Varangians - Kievan Rus'

Kievan Rus'

Having settled Aldeigja (Ladoga) in the 750s, Scandinavian colonists played an important role in the early ethnogenesis of the Rus' people and in the formation of the Rus' Khaganate. The Varangians (Varyags, in Old East Slavic) are first mentioned by the Primary Chronicle as having exacted tribute from the Slavic and Finnic tribes in 859. It was the time of rapid expansion of the Vikings in Northern Europe; England began to pay Danegeld in 859, and the Curonians of Grobin faced an invasion by the Swedes at about the same date.

Due largely to geographic considerations, it is often argued that most of the Varangians who traveled and settled in the eastern Baltic, Russia and lands to the south came from the area of modern Sweden .

In the 9th century, the Rus' operated the Volga trade route, which connected Northern Russia (Gardariki) with the Middle East (Serkland). As the Volga route declined by the end of the century, the trade route from the Varangians to the Greeks rapidly overtook it in popularity. Apart from Ladoga and Novgorod, Gnezdovo and Gotland were major centres for Varangian trade.

According to the Primary Chronicle, in 862, the Finnic and Slavic tribes in the area of Novgorod rebelled against their Varangian rulers, driving them overseas back to Scandinavia, but soon started to conflict with each other. The disorder prompted the tribes to invite back Varangians "to come and rule them" and bring peace to the region. Led by Rurik and his brothers Truvor and Sineus, the invited Varangians (called Rus') settled around the town of Holmgård (Novgorod). The Primary Chronicle twice names Rus' among the other Varangian peoples, including Swedes, Normans, Angles, Gutes (Normans was an Old Russian term for Norwegians, while Angles may be interpreted as Danes). In some places the chronicle mention Slavs and Rus' as different groups, but other places it mixes them.

Under the leadership of Rurik's relative Oleg, the Rus' Varangians expanded southwards by capturing Kiev from the Khazars, founding the medieval state of Rus'. Attracted by the riches of Constantinople and the Arab world, Rus' Varangians initiated a number of Rus'-Byzantine Wars, some of which resulted in advantageous trade treaties. Meanwhile, descendants of Rurik expanded the Russian state and unified the local tribes. Contact with the Byzantine Empire increased, culminating in the 988 Christianization of Kievan Rus' during the reign of Vladimir the Great.

As was the case with the Norse influence in Normandy and the British Isles, Varangian culture did not survive in the East. Instead, the Varangian ruling classes of the two powerful city-states of Novgorod and Kiev were gradually slavicised by the end of the 11th century. However, the successor descendants of Rurik were the ruling dynasty of medieval Rus', the successor principalities of Galicia-Volhynia (after 1199), Chernigov, Vladimir-Suzdal, Grand Duchy of Moscow, and the founders of the Tsardom of Russia. The name of the Varangian Rus or RUS became that of the land modern Russia and the ethnonym of its population. Russia is thus one of a few surviving state which was founded by Norse people.

Most historians tend to agree with the Primary Chronicle that the Varangians organized the native settlements into the political entity of Kievan Rus' in the 880s and gave their name to the land. However, many Russian scholars are opposed to this theory of Germanic influence, and have suggested alternative scenarios for this part of Eastern European history. Russian historiography includes a number of Anti-Normanist theories, antagonistic to the Normanist theory of a Scandinavian origin of Varangians. For example, according to Yu. Shilov, Varangians ( Vargi) were supposed to be a tribe of Baltic Slavs without roots to Norse Vikings. While the dispute continues, the event of Rurik's arrival in 862 to Northern Russia on the request of its peoples, known as the Invitation of the Varangians (Russian: Призвание Варягов), continues to be regarded as the traditional starting point of Russian history.

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