An elite unit within the Byzantine Army, they existed from the 10th to 14th Centuries. They were primarily the personal bodyguard to the Byzantine Emperors. Composed of Germanic peoples, the Varangians included Norse and Anglo-Saxons in their ranks. Used mostly as "stop-gap" troops (used to seal breaches in the battle line or further bolster them), they were fearless warriors. They participated in most of the wars and engagements of The Byzantine Empire. They were especially important during the Empire's expansion period. They swore a "death oath" to their Emperor. They were also used as a Policing force and to find spies within the Empire. They were known (no doubt by legend), to feel no pain and could continue finding even when they had received a fatal wound. The Varangian had a tradition that involved the death of a current Emperor. After his death, they were allowed to take as much gold as they could carry with their hands and leave service (and the Empire).
This was only allowed once. If they remained and served the "new" Emperor - this award was not bestowed. They maintained a frightful visage on the battle field. They retained much of their Norse appearance. A large rounded shield was used as was the Conical or Nasal Helmet. The Varangians preferred the Dane or Bearded Axe as a close quarters weapon (but still used swords). Copious amounts of Chain Mail and Plate Mail were also favored. Their cavalry was highly prized and great care was taken to protect their animals. Whole armor was used to protect their war horses.
As The Byzantine Empire began it's decline, so was the need to maintain the Varangian Guard. They mostly disappeared by the 14th/15th Century.