Russian history 6: Legends about Varangian kings

I omit the first 5 chapters of the book, describing the geographical features of European Russia, tribes inhabiting Russian territory in the prehistoric times, etc.

First Russian historical chronicles, "letopisi", are dated by XI century. The first one, "original chronicle", was compiled by a monk named Nestor from legends and Greek (Byzantine) sources. It described events from the creation of the world to 1074. This letopis was lost, but its copies, added and re-written, became the base for the Tale of The Passing Years, written in Kiev in the early XII century by abbot Sylvester. The Tale was also appended and modified by other chroniclers, but the beginning of these later tales remains the same and describes the legend about the formation of the first Russian state by Varangian (or Varyag) kings.

The legend tells that a long time ago, Varangian kings came to Russia to collect tribute from Slavic and Finnish tribes. Slavs and Finns revolted and forced Varangians to leave the country. Later, though, internal feuds made them to send an embassy to the Varangians and ask them to send a king to Russia: "Our country is rich and large, but there is no order in our lands, so come and be our kings." In 862, according to the chronicles, three brothers came to Russia withtheir families and retinues, known in Russian as "druzhina." These were Roerik (Hroerikr), who settled in Novgorod, Sineus in Beloozero and Truwor in Izborsk (near modern Pskov). After the death of Sineus and Truwor, Roerik becam the only king of the Northern lands.

The legend is not clear and reliable. For example, it is known that 20 years before the arrival of Roerik, a strong tribe of Rus fought with Greeks on the Black sea and attacked Constantinople in June, 860. The legend maintains that Rus was a Scandinavian tribe, while it is known that Greeks and Arabs distinguished between Varangians (Northmen) and Rus, a mixed Scandinavian-Slavic tribe who lived near the Black Sea. These controversies became the source of long discussions between Russian historians, who formed two schools: Normanists and Slavists. The former think that Rus was a tribe of Northmen, while the latter say that the name Rus is Slavic.

Probably, we should assume that the word rus was used to name the Varangian retinues en masse, not only one tribe. Since many Slavs became members of these druzhinas and even formed their kernel, the name was transferred to the Slav warriors and later to the whole land and people.

(posted at Sima Qian Studio)

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