What unites Ireland with Shetland, the Faroes with Kiev, Novgorod with Greenland, Iceland with Denmark? Vikings. They founded the cities of Ireland, they ruled Britain for a time, they landed in America and they founded Russia. Rurik the Varangian founded Russia. In Ireland we have the name Rory, or Ruairi, meaning “red headed”.
Red hair is a genetic mutation which survives in the north atlantic region because it imparts an advanage to us red heads. We don’t suffer from Vitamin D defficiency. We don’t get rickets from lack of sunlight. We can metabolise enough vitamin D through weak sun exposure on our faces and hands to see us through the darkest winters.
Of course the downside is that we fry alive in sunshine.
Varangian was the greek name for Vikings. The emperors of Byzantium were protected by a guard of varangians. Many is the good Viking who made his fortune in Constantinople, the second Rome. Vikings could be trusted to guard the emperor, because they were outside of the usual Greco-Roman politics.
Harold Hardrada was a Viking of the Varangian guard. He made his money, returned to Norway and invaded England in 1066. Defeated at the battle of Stamford Bridge by Harold Godwinson, king of saxon England. Godwinson was subsequently slain at Hastings in the same year when an arrow pierced his eye. Enter the Norman invasion!
I digress. Let’s go back to Russia, Rurik the redheaded Viking, who founded the now largest country in the world. Russia, an enormous landmass, and yet a country with a yearning for the sea. A country that looks at the world through the window of St Petersburg and holds jealously to the exclave of Kaliningrad. Survived the second world war by holding open Archangel and Murmansk to the Arctic Convoys. A country that fought for the Black Sea ports in the Crimean War, which gave us the Charge of the Light Brigade, and again in World War 2 when the Crimea again became a key battleground. Japan defines the modernisation of its navy at the battle of Tsushima, and Sakhalin and Vladivostok continue to represent a strategic Russian Presence in the Pacific. So Russia commands ports on the Arctic and Pacific Oceans, the Black, the Baltic and the Caspian Seas as well as the sea of Japan.
Russia, the largest land country in the world, is in fact a maritime state. Russia is a child of the Vikings. No surprise then that if you ask a Russian to recite a poem, most of them can remember one about a sail. And if you ask them to sing a song, many will give you the Song of the Volga Boatmen. безопасное путешествие.
The Sail: Mikhail Lermontov (Translated by the Author)
Gleams white a solitary sail
In the haze of the light blue sea.—
What seeks it in countries far away?
What in its native land did leave?
The mast creaks and presses,
The wind whistles, the waves are playing;
Alas! It does not seek happiness,
Nor from happiness is fleeing!
Beneath, the azure current flows,
Above, the golden sunlight streaks:—
But restless, into the storm it goes,
As if in storms there is peace!