You are on page 1of 17

TheSchismthatneverwas:OldNorseviewsonByzantiumandRussia

TheSchismthatneverwas:OldNorseviewsonByzantiumandRussia

bySverrirJakobsson

Source: ByzantinoslavicaRevueinternationaledesEtudesByzantines(ByzantinoslavicaRevue internationaledesEtudesByzantines),issue:12/2008,pages:173188,onwww.ceeol.com.

The Schism that never was: Old Norse views on Byzantium and Russia
Sverrir JAKOBSSON (Reykjavk)

In general works on European medieval history there frequently appears a grand narrative about the friction and polarisation within Christianity which reached a climax with the great schism of 1054. As of that time, it has often been reiterated, Christians split into a western branch which subscribed to Roman Catholic Christianity and an eastern branch which came under the Greek Orthodox Church. Recently, historians have developed an interest in the genesis of Europe as a medieval phenomenon but this Europe is usually equated with Roman Catholicism. The powerful East Roman Empire is not regarded as a fullyfledged European state, but as on a divergent path leading eventually to a dead-end. In the Middle Ages, many of those writing about the situation within the Church have viewed it in terms of a split. It could take on a cultural meaning, e.g. the term latinitas was sometimes used about the Roman-Catholic world in the 12th century. This word is found in writings about the appointment of the German Emperor and the potential consequences of this for the Latin world.1 Furthermore, at the time of the Crusades, various scholars in Western Europe were hostile towards the Greeks and some went so far as to say that Constantinople had no part in Christianity except in name.2 This view of the schism has been challenged in recent years, as early as in 1955 by Stephen RUNCIMAN who claimed that it was impossible to give a precise date for the schism and argued that the schism was not a matter of conflicting ecclesiastical traditions, but of mutual dislike between the peoples of Eastern and Western Christendom that arose out
R. BARTLETT, The Making of Europe. Conquest, Colonization and Cultural Change 950-1350, London 1993, 19. 2 Ipsa rem Christianitatis non habet, sed nomen, cf. R. BARTLETT, Patterns of Unity and Diversity in Medieval Europe, in: The Birth of Identities. Denmark and Europe in the Middle Ages, ed. B. P. McGuire, Copenhagen 1996, 29-45 (37). These scholars, however, may not represent the majority opinion among the European elite, cf. J. FRANCE, Byzantium in Western Chronicles before the First Crusade, in: Knighthoods of Christ. Essays on the History of the Crusades and the Knights Templar, presented to M. Barber, Aldershot 2007, 3-16.
1

173

Sverrir Jakobsson

of the political events of the eleventh and twelfth centuries.3 In the last 10-20 years this view has gained ground among scholars, although it has yet to become a part of the popular view of the past. For example, Joan M. HUSSEY states that the real schism ocurred as a result of the embitterment engendered by the Latin crusading movement and the assault on Constantinople in 1204.4 In the middle of the 12th-century the Pope even came close to recognizing the emperor of Constantinople as sole Roman emperor. Emperor Manuel I Komnenos pursued an alliance with Pope Alexander III in the 1160s, and even as late as 1175 the Pope and the emperor were working on the terms of a treaty.5 During the 3rd crusade, 1189-1191, the Byzantine establishment was split over the question whether to seek an alliance with the Latins or the Islamic ruler Saladin, but the traditional civil service wisdom prevailed, that peace with the Latins should be sought at any price.6 However, this was about to change. In the 13th-century, in the aftermath of the 4th crusade, Byzantine identity was refashioned and now defined against the Latins. Tia M. KOLBABA has studied polemical texts written by medieval Greek Christians, lists of Latin religious errors, and notes that there are apparently two periods in which lists are produced in great numbers (1054-1100 and 1200-following); sandwiched between them is a century in which lists are not common.7 Nevertheless, influential elements within the Greek Orthodox Church continued to seek rapprochement with the West at different times, at Lyon in 1274, during the 14th-century and at the Council of Florence in the 15th century.8 According to Michael ANGOLD, the church of Constantinoples insulation from Latin influence only lasted from 1274 to the middle of the 14th-century, and was a consequence of the reaction against the union of Lyons.9 Except from this, there was a

S. RUNCIMAN, The Eastern Schism. A Study of the Papacy and the Eastern churches during the XIth and XIIth centuries, Oxford 1955, 160, 168. 4 J. M. HUSSEY, The Orthodox Church in the Byzantine Empire (Oxford History of the Christian Church), Oxford 1986, 136. Cf. Also H. CHADWICk, East and West: The Making of a Rift in the Church. From Apostolic Times until the Council of Florence, Oxford 2003, 277. 5 P. MAGDALINO, The Empire of Manuel I Komnenos, 1143-1180, Cambridge 1993, 83-95. 6 M. ANGOLD, The Fourth Crusade. Event and Context, Harlow 2003, 31-37. 7 T. M. KOLBABA, The Byzantine Lists. Errors of the Latins, Urbana Chicago 2000, 16. 8 Cf. M. ANGOLD, Byzantium and the West 1204-1453, in: Eastern Christianity (= The Cambridge History of Christianity, 5), ed. M. Angold, Cambridge 2006, 53-78. 9 M. ANGOLD, Byzantium and the West, 69.

174

The Schism that never was: Old Norse views on Byzantium and Russia

continuous presence in the East Roman Empire of influential people working for the union of the churches. In addition to this, the concept of schism cannot be applied to all nations which were part of the Roman-Catholic world. A completely different world view appears in sources from the western part of the Old Norse cultural zone where one has to try hard to find any references to a split in the Church. In this article I will deal mostly with material from Iceland, although the overlap between Icelandic and Norwegian writing and attitudes was considerable. It is my contention that, in the general view of Icelanders, the Christian world was united, catholic in the original meaning of the word. Christianity in the East was thought to have similar roots to Christianity in Iceland and differences between the religions of Nordic and Eastern people were considered insignificant. Arguments in support of this ostensibly surprising conclusion will be presented in the following narrative.

The religious Schism


There is only one clear and unambiguous mention of the great schism in medieval Icelandic sources. Its impact appears not to have been felt in Iceland before 1274 when several annals recount that the Greeks had turned from some kind of heresy. For example, the Saga of Bishop rni states: In the same year came tidings from the aforementioned assembly in Lyon that the Greeks had reverted to true Christianity, from the contentious position that they had temporarily adopted, on the wise counsel of Pope Gregory.10 This wording scarcely suggests much knowledge of the disagreement. The prolonged fracture of the church is not mentioned and it is implied that the dispute, supposedly resolved in Lyon, was only of transient nature. If reconciliation in Lyon of the contentious position temporarily adopted was deemed feasible by Icelandic chroniclers in the late 13th century, what reasons did Icelanders have to reject heretic priests from the East in the 11th century? That they did so is suggested by the Icelandic law-code Grgs which differentiates between priests who know Latin and bishops or priests who are not learned in the Latin tongue, naming people from Armenia (or Warmia on the Baltic Coast) and the Rus in particular.11 This has been interpreted as clear endorsement of
rna saga biskups (= Stofnun rna Magnssonar slandi, 2), ed. . Hauksson, Reykjavk 1972, 41-42; Islandske Annaler indtil 1578, ed. G. Storm, Christiania 1888, 28, 49, 69, 139, 194, 259, 332, 484; Laurentius saga biskups (= Rit Handritastofnunar slands 3), ed. . Bjrnsson, Reykjavk 1969, 7. 11 Grgs. Lagasafn slenska jveldisins, ed. G. Karlsson K. Sveinsson M. rnason, Reykjavk 1992, 19.
10

175

Sverrir Jakobsson

the authority of the Roman Catholic Church.12 However, it is not clear that this provision was adopted on the initiative of Icelanders or that it reflects their awareness of the great schism. The notion of the unique status of Latin is not in itself evidence of religious dissent or opposition to those who did not speak Latin. It is first and foremost suggestive of efforts to impose order in the Icelandic church by making Latin the only accepted language of priests. This provision has often been linked with reports in the Old Norse historical works slendingabk and Hungurvaka of people who claimed to be bishops and of foreign bishops who offered more leniency than Bishop sleifr (Gizurarson, 1056-1080).13 But information about these clerics is sketchy. The church in Scandinavia in the 11th century was still a missionary field where many might call themselves bishops. One may infer from the Gesta Hammaburgensis Ecclesiae Pontificum, written by Adam of Bremen in the 1070s, that sleifr had been appointed Bishop by the Archbishop of HamburgBremen and could be regarded as his representative in Iceland.14 Bishops ordained somewhere else were not regarded as having the same authority as sleifr, who was a precursor to later bishops at the see of Sklholt. In this context there is no reason to assume that these bishops were also considered heretical. Nor is it certain that the superiors of the first Icelandic bishops would have objected to acephalic bishops on account of disagreement in religious matters or differing customs. For example, in the early years of Nordic Christianity in the 11th century, the aforementioned Adam of Bremen describes with great interest various Greek church customs which the Archbishop of HamburgBremen adopted. Adam appears not to know of a great schism, even though his work was composed after 1054.15 In Veraldar Saga, an Icelandic work on universal history written in the mid-12th century, the discord between the Greeks and Romans is defined as political. From the 8th century, the Romans seceded from the Emperor in Constantinople From then on the Byzantine Emperor in
12 M. M. LRUSSSON, Um hina ermsku biskupa, Skrnir 133 (1959) 81-94 (esp. 85-88). 13 Ari orgilsson hinn fri, slendingabk (= Nordisk filologi A.5), ed. A. Holtsmark, Oslo 1952, 25; Byskupa sgur (= Editiones Arnamagnan. Series A 13), 2 vols, ed. J. Helgason, Copenhagen 1938-1978, II, 77. Cf. S. LNDAL, Upphaf kristni og kirkju, in: Saga slands I, Reykjavk 1974, 225-288 (252). 14 Cf. Quellen des 9. und 11. Jahrhunderts zur Geschichte der hamburgischen Kirche und des Reiches (= Ausgewhlte Quellen zur deutschen Geschichte des Mittelalters 11), ed. W. Trillmich R. Buchner, Berlin 1961, 486. 15 Quellen des 9. und 11. Jahrhunderts, 366. On ecclesiastical conflicts in Scandinavia at the time cf. H. JANSSON, Templum nobilissimum. Adam av Bremen, Uppsalatemplet och konfliktlinjerna i Europa kring r 1075 (= Avhandlinger frn Historiska institutionen i Gteborg 21), Gothenburg 1998, 152-162, 167-711.

176

The Schism that never was: Old Norse views on Byzantium and Russia

Constantinople and the Emperor in Saxony have claimed authority over one other.16 This is an interesting point of view coming from a work that as a rule epitomises the clerical view of world history.17 Morkinskinna and other 13th-century Kings sagas recount the disputes of the Norwegian Harald Hardrada with troops in the service of the East Roman Emperor led by George Maniakes (d. 1043), a kinsman of Empress Zoe. According to these sources, there was a power struggle between Maniakes and Harald which only ended when Harald left the army and with him, all the Varangians and other Latin people but Gyrgir [George] and the others went with the Greek army.18 This could be interpreted as deriving from a conflict between members of the Roman Catholic Church and the Greek Orthodox Church.19 But religious matters are not mentioned in this source, only a disagreement between people who spoke different languages. Other sources touching on a religious schism are similarly ambiguously worded, as though a fundamental understanding of its nature were lacking. The Old Norse Saga of Edward the Confessor tells of the AngloSaxons who went to Constantinople some years after the fall of Harald Godwinsson in 1066, fought alongside King Kirjalax (Alexios I, 10811118) and were granted land in the north-eastern part of the Empire which they called England, with cities called London and York and the names of other major cities in England. In this unusual narrative, the religious schism emerges when the Anglo-Saxon settlers refuse to use Plsbk (The Book of Paul) then current in Constantinople; instead they sought bishops and other clerics from Hungary.20
Veraldar saga (= Samfund til udgivelse af gammel nordisk litteratur 61), ed. J. Benediktsson, Copenhagen 1944, 69-70. 17 Cf. S. JAKOBSSON, Vi og verldin. Heimsmynd slendinga 1100-1400, Reykjavk 2005, 56, 112. 18 Morkinskinna (= Samfund til udgivelse af gammel nordisk litteratur 53), ed. F. Jnsson, Copenhagen, 1932, 62-64. That Harald really was at the Byzantine court in the 1040s and was later regarded as a loyal ally of the Empire, is confirmed by the 11th-century text known as the Strategikon of Kekaumenos, cf. Kekavmen, Soveti i rasskazy. Pouchenie vizantiniiskogo polkovodtsa Xi veka (= Serija: Vizantiiskaja biblioteka. Istochniki), ed. G. G. Litavrin, 2nd ed., St. Petersburg 2003, 298-301; G. STORM, Harald Hardraade og Vringerne i de grske Kejseres Tjeneste, Historisk Tidsskrift 2, 4 (1884) 354-386. Many stories about Harald have parallels in Norman literature, cf. J. DE VRIES, Normannisches Lehngut in den islndischen Knigssagas, Arkiv fr nordisk filologi 47 (1931) 51-79 (63-68). 19 The ethnic term latinoi is rare in Greek historical sources beforethe 12th century, when it became common, cf. A. KAZHDAN, Latins and Franks in Byzantium: Perception and Reality from the Eleventh to the Twelfth Century, in: The Crusades from the Perspective of Byzantium and the Muslim World, ed. A. E. Laiou R. P. Mottahedeh, Washington, D.C. 2001, 83-100 (86). 20 Flateyjarbk. En samling af norske konge-sagaer med indskudte mindre fortllinger om begivenheder i og udenfor Norge samt annaler, ed. G. Vigfsson C. R. Unger, 3 vols, Christiania 1860-1868, III, 470-472. On the sources of this story cf.
16

177

Sverrir Jakobsson

Notwithstanding an interdiction of Armenian and Greek bishops there is not much in Icelandic or West Nordic sources which points to an East-West schism in the Church. One may infer that little was heard of this schism and that when it did become known it was understood as either transient friction or a political dispute between ambitious leaders. It did not threaten the unity of Christianity. Icelanders ideas about the schism were amorphous in contrast to the importance assigned to the schism in modern historiography. This represents an exaggeration of 20th-century historians who found in this dissension a resonance with the polarity of Eastern and Western Europe in their day.

The Figure of the Emperor


Flateyjarbk and other 14th-century manuscripts contain a Christian travelogue called the Saga of Eirkr Vfrli. It is about a prince from Trondheim who heads east to search for Paradise (dinsakr). He adopts Christianity in Constantinople and the Byzantine Emperor educates him in the Christian world view. He eventually travels further East and reaches the end of his road, though he never manages to enter Paradise itself.21 The role of the Greek monarch in this narrative is interesting. He is a fully-fledged Christian doctor or didaskalos, who instructs the young Nordic prince in the fundamentals of Christianity.22 In this particular source, the Christian world view is described according to learned writings such as Imago mundi and Elucidarius. A Nordic man is thus made to seek his education about the Christian world view in Byzantium. The narrative of the Saga of Eirkur can be compared with the Saga of Charlemagne: this Old Norse chivalric romance recounts the famous Kings crusade to the Holy Land where he fights by the East Roman Emperors side. When Charlemagne asks for permission to travel home, the Byzantine Emperor offers to give him Constantinople and to be his
Ch. FELL, The Icelandic Saga of Edward the Confessor: Its version of the Anglo-Saxon Emigration to Byzantium, Anglo-Saxon England 3 (1974) 179-196 (esp. 181-189). See also Ch. FELL, A Note on Plsbk, Medieval Scandinavia 6 (1973) 102-108. 21 Cf. S. JAKOBSSON, On the Road to Paradise: Austrvegr in the Icelandic Imagination, in: The Fantastic in Old Norse/Icelandic Literature Sagas and the British Isles. Preprint papers of the 13th international Saga Conference, Durham and York, 6th-12th August 2006, ed. J. McKinnell D. Ashurst D. Kick, Durham 2006, 935-943. 22 On the role of the Byzantine emperor as didaskalos, cf. G. DAGRON, Emperor and Priest. The Imperial Office in Byzantium (= Past & Present Publications), transl. J. Birrell, Cambridge University Press 2003, 263-266.

178

The Schism that never was: Old Norse views on Byzantium and Russia

vassal. Charlemagne answers: God forbid me to do that because you are Emperor and lord of all Christendom.23 Even if the aim of the story is to aggrandise Charlemagne, this concept of the leader of all Christendom is consistent with what Icelanders at the time probably believed. In descriptions of the world, Constantinople is usually considered one of the chief Christian cities alongside Jerusalem and Rome. In the 13th-century Biblical retelling Stjrns description of the world, Constantinople is that city which Norsemen call Mikligarr [] which in its great power and merit is in many ways equal to Rome itself.24 In Snorri Sturlusons Edda, Christ is the King of the heavens and the sun and the angels and of Jerusalem and Jordan and Greece ... [authors emphasis].25 Christ is called stlkonungr in the Miracle of the Virgin Mary, but that name is otherwise used for the Byzantine Emperor.26 In a world-description from 1387, written by a cleric from the western part of Iceland, holy remains in Constantinople are documented and Constantine the Great and other Emperors are mentioned.27 The relationship between the East Roman Empire and the Scandinavian Varangians who served in the imperial guard until the 11th century is well-known and has often been commented upon.28 For a later period, however, the evidence for continuing relations is not so overwhelming but nevertheless quite substantial. During the Age of the Crusades, Nordic people travelled increasingly to Constantinople and Jerusalem, though never as frequently as they did to Rome. King Eirkr
23

Karlamagns saga. Branches I, III, VII et IX, ed. A. Loth, Copenhagen 1980, 95. Tales of the Eastern adventures of Charlemagne were popular in Europe from the 12th century onwards, cf. C. ERDMANN, Die Entstehung des Kreuzzugsgedankens (= Forschungen zur Kirchen- und Geistesgeschichte 6), Stuttgart 1935, 276-277. 24 Stjrn. Gammelnorsk biblehistorie fra verdens skabelse til det babyloniske fangenskab, ed. C. R. Unger, Christiania 1862, 83. 25 Snorri Sturluson, Edda, ed. F. Jnsson, Copenhagen 1900, 121. 26 Mariu saga. Legender om jomfru Maria og hendes jertegn efter gamle Haandskrifter, ed. C. R. Unger, Christiania 1871, 1086. Cf. S. EGILSSON, Lexicon poticum antiqu lingua septentrionalis, Copenhagen 1931 [2. ed. by F. Jnsson; original ed. Copenhagen 1854-1860], 539. 27 Cod. mbr. AM. 194, 8vo. Alfri slenzk: Islandsk encyklopdisk litteratur, 1 (= Samfund til udgivelse af gammel nordisk litteratur 37), ed. K. Klund, Copenhagen 1908, 25-26. 28 Cf. S. BLNDAL, Vringjasaga. Saga norrnna, rssneskra og enskra hersveita jnustu Miklagarskeisara mildum, Reykjavk 1954, or the English translation: Varangians of Byzantium. An Aspect of Byzantine Military History, ed. B. S. Benedikz, Cambridge New York, 1978. For later research cf. M. BIBIKOV, Byzantinoscandica, in: Byzantium. Identity, Image, Influence. XIXth International Congress of Byzantine Studies University of Copenhagen, 18-24 August 1996. Major Papers, ed. K. Fledelius P. Schreiner, Copenhagen 1996, 201-211.

179

Sverrir Jakobsson

Sveinsson (1055-1103) of Denmark, and King Sigurr Magnsson (10901130) of Norway were the first to go. Marks Skeggjasons (d. 1107) Eirksdrpa describes Eirkrs travels south and how his honour reaches its zenith when he goes to Constantinople and is received by the Emperor.29 Depictions of the crusading kings travels have in common that they dwell on the reception they get in Constantinople and their dealings with Emperor Alexios, while less is said about their religious experiences in Jerusalem. In Kntlinga Saga the Emperors gifts are explicitly used to compare the valour of the kings.30 This emphasis on the reception of monarchs in Constantinople is a key feature of narratives of kings pilgrimages and it eclipses everything else.31 Earl Rgnvaldr of the Orkneys (d. 1158) apparently travels to the Holy Land because a mercenary back from Constantinople urges him to go, saying: You will be respected most where you arrive in the company of noble men.32 This turns out to be so; as the Earl is received with great honour at Constantinople. After the trip all his companions rise in status as everyone considered them much greater men than before.33 In fact, the respect gained by the Earl and his companions in Constantinople is described in much more detail than the salvation that pilgrimage brings. The deference that the Emperor in Constantinople shows the Kings and the Earl leads them to be considered greater men after the journey. It is unclear what other purpose the trip served since the pecuniary gain was insignificant. The gain would have been symbolic and kings pilgrimages perhaps had a similar purpose to the trips of Icelandic farmers sons to the courts of kings and leaders.34 The travels of Scandinavian rulers to the Byzantine Empire can be interpreted in multiform ways. In the 12th century the Emperor in Constantinople seems to have regarded Nordic kings as his vassals. In 1196 Kirjalax the king of the Greeks (Emperor Alexios IV) sent messengers with a letter and seal to the kings of Norway, Denmark and Sweden, and asked them to send him soldiers.35 This may be understood as a
Den norsk-islandske skjaldedigtning, ed. F. Jnsson, Copenhagen 1912-1915. 800-1200, B. Rettet text, I, 414-420. 30 Sgur Danakonunga. 1. Sgubrot af fornkonungum. 2. Knytlinga saga (= Samfund til udgivelse af gammel nordisk litteratur 46), ed. C. af Petersens E. Olson, Copenhagen 1919-1925, 236-237. 31 Morkinskinna, 337; grip af Nregs konunga sgum (= Altnordische Saga-bibliothek 18), ed. F. Jnsson, Halle 1929, 50-52. 32 Orkneyinga saga (= Samfund til udgivelse af gammel nordisk litteratur 40), ed. S. Nordal, Copenhagen 1913-1916, 215. 33 Orkneyinga saga, 259. 34 Cf. S. JAKOBSSON, Upphef a utan, in: Smdarmenn. Um heiur jveldisld, Reykjavk 2001, 23-39. 35 Sverris saga etter Cod. AM 327 4o, ed. G. Indreb, Kristiania 1920, 133.
29

180

The Schism that never was: Old Norse views on Byzantium and Russia

request for continued support, which Scandinavians had usually provided in the previous century, and it shows that the links between Scandinavians and Constantinople were still considerable. The knights of Archbishop Absalon of Lund resided in the court of the Byzantine Emperor in 1184 and it is credible that men from Denmark were in the Emperors army.36 Of course, it may have been sound strategy for Nordic kings to defer to the distant Byzantine Emperor: he did not threaten their independence in the same way as the neighbouring Holy Roman Emperor did. There are various indications that the Byzantine Emperor had more prestige than other monarchs, even the Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire. Serving such a leader added to a persons honour, as often emerges in the Sagas of Icelanders. Bari Gumundarson, the protagonist of Heiarvga Saga (Saga of the Heath Slayings), redeems himself by defending the Emperors realm whereas in Brennu-Njls Saga Kolskeggr Hmundarson, brother of the brave Gunnar of Hlarendi, ends his life as Gods knight and leader of the Varangian Guard.37 A similar sentiment is found in Icelandic chivalric romances. In the Saga of Konr the son of the Emperor the protagonist, the son of the Emperor of Saxony, refuses to visit or serve any monarch who is not richest in all the world, but that is the Byzantine Emperor himself and we shall to Constantinople.38 In romances it is common for excellent leaders to be counted among the most famous men north of the Greek Sea, but there is no attempt to compare their glory with the Byzantine Emperor or other rulers in the southern lands. This is a recurrent theme within Icelandic chivalric literature, but very similar sentiments can be noted in religious literature. Kristni Saga (the Saga of Christianity) and Flateyjarbk recount the Icelandic missionary orvaldr vfrlis efforts to promote Christianity in the East. The 14thcentury The Greatest Saga of lafr Tryggvason recounts that orvaldr had been honoured as glorious confessor of our Lord Jesus Christ, by the Emperor of Constantinople and all his magnates and not least by all bishops and abbots throughout Greece and Syria. Above all else, he was revered in the Eastern lands where he was sent by the Emperor as a chief or ruler, appointed above all the kings of Rus and in all of Gararki [Rus].39
K. CIGGAAR, Denmark and Byzantium from 1184 to 1212. Queen Dagmars cross, a chrysobull of Alexius III and an ultramarine connection, Mediaeval Scandinavia 13 (2000) 118-143. 37 Cf. B. GUNASON, Tlkun Heiarvgasgu (= Studia Islandica 50), Reykjavk 1993, 65. 38 Fornsgr Surlanda. Magus saga jarls, Konras saga, Brings saga, Flovents saga, Bevers saga, ed. G. Cederschild, Lund 1884, 48. 39 lfs saga Tryggvasonar en mesta (= Editiones Arnamagnan. Series A 13), 3 vols, ed. . Halldrsson, Copenhagen 1958-2000, I, 300.
36

181

Sverrir Jakobsson

Embroidered tales of this kind say little of factual value about orvaldurs life at the end of the 10th century but they show what great things 14th-century Icelanders believed could have awaited their countrymen in the East at that time. It is interesting that despite orvaldrs religious achievement, his promotion is also shown to be of a secular nature. Stories of the widely-travelled Eirkr and orvaldr reveal that at the end of the 14th century Icelanders still looked upon the Byzantine Emperor as leader of all Christendom who was in a position to grant Nordic men worldly and spiritual eminence. The Emperor appears to occupy a unique position among Christian rulers. The power received from his hand is spiritual no less than secular. This hardly seems influenced by the great schism, quite the opposite.

The Eastern missionary field


At least from the 12th century on, there was a common opinion among Icelandic historians that the Norwegian king lafr Tryggvason (d. 1000) played a big part in the Christianisation of Iceland.40 Due to this groundbreaking event, lafr Tryggvason was a pivotal figure in the Icelanders retelling of their own past and the history of Scandinavia. Oddr Snorrason, a monk at ingeyri in the north of Iceland, wrote the oldest preserved saga about lafr in the last quarter of the 12th century. In the saga, lafr had already promised to adopt Christianity after a close call at sea, but upon arriving in Rus he has another vision and a voice from heaven says to him: Go to Greece and the name of the Lord will be made known to you. In Greece he meets glorious and devout scholars and he is taught the true faith and Gods commandments. Then he asks a Bishop called Pll to go with him to Rus and preach Gods word to all heathen nations.41 According to Monk Oddr, the land of the Rus was thus Christianised from Greece through lafrs intercession. Other accounts of the Christianisation of the Rus were probably known in Iceland, although the notion that lafr brought Christianity to the Rus via Greece was clearly most prevalent.42
This may have been a reaction against the prevalent tradition in which the role of St. Olaf was more important, cf. L. LNNROTH, Studier i Olaf Tryggvasons saga, Samlaren 84 (1963) 54-94 (61-67). Older sources, such ast the Gesta Hammaburgensis ecclesiae Pontificum by Adam of Bremen, do not represent lafr Tryggvason as a Christian missionary, cf. Quellen des 9. und 11. Jahrhunderts, 486. This has been pointed out by H. LAXNESS, cf. Vnlandspnktar, Reykjavk 1969, 27. 41 Saga lfs Tryggvasonar af Oddr Snorrason munk, 40-42. On this character, cf. Ch. FELL, A Note on Plsbk. 42 lfs saga Tryggvasonar en mesta, I, 158; Flateyjarbk, I, 119.
40

182

The Schism that never was: Old Norse views on Byzantium and Russia

Contemporary sources about lafr Tryggvason lend little support to this account of his adventures in the East. But the idea that Norwegian and Icelandic missionaries played a part in the Christianisation of the Rus may derive, in part, from the close links between the courts of Rus, Norway and Denmark before 1200. The Norwegian King had close and friendly relations with the princes of the Rus in the 11th and 12th centuries, and Danish kings were also related to the princes of the Rus.43 Mstislav, prince of Novgorod, is an example of this, as he married to the daughter of the Swedish King Ingi, and his daughter was later married to both the Norwegian and the Danish kings. These connections influenced Nordic politics in the 12th century. The Danish King Valdemar the Great (1157-1182) was the grandson of Prince Vladimir Monomakh (d. 1125) in Kiev. Magnus, son of King Nicholas (1104-1134), a rival of Valdemars father Lord Knud, married a daughter of the King of Poland and thereby became connected with the royal family from Polotsk, which was at war with Vladimirs family in Kiev and Novgorod. As Valdemar Knudsson and Knud Magnusson were rivals for the throne in Denmark in the 1150s, each as a candidate of a respective Danish house, they also represented different branches of the ruling family which had formerly vied for power in Rus.44 Valdemars sons came from both of these families, as he married Sophie, Knuds sister, who was descended from the Prince Volodar of Rus. Concurrently, the Rus venerated royal-born Scandinavian saints, e.g. Magnus the Earl of Orkney, St. Knud and St. Olaf.45 This hardly supports the idea of significant religious discord between Rus and Scandinavia in the 12th century. When Oddr Snorrason wrote his Saga of lafr Tryggvason at the end of the 12th century, relations between Nordic and Eastern powers had been close and friendly for many years. The religious schism or conflict was hardly discussed, if at all. When Oddr describes the achievements of lafr Tryggvason in the East, his missionary accomplishments were accentuated. Oddr adhered to the view that Christianity had come to Rus from Greece but made lafr Tryggvason an intermediary. It is clear that Oddr would not have written in this way about the achievements of the Missionary King in the East if he thought that the Rus subscribed to heresy or if he had a grudge against the Orthodox Church.

43 J. H. LIND, De russiske gteskaber. Dynasti- og alliancepolitik i 1130s danske borgerkrig, Historisk tidsskrift 92 (1992) 225-263 (228). 44 J. H. LIND, De russiske gteskaber, 248. 45 J. H. LIND, The Martyria of Odense and a Twelfth Century Russian Prayer. To the Question of Bohemian Influence on Russian Religious Literature, Slavonic and East European Review 68 (1990) 1-21.

183

Sverrir Jakobsson

Oddrs depiction of lafr Tryggvasons missionary work in the East became predominant in Icelandic historical writing about lafr. When the Greatest Saga of lafr Tryggvason was written at the end of the 14th century this idea still prevailed in Iceland. It is impossible to reconcile this outlook of the Christianisation of Rus with a keen awareness of the Great schism. From the same period we have Eymundar ttr Hringssonar in Flateyjarbk which depicts politics in Rus and power disputes between the rulers in a story that supposedly takes place in the early 11th century.46 This tale bears witness to how Icelanders viewed both the lie of the land and the political situation in Rus in former times.47 It recounts the disputes of a prince in Novgorod with his brothers who are rulers in Kiev and Polotsk. In Eymundar ttr it is assumed that the lands of the Rus are Christianitys outpost and beyond its borders are evil peoples such as Perms, Turks and Vlachs.48 Attitudes were different in Eastern Scandinavia, as the Danish and Swedish monarchs sought influence and dominions in the region of the Baltic rim. Religious disputes between the Rus and Swedes were on the increase in the 13th century. In sources emanating from the Rus it is stated that Prince Jaroslav of Novgorod instigated extensive and widespread missionary work among the Karelians in 1227 and subsequently among the Tavastians.49 This led to conflict with the Swedes who were simultaneously seeking a foothold in Finland. The Swedish Earl Birger went on a mission to Finland in 1239 and the Swedes campaigned against enemies in the East in 1240, with the support of the Pope.50 A crusade was preached against the Rus as

Flateyjarbk, II, 118-134. On the source value of the ttr and its congruence with Russian sources, cf. R. COOK, Russian History, Icelandic Story, and Byzantine Strategy in Eymundar ttr Hringssonar, Viator 17 (1986) 65-89 (68-71). 48 Flateyjarbk, II, 124-127. On Vlachs (Blkumenn) cf. S. B. F. JANSSON, Runinskrifter i Sverige, Uppsala 1984 [3. ed; original ed. 1963], 66-68. 49 Finlands medeltidsurkunder, I. -1400, ed. R. HAUSEN, Helsinki 1910, 25-26. J. LIND has raised doubts about the validity of these sources, cf. De russiske krniker som kilde til kontakter i stersomrdet, in: Det 22. nordiske historikermte Olso 13.-18. august 1994. Rapport I: Norden og Baltikum, ed. K. Tnnesson, Oslo 1994, 35-46 (esp. 42-45). 50 J. KORPELA reckons that the papal letters of the time are not specifically directed against the Russians, cf. The Russian Threat Against Finland in the Western Sources Before the Peace of Nteborg (1323), Scandinavian Journal of History 22 (1997) 161-172 (esp. 162-168). Cf. also J. H. LIND, Early RussianSwedish Rivalry: The Battle on the Neva and Birger Magnussons Second Crusade to Tavastia, Scandinavian Journal of History 16 (1991) 269-295 (esp. 284-294).
47

46

184

The Schism that never was: Old Norse views on Byzantium and Russia

heretics.51 The original intent of the Papacy may have been to use the crusade as a lever to bring to an end the quarrels of different parties who had invested in the Baltic mission. Not only would the crusade relieve domestic pressures, it would repeat the success of the fourth crusade by forcing the Rus to recognize the supremacy of the Roman Church.52 This is the oldest example of a religious conflict between Sweden and Rus, prompted by religious and political rivalries in the Baltic region. Their defeat at the hands of the Rus in 1240 would colour Swedish perceptions of their neighbours in the East for centuries to come. For their part, the Rus were suspicious of the beliefs of the Varangians, although the contributions of Varangians to the Christianization of Rus were also noted.53 In 1293 Swedes built the walled city of Viborg (Viipuri) in Karelia, right at the base of the Finnish Gulf. The Swedes founded the fort Landskrona at the mouth of the Neva, not for from the site of St Petersburg in later times, but the Rus laid siege to it and captured it in 1301. These events marked the beginning of centuries of hostilities between the Swedes and the Rus, based on the perceived threat to the Swedish territories in Finland.54 The Swedish Erikskrnika (Chronicle of Erik), written around 1330, uses the terms the crisno (the Christians) and the hedno (the Pagans) when recounting the mid-13th century clashes between Swedes on one hand, and the Rus and their respective Finnish allies on the other.55 This could simply mean that the term heathen was used for all possible enemies of the king.56 Parallels can certainly be found, such as when Pope Hadrian gave King Henry II of England permission in 1155 to expand the borders of the Christian church by conquering Ireland.57 The Rus
Cf. E. CHRISTIANSSEN, The Northern Crusades, London 1997 [2. ed., original ed. 1980], 116-117. 52 W. L. URBAN, The Baltic Crusade, De Kalb 1975, 161-169. 53 J. FENNELL, A History of the Russian Church to 1448, London New York 1995, 33, 101-102; S. FRANKLIN J. SHEPARD, The Emergence of Rus 750-1200 (= Longman history of Russia), London New York 1996, 308. 54 Cf. J. KORPELA, The Russian Threat Against Finland, 168-171. 55 Cf. R. PIPPING, Kommentar till Erikskrnikan, Helsinki 1926, 495-496; S.-B. JANSSON, Medeltidens rimkrnikor. Studier i funktion, stoff, form (= Studia litterarum Upsaliensia 8), Stockholm 1971, 185-187. 56 T. LINDKVIST, Crusades and Crusading Ideology in the Political History of Sweden, 1140-1500, in: Crusade and Conversion on the Baltic Frontier 1100-1500, ed. A. V. Murray, Aldershot, Hampshire 2001, 119-130 (esp. 124). 57 R. R. DAVIES, Domination and Conquest. The Experience of Ireland, Scotland, and Wales, 1100-1300 (The Wiles Lectures given at the Queens University Belfast), Cambridge 1990, 111.
51

185

Sverrir Jakobsson

were called heathens in Papal edicts from the 13th century onwards, but it is novel to see this concept appear in secular works.58 This terminology came into regular use in Sweden in the 14th century. According to the Revelationes of St. Brigid, Magnus Erikssons campaign against Rus was aimed against heathens (paganos) and heretics (infideles). Swedish texts, however, only talk about hedhninga (Pagans).59 Nordic vocabulary for religious dissent appears to have been limited: whatever that was not impeccably Christian was viewed as heathen. Norwegians and Icelanders had no part in this political rivalry, until they became involved in these conflicts through their joint monarchy with Sweden (1319-1355). Another cause of antagonism which had newly arisen was periodic raiding in Finnmark. In the Icelandic chronicle Gottsklksannll it says that the Rus had campaigned north in Hlogaland and burned the island of Bjark belonging to Sir Erling Vidkunnsson in the year 1323. This Erling, who was governor (drottsete) of Norway at the time, consequently wrote to Archbishop Eilif in Trondheim and called Finns, Rus and Karelians enemies of God. Another chronicle, Lgmannsannll (1386), says: The Rus campaigned in Norway from the North and killed men and captured women and children and pillaged.60 In Iceland, Magns Eirkssons warfare in Rus was seen in terms of territorial and religious objectives.61 In 1348, according to the Fragments of the Annals of Sklholt he headed for Rus. That was for two reasons: he wanted to regain a large area of Sweden that the Swedes had lost control of and, because the Norwegians were unwilling to wage war on another kings kingdom, the king sought support from the Pope and promised to convert the people of Rus to Christianity if he received support to do so. So it came to pass that, with the support of the holy King lafr, the King of Rus and many inhabitants adopted the faith.62
58

J. H. LIND, Consequences of the Baltic Crusades in Target Areas: The Case of Karelia, in: Crusade and Conversion on the Baltic Frontier 1100-1500, 133-150 (149). 59 Cf. Sancta Birgitta, Revelaciones. Lib. VII (= Samlingar utg. av Svenska fornskriftsllskapet. Ser. 2. Latinska skrifter, VII:8), ed. H. Aili, Uppsala 2002, 163; Heliga Birgittas uppenbarelser (= Samlingar utgifna af Svenska fornskrift-sllskapet, 14), ed. G. E. Klemming, 5 vols, Stockholm 1857-1884, III, 397. 60 Islandske Annaler, 283, 346; Diplomatarium Norvegicum. Oldbreve til Kundskab om Norges indre og ydre Forhold, Sprog, Slgter, Sder, Lovgivning og Rettergang i Middelalderen, 32 vols, Christiania 1847-1995, VIII, 99-100; Regesta Norvegica, 7 vols, Oslo 1989 etc., IV, 149. 61 On the crusades of King Magnus cf. CHRISTIANSEN, The Northern Crusades, 189-197. 62 Islandske Annaler, 223.

186

The Schism that never was: Old Norse views on Byzantium and Russia

The religious argument thus seems to be a ruse to persuade the Norwegians to agree to an unpopular war. However, not all contemporary chronicles present the episode in these terms. In Flateyjarannll Magns is said to have gone in 1351 to Rus and campaigned against the Rus and intended to lead them to the true faith. The Norwegians managed to conquer several cities but could not conquer any more. In Lgmannsannll, on the other hand: King Magns went to Rus and campaigned against the Rus and conquered a big city.63 From this, it might be supposed that Magns crusade was of marginal interest to the Icelanders, who equated it with any other territorial war. Very little is known about the premises of this war.64 But it is clear that discussion of the paganism of the Rus at the Kings court would have been in sharp contrast to the views which most Icelanders held about neighbouring countries in the East.

Conclusions
No doubt the great schism in the Middle Ages had some indirect effect on the Icelandic church. However, little points to Icelanders having had a clear idea about it. So rarely do reports of the split of Roman and Greek Catholicism find their way into Icelandic annals, that an understanding of the nature of the dispute seems to have been limited and no awareness of a prolonged religious dispute is evident. Accounts of clashes between Greeks and Latins can be found once in a while, but little about what was the issue and there is nothing to indicate that the Icelanders writing about it saw it as deeply-rooted. In the Saga of lafr Tryggvason and in the accounts of the missionary king which followed, Icelandic annalists look upon the Christianisation of Rus and West Nordic countries as part of a series of events showing lafr Tryggvason at work everywhere. This was beside the fact that they were aware that Christianity had been introduced in Rus from Greece. Throughout Icelandic sources, one finds constant and fairly equivocal reverence for the Byzantine Emperor, who was looked upon as one of the foremost rulers of Christianity, or even the head of Christendom, as it says in the Saga of Charlemagne. It is perhaps not surprising that this sentiment was prominent in the 12th century, when the way Nordic kings and nobles were received in Constantinople really does seem to have been of the utmost significance to them. At the far end of the North,
63 64

Islandske Annaler, 276, 405 M. NORDBERG, I kung Magnus tid. Norden under Magnus Eriksson 1317-1374, Stockholm 1995, 100.

187

Sverrir Jakobsson

however, this perception seems to have persisted into the 14th century, despite a marked change of attitude in neighbouring countries. In Icelandic works dating from the late 14th century the Emperor in Constantinople is still looked upon as a Christian authority who could grant pious men a great deal of power in the East. In this context, accounts of Magns Erikssons crusade against the Rus in the mid-14th century, not least their ostensible aim of converting people to Christianity, jarred with the dominant version of the history of the Christianisation of Rus just before 1000, which Icelandic historians had recorded thoroughly. No sagas were written about this campaign and in Flateyjarbk, composed in honour of Magnus grandson, the old tales about lafr Tryggvason retain their force. Nor does this crusade seem to have made Icelanders aware of the existence of any great schism. They still believed in a unitary, catholic world.

188