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As early as eight hundred and fifty-nine the Variagi exacted tribute from the Slavs of Ilmen and the Krivitchi, as well as the Tchudi, Ves, and Meriane. The natives had once expelled the Variagi, but, as divisions once more became rife among them, they decided that they needed a strong government, and recalled them in eight hundred and sixty-two. Whether the name Russia, or Bus, was originally derived from a province of Sweden or from the banks of the Dnieper, the fact remains that with the arrival of the Variagi in Slavonia the true history of Russia commences. It was the one thousandth anniversary of this event that was commemorated at Novgorod in eighteen hundred and sixty-two. With the Variagi the Russian name became famous in Eastern Europe. It was the epoch of brilliant and adventurous expeditions; it was the heroic age of Russia...
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Copyright © 2015 by Alfred Rambaud
Published by Perennial Press
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THE NORTHMEN IN RUSSIA: ORIGIN AND CUSTOMS OF THE VARIAGI. 862-972
THE FIRST RUSSIAN PRINCES: RURIK, OLEG, IGOR. THE FIRST EXPEDITIONS AGAINST CONSTANTINOPLE. .
OLGA: CHRISTIANITY IN RUSSIA.
SVIATOSLAF. — THE DANUBE DISPUTED BETWEEN THE RUSSIANS AND GREEKS.
SAINT VLADIMIR AND IAROSLAF THE GREAT. 972-1054.
IAROSLAF THE GREAT. — UNION OF RUSSIA. — SPLENDOR OF KIEF.
VARIAG-RUSSIAN SOCIETY AT THE TIME OF IAROSLAF.
PROGRESS OF CHRISTIANITY. — SOCIAL, POLITICAL, LITERARY, AND ARTISTIC RESULTS.
RUSSIA DIVIDED INTO PRINCIPALITIES.— SUPREMACY AND FALL OF KIEF. 1054-1169.
THE SUCCESSORS OF IAROSLAF THE GREAT. — WARS FOR THE RIGHTS OF ELDERSHIP AND THE THRONE OF KIEF.— VLADIMIR MONOMAKH.
WARS BETWEEN THE HEIRS OF VLADIMIR MONOMAKH.—FALL OF KIEF.
WHO WERE THESE VARIAGI, OR Varangians? To what race did they belong? No questions in the early history of Russia are more eagerly debated. After more than a century of controversy, the various views have been reduced to three — The Variagi were of Scandinavian origin, and it was they who gave the name of Russia to the Slav countries. A most weighty argument in support of this theory is the large number of Scandinavian names in the list of Variag princes who reigned in Russia. The Emperor Constantine Porphyrogenitus, speaking of Russia, makes a distinction between the Slavs and the Russians proper. In his description of the cataracts of the Dnieper, he gives to each the Russian and the Slav name, and these Russian names may nearly all be understood by reference to Scandinavian roots. Luitprand, speaking of the Russians, expresses himself in these terms: “Graeci vocant Russos .... nos vero Normannos”. The Annals of Saint Bertinus say that the Emperor Theophilus recommended some Russian envoys to Louis le Débonnaire, but he, taking them for Norman spies, threw them into prison. Finally, the first Russian Code of Laws, compiled by Iaroslaf, presents a striking analogy with the Scandinavian laws. The partisans of this opinion place the mother country of the Russians in Sweden, where they point particularly to a spot called Roslag, and associations of oarsmen called Roslagen. At the present day the Finns call the Swedes Rootzi.
The second theory is that the Variagi were Slavs, and came either from the Slav shores of the Baltic, or from some Scandinavian region where the Slavs had founded a colony. The word Russia is not of Swedish origin; it is applied very early to the country of the Dnieper. To come from Rus or to go to Rus are expressions to be met with in the ancient documents, and Rus there signifies the country of Kief. Arabic writers give the name of Russians to a nation they consider very numerous, and they mean in this case, not Scandinavians, but indigenous Slavs.
The last theory is that the Variagi were not a nation, but a band of warriors formed of exiled adventurers, some Slavs, others Scandinavians. The partisans of this opinion show us that the Slav and Scandinavian races, from very early times, were in frequent commercial and political relations. The leaders of the band were generally Scandinavian, but part of the soldiers were Slav. This hypothesis, which diminishes the Norman element in the Variagi, serves to explain how the establishment of these adventurers in the country but little affected the Slavs of the Ilmen and the Dnieper. It explains, too, the rapid absorption of the new-comers in the conquered race, an absorption so complete that Rurik’s grandson, Sviatoslaf, bore a Slav name, while his great-grandson, Vladimir, remains in the memory of the people as the type of a Slav prince. Whether the Variagi were pure Scandinavians, or whether they were mingled with Slav adventurers, it seems certain that the former element predominated, and that we may identify those men from the North with the sea-kings so celebrated in the West during the decay of the Carolings. M. Samokvasof has lately opened, near Tchernigof, the Black tomb containing the bones and arms of an unknown prince who lived in the tenth century, and was probably a Variag. His coat of mail and pointed helmet in all respects resemble the arms of the Norman warriors. The Russian princes that we find in the early miniatures are clothed and armed like the Norman chiefs pictured in the Bayeux tapestry of Queen Matilda. It is therefore not surprising that, in our own age, art has made almost identical representations of Rurik on the monument lately erected at Novgorod, and of William the Conqueror on the monument at Falaise. The Variagi, like the Normans, astonished the nations of the South by their reckless courage and gigantic stature. “They were as tall as palm-trees”, said the Arabs. Bold sailors, admirable foot-soldiers, the Variagi differed widely from the mounted and nomad races of Southern Russia, Hungarians, Khazarui, Petchenegi, whose tactics were always Parthian. The Russians, according to Leo the Deacon, who was an eyewitness of the fact, fought in a compact mass, and seemed like a wall of iron, bristling with lances, glittering with shields, from which arose a ceaseless clamor like the waves of the sea, — the famous barditus, or barritus, of the Germans of Tacitus. A huge shield covered them to their feet, and, when they fought in retreat, they turned this enormous buckler on their backs, and became invulnerable. The fury of battle at last made them beside themselves, like the Bersarks. Never, says the same author, were they seen to surrender. When victory was lost, they stabbed themselves, for they held that those who died by the hand of an enemy were condemned to serve him in another life. The Greeks had for many years greatly admired these heroes worthy of the Edda. Under the name of Ros or Variagi, they formed the body-guard of the emperor, and figured in all the Byzantine armies. In the expedition of nine hundred and two against Crete, seven hundred Russians took part; four hundred and fifteen in that of Lombardy in nine hundred and twenty-five; five hundred and eighty-four in that of Greece in nine hundred and forty-nine.
The Russian Variagi readily sold their services to foreign nations, to Novgorod as well as to Byzantium. This is one more feature of resemblance with the Normans of France, whom the Greek emperors also employed in their wars against the Saracens of Italy. Sometimes, instead of fighting for others, they made war for themselves. This was the case with the Danes in England, the Normans in Neustria, the descendants of Tancred in Naples and Sicily, the companions of Rurik in Russia. As they were usually a very small number, they blended rapidly with the conquered nations. Thus the descendants of Rollo quickly became Frenchmen, and those of Robert Guiscard, Sicilians. In the Variag bands Slavs were mingled with Scandinavians; but we also know that in the bands of Northmen who ravaged the country of France there was a large number of Gallo-Romans, renegades from Christianity, who thirsted more for pillage and murder than did the Vikings themselves. This mingling of the adventurers and the indigenous race explains the rapidity with which both the Normans of Russia and the Normans of France lost their language, customs, and religion. The Variagi retained one thing only, their military superiority, the habit of obeying the chosen or hereditary chief. Into the Slav anarchy they brought this element of martial order and discipline, without which a state cannot exist. They imposed on the natives the amount of constraint necessary to drag them from their isolation and division into village communities and cantons. The Slavs of the Danube in the same way owe their constitution to a band of Finno-Bulgarian adventurers under Asparukh; the Polish Slavs to the invasion of the Liakhi, or Lekhites; the Tcheki to the Frank Samo, who enabled them to shake off the yoke of the Avars.
The spontaneous appeal of the Slavs to the Variag princes may seem to us strange. We might believe that the annalist, like the old French historians, has tried to disguise the fact of a conquest, by representing that the Slavs submitted voluntarily to the Variagi of Rurik, as the Gauls are supposed to have done to the Franks of Clovis. But in reality there was no conquest, a statement which is proved by the fact that the municipal organization remained intact, that the Vetché continued to deliberate by the side of the prince, the local army to fight in conjunction with the band of adventurers. The laws of Iaroslaf established the same indemnification for the murder of either Slav or Variag, while the Merovingian laws recognize a great difference between a Gallo-Roman and a Frank. The defence of the country, the administration of justice, and the collection of the tribute were the special cares of the prince, the last being considered his legitimate reward. He played in the Slav towns a part similar to that of the Italian podestas in the fifteenth century, who were called in to administer justice impartially, or to that of the leaders to whom the cities intrusted their defence.
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