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Aghia Sofia Istanbul/Constantinople Norse Connection

Aghia Sofia across the Golden Horn, Istanbul

Istanbul, is still Constantinople (“Constantinoupoli”: Constantine’s City)or "Oi Polloi", “The City” to the Greeks.  The Turkish name derives from the old Greek name .  Here too we can find traces of our Norse Ancestors.  In the old city, the great 9th Century Byzantine cathedral of Aghia Sofia (Saint Sophia) stands, firm, its great dome defying gravity.  Now a museum, it contains a Viking secret.  Ascending to the gallery by a series of ramps built inside the massive walls, and having passed through the Empress’s private lodge, one can stand with one's hands on the stone balcony.   

Ramp to the Gallery

There, carved in the soft stone were names in runic characters, one of which reads “Halfdan”, dated to the 9th Century.  This encouraged me to find out more.  It seems Halfdan was a member of the Varangian Guard, bodyguards to the Holy Roman Emperor.

Halfdan in Runic Characters

More Viking Names

The Gallery where the Vikings stood

Just as our ancestors journeyed to the West, they also turned South and East, arriving in the Black Sea and to Constantinople through Russia’s river systems, and also through the Mediterranean.  The Eastern Vikings were known as the
Rus, and they called Constantinople “Myklegaard” meaning the Great City A Rus attack in 860 was unsuccessful, the Greeks attributing their success to a miracle resulting from the parading on the walls of the robe of the Virgin Mary.  Subsequently, the Rus, now turning to Christianity, perhaps impressed at the effect of the robe, sued for peace and then began trading, and entered into Byzantine military service.  This tradition continued for many years, and many returned home wealthy as a result of their service, either to Norway or even Iceland, where the Laxdaela Saga records that a certain Bolli was in the raiment of peltries that the Garth-king had given him: he had over all a cape of red scarlet; he was girded with Footbiter, whose hilts were now gold-bedight, and his middle wound about with gold : he had a gilded helm on his head; he bare a red shield by his side, and drawn thereon a knight in gold, the which he had won out in Micklegarth: he had also in his hand an anlace, as is the wont of the Outlands. And wheresoever they took guesting the women gave heed to nought else than gazing on their display and proud bearing.
  The last and best known member of the Varangian Guard was Harald Hardrada, who then became King of Norway, and fell at Stamford Bridge in 1066.

 Photographs © Iain Laird 2013-2014