http://www.nordicway.com/search/Vikings in the East.htm A bit of history for those who are interested...... VIKINGS IN THE EAST_Remarkable Eyewitness Accounts More than a millennium ago, as fleets of Viking raiders were striking fear into the hearts of coast and river-dwellers throughout western Europe, other Norsemen of more mercantile inclination were making their way east. With no less boldness and stamina, bearing luxurious furs and enticing nodules of amber, they penetrated the vast steppes of what is today Ukraine, Belarus and Russia and entered Central Asia. There they met Muslim traders who paid for Norse wares with silver coins, which the Viking themselves did not mint, and which they coveted. Their routes were various, and by the ninth and 10th centuries, a regular trade network had grown up. Some Norsemen traveled overland and by river, while others sailed over both the Black and Caspian Seas, joined caravans and rode camelback as far as Baghdad, which was then under Abbasid rule and populated by nearly a million souls. There, the Scandinavian traders found an emporium beyond their wildest dreams, for their fjord-rimmed homelands had only recently seen the emergence of a few rudimentary towns. To the Arabs of Baghdad, the presence of the Norsemen probably didn't come as much of a surprise, for the Arabs were long accustomed to meeting people from different cultures and civilizations. They were also keen and literate observers. Abbasid historians and caliphal envoys put to paper eyewitness accounts of the roving Scandinavians, leaving a historical legacy that is shedding new light both on Viking history and on a little-known chapter of early Islamic history. From the time of the first Viking attacks on England in the late eighth century, the 300 year epoch known as the Viking Age found the Scandinavians venturing farther afield than any other Europeans. They colonized nearly the entire North Atlantic, even establishing a shortlived settlement in North America about the turn of the millennium. It was largely Vikings Øm Norway and Denmark who made these western voyages, but waves of "Eastern Vikings," predominantly Swedes, headed southeast to establish trading centers in Kiev and Novgorod, where the elite among them became princes and rulers. It was in these lands that they were observed by several Muslim historians. The Arab writers did call the tall, blond traders "Vikings," but by the ethnonym Rus (pronounced "Roos'). The origin of this term is obscure, and though some claim it stems from the West Finnic name for Sweden, Ruotsi, there is. little agreement. Yet consistently, Byzantine and Arab writers referred to the Swedish traders and settlers, as well as the local population among whom they settled and intermarried, as Rus, and this is the source of the modern name of Russia. The name was applied only in the East. In France and Sicily, the Vikings were known as Normans. An elite guard of the Byzantine emperors, composed of eastern Scandinavians, was known as Varangians, but that term never came into widespread use outside the region. In al-Andalus, or Islamic Spain, they were known as al-majus, or "fire-worshippers," a pejorative reference to their paganism. Besides the Scandinavians themselves, only the British called the marauders "Vikings," and this word may come from vik; or bay, and Viken, as the Oslo Fjord was called, from which the earliest Viking ships emerged. Other authorities maintain that the name 'came from the Old Norse term i viking, which is the equivalent of "a-raiding," as in "they went a-raiding down the Atlantic coast." But "Viking" was never a blanket term for the whole people of the region until it became a popular, modem misuse. "We can refer to Viking Age society, but not all Scandinavians were Vikings," says Jesse Byock, who is professor of Old Norse literature at the University of California at Los Angeles. "They themselves used the term to refer to raiders from the region, but it certainly didn't describe the local farmers who were back on the land." In western Europe, journal entries about Viking raids were often penned by monks and priests whose interests lay in painting them in the darkest, most savage colors. But in the East, the story was different. There the Rus were primarily explorers, colonizers and tradesmen, and although they were well-armed, Muslim accounts describe them as merchant-warriors whose primary business was trade. The Rus were after the Abbasid-issued dirhams flooding the region, and although at times, in the more remote regions, they procured these by exacting tribute, they largely traded with Muslims who had themselves ventured north and west to find opportunities for commerce. We would in fact know little about these Rus, these Norsemen in the East, were it not for Muslim chroniclers. Ibn Fadman, whose 10th-century Risala (Letter) is the richest account of all, kept a journal that details his encounters with the Rus along the Volga, as well as with many other peoples. A few decades later, al-Tartushi, a merchant from Cordoba, described a Danish market town, passing down to us a rare glimpse of the Norsemen in their domestic setting. Other accounts, such as al Mas'udi's Meadows of Gold, written in 943, and al Mukaddasi's The Best Organization of Knowledge of the Regions, composed after 985, were briefer in their mentions of the Rus, but collectively they were all trailblazers in what was then the flourishing field of Islamic geography, a response to the thirst for knowledge about the vast Islamic Empire and the regions beyond it. Unlike Europeans, Arab chroniclers bore no grudge against the Rus, and thus the Arab reports are more detached and, in the eyes of many scholars today, more credible. Most experts acknowledge that the Vikings were, in general, victims of a medieval "bad press," for the military excursions of Charlemagne and other Europeans of the times were no less ruthless than theirs. Yet the Norsemen had only a runic alphabet, suited for no more than inscribing grave-stones and place-markers, and were hardly in a position to set the record straight themselves. Their oral sagas of heroes and gods would not be written down until the 12th century. Many of the Muslim accounts have been translated into European languages over the past two centuries, and they are proving valuable in interpreting archeological evidence that continues to emerge. Hundreds of Viking Age graves and buried hoards, it turns out, contain caches of still-gleaming Arab dirhams, "the coin that helped fuel the Viking Age," according to Thomas S. Noonan of the University of Minnesota. Noonan is one of the world's leading experts on medieval Scandinavian ties with the Muslim world, and a specialist in Viking numismatic history. It was largely the dirham that had lured the Scandinavians eastward in the first place, says Noonan. Silver had become their favored medium of exchange, but, with no indigenous sources of the precious metal in the northern forests, they went in pursuit of it far and wide. Arab merchants had started circulating silver coins in the Volga region in the late eighth century, and Scandinavian traders, intent on finding the source of the lucre, set a course across the Baltic in their shallow-draft longboats. In Russia, they braved the uncharted river systems, portaging of one tributary to another, shooting rapids and fending off hostile nomads until they reached the first eastern trade centers, those of the Turkic Khazars. The Khazars had become the dominant power in the Caucasian steppe by the middle of the seventh century, and they played a major role in trade between the region and the Islamic world for the next 300 years. Here, in the network of trading stations along the mighty rivers, the Swedes would have carried on active commerce with Arabs, Persians and Greeks. continued.