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“The English Exodus to Ionia”: The Identity of the Anglo-Saxon Varangians in the Service of Alexios Comnenos I (1081-1118)
By Gabriela A. Faundez Rojaz
Master’s Thesis, Marymount University, 2012
Abstract: Most historians who focus on this period have examined the effects of the Norman invasion and its aftermath on the island itself, but few have studied the journeys of those who left England in search for new opportunities in foreign lands. This is the case for the English Varangians who served the Byzantine Empire from 1081 onward, and became an essential part of the Emperor’s guard. By examining the extensively documented history of the Scandinavian Varangians in the tenth and eleventh centuries, this study will trace the elements that defined the warrior identity of the Guard, which the Anglo-Saxons were able to assume and preserve upon their arrival due to the similarities in their military practices. This connection allowed the English émigrés to participate in the Varangian Guard, a highly regarded post that granted them many benefits because of its proximity to the Byzantine Emperors. For the Anglo-Saxons this meant the acquisition of land within the boundaries of the Empire, where they were able to maintain their identity as Englishmen for at least another two centuries after their arrival despite their displacement from their native land.
Introduction: The Norman Invasion of Britain in 1066 had an impact in all aspects of English life, as the French invaders transformed the governing bodies of the land, altered the social structure, and introduced new linguistic and artistic tendencies that changed the development of English culture. Most historians who focus on this period have examined the effects of the Norman invasion and its aftermath on the island itself, but few have studied the journeys of those who left England in search of new opportunities in foreign lands. The Anglo-Norman chronicler Orderic Vitalis records one such example of migration from Britain after the Battle of Hastings in his Historia Ecclesiastica:
Some of them who were still in the flower of youth traveled to remote lands and bravely offered their arms to Alexius, emperor of Constantinople, a man of great wisdom and nobility. Robert Guiscard, the duke of Apulia, had taken up arms against him in support of Michael, whom the Greeks…had driven from the Imperial throne. Consequently the English exiles were warmly welcomed by the Greeks and were sent into battle against the Norman forces…this is the reason for the English exodus to Ionia, the emigrants and their heir faithfully served the holy empire, and are still honored among the Greeks by Emperor, nobility and people alike.