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Expedition Vittfarne
By Håkan Altrock, Föreningen Vittfarne

A Viking fleet will land in Georgia

In the beginning of the 1040s an armed force with Varjagi* i.e. Scandinavians, came to the small place Bashi, situated by the river Rioni in Georgia. In the old Georgian chronicle Kartlis tsovreba it is stated that they were 3000 men and presumably they had been rowing up the river after sailing eastwards on the Black Sea, most likely from the estuary of the Dnjepr River.

After an agreement had been made with Bagrat, the king of Georgia, 700 of them continued to travel further into the country where they took part in a battle against the king's enemies on the wooded shores of Sasirethis, a few miles west of Tbilisi.

Despite their help, the king lost the battle and fled. After reaching an agreement with the hostile army, the Scandinavian force returned westwards, thereafter disappearing from history.

Both the geographical area, the course of events and the time period make it probable that the story in the Georgian chronicle is a trace of the fatal Swedish expedition by the chieftain, Ingvar den Vittfarne (Ingvar the Far-Travelled), mentioned on at least 26 rune stones in mid-Sweden as well as in an imaginative saga from Iceland. Archaeologist. Mats G. Larsson, Ph.D, maintains this theory in his book "Ett ödesdigert vikingatåg - Ingvar den Vittfarnes resa 1036-1041" ("A fatal Viking Raid - the journey of Ingvar the Far-Travelled 1036-1041").

Expedition Vittfarne

How did they travel through the land that is Sweden today, in the Viking Age? And how did they travel from here to Russia and the Black Sea? What did the boats look like and how could they find their way on narrow rivers, past rapids and over land between different watercourses? The only way to get more knowledge about this is to do practical tests with similar kind of boats. Many experiments like this have been carried out during later years, but often with boats that were mostly adapted to sailing and thus far too heavy and clumsy for journeys on rivers and pulling on land.

At an archaeological information meeting about ships, held at Vik's castle in 1994, Mats met the Viking enthusiast Håkan Altrock. They started to talk about Mats' idea of testing the practical prerequisites needed for a voyage in the wake of Ingvar den Vittfarne through Transcaucasia, with a replica of a Viking ship. Later on their conversation resulted in Håkan's decision to build a light, flexible Viking ship for the expedition.

The keel of the ship was laid in 1998 and it was launched in 2001. Since then it has been test sailed. In 2003 the non-profit association Vittfarne was formed, in charge of planning for the expedition.

We in the Vittfarne association intend to test the possible route of Ingvar den Vittfarne through Transcaucasia with a Viking ship replica suitable for the purpose. The aim is historical research as well as creating international contacts between people.

The Viking boat "Himingläva"
The Viking boat replica we plan to use is called Himingläva and was built with this expedition in mind. The original is a boat found in a grave mound excavated in 1880 in Gokstad, Norway. In the mound a very well preserved, 23 metre-long ship was found.

The king buried in the mound seems to have enjoyed being on the sea because, among his grave gifts, there were also three smaller boats. The largest and smallest of them have been reconstructed and are now on exhibit in the Viking Ship House on Bygdøv in Oslo. The largest seems to fulfil the requirements needed for a river traveller while still being able to manage sailing in fairly close coastal waters.

The boat, that has been named "sexäringen" ("the six oars"), is 9,75 metres long and 1,86 metres wide. It has room for 9 people on longer trips. It is driven by six pairs of oars or a square sail of 16 square metres.

From the "Old Swedish-village" to Serkland
The expedition will start in the Old Swedish-Village (Ed. note: Swe. Gammalsvenskby, present-day Ru. Kakhovka. The old Swedish-village is a village where the inhabitants, whose ancestors emigrated from the Baltic Island of Dagö, still speak Swedish.) in the south of Ukraine in spring 2004. Here the scientific expedition that brought the Viking boat Aifur from Sigtuna, Sweden to the estuary of the Dnjepr via river systems in the late Sovjet during the seasons of 1994 and 1996, was broken off. Our journey can be seen as a continuation of this expedition.

The journey starts out from the Dnjepr River, passes the Crimean peninsula and along the Russian and Abchazian coast to the mouth of the Rioni River at the Georgian port of Poti. Via Rioni and its tributaries we will proceed to the village of Zuare where the traverse over the water divider will take place. The boat will then be launched in the Kura River that flows out into the Caspian Sea at the coast of Azerbajdzjan. The final destination is Baku, the capital of Azerbajdzjan.

Interested?

We are looking for sponsors, people with useful contacts, as well as a crew. The crew we are looking for does not necessarily have to be sailors or weightlifters. Rather we want physically ordinary people who can easily mix in a group, sometimes even under difficult psychological and physical conditions, people who are not afraid of digging in and who have a general positive attitude. A strong interest in history and/or boats is a merit as well as a degree of competitive instinct. You must be more than 18 years old.

Anyone who thinks he/she is qualified is welcome to apply, women as well as men. During the sailing season of 2003, you will have the opportunity to test rowing, sailing and maybe pulling the boat on land. After this season we will know how we get along together and who will be chosen to take part in the expedition.

Preliminarily the expedition will be divided into seven stages of 14 days each. The more stages a person can participate in, the better.
In your application please tell us about yourself and why you want to join. More information about the expedition's dates etc., can be found either on the website - www.vittfarne.com - or by email.

Please send applications to info@vittfarne.com or by letter to:

Håkan Altrock
Arkövägen 8
121 55 Johanneshov
Sweden

Ed. note
* The word Varjagi (Varangians) is mentioned in the Russian Nestorian Chronicle as a name of a people living beyond the Varjagic Sea (the Baltic Sea). According to the chronicle (chapter XV) the Varjagi included many tribes or ethnic groups, among which Rus, Svear, Northmen, Anglians and Goths are listed.

This article was first published in Viking Heritage Magazine 2/2003.