The Persia-Caspian expeditions of the Varangian Rus’

June 5, 2020 — The Persia-Caspian expeditions of the Varangian Rus’ were military raids undertaken by warriors and merchants from Scandinavia and Gotland between 864 and 1041 on the Caspian Sea shores of what is nowadays Iran, Dagestan, and Azerbaijan.

The initial raids were small-scale and took place in the late 800s and early 900s. The Rus’ undertook the first large-scale campaign in 913; having arrived on 500 ships, they struck a loot sharing agreement with the Khazar Khaganate, a “kingdom polity” between the Black and Caspian Seas. The Varangians pillaged in the Gorgan region, in the territory of present-day Iran, and more to the west, in Gilan and Mazandaran, taking slaves and goods. On their return voyage, they were ambushed by mercenaries in the employ of the Khazars, who had betrayed them. Few, if any, Varangians survived the slaughter.

During their next expedition in 943, the Rus’ captured Bardha’a, the capital of Arran, in the modern-day Republic of Azerbaijan. The Rus’ stayed there for several months, killing many inhabitants of the city and amassing substantial plunder. It was only an outbreak of dysentery among the Rus’ that forced them to depart with their spoils.

Sviatoslav, prince of Kyiv and of Scandinavian ancestry, commanded the next attack, which destroyed the Khazar state in 965. Sviatoslav’s campaign established the Rus’ hold on the north-south trade riverways, helping to alter the demographics of the region. Raids continued through the Viking Age, with the last Scandinavian attempt to reestablishing a trading route to the Caspian Sea taking place in 1041 by Ingvar the Far-Travelled.

You’ll be able to revisit the Eastern lands of the Khazars and Kievan Rus’ in our turn-based tabletop strategy game Serpents in the Mist, which is currently in development and tentatively penned in for a 2021 release.

Björn Larsson
Artisan executive, game developer, music supervisor, and renegade historian. I lead Legendo's game-planning efforts, supervise artwork and branding, and manage Legendo Music. I also find it impossible to not co-author story arcs for our animation, games, and comic book projects. You can find me on Twitter.

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