Særkland and the Khazar Khaganate
November 16, 2019 — Included on Draugablíkk’s recently released EP, the song “To Særkland and Back Again” is inspired by real events that took place in the Eastern lands of Særkland in the Viking Age. Historical sources describe how Varangian Rus’ (eastern Vikings) met betrayal, massacre, tragedy, and death on the Caspian Sea.
In the early 900s, Scandinavian Varangians ruled Kievan Rus’, the predecessor to modern Russia. People in the Viking Age knew the eastern Rus’ lands as “Garðaríki” (the Realm of Fortified Towns) and “Sviþjóð hin mikla” (Greater Sweden). The Varangians and the Rus’ primarily hailed from ancient Sviþjóð (Sweden), Eystra Gautland (Eastern Götaland, a “kingdom” separate from Sweden in the Viking Age), and the island of Gotland in the Baltic Sea.
In 913, the Varangian Rus’ struck a deal with the Khazars of Sarkel (a fortified trading town on the lower Don River) that would allow a Rus’ fleet open passage to raid in the Caspian Sea. In exchange, the Khazars would receive half of all loot. It was not the first nor the last such arrangement. However, this particular “expedition” ended in betrayal and blood. When the Rus’ returned from the Caspian, Khazar mercenaries ambushed them at the Caspian-Volga delta entrance. The Rus’ found themselves defenseless, and almost all of them were massacred by Khazarian mercenary troops.
The real reasons behind the Khazar betrayal are unconfirmed, but unsurprisingly, history indicate tensions grew stronger between the Varangians and the Khazars in the following decades. The rivalry culminated in the 960s, when a Kievan Rus’ ruler of Scandinavian ancestry, Sviatoslav I of Kyiv, attacked and destroyed the Khazar Khaganate, ending its existence. The Khazar capital known as Atil/Khazaran was leveled to the ground, and the fortified city of Sarkel was conquered and renamed (to Belaya Vezha) by Sviatoslav and the Rus’. The ruins of Atil were only recently discovered in 2008.
In a sense, Sviatoslav I of Kyiv avenged the Rus’ massacre of 913. Thoroughly, decisively, and with no remorse.