Rus' (people)

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Rus’ (Русь, [rusʲ]) was a medieval East Slavic nation, which, according to the most popular but by no means the only theory, may have taken its name from a ruling warrior class, possibly, with Scandinavian roots. The Slavic Rus’ people were the historical predecessors of modern Belarusians, Russians, and Ukrainians. The name of the Rus’ survived in the cognates Russians, Rusyns, and Ruthenians.

The origins of the Rus as the warrior class are controversial. Whereas most Western historians hold to the Normanist theory, many Slavic scholars take strong exception to it and attempt to discover alternative origins. Some take the view that the word Rus was not ethnically specific, but rather, like Viking in the west or Varangian in the east, designated an occupation ("merchant/raider/mercenary"). These occupations were filled mostly by Norsemen at first and Slavs later on.

Ultimately at stake in this controversy are culture and heritage. The question is whether East Slavic civilization owes an element of its cultural origin to the Scandinavian rulers of the 9th11th centuries, as documented by the Normanist theory, or whether that heritage may be attributed exclusively to the Slavs, as the Slavists would have it.


[edit] Key sources

[edit] Slavonic sources

According to the earliest East Slavic chronicle, the Rus' was a group of Varangians who lived on the other side of the Baltic Sea, in Scandinavia. The Varangians were first expelled, then invited to rule the warring Slavic and Finnic tribes of Novgorod:

The four tribes who had been forced to pay tribute to the Varangians - Chuds, Slavs, Merians, and Krivichs drove the Varangians back beyond the sea, refused to pay them further tribute, and set out to govern themselves. But there was no law among them, and tribe rose against tribe. Discord thus ensued among them, and they began to war one against the other. They said to themselves, "Let us seek a prince who may rule over us, and judge us according to custom. Thus they went overseas to the Varangians, to the Rus. These particular Varangians were known as Rus, just as some are called Swedes, and others Normans and Angles, and still others Gotlanders, for they were thus named. The Chuds, the Slavs, the Krivichs and the Veps then said to the Rus, "Our land is great and rich, but there is no order in it. Come reign as princes, rule over us". Three brothers, with their kinfolk, were selected. They brought with them all the Rus and migrated (The Primary Chronicle, 859-862).

Later, the Primary Chronicle tells us, they conquered Kiev and created the state of Kievan Rus' (which, as most historians agree, was preceded by the Rus' Khaganate). The territory they conquered was named after them as were, eventually, the local people (see Etymology of Rus and derivatives for further details).

[edit] Islamic sources

Ibn Haukal and two other Arabian sources (as well as Idrisi who followed them later) distinguish three groups of the Rus: Kuyavia, Slavia, and Arcania. In the mainstream Russian-Soviet historiography (as represented by Boris Rybakov), these were tentatively identified with the "tribal centres" at Kiev, Novgorod and Tmutarakan.

The Arabian traveller, Ibn Fadlan, who visited Volga Bulgaria in 922, described the Rus (Rusiyyah) in the terms strongly suggestive of the Norsemen:

I have seen the Rus as they came on their merchant journeys and encamped by the Itil. I have never seen more perfect physical specimens, tall as date palms, blond and ruddy; they wear neither tunics nor caftans, but the men wear a garment which covers one side of the body and leaves a hand free. Each man has an axe, a sword, and a knife, and keeps each by him at all times. The swords are broad and grooved, of Frankish sort. Each woman wears on either breast a box of iron, silver, copper, or gold; the value of the box indicates the wealth of the husband. Each box has a ring from which depends a knife. The women wear neck-rings of gold and silver. Their most prized ornaments are green glass beads. They string them as necklaces for their women.<ref>Quoted from: Gwyn Jones. A History of the Vikings. Oxford University Press, 2001. ISBN 0192801341. Page 164.</ref>

Apart from Ibn Fadlan's account, the Normanist theory draws heavily on the evidence of the Persian traveler Ibn Rustah who allegedly visited Novgorod (or Tmutarakan, according to George Vernadsky) and described how the Rus' exploited the Slavs.

As for the Rus, they live on an island ...that takes three days to walk round and is covered with thick undergrowth and forests; it is most unhealthy....They harry the Slavs, using ships to reach them; they carry them off as slaves and...sell them. They have no fields but simply live on what they get from the Slav's lands....When a son is born, the father will go up to the newborn baby, sword in hand; throwing it down, he says, "I shall not leave you with any property: You have only what you can provide with this weapon." (Ibn Rustah, according to the National Geographic, March 1985)

In Ibn Khordadbeh's account, the Rus are described as "a kind of the Saqaliba", a term usually used to refer to Slavs, and anti-Normanist scholars have interpreted this passage as indicative of the Rus being Slavs rather than Scandinavians. In the interpretation of the Normanist scholars, the word Saqaliba was also frequently applied to all fair-haired, ruddy-complexioned population of Central, Eastern, and Northeastern Europe, indicating that the Arab authors did not distinguish sharply between the Slavs and the Rus.

[edit] Greek sources

When the Varangians first appeared in Constantinople, the Byzantines seem to have perceived the Rhos (Greek: Ρως) as a different people from the Slavs. At least they are never said to be part of the Slavic race. Characteristically, pseudo-Symeon Magister refers to the Ros as Δρομΐται, a word derived from the Greek verb "to flee", suggesting the mobility of their movement by waterways.

In his treatise De Administrando Imperio, Constantine VII describes the Rhos as the neighbours of Pechenegs who buy from the latter cows, horses, and sheep "because neither of these animals may be found in Rosia". His description represents the Rus as a warlike northern tribe. Constantine also enumerates the names of the Dniepr cataracts in both Rhos and in Slavic languages. The Rhos names have distinct Germanic etymology:

  • Essoupi (Old Norse vesuppi, "do not sleep")
  • Oulvorsi (Old Norse holmfors, "island rapid")
  • Gelandri (Old Norse gjallandi, "yelling, loudly ringing")
  • Aeifor (Old Norse eiforr, "ever fierce")
  • Varouforos (Old Norse varufors, "cliff rapid" or barufors, "wave rapid")
  • Leanti (Old Norse leandi, "seething", or hlaejandi, "laughing")
  • Stroukoun (Old Norse strukum, "rapid current").

[edit] Western European sources

The first Western European source to mention the Rus is the annals of Saint Bertan which relate that Emperor Louis the Pious' court in Ingelheim, 839 (the same year as the first appearance of Varangians in Constantinople), was visited by a delegation from the Byzantine emperor. In this delegation there were two men who called themselves Rhos (Rhos vocari dicebant). Louis enquired about their origins and learnt that they were Swedes. Fearing that they were spies for their brothers, the Danes, he incarcerated them. Subsequently, in the 10th and 11th centuries, Latin sources routinely confused the Rus with the extinct East Germanic tribe of Rugians. Olga of Kiev, for instance, was designated in one manuscript as a Rugian queen (regina Rugorum).

[edit] The Normanist theory

Image:Early Rus.png
Map showing Varangian settlement (in red) and location of Slavic tribes (in grey), mid ninth century CE. Khazar influence indicated with blue outline.

The "Normanist" theory suggests that Kievan Rus' may have been named after its Scandinavian ruling elite, much as was the case with Normandy.

The proponents of this theory claim that the name Rus, like the Finnish name for Sweden, is derived from an Old Norse term for "the men who row" (rods-) as rowing was the main method of navigating the Russian rivers, and that it is linked to the Swedish province of Roslagen (Rus-law) or Roden, from which most Varangians came. The name Rus would then have the same origin as the Finnish and Estonian names for Swedes: Ruotsi and Rootsi.

It has been suggested that the Vikings had some enduring influence in Rus, as testified by loan words, such as yabeda "complaining person" (from aembaetti "office"), skot "cattle" (from skattr "tax") and knout (from knutr, "a knotty wood"). Moreover three Nordic names of the first Varangian rulers also became popular among the later Rurikids and then among the East Slavic people in general: Oleg (Helgi), Olga (Helga) and Igor (Ingvar).

The Normanist theory was first elaborated by the German historian Gerhardt Friedrich Müller (1705-1783), who was invited to work in the Russian Academy of Sciences in 1748. At the beginning of his notorious speech from 1749, Müller declared that the "glorious Scandinavians conquered all the Russian lands with their victorious arms". As the rest of the speech represented a lengthy list of Russian defeats by the Germans and Swedes, Müller was forced to curtail his lecture by shouts from the audience. The scathing criticism from Lomonosov, Krasheninnikov, and other academicians led to Müller being forced to suspend his work on the issue until Lomonosov's death. Although the printed text of the original lecture was destroyed, Miller managed to rework it and had it reprinted as Origines Rossicae in 1768.

Other notable proponents of the "Normanist theory" of the Russian state — including Nikolai Karamzin (1766-1826) and his disciple Mikhail Pogodin (1800-75) — gave credit to the claims of the Primary Chronicle that the Varangians were invited by East Slavs to rule over them and bring order. The theory was not without political implications. In Karamzin's writing the Normanist theory formed the basis and justification for Russian autocracy (as opposed to anarchy of the pre-Rurikid period), and Pogodin used the theory to advance his view that Russia was immune to social upheavals and revolutions, because the Russian state originated from a voluntary treaty between the people of Novgorod and Varangian rulers.

[edit] The Antinormanist theories

Starting with Lomonosov, scholars from Eastern Europe have criticised the Normanist theory. During the imperial period, Karamzin's and Pogodin's official views were disputed by the more liberal sectors of Russian society and by some Polish historians. In the early 20th century, the traditional anti-Normanist doctrine (as articulated by Dmitry Ilovaisky) seemed to have lost currency. However, the Normanist rhetoric was abused by Goebbels during the Soviet-German War and, in the eyes of the Soviet authorities, the theory was discredited forever. The war over, the anti-Normanist arguments were revived and adopted in official Soviet historiography. Mikhail Artamonov ranks among those who attempted to reconcile both theories by hypothesizing that the Kievan state united the southern Rus (of Slavic stock) and the nothern Rus (of Germanic stock) into a single nation.

The staunchest advocate of the anti-Normanist views in the post-WWII period was Boris Rybakov, who argued that the cultural level of the Varangians could not have warranted an invitation from the equally culturally advanced Slavs. This conclusion leads Slavicists to deny or reinterpret the Primary Chronicle, which claims that the Varangian Rus' were "invited". Rybakov assumes that Nestor, putative author of the Chronicle, was biased against the pro-Greek party of Vladimir Monomakh and supported the pro-Scandinavian party of the ruling prince Svyatopolk. He cites Nestor's factual inaccuracies as pro-Scandinavian manipulations and compares his account of Rurik's invitation with numerous similar stories found in folklore around the world.

Quite a few alternative, non-Normanist origins for the word Rus have been postulated by Sigismund von Herberstein, Ilovaisky, Rybakov, and others, although none was endorsed in the academic mainstream:

  • From the Old Slavic name that meant "river-people" (tribes of fishermen and ploughmen who settled near the rivers Dnieper, Don, Dniester and Western Dvina and were known to navigate them). The rus root is preserved in the modern Slavic and Russian words "ruslo" (river-bed), "rusalka" (water sprite), etc.
  • From one of two rivers in Ukraine (near Kiev and Pereyaslav), Ros' and Rusna, whose names are derived from a postulated Slavic term for water, akin to rosa (dew) (related to the above theory).
  • A Slavic word rusy (refers only to hair color - from dark ash-blond to light-brown), cognate with ryzhy (red-haired) and English red.
  • A postulated proto-Slavic word for bear, cognate with Greek arctos and Latin ursus.
  • The Iranian tribe of the Roxolani (from the Persian, rokhs ‘light’; R русые волосы /rusyje volosy/ "light-brown hair"; cf. Dahl's dictionary definition of Русь /rus/: Русь ж. в знач. мир, белсвет. Rus, fig. world, universe [белсвет: lit. "white world", "white light"]).

According to F. Donald Logan (The Vikings in History, cit. Montgomery, p. 24), "in 839, the Rus' were Swedes. In 1043, the Rus' were Slavs." The Scandinavians were completely absorbed and, unlike their brethren in England and in Normandy, they left little cultural heritage in Eastern Europe. This almost complete absence of cultural traces (besides several names, as discussed above, and arguably the veche-system of Novgorod, comparable to ting in Scandinavia), is remarkable, and the Slavicists therefore call the Vikings "cultural chameleons", who came, ruled and then disappeared, leaving little cultural trace in Eastern Europe. This seems to suggest that these Rus' were a small group, less than a people in the nation sense of the word; less than an ethnos.

[edit] References and further reading


[edit] External links

el:Ρως fo:Rúsir ro:rusi ru:Русы fi:Rusit sv:Ruser uk:Русь

Rus' (people)

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