Who Were The Blakumen In Medieval Scandinavian Sources?

According to several primary sources (i.e. sagas and runestones), it seems that, at a certain point during the Viking Age, the Norsemen had encountered the Wallachians/Vlachs in the region of the lower Danube. A written account of this encounter is most notably preserved on a Scandinavian runestone found in Sweden, whilst at the same time in several Norse sagas.

While the vast majority of contemporary historians claim that the Blakumen (or Blökumenn, as they were actually referred to in some Norse sagas and runestones) are in fact Wallachians, others claim that the people the Norsemen encountered were Cumans, a migratory Turkic population. Regardless of the actual ethnicity of the Blakumen, they are mentioned in the following primary Norse sources:

    1. On the G134 runestone which was found on the site of the Sjonhem cemetery, on the island of Gotland, Sweden (dated from 1000 to 1100);
    2. The Saga of Eymund, an 11th century saga found in a 12th century manuscript (the original text is dated from 1015 to 1028);
    3. The Miracle of St. Olaf, a 12th century saga which was preserved in a 13th century manuscript;
    4. ‘Heimskringla’, a medieval chronicle by Icelandic historian Snorri Sturluson.

Modern historians came to the conclusion that the Blakumen are doubtlessly Wallachians, a Romance-speaking population which emerged in the former Roman provinces of Dacia and Moesia (roughly corresponding to the territory of contemporary Romania), stemming from the Romanization of the local Dacian/Thracian tribes along with the arrival of successive waves Roman colonists.

So it is that the Norsemen likely encountered them in the proximity of the lower region of the Danube river, either on the emerging territory of the Principality of Wallachia or on the emerging territory of the Principality of Moldavia

The 11th-century runestone G134 referring to Blakumen – possibly Vlachs/Romanians (Sjonhem cemetery, Gotland, Sweden). Image source: Wikimedia Commons

Concerning their documentation in the medieval Scandinavian sources, on the G134 runestone they are mentioned as ‘Blakumen’ (literally meaning ‘Vlachmen’). In the ‘Saga of Eymund’, they are mentioned as Blökumenn (that could be translated as ‘Vlochmen’, which is a different morphological interpretation of the same word).

Map showing the major Varangian trade routes, the Volga trade route (in red) and the Trade Route from the Varangians to the Greeks (in purple). Other trade routes of the 8th-11th centuries shown in orange. Image source: Wikimedia Commons

In the ‘Miracle of St. Olaf’, there is a mention about a certain Blokumannaland (i.e. ‘The Land of Wallachians’; in reference to the region of the lower Danube) inhabited by a Romance-speaking population. In the ‘Saga of Eymund’, the Wallachians were mentioned in one paragraph as follows:

“It was easier for [Burizlaf] to lose his banner than his life,” said Eymund, “and I understood that he escaped and has been in Tyrkland over the winter. Now he means to lead another army against [Jarizleifr]. He’s gathered an unbeatable army with Tyrkir, Blökumen, and a good many of other nasty people, and I’ve also heard that he’s quite likely to give up his Christian faith and hand over both kingdoms to these unpleasant people should he manage to take Russia away from you [Jarizleifr].”

In a notable work of Snorri Sturluson, ‘Heimskringla’ namely, there’s an additional mention of the land of the Wallachians under the following manner:

“The following happened in Greece, the time when King Kirjalax ruled there and was on an expedition against Blokumannaland. When he arrived at the Pézína Plains, a heathen king advanced against him with an irresistible host. They had with them a company of horsemen, and huge waggons with embrasures on top.”

The Norsemen who encountered the Wallachians were most likely Swedish Vikings who came in contact with this Romance-speaking population firstly by trade (as they did with other peoples from Eastern Europe during the Middle Ages). Another hypothesis is that they were Varangians in the service of the Byzantine Empire.

The Varangian Guard, as depicted in a 12th century Byzantine chronicle. Image source: Wikimedia Commons

Documentation sources and external links:

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