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The “Imperial Colleges” and the Varangians (G. Kyvelos translated by S. Skarmintzos)


The “Imperial Colleges” and the Varangians (G. Kyvelos translated by S. Skarmintzos)

Almost all the ancient writers agree that as in Greece the . . . origin of these institutions can be traced back to early fraternities , connected with a common ancestral tomb and traditional ceremonies of ancestor . . worship. However, after the second century B.C. the Colleges (collegia) multiplied to include.. . trade unions, craftsmen’s guilds, and even slaves of the great landowners. . . . In each of Caesar’s legions . . . were Colleges of builders, carpenters and civil engineers. The Colleges were recognized officially by the Roman state and their members, known by the title Sodales (Partners), offered money contributions for the survival of their organization. They had constitutional and internal regulations approved by the state and were managed by their Magistri who appointed various dignitaries bearing the titles Factores, Quaestores, Haruspices, or Decuriones (depending on the activities of each College), as well as secretary and treasurer. Because of their usually limited assets, often they resorted to the solution of honorary integration of eminent persons into their orders so that they increased their income, offering in return their political support.

Both Caesar and Octavian [if you mean the guy I think you mean – the immediate successor to Julius Caesar, husband of Livia, conqueror of Marcus Antonius – he’s usually known as Augustus by English-speakers] (fearing another Catiline conspiracy), tried to check this phenomenon legislatively with special decrees that allowed only the operation of Colleges with proven ancient origin which maintained . . . characteristics similar to those that were fixed by the Athenian state for the Thiasos (that is to say existence of a shrine), and this tactic was also adopted by Trajan. The Colleges ,multiplied dangerously during the reign of Alexander Severus. .. . At the time of Constantine I they were transferred ,to Byzantium with special beneficial legislation, which was . . . strengthened by Theodosius in 438 A.D. In consequence, they became ,so powerful, that Justinian reinstated the restrictive provisions of Octavian [Augustus?].

Particularly important for the later College development was the Collegium Custodum Corporis or Germani Corporis Custodes (Corps of Bodyguards or Corps of German Bodyguards) that was founded by Octavius [Augustus?] (1). This College became inactive during the life of Octavius [Augustus?], but was strengthened by Tiberius and Nero. Unlike the legions, it was a specifically enacted legal company, whose main mission was the protection of the Emperor. When ,transferred by Constantine to Byzantium as the Schola Palatina (Palace “School”), it acquired an intense mercenary character, including progressively in its ranks . . . Franks, Goths, Alan’s, Sarmatians, Heruls, Alamanni, Markomanni and Vandals.

The Book of Ceremonies of Constantine Porphyrogennitos indicates that in the 7th century A.D. the Scholae were divided into the Great, the Middle and the Small Hetereia. The Great Hetereia accepted as members only Christian subjects of the Emperor, the Medium Hetereia Christian foreigners, mainly from Northern Europe, while the Small Hetereia was made up of pagan foreigners mostly from ,Scandinavia and the Slavonic regions of the Baltic (Prussia, Lithuania) (2). Each one of the Hetereiae had roughly 1,000 members and despite their mercenary character, maintained all the characteristics of the old Collegia, maintaining their Magisters, their dignitaries, their secretaries and ,treasurers. Each new member committed himself to pay contributions to the company, funds, amounting to 16 pounds of gold for the Great Heteria, 10 pounds for the Middle and 7 pounds of gold for the Small.

Varangian warriors fighting in street battle. Source:

The Small Hetereia was dissolved by Basil the Macedonian (867-886) and its membe
rs were incorporated in the Middle Hetereia, while later ,the Great and Middle Hetereia were combined in a new formation called the Royal Hetereia. This later developed in the eminent Varangian Guard, including mainly Anglo-Saxons, Scandinavians and Russians. Specifically the “Inglinoi” (Anglo-Saxons) are recorded by Anna Komnena as coming from Thule (3).

The Orders of the “Knights of Christ”, like the Templar Knights, the Teutonic Knights and the Knights of Saint John (Hospitallers) from which various secret societies from the 17th century onwards trace their origin, were organized on this model.

(1)Peter Wilcox: ROME’S ENEMIES, GERMANICS AND DACIANS, Osprey Publishing, London, 1982, pages 27-82.
(2)Blondal & Benedikz: VARANGIANS, London, 1992, selj’s 21 & Ian Heath: BYZANTINE ARMIES, 886-1118, Osprey Publishing, pages 13-14.
(3)Anna Komnena: ALEXJAS, E.R.A. Sewter, Penguin Books, 1969, pages 95-96, 100-101,124,.144,.206,.224,.392, 447.



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