associated with the mythological Cabiri. These caves, along with many other cave locations, are also referred to as “the fairy chimneys south.” The Phrygian Cabiri were mystical demons of which there were originally just two, they are thought to be very ancient and are associated with Hephaestus and Hermes. They among other things protected sailors. The Greek Disoscuri Castor and Pollex are thought by some to be the same as the Cabiri, but this could be just a modern view. I think that the protection of sailors for the Cabiri is different from the Disoscuri and that they instead that they may have been invoked for protection by ancient mariners in connection with the constellation/star Arcturus.
Anatolia is considered to be where the sword had been invented in the mid to late 2nd C. BC. In 2003 the Italian Archeologist Marcella Frangipane discovered 9 copper swords and 11 spearheads at a complex at Arslantepe, Turkey. Three of these swords had silver inlay. Another sword was found nearby in what is thought to have once been an ancient palace complex of the same period. The swords are dated from the mid to late 3rd C. BC. That dates these as the world's oldest sword finds. The spearheads had been embedded in a wall which gives the impression of a ritual. Although at least 3,000 years apart and on separate continents, the 11 spearheads could have been related to an ancient belief and tradition that was later reflected in the legend of St. Ursula's 11,000 virgins. If so, this would give St. Ursula's legend a connection to a region that had once had a premier association with goddess worship in the ancient world and also during classical times with the legendary amazons who worshipped Artemis. That is, possibly a bear or bear hunt goddess ritual circa 3,350 to 3,000 BC. There may or may not be a connection with the 9 swords found in 2003, but the number 9 is usually associated with a moon goddess. The swords in Karlamagnus Saga had been made by an English smith named Galant (French for brave). These were supposed to have been heated for 7 years. Besides these three swords, Charlemagne had another sword named Joyeuse, which is mentioned in the Song Of Roland. This legendary sword had supposedly been made with the tip of the lance of Longinus (holy lance) embedded in its pommel. A gold jeweled sword that is alleged to be the sword Joyeuse is in the Louvre Museum in Paris. So there are at least a couple of Nordic legends that appear to have been connected with bears and swords (or weapons). Artifacts show that the ancient Thracians, Dacians, Sicambians, Goths, and maybe the Merovingians revered a bear head symbol with a spear head and or flame on the forehead. That connection is obvious as the instrument of the bear in both the hunted and the hunter, but there also appears to be a connection with the bear as a maker of weapons. These connections may all be related to the constellation/star of Arcturus. A Nordic bear smith connection may be due to the fact that bears are associated with caves and caves could easily be associated with the conditions for a foundry, or the smith being associated with the color black or brown, or the smith having the strength and endurance of a bear. It should be kept in mind that the Christian writers never mention St. Blasius as ever having any connection to bears or weapons. It is thought that St. Blasius's great popularity during the Middle Ages was due to his being associated with cures, as the saint had cured a boy who had a fish bone stuck in his throat. That said, many bear myths of the northern hemisphere have the bear as a healer and a symbol of resurrection. Two of St. Blasius’s other symbols are a fish skeleton (which looks a bit like a Romano Byzantine comb) and St. Blasius holding two lit crisscrossed candles. Besides the fish bone mentioned in the legend, the fish skeleton symbolism is a bit of a mystery, but the lit candles could represent fire, as in the fire of the smith's forge, or perhaps as two stars. The two stars that are symbolically used as bear paws in the symbolism of the capped bear head in the constellation/star of Arcturus, could likewise represent the two Cabiri as stars.
(6) In the Saga of Hrolf, Bodvar and his brothers pull three weapons from a rock. The fact that Elk pulls a short sword and is always a victor may associate the short sword with victory (possibly a memory of the Roman gladius). The axe which Thorir pulls from the rock may be associated with kingship as Thorir easily wins a kingdom. (the very ancient axe goddesses?). The long sword that Bodvar pulls from the rock is associated with a hero, but it is also associated with magic (the Germano Celtic long sword?). It is a fact that bears are noted as being fierce in the protection of their dens, but this is particularly so with the she bear. This may give reason as to why a she bear and her heroic cubs would be associated with an elite guard unit such as the Varangian Guards, also suggesting why Bodvar Bjarki as the first champion in King Hrolf's personal guard would be a very fitting as a cult figure for the Varangian Guardsmen. There are many parallels with the Nordic Bodvar and the German Beowulf and there is much speculation that the story of Bodvar may have originated from this Germanic dragon slayer. It is also thought that JRR Tolkien may have been influenced by Hrolf Kraki's Saga when creating the character of the skin changer Beorn (Old English for warrior or bear) in The Hobbit and The Fellowship Of The Ring.
(7) The Varangian Guards may have had religious factions within the Guard itself. Some may have been Christian, others semi-Christian, and others who were flat-out pagans just playing along. A group within the Varangian Guards who practiced Viking Gnostic paganism may have contributed to the Knights Templar’s mystical beliefs. At a later date I will provide more information to substantiate this theory and also an in-depth look at speculations on the Byzantine military uses of several key Basilicas/Monasteries. St. George of the Mangana may have had on its grounds a ballistica (Medieval artillery) unit, or billeted such a unit. This unit may possibly have been associated with the Varangian Guard. If so, then Edgar Atheling may have had something to do with this unit, as he allegedly provided materials for ballistica to the Crusaders at Antioch.
Copyright 2005 David Xavier Kenney
Posted on 13OCT05
COPYRIGHT David Xavier Kenney 2005
The photographs of my artifacts are copyrighted and may be copied for private use.