Rus' (people)

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Guests from Overseas, Nicholas Roerich (1899)

The Rus' (Greek: Ῥῶς) were an early medieval group or people who gave their name to the lands of Russia, Ruthenia, and Belarus. In the mid-800s they were centered around Kiev. They dominated the area for over a hundred years. Many of the leaders of the Rus' had Scandinavian names, later both Scandinavian and Slavic names. The Rus' of Kiev, after they intermingled (mixed) with the Slavs already there, became known as the Kievan Rus'.

Who were they?[change | change source]

There has been a controversy over where they originally came from. Most western scholars believe them to be a group of vikings, specifically from Sweden.[1][2] According to the Povest vremennykh let or Russian Primary Chronicle of Rus', compiled in about 1113 AD, the Rus' had relocated from Sweden.[3] Their leader was named Rurik.[3] Later, Rurik's relative Oleg captured Kiev, founding Kievan Rus'. The descendants of Rurik were the ruling dynasty of Rus' (after 862). In the controversy, this is called the "Normanist" view.

The "anti-Normanist" view is that the Rus' were Slavic people from south of Kiev.[4] In support of this theory it has been pointed out that several rivers have similar names. Once example is the Ros river which is a tributary of the Dnieper river. This may have been where the Rus' took their name. The official Soviet Union history included the "anti-norman" viewpoint giving the reason: "The Normanist theory is politically harmful, because it denies the ability of the Slavic nations to form an independent state by their own efforts."[4]

The invitation[change | change source]

The story from the Russian Primary Chronicle is that the Slavs of Kiev were fighting among themselves.[5] To restore order they invited the legendary viking Rurik to be their leader.[5] This is another area of controversy. One school of thought accepts the Russian Primary Chronicle account with the viking origin of the Rus' people.[6] The opposing view says the Varangianss played a small part in the creation of the Kievan Rus. The Varangians were simply hired by the Slavs to protect them.[6] Since the 1990s there has been a further controversy over who, Russia or Ukraine, had a better claim to be descended from the Kievan Rus' princes.[7] Since the breakup of the USSR Russian historians are not forced to accept the anti-Norman theory. But it has become of lesser importance than whether Ukraine or Russia were the true heirs of the Rus'.[7]

Byzantines[change | change source]

Another version is possible in this comment by scholars on De Administrando Imperio, by the Byzantine Emperor Constantine VII (913-959):

It is now, indeed, widely recognized that the Kiev state was not born ex nihilo (out of nothing) with the advent of the Varangians in the ninth century; but that its social and economic foundations were laid in the preceding period, during which the Slavs in the Dnieper basin played an active part in the political and commercial life of the west Eurasian and Pontic steppes; and that a pre-existing Slavonic land-owning aristocracy and merchant class remained the main stay of the country's territorial stability and economic growth under its Viking overlords. It is equally clear, however, that it was the Scandinavian invaders who in the second half of the ninth century united the scattered tribes of the Eastern Slavs into a single state based on the Baltic-Black Sea waterway, to which they gave their Rus' name.[6]

Common threads[change | change source]

It was at this point in history the area of Kiev grew and expanded.[6] The Kievan state lasted about a hundred years, until about 972.[6] Between 839 and 1043 the Vikings combined with the Slavic peoples to form a new society.[1] The name Rus' came to mean those combined peoples.[1] In 860 the Byzantine Patriarch Photios I described a people who were almost certainly Vikings accompanied by Slavs.[1] The leaders of the Rus' had Scandinavian names even into the tenth century. In 911 the Rus' who signed a treaty with the Greeks all had Scandinavian names.[1] But in the treaty of 945 there were some Slavonic names.[1] Outside of Russia, The name given to the Swedish version of Norwegian and Danish vikings was the Rus.[8]

Etymology[change | change source]

Image of Rurik from Russian manuscripts

The word "Rus' is found in the slavonic languages. This parallels with Latin: Rhos, Greek: Rös and Arabic: Rüs.[9] Words used to describe Scandinavians in Russia or the east were Varangians or Rus'.[9] The Finnish name for Swedes, Ruotsi, comes from Swedish word "rower".[9] Rowing was the main method of navigating the rivers of Eastern Europe. Another word is in the Greek: rusioi meaning blondes.[9]

References[change | change source]

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 F. Donald Logan, The Vikings in History, Third Edition (New York; Oxford: Routledge, 2004), p. 184
  2. "rus – folkestamme". Store norske leksikon (English: Norwegian Encyclopedia). Retrieved 27 August 2015. 
  3. 3.0 3.1 The Russian Primary Chronicle, trans. & eds. Samuel Hazzard Cross; Olgerd P. Sherbowitz-Wetzor (Cambridge MA: Medieval Academy of America, 1953), pp. 20, 233
  4. 4.0 4.1 Omeljan Pritsak, 'I. The Normanist versus Anti-Normanist Controversy', The Russian Review (July 1977), pp. 249-273 (abridged), <>
  5. 5.0 5.1 Russia and Western Civilization: Cutural and Historical Encounters, ed. Russell Bova (Oxford; New York: Routledge, 2003), p. 12
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 6.4 Paul Robert Magocsi, A History of Ukraine (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1996), p. 61
  7. 7.0 7.1 Serhii Plokhy, The Origins of the Slavic Nations: Premodern Identities in Russia, Ukraine and Belarus (Cambridge; New York: Cambridge University Press, 2006), pp. 10–11
  8. Jill N. Claster, The Medieval Experience, 300-1400 (New York: New York University Press, 1982), pp. 138–140
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 9.3 Katherine Holman, Historical Dictionary of the Vikings (Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, 2003), p. 231