The Barrow-Downs Discussion Forum


Visit The *EVEN NEWER* Barrow-Downs Photo Page

Go Back   The Barrow-Downs Discussion Forum > Middle-Earth Discussions > The Books
User Name
Password
Register FAQ Members List Calendar Search Today's Posts Mark Forums Read


Reply
 
Thread Tools Display Modes
Old 02-12-2017, 09:58 PM   #1
Zigūr
Ghost Prince of Cardolan
 
Zigūr's Avatar
 
Join Date: Aug 2012
Posts: 650
Zigūr is a guest at the Prancing Pony.Zigūr is a guest at the Prancing Pony.
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?
__________________
"Since the evening of that day we have journeyed from the shadow of Tol Brandir."
"On foot?" cried Éomer.
Zigūr is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 02-13-2017, 11:30 AM   #2
Inziladun
Gruesome Spectre
 
Inziladun's Avatar
 
Join Date: Dec 2000
Location: Heaven's doorstep
Posts: 7,099
Inziladun is a guest of Galadriel in Lothlórien.Inziladun is a guest of Galadriel in Lothlórien.Inziladun is a guest of Galadriel in Lothlórien.Inziladun is a guest of Galadriel in Lothlórien.Inziladun is a guest of Galadriel in Lothlórien.
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".
__________________
Science is not the enemy of God; it is his servant, and a means by which his work is accomplished.
Inziladun is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 02-14-2017, 11:54 AM   #3
Mithadan
Spirit of Mist
 
Join Date: Jul 2000
Location: Tol Eressea
Posts: 2,875
Mithadan has been trapped in the Barrow!
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.
__________________
That which once was shall be again!
Mithadan is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 02-14-2017, 02:50 PM   #4
Galadriel55
Blossom of Dwimordene
 
Galadriel55's Avatar
 
Join Date: Oct 2010
Location: The realm of forgotten words
Posts: 6,959
Galadriel55 is wading through snowdrifts on Redhorn.Galadriel55 is wading through snowdrifts on Redhorn.Galadriel55 is wading through snowdrifts on Redhorn.
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.
__________________
- These taxes, they are like sacrifices to tribal gods?
- Well, roughly speaking, but paying taxes is more painful.
Doctor Who: The Sun Makers
Galadriel55 is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 02-14-2017, 08:52 PM   #5
Zigūr
Ghost Prince of Cardolan
 
Zigūr's Avatar
 
Join Date: Aug 2012
Posts: 650
Zigūr is a guest at the Prancing Pony.Zigūr is a guest at the Prancing Pony.
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.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Mithadan View Post
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.
__________________
"Since the evening of that day we have journeyed from the shadow of Tol Brandir."
"On foot?" cried Éomer.
Zigūr is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 02-16-2017, 11:32 AM   #6
Kuruharan
Regal Dwarven Shade
 
Kuruharan's Avatar
 
Join Date: Jan 2002
Location: A Remote Dwarven Hold
Posts: 3,379
Kuruharan is battling Black Riders on Weathertop.Kuruharan is battling Black Riders on Weathertop.
Boots

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?

Quote:
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.
Kuruharan is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 02-16-2017, 10:37 PM   #7
Zigūr
Ghost Prince of Cardolan
 
Zigūr's Avatar
 
Join Date: Aug 2012
Posts: 650
Zigūr is a guest at the Prancing Pony.Zigūr is a guest at the Prancing Pony.
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.
__________________
"Since the evening of that day we have journeyed from the shadow of Tol Brandir."
"On foot?" cried Éomer.
Zigūr is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 03-01-2017, 02:13 PM   #8
William Cloud Hicklin
Ghost Prince of Cardolan
 
William Cloud Hicklin's Avatar
 
Join Date: Oct 2006
Posts: 1,427
William Cloud Hicklin is a guest at the Prancing Pony.William Cloud Hicklin is a guest at the Prancing Pony.
Quote:
Originally Posted by Kuruharan View Post
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's always dangerous to play sound-alikes with Tolkien's nomenclature, Khand could be a sort of sideways allusion to Khazar: the Turkic inhabitants of the medieval Crimea, likewise a "connecting point between the East and the South".

----------------

The only issue I have with the otherwise attractive Varangian theory is that the Varangian Guard were the Norse (and Anglo-Saxon) expats in service to the Byzantine Empire -- upon which Gondor is clearly calqued -- not Byzantium's Slavic and Muslim enemies.
__________________
“It is good to be both loved and feared; but if one cannot be both, it is better to be feared than loved" --Machiavelli

Last edited by William Cloud Hicklin; 03-01-2017 at 02:17 PM.
William Cloud Hicklin is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 03-01-2017, 05:41 PM   #9
Zigūr
Ghost Prince of Cardolan
 
Zigūr's Avatar
 
Join Date: Aug 2012
Posts: 650
Zigūr is a guest at the Prancing Pony.Zigūr is a guest at the Prancing Pony.
Quote:
Originally Posted by William Cloud Hicklin View Post
The only issue I have with the otherwise attractive Varangian theory is that the Varangian Guard were the Norse (and Anglo-Saxon) expats in service to the Byzantine Empire
I suppose the response to this would be what the article points out - that the word "varangian" and its relatives (such as "variag") does not necessarily refer to the Varangian guard:
Quote:
Varangian means primarily a “denizen” or [Greek spelling], and took its rise among the Scandinavians to denote the Swedish settlers in Russia. The name was afterward given to the imperial body-guard at Constantinople, which was at first mainly a Scandinavian corps.
Thus the use to refer specifically to the guard came later. One assumes Professor Tolkien knew of this.

If we solely connect the term "variag" to the Varangian guard, then the Variags of Khand might not be Northmen because that might be taking the historical analogy too far; as you point out, we'd expect them to be in the service of Gondor if they were meant to be totally equivalent to the Byzantine Variags. However, it's also worth pointing out this other quote:
Quote:
Hence Varangians were historically seen as outsiders settling among (and being accepted among) the Slavic peoples of the region that later became Russia.
Thus "variag" can also have connotations (at least, perhaps, to Professor Tolkien) "Scandinavian in Russia, not exclusively "Scandinavian in the Byzantine Empire". Of course, we have no evidence to suggest that Khand was meant to be in any way equivalent to Russia beyond the fact that Professor Tolkien suggested in a note that "variag" was representing a word from a non-Western language in Middle-earth.

That's how it seems to me, at least.
__________________
"Since the evening of that day we have journeyed from the shadow of Tol Brandir."
"On foot?" cried Éomer.
Zigūr is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 03-06-2017, 10:47 AM   #10
Galadriel55
Blossom of Dwimordene
 
Galadriel55's Avatar
 
Join Date: Oct 2010
Location: The realm of forgotten words
Posts: 6,959
Galadriel55 is wading through snowdrifts on Redhorn.Galadriel55 is wading through snowdrifts on Redhorn.Galadriel55 is wading through snowdrifts on Redhorn.
Feeling of Foreignness

This is something I only came to appreciate in the last little while, particularly after giving this thread another think. Rationally, I can see how there could be an equivalent of Russia somewhere in the north of Rhun. It would make logical sense, since other real-world regions have their parallels in Middle-earth. But I would never have thought of the possibility myself, and my gut reaction is still that there is no such thing. I thought about it, and realized that the discrepancy is due to the assumption that LOTR is a story of another world, and that therefore there cannot be any of yours in it. Other countries are okay, other regions, cultures, etc. But your own just doesn't fit. You don't expect to see your life amid a tale of magical beings and mythical races. It's not foreign enough. So while it's easy for me to say "It's like Africa!" or "They are like Scythians!", when it comes to Russia my gut reaction is "Where did you get that? There's no way there's ancient Russia in Middle-earth. That's us, we can't have been one of these mythical races, we were definitely something different. We definitely don't fit the bill". You just mentally fill up the spaces with imaginary foreign races, but can't accept your own.

I should probably mention that while I became obsessed with LOTR when already living in Canada, my first introduction has been in Russia, which might have affected my initial perception (first impressions matter, right?). And I read my translation of LOTR a lot more than I did the original. The translators did a good job with the names, in my opinion, but they do not always match the tone and style of the original. For instance, Bree is a mix of English- and Western Slavic-sounding names, and the Shire is similar but with more things shoved in the mesh. So as a result, hobbits get associations with Britain and with something close to home (like the British associations are for Brits ) but not quite home. Maybe that also shifted my perception that if "home" is anywhere, it's with the hobbits and not in the vast uncharted space. Those spaces automatically get filled in with any neighbouring or faraway culture and people in history, except your own.


I know I've gotten into debates about Varangians and Slaves in Middle-earth before, and now I have to reconsider everything keeping in mind that the main reason I didn't want to see it is I was looking from within a people on its potential parallel. I am consoling myself with the thought that statistically I can't be the only ethnocentric Tolkien fan, which begs the question: do you think your own country, culture, language, or upbringing may have affected how you see parallels between the legendarium and the real world? Are you more likely or less likely to draw parallels with other cultures or with your own? [especially regarding the Variags, because I am not gonna hijack the thread. If this gains enough interest I'll start a new thread for it].
__________________
- These taxes, they are like sacrifices to tribal gods?
- Well, roughly speaking, but paying taxes is more painful.
Doctor Who: The Sun Makers
Galadriel55 is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 03-06-2017, 03:52 PM   #11
Andsigil
Ghost Prince of Cardolan
 
Andsigil's Avatar
 
Join Date: Jun 2007
Location: The Deepest Forges of Ered Luin
Posts: 681
Andsigil is a guest of Tom Bombadil.
I noticed in the Hobbit film that the men of Dale had a slavic look to their armor, with spiked helmets, just before Smaug came and roasted everyone.
__________________
Even as fog continues to lie in the valleys, so does ancient sin cling to the low places, the depression in the world consciousness.
Andsigil is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 03-06-2017, 06:21 PM   #12
Inziladun
Gruesome Spectre
 
Inziladun's Avatar
 
Join Date: Dec 2000
Location: Heaven's doorstep
Posts: 7,099
Inziladun is a guest of Galadriel in Lothlórien.Inziladun is a guest of Galadriel in Lothlórien.Inziladun is a guest of Galadriel in Lothlórien.Inziladun is a guest of Galadriel in Lothlórien.Inziladun is a guest of Galadriel in Lothlórien.
Quote:
Originally Posted by Andsigil View Post
I noticed in the Hobbit film that the men of Dale had a slavic look to their armor, with spiked helmets, just before Smaug came and roasted everyone.
But didn't PJ also think Radagast the Brown was much more interesting as a rabbit-riding Monty Python refugee?
__________________
Science is not the enemy of God; it is his servant, and a means by which his work is accomplished.
Inziladun is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 03-06-2017, 09:41 PM   #13
Zigūr
Ghost Prince of Cardolan
 
Zigūr's Avatar
 
Join Date: Aug 2012
Posts: 650
Zigūr is a guest at the Prancing Pony.Zigūr is a guest at the Prancing Pony.
Quote:
Originally Posted by Galadriel55 View Post
when it comes to Russia my gut reaction is "Where did you get that? There's no way there's ancient Russia in Middle-earth. That's us, we can't have been one of these mythical races, we were definitely something different. We definitely don't fit the bill".
I suppose it's worth bearing in mind that "variag" seems to be a word in the tongue of Khand in the same way that the Men of Rohan "speak Old English" or the Men of Dale "speak Old Norse", which is to say that they don't really; it's just a relational linguistic equivalent. Even if Professor Tolkien used "variag" to suggest that the Men of Khand were linguistically the equivalent of ancient Russians in relation to Westron, they still wouldn't really be Russians or Slavs. They would just possibly occupy an equivalent position in the linguistic landscape of Middle-earth.
That being said, it's odd that we seem to see the "real" tongue of Near Harad in the word mūmak and yet the tongue of Khand is represented by a Slavic language. Off the top of my head I can't think of any words we hear that are in any tongue of the Easterlings of the Third Age.
Quote:
Originally Posted by Andsigil View Post
I noticed in the Hobbit film that the men of Dale had a slavic look to their armor, with spiked helmets, just before Smaug came and roasted everyone.
I wonder if this was a lazy way to represent that they're "from the North" (which they aren't any more than Bilbo is especially; they're just Northmen in relation to Gondor) or if the filmmakers thought making them look like Scandinavians (of which the Men of Dale are meant to be an equivalent) would have caused them to look too much like the film version of the Men of Rohan (which they wouldn't have, really).
__________________
"Since the evening of that day we have journeyed from the shadow of Tol Brandir."
"On foot?" cried Éomer.

Last edited by Zigūr; 03-06-2017 at 09:48 PM.
Zigūr is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 03-16-2017, 05:32 PM   #14
William Cloud Hicklin
Ghost Prince of Cardolan
 
William Cloud Hicklin's Avatar
 
Join Date: Oct 2006
Posts: 1,427
William Cloud Hicklin is a guest at the Prancing Pony.William Cloud Hicklin is a guest at the Prancing Pony.
Quote:
Originally Posted by Andsigil View Post
I noticed in the Hobbit film that the men of Dale had a slavic look to their armor, with spiked helmets, just before Smaug came and roasted everyone.
I noticed in the Hobbit film that goblins ride Shai-halud sandworms from Arrakis.
__________________
“It is good to be both loved and feared; but if one cannot be both, it is better to be feared than loved" --Machiavelli
William Cloud Hicklin is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 03-16-2017, 09:08 PM   #15
Morthoron
Curmudgeonly Wordwraith
 
Morthoron's Avatar
 
Join Date: Jun 2007
Location: Ensconced in curmudgeonly pursuits
Posts: 2,225
Morthoron is lost in the dark paths of Moria.Morthoron is lost in the dark paths of Moria.Morthoron is lost in the dark paths of Moria.Morthoron is lost in the dark paths of Moria.
Quote:
Originally Posted by William Cloud Hicklin View Post
I noticed in the Hobbit film that goblins ride Shai-halud sandworms from Arrakis.
"Tell me of your home world, Estel."
__________________
Please visit my blog...The Dark Elf File...a slighty skewed journal of music and literary comment, fan-fiction and interminable essays.
Morthoron is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 05-19-2017, 01:04 AM   #16
Nerwen
Wisest of the Noldor
 
Nerwen's Avatar
 
Join Date: Oct 2007
Location: ˙˙˙ssɐןƃ ƃuıʞooן ǝɥʇ ɥƃnoɹɥʇ
Posts: 5,957
Nerwen is a guest of Galadriel in Lothlórien.Nerwen is a guest of Galadriel in Lothlórien.Nerwen is a guest of Galadriel in Lothlórien.Nerwen is a guest of Galadriel in Lothlórien.Nerwen is a guest of Galadriel in Lothlórien.
Send a message via Skype™ to Nerwen
Quote:
Originally Posted by William Cloud Hicklin View Post
I noticed in the Hobbit film that goblins ride Shai-halud sandworms from Arrakis.
Quote:
Originally Posted by Morthoron View Post
"Tell me of your home world, Estel."
Sandworms! Those were Were-worms, I'll have you know! Practically almost canonical-ish.
__________________
"Even Nerwen wasn't evil in the beginning." –Elmo.
Nerwen is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 05-19-2017, 04:53 PM   #17
Morthoron
Curmudgeonly Wordwraith
 
Morthoron's Avatar
 
Join Date: Jun 2007
Location: Ensconced in curmudgeonly pursuits
Posts: 2,225
Morthoron is lost in the dark paths of Moria.Morthoron is lost in the dark paths of Moria.Morthoron is lost in the dark paths of Moria.Morthoron is lost in the dark paths of Moria.
Quote:
Originally Posted by Nerwen View Post
Sandworms! Those were Were-worms, I'll have you know! Practically almost canonical-ish.
I guess we should be just happy that Jackson didn't import a Fastitocalon to come out of the lake and be ridden triumphantly into battle by Bard and all the rest of the Laketowners.
__________________
Please visit my blog...The Dark Elf File...a slighty skewed journal of music and literary comment, fan-fiction and interminable essays.
Morthoron is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 05-19-2017, 09:19 PM   #18
Nerwen
Wisest of the Noldor
 
Nerwen's Avatar
 
Join Date: Oct 2007
Location: ˙˙˙ssɐןƃ ƃuıʞooן ǝɥʇ ɥƃnoɹɥʇ
Posts: 5,957
Nerwen is a guest of Galadriel in Lothlórien.Nerwen is a guest of Galadriel in Lothlórien.Nerwen is a guest of Galadriel in Lothlórien.Nerwen is a guest of Galadriel in Lothlórien.Nerwen is a guest of Galadriel in Lothlórien.
Send a message via Skype™ to Nerwen
Quote:
Originally Posted by Morthoron View Post
I guess we should be just happy that Jackson didn't import a Fastitocalon to come out of the lake and be ridden triumphantly into battle by Bard and all the rest of the Laketowners.
And why, why not a Mewlip encounter? Such a missed opportunity!
__________________
"Even Nerwen wasn't evil in the beginning." –Elmo.
Nerwen is offline   Reply With Quote
Reply

Thread Tools
Display Modes

Posting Rules
You may not post new threads
You may not post replies
You may not post attachments
You may not edit your posts

BB code is On
Smilies are On
[IMG] code is On
HTML code is Off

Forum Jump


All times are GMT -6. The time now is 08:55 PM.



Powered by vBulletin® Version 3.8.9 Beta 4
Copyright ©2000 - 2017, vBulletin Solutions, Inc.