The Project and the Participants

The Project and the Participants

Legends of the Eastern Vikings is a three year research project funded by The Icelandic Research Council (Rannsóknarráð Íslands) for the years 2019-2021.

The main purpose of this project is to re–examine medieval sources on the eastern Vikings, and to highlight the ongoing “debate” on the Rus and the Varangians in the medieval period. The aim is to compare and contrast sources emanating from different cultures, such as Byzantium, the Abbasid Caliphate and its successor states, the early kingdoms of the Rus and the high medieval Scandinavian kingdoms, and analyse what significance these sources attached to the Rus and the Varangians in different contexts.

The proposed outcome of the project is a fresh view on these medieval sources, and a thorough reassessment of established historiographical grand narratives on Scandinavian peoples in the east. These sources will be analysed with regard to the context in which they were written and the purpose behind the narrative, with particular attention given to the sections connected to the Rus and the Varangians in these accounts. An important part of the debate on the Rus and the Varangians was the fashioning of identities and how different cultures define themselves in comparison and contrast with each other. This comparison fuels the main research questions of the project, encompassed in the overarching theme on the formation of medieval identities.


The Core Group

Dr. Sverrir Jakobsson is a Professor of Medieval History at the University of Iceland. Sverrir completed his PhD at the University of Iceland in 2005 and has been a professor of Medieval History there since 2014. He finished his Master’s Degree in Medieval Studies at the University of Leeds in 1994 and received his Bachelor in History from the University of Iceland in 1993. Among his research interests are the worldview of Icelanders in the Middle Ages, Icelandic political history of the 12th and 13th century and nationality and self-image in the Medieval World.

Among Sverrir’s books are Kristur – Saga hugmyndar on Christ as a figure in cultural memory from 2018 and Við og veröldin – Heimsmynd Íslendinga 1100-1400 about the worldview of Icelanders in the later Middle Ages. He has co-authored a history of the Icelandic Tobacco and Alcohol Monopoly and the history of the people of Breiðafjörður Bay. He has also co-edited The Routledge Research Companion to the Icelandic Sagas, a biography of Icelandic 13th Century historian Sturla Þórðarson and the Historical Dictionary of Iceland, among other works. His latest work is Varangians: In God’s Holy Fire, published by Palgrave-MacMillan in 2020.

Sverrir Jakobsson


Dr. Þórir Jónsson Hraundal is an Associate Professor in Middle Eastern Studies and Arabic at the University of Iceland. Þórir received his PhD from the Centre of Medieval Studies at the University of Bergen in 2013. He previously completed a Masters Degree in literature from the University of Cambridge in 2005, where he studied the spread of Islam in Central Asia, the Caucasus and beyond. His Bachelor’s Degree in General Linguistics was completed at the University of Iceland in 1998. He received a grant the Icelandic Research fund (Rannís) to work at the Institute of History (Sagnfræðistofnun) from 2014 to 2017.

His research focuses on Arabic medieval texts, especially regarding the Vikings in the east, and their interactions with the peoples of eastern Europe as they appear both in written sources and in archaeology. Þórir is also an administrator of education in Middle Eastern geography and Arabic and teaches various courses on the history and languages of the Middle East, North Africa and the Muslim State in Spain.

Þórir Jónsson Hraundal


Daria Segal is currently a PhD candidate in Medieval History at the University of Iceland. She received a joint MA (VMN) from the Universities of Iceland and Oslo in 2017. Daria graduated with a BFA from Bezalel Academy in 2012 and proceeded on to courses in Medieval History and Art at Tel Aviv University. Her research concerns development and evolution of identities of the Rus. Her main research interests are cultural memory, symbolic identities, religious conversion, and the cult of saints in the Middle Ages.

In her project, Daria aims to analyse the Old Slavonic and Old Norse primary sources portraying the Viking diaspora in the East in their cultural setting, with an emphasis on the context and purpose of their production and transmission.

Daria Segal



MA Students

Valur Gunnarsson has recently completed his MA degree in General History at the University of Iceland. His dissertation was on the uses of the history of the Rus in modern Ukraine. He previously has MA degrees in Comparative Literature from the University of Iceland and Creative Writing from Queens University Belfast. He is a co-founder of the Reykjavik Grapevine Magazine and has written three novels. His fourth book Bjarmalönd, about Russia, Ukraine and other post-Soviet states, will be published by Forlagið in April 2021. He is also the editor of this site.


Elliot Anning Jones recently graduated with an MA from the Viking and Medieval Studies program at the University of Iceland. His BA was in general history from the University of Oregon in his native United States where he also studied Arabic. His research in Iceland focused on Viking-Muslim relations and what tangible impact was left by the Vikings in the Islamic World.


Ryan Fenster is a freshly graduated with an MA in Viking and Medieval Norse Studies from the University of Iceland. He finished his BA in History at Seattle Pacific University in his hometown of Seattle in 2016 and is a former vault teller at Columbia Bank. His thesis utilizes content analysis to examine and catalogue the changing views of Western Europe to the Norse and Rus in Latin chronicles over four centuries. It can be found in the links section. Ryan hopes to start his PhD in Iceland next year.


Tonicha Upham is recently graduated from the Viking and Medieval Norse Studies programme at the University of Iceland. Originally from Leeds, she has a BA in Anglo-Saxon, Norse, and Celtic Studies from the University of Cambridge. She is an Assistant Editor for Kyngervi, a new student journal for Old Norse Queer and Gender Studies. Her dissertation is called is about Rus gender values as glimpsed though Arabic texts.

All student dissertations can be found under the Dissertations section. 


Research Assistants: 

Cassandra Ruiz is a first-generation American currently studying and living in Iceland. She has an MA in Medieval Icelandic studies from the University of Iceland a BA in English and History from the University of Florida. She works as a photographer, translator, and writer. As well as helping with the bibliography for the Varangians project, she has recently worked for the Venice Biennale and for NASA, for whom she made space apps, among other things. She hopes to start a second master’s in engineering next year to further immerse herself in digital humanities and cultural astronomy.


Þuríður Ósk Sigurbjörnsdóttir has newly graduated with a BA in History and Icelandic from the University of Iceland. Gender studies in the Middle Ages in Iceland and feminine stereotypes in medieval literature are her main interests and she would like to specialize in that field after graduation. Her research involved reviewing Icelandic sources from the 13th and 14th century where Varangians to see what kind of terms were used about them and their image in general. Þuríður will be starting an MA in Medieval studies at the University of Bergen, Norway, in August 2020.



Affiliated Scholars:

Csete Katona received his BA and MA in History at the University of Debrecen, Hungary. He obtained an additional MA in Viking and Medieval Norse Studies from the University of Iceland. Katona’s main interests in the field is the relationship between Vikings and the various Eastern nomadic Turkic tribes in the ninth to eleventh centuries.

For further reading about Csete Katona, see following link:


Dr. Neil Price is an English archaeologist and professor in archaeology and ancient history at Uppsala University, Sweden. He completed his BA in Medieval Archaeology at the University College London’s Institute of Archaeology in 1988 and his PhD in 2002. Price’s research interests fall into two broad categories: The early medieval north c. 400-1100 CE, especially the Viking Age, and the historical archaeology of the Asia-Pacific region from the 1700s to the present.

For further reading about Neil Price and his research, see the following link:


Dr. Monica White is an Associate Professor in Russian and Slavonic Studies at the University of Nottingham, Great Britain. Her interests include: The History of pre-modern Russia and Byzantium, the Orthodox Church, Cults of saints and relics and Religion and warfare. Her recent works include Military Saints in Byzantium and Rus, 900-1200, published by Cambridge University Press in 2013, which studies the cults of the patron saints of armies in the medieval Orthodox world. She is currently working on a history of relations between Byzantium and Rus over the entire medieval period (c. 860-1453).

For further reading about Monica White, see the following link: