Thirteenth Warrior (1999)



Director:  John McTiernan

Starring:  Antonio Banderas (Ahmed Ibn Fahdlan), Vladimir Kulich (Buliwyf/The 1st Warrior), Dennis Storhri ( Herger the Joyous), Daniel Southern (Edgtho the Silent), Neil Maffin (Roneth the Rider), John DeSantis (Ragnar the Dour), Clive Russell (Helfdane the Fat), Mischa Hausserman (Rethel the Archer), Oliver Sveinall (Haltaf the Boy), Asbjrrn 'Bear' Riis (Halga the Wise), Richard Bremmer (Skeld the Superstitious), Tony Curran (Weath the Musician), Albie Woodington (Hyglak the Quarrelsome), Omar Sharif ( Melchisidek), Erick Avari (Hosein, Caravan Leader).

Based on:  Michael Crichtonís 1976 novel Eaters of the Dead


10th century Arab shocked by the crudeness of Viking behavior. ( Part of his journal survives.)

Ahmed Ibn Fahdlan (Antonio Bandaras), an Arab poet, is thrown out of Baghdad (Iraq) for desiring a powerful manís woman. To remove him from court, the caliph makes him ambassador to Tossuk Vlad.  Ahmed Ibn Fahdlan travels by caravan through the land of the Ogus, Khazars, and Bulgars, before he reaches the Tartars. 

The caravan is attacked by Tartars.  To escape the attack, the caravan heads down a precipitous slope to the river.  At the river they see a strange sight, a Viking ship.  He is shocked but, yes, the Arabs and Swedish Vikings traded with each other.  The Swedish Vikings made it way down south via the rivers of what later became Russia.

A messenger arrives at the Viking Camp from a village in the far north, asking for the help of the Vikings to defend them against an "ancient evil" that is killing their villagers.  The Angel of Death, an oracle, says that twelve warriors must go north to help and that the thirteenth warrior has to be a non-Viking.  The obvious choice in this is Fahdlan and he becomes the thirteenth warrior.

But Fahdlan is no warrior.  He is an ambassador and poet.  But he figures he will accompany these strange men to see if he can help.  Along the way, he learns their strange language and the Swedish Vikings come to accept him into their group. 

When they find a group of eaten bodies, killed by the mysterious attackers, Fahdlan agrees to take a Norse sword (which he shapes into a scimitar).  But will the scimitar be of much help to the diplomat?

There is not that much history in this movie.  But the reason why I chose it was because I wanted to remind myself that the Swedish Vikings actually reached as far south as Constantinople in modern day Turkey. 

This is mostly an action flick with lots of fighting.  So if you like a lot of action with your history, this is your movie.  


Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.


Historical Background:


793  --  start of the Viking Age begins with the attack of Lindisfarne.

The Swedish Viking expanded to the east:  Russia, the Arab Caliphates, Byzantium and the Baltic Region.

9th century  --  the Swedes used the river systems of Russia to great effect, reaching to the Arab Caliphates, who were rich with silver and gold.

Swedish established settlements at Novgorod and Kiev (on the Dneiper River), which were way stations for journeys into Byzantium and the Arab Caliphates. But, by and large, the Swedes preferred trade to settlement. 

860  --  Swedish Vikings attacked Constantinople.

882  --  under their leader Oleg, the Vikings take Kiev on the Dnieper. Later, they reached as far as Tashkent, in modern-day Uzbekistan.

921  --  Ibn Fadlan was sent from Baghdad to be the secretary to an ambassador from the Abbasid Caliph al-Muqtadir to the vassal-king under the Khazars of the Vulgar Bulgars (located on the Volga River near today's Kazan).  The purpose of the outreach was to get the king of the Bulgars to pay homage to Caliph al-Muqtadir. (The mission failed.)

The caravan went from Baghdad northeast to Bukhara and Khwarizm (both south of the Aral Sea), Jurjaniya (where they spent the winter), north across the Ural River (that flows into the Caspian Sea) to their final destination at the camp of the Bulghars at the three lakes of the Volga north of Samara bend. 

922 (May 12)  --  the caravan reached the Bulghars.  (The day is an official religious holiday in modern Tatarstan.) 

After arriving in Bolgar, Fadlan made a trip to Wisu and recorded his observations of trade between the Volga Bolgars and local Finnic tribes.

Ibn Fadlan wrote a chronicle, The Risala, where he described a people known as the Rus or Varangians.  (Or maybe it was a mixture of Scandinavian and Khazarian tribes.)  Either way, the report is thought to be one of the earliest descriptions of the Vikings in the area. Ibn Fadlan thought that many of the habits of the Rus were filthy, disgusting, vulgar and unsophisticated. He described in great detail the ship-burial (involving human sacrifice) of one of their chieftains.

Ibn Fadlan never got to the far north, as depicted in the movie the Thirteenth Warrior

1066 --  the King of England defeats the King of Norway at the battle of Stamford Bridge.

1008  --  Olof Skottkonung of Sweden converted to Christianity. 



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