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Old 02-12-2017, 09:58 PM   #1
Zigūr
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Interesting article about Variags

Hello everyone,

Has anyone read this 2010 blog post discussing the implications of the use of the word "Variag" to refer to the people of Khand?
http://blog.tolkien-studies.com/2010...iags-of-khand/

I did a search and I don't think this has been posted before.

I found it to be quite an interesting read discussing the word and its origins. Of course the connection to "Varangians" has been considered for a long time, but this article wonders if Professor Tolkien meant to imply that, like the Varangians, the Variags were foreign people working as soldiers in an adopted homeland, and, if they were like the Russian Norsemen of the Varangians, we might imagine the Variags possibly being an offshoot of the Northmen of Rhovanion.

I personally wonder if the Variags are meant to add a little glimpse of an early medieval Russian culture in Middle-earth, similar to the Easterlings possibly being reminiscent of Mongolian or Central Asian peoples and the Haradrim of Near Harad suggesting the populations of North Africa. The Varangians seem to have traditionally been Germanic peoples who came to Slavic lands but I wonder if a Slavic element might be hinted at too.

I note the article also touches upon the common misconception that the Variags were the same thing as the axe-bearing bearded Easterlings who also fought at the Pelennor; in fact they are mentioned one after another at one point, which I take to be as clear an indication as any that they were two separate groups.

So if you read the article, what do you think? Does it shed any speculative light upon the identity of the mysterious Variags?
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Old 02-13-2017, 11:30 AM   #2
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Seems a decent theory. As a side note, I think the first post I ever made here was about Variags.

Interesting that Variags did get a specific name by which they were known, as opposed to the generic "Easterlings" and "Southrons".
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Old 02-14-2017, 11:54 AM   #3
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I never considered the distinction between the Easterlings and the Variags. Perhaps the Easterlings, who were said to be swarthy or sallow skinned, refer to a race akin to the Asiatic Huns while the Variags refer to peoples who eventually became Russian or East European.
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Old 02-14-2017, 02:50 PM   #4
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I find it curious that so many people associate the Variags with Russian people, not just on this thread. From the perspective of a Russian person, they're Scandinavian.

I haven't really thought much about who these people are in ME terms, but I suppose I subconsciously pictured them as sellsword Vikings, which sums up my knowledge of Varangians at that point. The Russian word for Varangian is literally Variag, so it was hard not to make the association.
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Old 02-14-2017, 08:52 PM   #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Galadriel55 View Post
I find it curious that so many people associate the Variags with Russian people, not just on this thread. From the perspective of a Russian person, they're Scandinavian.

I haven't really thought much about who these people are in ME terms, but I suppose I subconsciously pictured them as sellsword Vikings, which sums up my knowledge of Varangians at that point. The Russian word for Varangian is literally Variag, so it was hard not to make the association.
I hope I haven't seemed too boorish for living up to that stereotype! I think your insight probably tells us something very definitive that might otherwise be lost on a primarily English-speaking audience. It seems very likely to me that Professor Tolkien would have seen it the way you do given his wide knowledge. As the article says, there is more than one instance in which Professor Tolkien seems to be "reusing a historically significant term in a way that most of his readers would not be expected to understand." I think this lends further credence to the idea of the Variags being related to the Northmen, who are the equivalents, I would say, of Scandinavians in Middle-earth.

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I never considered the distinction between the Easterlings and the Variags.
I think it can be observed in things like the fact that the Wainriders "made alliance with men of Khand and of Near Harad", which suggests that its people were distinct from the various groups of Easterlings, and the fact that at the Pelennor we are told "Gothmog the lieutenant of Morgul had flung them into the fray; Easterlings with axes, and Variags of Khand. Southrons in scarlet..." This suggests to me that Khand is seen as being distinct from Rhūn and Harad. It also shows, quite clearly I think, that the Men of Khand were not the "Easterlings with axes". I don't know where that blurring-together of ideas has come from but I've seen it a lot.

Judging by the article and Galadriel's comments, perhaps there is also a difference between the "Variags of Khand" and the "Men of Khand", the locals as it were. Perhaps there were two populations, one descended from the same branch of the tree of Men as the Easterlings and Haradrim and one descended from the Edain. I can imagine, for instance, a small "Northmen-descended" population which has survived over the centuries in a foreign place by working as "Variags" for Khand's ruler or rulers.

I know it's just speculation but I can't help but feel that this is a good example of how Professor Tolkien's work reveals the strengths of a very considered and judicious use of language; the received wisdom is that we know almost nothing about the Variags, but perhaps Professor Tolkien told us more than we realised with a single word.
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Old 02-16-2017, 11:32 AM   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Zigūr View Post
we might imagine the Variags possibly being an offshoot of the Northmen of Rhovanion.
This is a popular theory among some elements of the Tolkien game modding community. In The Fourth Age Total War the Variags are exactly that.

Quote:
I personally wonder if the Variags are meant to add a little glimpse of an early medieval Russian culture in Middle-earth, similar to the Easterlings possibly being reminiscent of Mongolian or Central Asian peoples and the Haradrim of Near Harad suggesting the populations of North Africa. The Varangians seem to have traditionally been Germanic peoples who came to Slavic lands but I wonder if a Slavic element might be hinted at too.
I've always thought that the northern Easterlings would have a Slavic flavor. The Wainriders always seemed to have the flavor of a migrating steppe like the Huns, the Cumans, etc. The Haradrim seem to parallel North Africa and the Middle East.

Khand is the connecting point between the East and the South. Culturally, since cultures in origin are so heavily impacted by the climates in which they develop, I think Khand was more arid than steppe making them possibly fit better into the milieu of Harad rather than Rhun.

While it is not a great parallel in many respects, Constantinople from the perspective of Western Europe was also a connecting point between East and South so perhaps that is where the idea suggested itself to Tolkien?

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Originally Posted by Galadriel55 View Post
The Russian word for Varangian is literally Variag, so it was hard not to make the association.
Very interesting. I did not know that.
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Old 02-16-2017, 10:37 PM   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Kuruharan View Post
This is a popular theory among some elements of the Tolkien game modding community. In The Fourth Age Total War the Variags are exactly that.
That's interesting; the very reason I discovered this article was because I was looking for information on the word "Variag" after daydreaming about what a book-accurate "Midde-earth" tabletop game (with toy soldiers) could be like. I was wondering how a game developer might make the Men of Khand distinct from the Easterlings and Haradrim without inventing wildly and using what little information was available from Professor Tolkien's own writing.

You probably have a point about Khand being in arid climes. I suppose I just imagined the word "Variag" having specific connotations of "Scandinavians in Russia", and thus in Middle-earth being "Northmen in [The Middle-earth equivalent of Russia]" but of course the geography does not match, and I'm possibly being too literal.

I suppose one might imagine Khand possibly being a bit of a melting pot of Northmen, Easterling and Haradrim influences, a bit like the Men of Umbar being something of a combination of Nśmenórean and Haradrim elements. I find it amusing to speculate, at any rate.
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