|An 11th-century depiction of Varangian Guards.|
It was Emperor Basil II (958 - 1025), sometimes called "Basil the Young" or "Porphyrogenitus," who first hired them in 988, after their Kievan Rus homeland was Christianized. Basil received 6000 Varangians from Vladimir I of Kiev, which he preferred over local men whose loyalties might attach them to other aristocrats and would-be emperors if circumstances favored such a switch.
|Viking runes in the Hagia Sophia in Constantinople.|
Varangians became very popular as mercenaries in Kievan Rus and even in England—but only for a short time, from 1018-1066: they did not help to turn the tide when William of Normandy came to claim the throne.
In Byzantium, they operated at least through the middle of the 14th century. Still, they left their mark on Constantinople in more ways than one. Some runic inscriptions have survived, placed their by Varangians. One was even carved in the Hagia Sophia.