Notes on World Militaries
Compiled the Volksreich Institute of Defense
Edited by Doctor David Risona
Russian Varangian Guard
Designation: Heavily armored shocktroopers and bodyguards
National Origin: Byzantium (initially), later Baltic countries and Russia
Allegiance: Empire of Russia (Similar unit formed in Polish Commonwealth)
Motto: "The Might of Third Rome."
Standard Equipment: Theotechnical armor and associated systems, Thaumolock Musket, Chainsword, Chain-axe, Integrated Crossbow or Spear Gun, Alchemical Sprayer on each arm (often a Greek-Fire thrower on one, and a cryosprayer on the other)
The Varangian Guard of Byzantium was one of the most elite forces of medieval Europe. Warriors from the Norse countries were recruited as bodyguards to the Emperor of Byzantium himself. When the Emperor died, the Guard would pillage the Imperial Palace, grabbing whatever treasures they could. Such was the pay for risking their lives in battle and shielding the Emperor.
The Guard itself was loyal to the office of Emperor, rather than any specific individual. There is a story where an Emperor said he wanted to be left alone. Soon, he was assassinated, and the Varangian Guards found the assassin over their master's body, bloody dagger still in hand. Instead of cutting him down where he stood, they bowed before him as their new Emperor. Seeing no point in avenging the dead Emperor, they instead found his replacement literally red-handed.
The Guard itself would eventually be filled with non-Norsemen. It was dissolved for a time, but reestablished near the end of the Empire's reign. A group of Norwegian mercenaries, joined by many abdead previous Varangian Guards, assisted the Empire in the final battle against the Ottoman Turks. However, on May 29th, 1453, Byzantium fell to the guns of the Turks and their expertly trained janissaries.
Many of the Varangians fought to the last. Others escaped back to their northern homes. However, a large group of them escorted a group of scholars and Orthodox clergy to Kiev, and what would later become Imperial Russia. There, when Ivan Grozny would demand the title of "Tsar" (Russian for "Caesar," a title used by Roman Emperors and in our very own state), he would commission some of the former abdead Varangians missionaries into a Varangian Guard of his own. Due to using the Imperial title of ancient Rome, Ivan the Terrible was eager to create the idea of his domain as the "Third Rome."
While largely bodyguards and shock troops, a number became involved with the Tsar's infamous oprichniki, or secret police. Some supported Ivan the Terrible, and others left for other countries. (Interestingly enough, one of the rivals of Imperial Russia, the Polish Commonwealth, would form its own Varangian Guard from the unit leaving Ivan the Terrible.) After the reign of Ivan the Terrible, the Guard remained. Many of them were abdead remnants from the days of Byzantium. Others were recent recruits into the unit, drawn in from the Nordic countries. To this date, most of the unit is comprised of a few humans and several abdead.
While many superficially are Orthodox Christians, many others are believed to follow Norse paganism. The clergy of the Orthodox Church initially did not tolerate this, but purges from Ivan the Terrible changed their minds. "It is not their souls I care for," the Tsar stated, "But their fighting skills." The Church has remained silent on the subject ever since.
Their weapons are traditional Norse ones combined with another weapons system of the ancient world. They use their traditional thaumechanical chainswords and chain-axes (from where they get their names, as the "Axe-Bearing Guard"). They dress in suits of theomechanical armor, nearly identical to the types made by the ancient Roman Empire. Despite thousands of years, these suits of armor have changed only in superficial ways. Similar to Papist suits powered by prayer, these are driven by a greater variety of faiths. They often respond to both Orthodox Christian and Norse prayers.
They have several features that have been added in the service of both Byzantium and the Tsars. One was the integrated dart-gun. This feature may vary based on the age and type of specific suit. They can be spear guns, dart guns, or even crossbows. They provide a capacity for ranged combat to the Varangians.
In addition to melee weapons, they also have alchemical substance sprayers. These fearsome weapons date from the classical era, and have not lost their efficiency. A Greek-Fire thrower is a popular weapon, for both defrosting ice-covered equipment and in battle (especially naval ones). A recent development is the cryospray thrower. The alchemical substance, based on reducing nitrogen to a liquid state, instantly flash freezes what it comes into contact with. (This substance has become popular among other units of the Russian army.)
One important thing to note is that the most ancient members of the Varangian Guard are almost as old as the armor they wear. Many are well-trained in thaumaturgical math, which allows them to use their thaumolock muskets more proficiently. The aspiring Norse applicants skilled both physically and in thaumath programming are the most sought-after candidates for recruits.
Despite their age, these soldiers are feared across Russia and the world. Some still recall their association with Ivan the Terrible. Many bear grudges against the Ottoman Turks, and there are reports of even janissaries fleeing from these armored Norsemen. With a heritage from ancient Rome, medieval Byzantium, Viking raiders, and the bloody birth of Imperial Russia, the Varangians' story is fearsome as it is interesting.